The Oldest Living Things in the World
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Her work is both timeless and timely, and spans disciplines, continents, and millennia. It is underscored by an innate environmentalism and driven by Sussman’s relentless curiosity. She begins at “year zero,” and looks back from there, photographing the past in the present. These ancient individuals live on every continent and range from Greenlandic lichens that grow only one centimeter a century, to unique desert shrubs in Africa and South America, a predatory fungus in Oregon, Caribbean brain coral, to an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah. Sussman journeyed to Antarctica to photograph 5,500-year-old moss; Australia for stromatolites, primeval organisms tied to the oxygenation of the planet and the beginnings of life on Earth; and to Tasmania to capture a 43,600-year-old self-propagating shrub that’s the last individual of its kind. Her portraits reveal the living history of our planet—and what we stand to lose in the future. These ancient survivors have weathered millennia in some of the world’s most extreme environments, yet climate change and human encroachment have put many of them in danger. Two of her subjects have already met with untimely deaths by human hands.
Alongside the photographs, Sussman relays fascinating – and sometimes harrowing – tales of her global adventures tracking down her subjects and shares insights from the scientists who research them. The oldest living things in the world are a record and celebration of the past, a call to action in the present, and a barometer of our future.
certain to be older than 2,200 years; the coring bit used to date it was not long enough to breach its full radius down to the pith, leaving its innermost growth rings uncounted. When we returned from our hike, the ranger and his wife brought us into their home, perched on the outer edge of the park, and served bread still warm from the antique iron oven, homemade preserves, and eggs freshly collected from the yard. Everything was exquisite in its simplicity. I’ve always felt a pull toward having
warning’ of ecologically important climate change.” Why “Old Tjikko”? Kullman named the tree in memory of his dog. I suppose that makes the spruce 69,650 in dog years. 149 spruce dalarna, sweden DEEP TIMELINE 5 BYA 1 BYA 75 0 MYA 2.4 BYA 1.5 BYA GREAT OXYGENATION EVENT; ENOUGH OXYGEN ACCUMULATES IN ATMOSPHERE TO CREATE SIGNIFICANT ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE ARCHAEA FUSES WITH EUBACTERIUM TO FORM FIRST ANCESTOR OF ALL EUKARYOTES, SETS THE STAGE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF BOTH PLANTS AND ANIMALS
it was cheaper to rent a van than a car, so Siva and I set out on the six-hour drive, several rows of empty seats behind us. It was hard to pinpoint exactly where Colombo ended and the countryside began. Rows of shops selling car parts appeared. First, a shop selling only car seats, which pressed against display windows from both first and second floors. Next, a shop selling exclusively bumpers, then chassis, then car doors—as if you were meant to work your way down the road piecing together a
Heck, even that saying was a little gift. Thanks, Mara Bunn. Thank you to my family: to my brother Scott and sister-in-law Lindsey, on whom I can always count, to my mother Shirley for always being my number one agent and providing a safety net through financially uncertain times, and to my sisters Lisa and Sara and stepfather Arthur for their tireless enthusiasm. A bear hug to the MacDowell Colony, especially Cheryl Young and David Macy, who helped me build the confidence to pursue my art with a
travel and politics. My host family found my fear of the enormous spider living in their bathroom deeply funny. And then there was our hike through a UNESCO biosphere reserve, with its endemic deer and monkeys, sea turtles and wild rhododendrons, dense, subtropical rainforest, and the very Japanese manner in which the caretakers of the forest tried to bring order to the bourgeoning vegetation. There was the amusing awkwardness of sleeping on the floor of a hut sandwiched between my new friends