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Travel Obsession of The Day: Rachel Sussman Hunts for The World’s Oldest Living Things

Being obsessives about art, music, and film ourselves, we love stories of world travelers who let their passions, no matter how particular they may be, draw them off of tourism’s beaten paths as they journey around the world. Photographer Rachel Sussman has certainly let her love for the oldest living things on earth determine her travel itinerary over the last few years, taking her to Chile, Greenland, and home of many of our longest-living Americans, Florida.

No, Sussman didn’t travel to the Sunshine State to snap impromptu scenes of Jewish grandmothers enjoying the Early Bird Special at IHOP. Instead, she traveled down to the marshy green forests of Seminole County to capture an image of the 3,500-year-old bald Cyprus tree named “The Senator”. As you flip through Sussman’s portfolio and accompanying blog, brought to our attention by Swiss Miss, there are no jaw-dropping images, no searing scenes of ancient flora that will dazzle your eyes. Turns out that these living artifacts of the natural world, some of them older than human civilization itself, have achieved their ripe old ages not through spectacular showmanship, but through millennia of quiet, slow growth resulting in a subtle beauty. If one didn’t know better, you could walk right past the “The Fortingall Yew” that has stood in what is now the churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland since before Christ was born never suspecting that tradition says that Pontius Pilate once played in its shade of this, Europe’s oldest tree. To the untrained eye, the stunted Welwitschia mirabilis of the Namib Desert seems an unremarkable clump of leaves and bark. But to Sussman, there is something holy about these 2,000-year-old plants that demands a pilgrimage. Yes, her shots of a sample of Siberian actinobacteria under a research microscope at the Neils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen seem intriguingly mysterious. But that momentary delight becomes jaw-dropping awe when one realizes that these living bacterium have survived frozen in the Russian tundra for 400,000 years—200,000 years before the coming of anatomically modern Homo sapiens. There’s a big world of travel and obsessions to enjoy out there. In her photographic journeys to South Africa, the Pacific Northwest, and even Pennsylvania, Sussman reminds us its a pretty old world too.
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Above (clockwise from upper left): Laretia acaulis, up to 3,000 years old, Atacama Desert, Chile, Map lichen, approximately 3,000 years old, Alanngorsuaq, Greenland, Welwitschia mirabilis, 2,000 years old, Namib Desert, Namibia, The Fortingall Yew, 2,000 – 5,000 years old, Perthshire, Scotland, all photos shot by and courtesy of Rachel Sussman.

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