Ever since I first read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator as a bedtime story to my daughter nearly two decades ago, I’ve always thought of the Bristlecone Pine that grows somewhere in Nevada as the oldest tree in the world. In the story, Willy Wonka tells the boy Charlie that the oldest living thing in the world is this pine tree. Willy Wonka says the tree is more than 4,000 years old, but Wikipedia shows a photograph of a suitably gnarled tree and states it is actually 5,065 years old.
Of course there are other contenders like the magnificent Hundred Horse chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli) in Sicily, reputedly 2-4,000 years old, and other Bristlecone pines from the same forest. Apparently there is yet another that is claimed to be (an impossible-sounding) one million years old. This is the Pando, in Utah, a collective of aspen tree trunks, all genetically linked by a common root system that has apparently survived a million years.
To me, this sounds like cheating, even if the root system’s age is impressive by any standards. Not to be outdone, the magazine Nature published an article in 2003 that claims the gingko tree is a living fossil. Recent finds show that gingko species have remained unchanged for the past 51 million years and show remarkable similarity to species that lived during the Jurassic period, hobnobbing with dinosaurs, 170 million years ago.
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A friend sent me a copy of an article from the New Yorker a few days ago. It was called “A Europe Full of Donald Trumps.” You can read the full text of the article here. The article underlines a widespread perception that most the world is turning right (whatever that means, since political rights and lefts are only meaningful from the standpoint of each individual). However, there does seem to be a worldwide return to nationalism, away from the heady concepts of globalisation and one world united by trade that seemed to promise a new era of international peace and prosperity at the turn of the millennium, less than two decades ago.
Way back in 1980, living in Austria, I bought a new car. At that time, Japanese cars were a rarity in this part of the world. Imagine my surprise when a friend from Sweden drove over in his brand new Honda Accord hatchback. It was a beautifully made car for its time, full of features that were expensive add-ons in comparable German cars that cost a lot more even in their bare bones version. So I bought a Honda Accord and as I drove my new car around the city, lo and behold, the streets of Vienna were full of Japanese cars, many of them Hondas! How could this happen overnight? Simply put, my perception had changed, and I was beginning to notice the variety of Japanese brands on the road once I had taken ownership of one myself.
Taking ownership is the key phrase here. Once I recognised the Honda syndrome for what it was, my perception of the world changed drastically. When I befriended people who were passionate about certain issues, I began to discover their world; their community, a whole universe that I previously never knew existed. As I explored these communities, I discovered many other parallel worlds, many other perceptions of reality, each one as real and as valid a paradigm, a world view, as the next. The world was no longer divided into left or right, vegans or carnivores, believers or agnostics, greens or browns,… the list goes on.
Despite the reality of Trump’s showing in the polls in the US, despite the reality of Norbert Hofer winning 36% of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections in Austria, we still live in a world where millions of people care about minorities; fight on behalf of the underprivileged and the voiceless; share their homes with refugees; avoid eating meat for the sake of their health or for the health of the planet; ride bicycles on their daily commute instead of driving; practice mindfulness, not as a current buzzword, but as a day-to-day practice; and love their neighbors as themselves. All this and more exist in the world today, in addition to its Donald Trumps. As I wrote in an earlier blog, A Whisky Bottle as a Metaphor for Life, the global glass is either half empty or half full, and it is our individual perspectives that color it.
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