In 1964, a graduate student named Donald Currey was studying the history of glaciers in Nevada, USA. He came across some bristlecone pine trees, which he suspected may give him some clues about the Ice Age. This is because previously, another scientist had discovered similar bristlecone pines nearby in California that dated between 3000-5000 years old.
So Currey decided to sample some of these trees to determine their ages. He thought that if he could show that the trees uphill were much younger than the trees at the base, it may prove that glaciers expanded down the mountain and pushed the trees back downhill.
Currey came across a particularly old-looking tree. He got permission from the Forest Service first, then cut the tree down to count its growth rings – the most accurate way to figure out how old a tree is. As the tree’s bark changes in a predictable fashion, a tree will gain one ring for every year of its life. An interesting point is that trees are often dated nowadays by taking a core sample instead of cutting it down (and thus killing it). It is uncertain why Currey and the Forest Service opted to cut the tree down instead.
After counting the rings of this tree, Currey realised that the tree (dubbed “Prometheus” by local naturalists) was 4844 years old – the oldest tree in existence in the world. Well, it was until it was cut down.
More modern analysis of Prometheus’ remains revealed that the tree was likely closer to just over 5000 years old at the time of its death, which makes Prometheus the oldest known tree and (non-clonal) organism in recorded history.
As expected, when Currey published his results, there was a massive outcry. In the name of understanding nature better, he inadvertently killed the world’s oldest tree.
Since the demise of Prometheus, another tree by the name of Methuselah has taken the crown of “oldest tree in the world”, at the age of 4852 as of 2020.
The lesson here is clear: before cutting a tree down, check that you are not accidentally killing the oldest tree in the world.
In spring and summer, everything is green and idyllic, with every tree boasting its own coat of leaves. But in winter, the trees are stripped of their leaves and are forced to show their bare branches. A once lush, beautiful forest becomes a field of bony, crooked wooden skeletons. No matter how magnificent a tree may be in the summer, you can see its true form in winter.
But are the trees ashamed to show their true selves? The reason trees bare themselves in winter is so that they can store up energy and chlorophyll to produce more leaves in spring, when there is more sunshine. The branches continuously reach upward and outward, biding until better time has come.
It is the souls of the trees we see in the winter – continuously struggling to survive, but always holding on until it can bloom its flowers and leaves again. No matter how tough the conditions, these souls live on.
A man living in the Song Dynasty had many monkeys. He was wary that he might not have enough food to feed the monkeys, so he implemented a rationing system, telling the monkeys “As we are short of food, I will limit the acorns you get to three in the morning and four in the evening”. The monkeys screamed and protested, so the man told the monkeys: “Then I will change it to four in the morning and three in the evening. The stupid monkeys could not figure out that the sum was the same and were overjoyed. This is the story behind the proverb: cho sam mo sa ("Three in the morning, four in the evening”, 조삼모사, 朝三暮四).
It is common to see people who cannot see the forest for the trees and only focus on the immediate gains, just like the monkeys. Although there might be some short-term benefit, the results will be the same (or worse) in the long run and not seeing this is very foolish. To lead a successful life one must have the insight to understand how the happiness gained now will affect the future and the wisdom to achieve the balance between short-term and long-term benefits. Too many people lack these qualities and fall into the trap of hire purchases, mortgages and frauds.
The monkeys made another critical mistake. If they protest against the man’s plans for a better future, he can just say “If you’re not happy, starve” and everything will be over. To throw away the future for a quick fix is an incredibly idiotic act.