There’s a romance about the tree ring lab, and the culture flowing therefrom, that seems to draw writers like me. It’s probably the same reason the sliced and polished slab of a tree’s trunk, marked with little flag markers pointing to moments in history (“Columbus lands”, “Declaration of Independence”) is such a museum of natural history staple. Tangible chronology. Built for us by nature. That one can do important science, too, seems sometimes like icing.
Shelley Littin, writing for the University of Arizona, delightfully captures that romance in a piece about the oldest tree:
Past the door you will find the cause of the fire marshall’s concern: Boxes full of wood, circular cross sections of tree trunks, whole logs and branches, boards and remnants of dead wood fill up rows of shelves – and oftentimes the aisles – from the sawdust-strewn floor to the dusty ceiling.
On one wall, a 7-foot slab of wood is mounted with care: A cross section of the radius of the tree known as Prometheus.