26 June 2007


Well, it’s that time again. I am leaving New York in search of the next batch of Oldest Living Things in the World. This trip is a big one – not only will it be my first time in Africa, it will also be the longest trip I’ve taken to date, weighing in at 7 1/2 weeks. Where exactly am I going and why? So glad you asked:

Johannesburg, South Africa: JULY 2 – JULY 7
This stop consists of a round trip road trip to visit several of the oldest Baobab trees and Pyrogenic Geoxylic Suffrutices, known as the “underground forests” of Africa. Classical pianist and neuroscientist-to-be Christine McCleavey will join me in Joburg, where we will meet up with Baobab expert Diana Mayne, who has graciously planned a multi-day Baobab viewing tour, complete with the occasional ranger to keep us safe from lions and leopards and hippos, oh my! Before leaving Joburg I’ll be visiting some underground forests courtesy of biologist Braam VanWyk from the University of Pretoria.

Cape Town, South Africa to Namibia and back: JULY 7 - JULY 21
After spending a few days in Cape Town I’ll be taking another road trip – this time to Namibia to photograph the Welwitchia Mirabilis (with guidance from the Gobab Training and Research Center), hopefully having tracked down some ancient clonal Aloe claviflora (another tip from Braam VanWyk) en route. The lovely and talented composer Rachel Holstead (a friend from my residency at the MacDowell Colony), will join Christine and I for this exciting leg of the trip.

London: JULY 21 – JULY 25
No, there aren’t any oldest living things in London that I’m aware of, but there are good friends and the Tate Modern to visit.

Dublin and Kerry, Ireland: July 25 – Aug 3
No oldest things here either, but I don’t plan on letting that stop me from non-stop photographing. Ireland’s been on my list to photograph for a while, so thanks to the above mentioned Irish native Rachel Holstead I’ve been invited for a visit to photograph, squeeze in some more research, and re-coup.

Edinburgh, Scotland: Aug 3 – Aug 9
And back to old things in Scotland. The town of Fortingall, apparently replete with Roman history, is also home to Europe’s oldest tree, the Fortingall Yew. It’s located not so very far from Edinburgh, where I will be staying with yet another artist named Rachel that I met at a residency – this one is the lovely and talented visual artist Rachel Simmons (who shares my interest in the intersection of science and art), who just happens to be taking some of her students from Rollins College to the Fringe Festival at the time.

Sorde L’Abbey, South of France: Aug 9 – Aug 16
Vacation, pure and simple.

Copenhagen: Aug 16 – Aug 23-ish
The last stop on my trip is Copenhagen, where I will be experiencing another first – photographing the world's oldest viable microbes under a high-powered microscope. This ancient bacteria is from Siberia, but has been transported to Denmark for study at the Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen. Special thanks goes out to Sarah Stewart Johnson at MIT for telling me about the Bacteria, and Martin Bay Hebsgaard of the the University of Copenhagen's Ancient DNA and Evolution Group who will guide me through the lab. I’ll try not to break anything.

I don’t have my return ticket yet, but I plan to be coming home around Aug 23rd.

I hope to keep you posted as I travel, so stay tuned!

- r