He stood at the base of the mountain, shielding his eyes from the unhindered sun. Squeezing the increment borer, a sturdy metal tube for sampling trees, Don Curry leaned forward and continued his hike. Halfway up he could make out the jagged edges of his destination, a small copse of ancient trees. Their white bark reflected the sun, shimmering like piles of gold in El Dorado. At the edge of the grove, Don admired the twisting knotty wrinkles that cut through the base of each tree. After strolling between the old growths and running his hand along their bark like a man choosing a car to test drive at a dealership, Don found his tree. It was no different from the others. An old, white, gnarled thing it resembled more a root system than a tree itself but to Don the strange appearance was what mattered the most. He needed a sample of the Bristlecone pine for his research involving climate change in the past. Reviewing the rings of an ancient tree provided him an informative snapshot into the history of the earth.
With the permission of the local forest service, Don pressed the increment borer against the stone-solid tree. Over and over he twisted the handle, pushing with all of his weight trying to get a bite on the ironlike bark. The tool continued to slide from its mark again and again. The tree would not give. If sampling the tree with a bore would not work, he thought, then it was time for Plan B. Don unpacked the chainsaw from his back and in a sputtering cough that smelled of exhaust and gasoline, the chainsaw started. In Don’s mind there was no problem with cutting down a Bristlecone Pine. On the hilltop they were plentiful and he only needed one for a sample. So he sliced into the white wood. The tree fell to the earth and Don continued to cut several sample discs. Exhausted from the hike and drained by the sun, Don returned from the mountain, samples in hand.
Counting the rings of the tree under the flourescent light of his lab, Don noticed something was wrong. Each ring equaled one year of growth and there were an incredible number of rings in his sample. After counting the first thousand, he was surprised to find that he’d barely gotten a quarter of the way through. At two thousand rings he was now counting through the time of Jesus and ancient Rome. Don wasn’t even halfway. He thought he might have been counting wrong, so he started again. But at two thousand four-hundred rings he was halfway again. So he continued well into four thousand rings. Four thousand six-hundred years passed, four thousand seven-hundred years as well. At four thousand eight-hundred and forty-four years he was finished. Resting in front of him were the severed remnants of the oldest tree in human history. Not only was it the oldest tree, it was also the oldest living organism in human history. It was older than the oldest sea sponge, older than the oldest clam, the tree before him had lived through the emergence of civilization itself. It saw the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the creation of Christianity, and the Renaissance. Don was horrified.
Articles were published maligning his decision to cut the tree. The man who named the tree Prometheus, (he named the others nearby as well) called Don a murderer. News of the event travelled across the country erupting in what seemed like a wildfire of anger and outrage. Don left the field, opting instead to study salt-flats - desolate, barren wastelands without a hint of vegetation. There were certainly no Bristlecone pines nearby.
Don Curry led a successful career in his new area of geological study and was awarded honors upon his death in 2004. Recent developments, however, have added to the story of Don Curry. In 2013 theRocky Mountain Tree Ring Research Group found another tree even older than the Prometheus. The newly found tree is currently alive and well at 5,061 years old. Its location is hidden from the general public. Don Curry can now rest in peace.