New Book

Highly recommended.

Jared Farmer’s Elderflora is unexpectedly dedicated “To the caretakers, living and dead, of Green-Wood Cemetery.” He notes elsewhere in the book that he began to outline the book in Brooklyn, so one has to assume he wandered among Green-Wood’s vales and dales when he lived here. There’s another Brooklyn connection: Edmund Schulman, of Bristlecone Pine fame, was Brooklyn-born. The book, however, isn’t about the relatively young trees in Green-Wood.

Farmer is concerned with the really old ones, and how people have come to understand how old they are. They’ve often been mis-aged. They’ve often been loved to death, or just plain hate-killed. Why we Earthlings can’t have nice things: there are always the paradoxical Earth-destroyers amongst us.

Or just overly science-ized, as in the notorious case of the Bristlecone a predoctoral instructor in geography cut down in 1964 with the Forest Service’s ok. We learn here the original chainsaw operator, a seasoned tree-feller, took a look at the tree and refused to cut it, but of course they found someone else to do it the next day. There are always executioners. When the rings on this one were counted, and counted over and over again, there were 4,844 annual rings. It was the oldest Bristlecone known.

Farmer takes the “longest nineteenth century” as his basis, “the period when planetary age, evolutionary age, and arboreal age pulled consciousness far back in linear time, and, simultaneously when the energy transition to fossils fuels hurtled human impacts far into the future.”

The ancient ones he calls perdurables: “Perdurables are more than service providers. They are ethical gift givers. They invite us to be fully human—truly sapient—by engaging our deepest faculties: to venerate, to analyze, to mediate. They expand our moral and temporal imagination.”

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