Flavin's Corner
9-10-99

Millennial Wood

     With Labor Day past and the beginning of Autumn less than two weeks
away, I'm mindful of our descent into Y2K.  Casually falling towards that
anticipated Winter night of December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000, I suspect
the impact will be most entertaining.  The cold is before us, but we still have
pleasant enough weather for a walk in the woods.  I must inquire of the trees if
they're concerned with Y2K.  They shouldn't be, but it's always polite to ask.

     Time, as we know, is relative, yet ...some relationships are awkward and
embarrassing.  Our upcoming New Year/New Millennium "event" is a Christian
biased calendric construction which the rest of the world regards with various
degrees of indifference and disdain.  The "Christian" West says that Y2K is
important and the rest of the world listens.  Sort of...

     We should be aware of tonight/tomorrow's beginning of the Jewish New
Year, Rosh Hashanah (Tishri 1, 5760), the Islamic Ramadaan on December 9th,
1999 (Jumaada al-awal 20, 1420 A.H.), as well as the next Chinese New Year's
celebration, "The Year of the Dragon," on February 5, 2000.   Our "Christian"
calendar, like time, is embarrassingly (and often arrogantly) relative.  Time is a
construct, perceived or deduced, but always imposed.  We impose a lot on the
universe.

      Time dilation, as an arbitrary and relativistic event, demonstrates our fixation
with absolutes.  A throw-and-a-toss behind theoretical physics, the socialists of
Mom Terra have joined to present a global calendar and clock, measured with a
demanding exactitude, but subject to the inevitable human difficulties
encountered when the Universe as "Sphinx" is an enigma several billion years
old and we only understand a couple of questions.  So, we impose ...leap
seconds.

                INTERNATIONAL EARTH ROTATION SERVICE (IERS)
               SERVICE INTERNATIONAL DE LA ROTATION TERRESTRE

BUREAU CENTRAL DE L'IERS
OBSERVATOIRE DE PARIS
61, Av. de l'Observatoire 75014 PARIS (France)
Tel.      : 33 (0) 1 40 51 22 26
FAX       : 33 (0) 1 40 51 22 91
Internet  : iers@obspm.fr
                                               Paris, 12 Juillet 1999
                                               Bulletin C 18

                                               To authorities responsible for
                                               the measurement and distribution
                                               of time

                          INFORMATION ON UTC - TAI
  No positive leap second will be introduced at the end of December 1999.
 The difference between UTC and the International Atomic Time TAI is :

       from 1999 January 1, 0h UTC, until further notice : UTC-TAI = - 32 s

 Leap seconds can be introduced in UTC at the end of the months of December
or  June,  depending on the evolution of UT1-TAI. Bulletin C is mailed every six
months, either to announce a time step in UTC, or to confirm that there will
be no time step at the next possible date.
                                                 Daniel GAMBIS
                                                 Director
                                                 Central Bureau of IERS*
*Click  here  for more about the IERS.

      So, I would imagine, the above allows for the insertion of a leap second this
coming June.  Such fine tuning of the Universe is a necessary endeavor, but most
"time" is tailored to fit the individual.  We hold to individual cultural calendars,
all the while developing our own chronologies which arise from seasonal factors,
or are age, relationship, or employment inspired.  As my birthday is December
31st, Y2K has a special significance for me, but beyond that is an ominous sense
of change.  Something seems to be developing with Mom Terra and I believe it's
affecting us all.

     Respect for Mom Terra is at an all time low.  We plant Christmas trees when
we should be tending fruit trees.  Tobacco and coffee are grown where the land
cries out for wheat and rice.  Humanity prospers, but the cost to Nature is
tremendous and burdensome.  Pollution, ozone depletion, global warming,
deforestation, nuclear waste, and the continued slaughter of various endangered
species, are some of the most troubling concerns.  We're still not exactly sure
what's killing the frogs...

     We have an Atomic Era (A.E.) calendar which began on December 2, 1942,
at 3:45 PM, with the first sustained nuclear fission at Stagg Field on the
University of Chicago campus, although no one has dared to enact a calendar
which marks Crick, Watson, and Wilkins (mid-1953?) and the ongoing
investigation and manipulation of genetic material.  Some say that even if we
don't blow ourselves up, we'll probably invent a germ that will wipe out the
planet.  Others, myself included, believe everything will be okay, but matters
may turn sad and messy before they get appreciably better.

     When I conjunctively think in terms of "science" and "Nature," I usually take
a mental walk in the woods.  I've the deepest respect for my elders and I regard
some denizens of the forest as honored cohabitants of Mom Terra.  Humans may
be reaching ever nearer 130 years of age, but in the woods we find the eldest of
the old.

 
Bristlecone pine by Leonard Miller. Click pic for more.

     In 1957 Dr. Edmund Schulman identified and dated a bristlecone pine tree,
from the White-Inyo mountain range in California, as being approximately 4,723
years of age.  This bristlecone pine, nicknamed "Methuselah," remains the oldest
known, individual and free-standing tree ever discovered.  Even more important
than earning a minor mention in the record books is that these eldest of trees
furthered the study of tree-rings (dendrochronology), which in turn was
instrumental in calibrating radiocarbon (C14) testing in the late 1960's and early
1970's, a quiet revolution which, among other things, pushed the dates for many
of the megalithic sites in Europe back well before the pyramids of ancient Egypt.
[Click  here for more about C14 dating.]

 
King's Holly from southwestern Tasmania.

     Though the bristlecone pine trees are rightly deemed eldest, a shrub in
Australia, King's Holly, has recently been identified as being sexually
dysfunctional, unable to reproduce, required to clone itself to survive, and seems
to have been doing so for over 43,000 years.  King's Holly, or Lomatia
tasmanica, is named after it's discoverer, Deny King, rather than any monarchical
allegiance or reference to the botany of Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings.  The
shrub is a dreamtime freak, to be sure, so I think I'll skip asking its opinion about
Y2K.  Besides, I have some unresolved issues regarding clones... [Click  here  for
more on King's Holly.]

     Who to talk to?  Well, neither of the 250 million year old bacteria, recently
discovered in Carlsbad, New Mexico, seem up for a serious discussion.  Nor
does the Box Huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera), another dysfunctional,
cloning-required plant, an example of which is thought to be approaching its
13,000th birthday.  Likewise, the 11,000 year old microbe culled from the
intestines of a mastodon and the Quaking Aspen grove (Populus tremuloides)
which is said to have begun some 10,000 years ago, fail to establish individual
identities the way the bristlecone pine trees do.  [Note: the 1,500 year old
Michigan fungus and the 1,500 acre and 500-1000 year old Armillaria ostoyae
fungus in Washington state may have the potential of driving French piggies
mad, but I'll stick with talking to trees.]

     While it's true that Y2K is mainly identified with a possible problem of older
computers registering the year 2000, some Christians who ardently look forward
to the "Rapture," or some such end-of-times event, oddly hope that a kid with
666 on his scalp will soon do war with the "Resurrected Jesus," ...perhaps shortly
after their New Year's hangovers wear off.

     So, with Fall ahead I plan to take a walk in the woods.  Maybe I'll get lucky
and find some fungals.  I don't expect the trees to care much about Y2K, but
maybe they can suggest a short-list of appropriate parties to attend.

remembering Norwegian wood,
Rick

Return to Main