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How a powerful message from the world’s oldest tree saved a man from a midlife crisis

By Oliver Gunther

I was a teenager when my parents, whose birthdays were very close together, celeb..

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By Oliver Gunther

I was a teenager when my parents, whose birthdays were very close together, celebrated their fortieth birthday. I thought, “Forty. Man, that’s old.”

I am now a few days away from turning that same age and I am feeling it. It’s an odd age to anticipate.

It’s like standing on the dividing line — the precipice — of the average human life span.

The lines on my face are coming in like teeth. White licks are showing up in my hair. I’m fit, but when I wipe out on my mountain bike and get wounded, it takes noticeably longer to mend.

Perhaps my wife saw a train wreck coming. She watched me carefully; she could smell the impending mid-life-crisis. And so, in a wise preemptive strike, she decided to take me to the oldest living being known to humankind.

We flew into Las Vegas, drove through Death Valley, and then passed through the Owens Valley — with the Sierra Nevada Mountains flanking us on one side and the White Mountains of California on the other.

Inyo National Park was closed in April, which meant that we had to hike from the gate at the main road, head high up in the mountains into the Bristlecone Pine groves. We had the park to ourselves.

The temperature was two degrees Celsius, and the air was very thin at an altitude of 3353 meters. My breathing was laboured, as though I had been running. But the air smelled of wild lavender and it was as refreshing.

As we ascended, the clouds closed in on us with a light drizzle, but then gave way to the sun. There was still snow on the ground, as deep as sixty centimetres in some snowdrifts.

After an hour of hiking uphill, we caught our first glimpse of one of the most ancient forests in the world, where the trees are thousands of years old. The forest seemed enchanted, as though the trees were going to start walking or talking, or something else equally surreal.

Maria and I walked along the path of the Bristlecone Pine grove, zigzagging up and down hills, walking past old survivors.

There too were the remains of the ones that didn’t make it, still defiant.

Bristlecone

Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest near Bishop, California. With some at over 4,700 years old, they are the oldest trees in the World. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Bristlecone Pines can stand dead for centuries because nature’s clean-up crew of fungi, bacteria and insects aren’t welcome here, leaving the process of decomposition severely impeded.

I took some time to examine those dead trees. Some of them were quite small, and probably no more than a few centuries old — babies.

I wondered what had gone wrong for them. Maybe disease, or maybe one year was just too dry to bear. I know I have taken my own health for granted. I have to stop that.

We followed the path until we came to a clearing on the hillside where the forest stopped. Out in the open, far from the forest stood a single, living tree. You see, the longest lasting Bristlecone Pines are those that exist in exile from the rest.

There stood the oldest living being on this planet (and if Earth is the sole retainer of life in the Universe, then this tree is the oldest living being of All).

Both Maria and I stopped in our tracks. We felt we were in the presence of something extraordinary. But it was just a tree standing there, not doing anything but surviving — surviving for just short of 5,000 years.

That old Bristlecone Pine, named Methuselah after the oldest patriarch in the bible, has stood in that one spot up in the Inyo National Forest for over 4,770 years. It stood high when Pharaohs were building pyramids to testify that they, too, were once alive.

I hurried down the hill to see Methuselah up-close. I ran my fingers across one of his dead branches. The bare wood, stripped of bark and polished by the elements over many years, felt as smooth as an expensive marble. I caressed the bark that kept him alive, and stroked the soft pines on his branches. I was profoundly moved.

I had read all about the bristlecone pine. Prior to the trip into the White Mountains of California, I drove my wife crazy about the old pine that doesn’t know how to die. I prattled on about mundane statistics: the ancient being stands approximately 8 metres tall, with a girth of nearly 3.35 metres.

Methuselah still has every sign of life as he is still growing, and he is still fecund. The Sierra Nevada Mountain range steals all the moisture given from the ocean, leaving the Bristlecone Pines high and dry. In the course of a year, the tree’s thirst is quenched with approximately 25 centimetres of precipitation, the majority of it drifting down during the winter.

Methuselah

“It was just a tree standing there, not doing anything but surviving — surviving for just short of 5,000 years.” (Chao Yen/Flickr)

Scientists claim that Bristlecone Pines have no genetic coding for senility, no trigger for degeneration. If conditions remain adequate, this old thing could stand there in that one spot high upon the Earth until the sun explodes into a supernova.

It is puzzling that anything could survive, with this kind of longevity, in such an inhospitable environment. Paradoxically, it is the harsh elements at this altitude that allow these sculptures of nature to prevail: the dry, thin air limits the growth of fungi, bacteria, and insects that can invade a tree; the dolomite stones, the size of a woman’s hand, reflect sunlight, keeping the roots cool and moist.

There is little competition for the scant surrounding recourses, allowing the Bristlecone Pine to sprawl out its root system with a firm grip, squeezing out any nourishment it can from the stingy ground.

This struggle to stay alive in the harshest of conditions — and the success of it — had me feeling feeble, lucky and spoiled.

Maria came down from the edge of the forest and joined me. Together we stood at Methuselah’s side, humbled by nature, dwarfed by time.

I directed a smile of gratitude toward her for putting my milestone birthday in a completely new light.

Click ‘listen’ above to hear the essay.

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Spain locates Christopher Columbus’ first tomb

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It has long been known that Columbus was buried in Valladolid after his death there in 1506 but the exact location of his tomb was not known until now.

Three years later his remains were taken to his family mausoleum in the southern city of Seville, and were moved several more times over the following centuries before returning to Seville in 1898.

Using DNA samples from bone slivers taken from the Seville tomb, a forensics team led by the University of Granada confirmed in 2005 that the remains kept there did in fact belong to Columbus.

