Bristlecone Pine, White Mountains, CA.
Although we had been hiking a week already in the Sierra, at 10,000 feet it was hard to tell which was leaving me breathless: the altitude, or the fact that I was among the oldest living things on earth. These bristlecone pines in the Schulman Grove, high in the White Mountains above California's Owens Valley, are between 3000 and 5000 years old. In this dry climate, parts of the trees actually die off so the whole organism can live. They cling to the steep hillsides through punishing winds, deep snows, droughts, and lightning strikes for centuries. Roots planted firm, their bodies twist as if to escape the elements, and often look like they are stripped to sinews and muscle by their tormentors. In this agonized stance, they reach for whatever relief is given.