Planting a Bristlecone Pine Tree: Interview with Christine Lofgren

Not too long ago I discovered that one of my Facebook friends, Christine Lofgren, had planted a bristlecone pine tree. I asked her if she’d grant me an email interview and she humored me, so here it is. Thanks, Christine.

I understand you had the privilege of planting a bristlecone pine tree. Can you tell me how that came about? When and where did you plant it?

In the summer of 1993, I was lucky enough to perform my internship for my B.S. degree in parks & recreation management at the Coconino County Fairgrounds located in Fort Tuthill Park in Flagstaff, AZ. Along with my work in the office helping to organize the county fair and learning how to properly pronounce “Coconino” when I answered the phone, my “long-term” project for the summer was to spruce up a run-down nature trail in the park.

While I was first walking the trail to give it the once over, I also decided that putting together a guidebook pointing out the different plants & features along the way would not only be fun & interesting, but would no doubt assure me an “A” for my internship. It was during my research for this guidebook that I learned about the bristlecone pine tree, and was very impressed to discover that they are the oldest living things on the planet, with some thought to be up to 5,000 years old. Later during the summer, I also found out that 1993 was the 65th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Flagstaff, and I came up with the idea of planting a bristlecone pine tree at the nature trail in commemoration of this date.

What were you thinking and feeling as you planted this thing that could potentially live for thousands of years?

The tree was just a small sapling, and looked just like any normal pine tree would. It seemed very fragile for something with so much potential, and didn’t look anything like the gnarled and twisted older bristlecone pine trees I had seen pictures of. This was the first tree I ever planted, and I have a horrible track record of slowly killing any houseplants I’ve tried to care for, so I was also hoping I wouldn’t do the same with this little guy. I planted “him” (it seemed like a “him” to me by this point) near the end of the trail at the edge of an open meadow, with a picture-perfect view of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.

After I had planted the tree in his freshly dug hole and wished him luck surviving my black thumb, I was thinking about how maybe hundreds, or even thousands, of years from now, long, long after I’m gone, this little sapling might look like one of those twisted and gnarled pines in the pictures, and might still be here, enjoying the beautiful view. It’s kind of difficult to put into words, but I guess I was feeling the sense of amazement you sometimes get when you can glimpse the big picture and understand how the puzzle pieces of life should fit together. As I’m writing this, I hope that my little guy has made it, and I’m envisioning that beautiful view I hope he’s still enjoying.

When I interviewed Jared Milarch, he said when you see a bristlecone pine, it’s a different “wow factor” than when you see a redwood, for example. Did you find that to be true? What was that “wow factor” for you?

Well, the tree just looked like any little pine sapling would, but, yes, there was a certain “wow” factor in that this small little tree could one day possibly be a strong & mighty tree; it might still be around not just hundreds, but thousands, of years from now, and who knows what it will see in its lifetime? I guess I felt a lot of respect for that little tree, and that the inherent wisdom it contained at this young age already made it far wiser than I would ever be in my lifetime.

Have you been back since you planted?

Unfortunately, no. Now I’m having thoughts of a road trip to Flagstaff with a mission to see if the tree made it and how it might look after all these years.

Did you have a favorite tree as a kid? Do you have a favorite species of tree now?

No, I never had a favorite tree as a kid, and I don’t have any favorite species now. I know it sounds corny, but they are each unique & special in their own way, and each has it’s own important role in the web of life.

Well, now that I’m thinking about it, we did have a tree house when I was a kid, so I especially loved that tree, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what kind of tree it was, except that it wasn’t a pine tree, and definitely not a bristelcone pine tree!

When we first communicated, you mentioned a project you thought you wouldn’t see completed in your lifetime. Can you tell me about that?

I could write a lot about this, but I’ll try and keep it short & sweet, I’m working on helping to end factory farming. I do what I can to educate others, and I’ve been working as an intern (volunteer really) with the Humane Society of the United States’ Farmed Animal Welfare Department, helping out with things like fact-checking papers, etc. I’m not a vegetarian, but the lives the animals on these “farms” live is truly horrific, from the day they are born until the day they die. There are a lot of other very serious concerns stemming from factory farming, including pollution & environmental threats, overuse of antibiotics & growing antibiotic resistance, putting small & healthy farms out of business, and the threat to a safe food supply.

Factory farming is not only extremely inhumane, it’s one of the biggest threats out there that a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of. For instance, a 2006 U.N. report states that livestock production puts out more greenhouse gas emissions that the entire transportation sector (cars, trucks, trains, everything). The list goes on and on, but this is a very complicated issue, with a lot of strong and very wealthy industrial lobbyists. While I do see small improvements in the welfare of these animals happening in my lifetime, I unfortunately don’t see a complete end to factory farming happening until after I’m gone. That thought can be depressing, but does that mean I shouldn’t do what I can and am able to do to help in my lifetime? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” While the justice will happen after I’m gone, I’m doing what I can in my lifetime to help that arc in its journey towards that goal. (To learn more about Christine’s work, email her at c l o f 1 0 1 [a t } g m a i l { d o t ] c o m )

Here’s a clip of Jared Milarch talking about the oldest of the old.


The awesome Starlee Kine hipped me to this Radiolab story about the Prometheus Tree, which according to the ring count (4,844 rings/years), was older than Methuselah. It starts around 14:50 seconds in, but the first segment is worth a listen as well.

2 Replies to “Planting a Bristlecone Pine Tree: Interview with Christine Lofgren”

  1. Lovely.
    It’s a treat going to visit trees I helped plant as a child. There’s something very rewarding about that longer view. And a bristlecone, well, that’s kind of in a class all it’s own.

  2. Very well put, Jamie. Your comment made me wish I had planted more trees in my life, but maybe it’s not too late.

    Last year I visited the house I grew up in and saw that the Japanese Maple that shaded a small part of the front yard was still there and bringing its rich color to the otherwise boring neighborhood. I don’t know that I helped plant it, but I remember it wasn’t there when my parents bought the house. It was a beautiful thing to see. On the flip side, the purple clematis that I took great pride in was no longer climbing the light post.

    So it goes.

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