Old trees and the curse of Prometheus

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.

It’s why I chose tree rings when I wanted to write a book for kids about climate.

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.

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