Researchers have now determined that he was first buried in the San Francisco convent in Valladolid which no longer exists, Spain’s Naval Museum, which helped coordinate the study, said in statement.

The site is currently a commercial zone near the spacious Plaza Mayor, a broad, pedestrianised expanse surrounded by arcaded buildings painted red.

This conclusion follows “a detailed historical investigation, confirmed by ground-penetrating radars,” the statement added.

Researchers took samples of elements from the Seville burial sport — lead, brick, golden threads — and found they matched with the location of the spot in Valladolid which was excavated, it added.

Historians and archeologists have since recreated in 3D the dimensions the chapel in Valladolid that housed the remains of Columbus.

In 1544 his remains were moved from Seville to Santo Domingo, which is the capital of the Dominican Republic, in accordance with the instructions he had left behind.

In 1795 his bones were moved to Havana before being shipped back across the Atlantic and returned to Seville in 1898.

The Dominican Republic claims Columbus is buried at an ornate lighthouse in Santo Domingo.

The teams behind the 2005 DNA study said that while they are convinced the bones in Seville are from Columbus, the tomb in Santo Domingo might also hold part of his remains.

Columbus, long hailed by school textbooks as the so-called discoverer of “The New World,” is considered by many to have spurred years of genocide against indigenous groups in the Americas.

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Spain’s Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin announce ‘interruption of marriage’

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The sister of Spain’s King Felipe VI, Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have decided to “interrupt” their marriage, according to a press release published Monday by Spanish news agency EFE.

“By mutual consent, we have decided to interrupt our marital relationship. Our commitment to our children remains intact. Given this is a private decision, we ask for utmost respect for everyone around us,” the document stated.

The former Olympic handball champion was sentenced to prison in 2018 in connection with a financial crimes scandal known as the Nóos case, and the Infanta – a title Cristina bears for being the daughter of a king – was questioned in court over the matter, although she was later cleared of all criminal charges. Urdangarin has since been moved to an open regime and only reports to prison once a week.

The public announcement comes after Urdangarin was photographed holding hands with another woman last week in Bidart in southwestern France. When asked about his relationship to the woman in question, Ainhoa Armentia, a 43-year-old from the Basque city of Vitoria, Urdangarin replied: “These things happen.”

The relationship between Cristina de Borbón and Iñaki Urdangarin officially began in 1996 at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, where Urdangarin was competing as a member of the Spanish handball team. One year later, they married in a church in Barcelona in a ceremony attended by 1,500 guests. The couple have four children together.

In June 2018, Urdangarin was sentenced by the Supreme Court to six years and three months in prison for his involvement in the Nóos case. He was found guilty of tax fraud, embezzlement and influence peddling, and entered prison on June 18, 2018. He has served five years and 10 months at Brieva penitentiary, and is now allowed to serve out the remainder from home.

Last year, the former Duke of Palma – who was stripped of his title following the scandal – was granted permission to move to a more flexible prison regime, meaning he could serve the remaining 11 months of his sentence from home. Under this regime, Urdangarin does not need to wear an electronic bracelet that tracks his movement, and is only subject to weekly in-person meetings and phone check-ins. Since then, he has been living in Vitoria with his mother, Claire Liebaert, who is in poor health.

The new regime also allowed Urdangarin to start working at the accounting firm Imaz & Associates, which has a good relationship with his family. But the frequency in which the former duke was seen in the streets during working hours – under the pretext that he was teleworking – prompted prison authorities to recommend he work in the office in person. There he met Armentia, a married woman whose marriage was not going well, but who continued living in the same apartment as her husband.

Since the photograph was taken last Wednesday, a scrum of photographers and reporters have been waiting long hours outside the accountancy firm to get a statement from Urdangarin and Armentia. According to sources close to the owner of Imaz & Associates, the media attention has made the director question his decision to hire the former duke, which he did as a personal favor to his family. The media attention has also surprised Armentia, who until a few days ago was just an anonymous accountant with two young children.

According to sources close to the Royal Household, news of Urdangarin’s relationship with Armentia also caught Cristina de Borbón off guard.

In June 2015, Felipe VI stripped his sister of the title of Duchess of Palma after the latter repeatedly refused to give up her hypothetical rights to the throne (she is sixth in line of succession). The decision was made a week after the first anniversary of Felipe’s reign, as the monarchy was going through an institutional crisis derived partly from the Nóos scandal.

After Felipe’s father Juan Carlos I abdicated the throne in 2014, the Royal Household announced that membership in the royal family was being reduced to include just Felipe and Queen Letizia, their daughters Leonor and Sofía and Felipe’s parents Juan Carlos I and Doña Sofía. Felipe’s sisters, the infantas Elena and Cristina, were excluded from this group and do not receive any allowances from the Spanish budget.

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Swiss company helps recycle Morocco’s organic waste

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africanews– In Morocco, a Swiss company is helping to process organic waste.

EV or Green Elephant has an annual turnover of 40,000 tonnes of compost and organic fertiliser.

In Morocco, nearly 80% of household waste is organic compared to less than 30% in Europe.

“Our sector of activity is the recovery of agricultural by-products through an industrial process called composting. There are different raw materials of vegetable and animal origin that are mixed together, with well-defined ratios”, says Mohamed El Kabous, EV production manager.

The organic waste is processed and replaces chemical fertilisers improving sustainability.

Traditionally, in Morocco, most household waste is buried.

According to official data, 66 illegal dumps have been rehabilitated so far.

“All our products are organic and can be used in organic farming to replace some of the chemical fertilisers that kill the soil, and also to participate and offer customers a healthy and sustainable agriculture” promises EV’s production manager.

According to the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, in 2015 only 6% of household waste was recycled.

A national waste programme whose objective was to reach a recycling rate of 20% by 2022 was pushed back to 2030.

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