On another time scale

I planted a tree today.

Now, it’s not the first tree I’ve planted in my life – actually, I’ve planted quite a number of trees. Wherever I’ve lived, I left at least one tree behind, and some of them may be quite big by now.

But this one may be worth mentioning.

It’s a Tilia Cordata, more commonly known as small-leaved linden, approximately three years old and of the same height as me.

It can grow to over twenty meters, and live for hundreds of years – and exactly that is the point: it has no purpose other than to be a tree, and to grow tall and old. If I have a say in this, then it shall never be felled.

Since the core wood of a linden tree decays over time, it can be difficult to determine its age. In such cases, it helps to have the tree mentioned in historic documents that can be dated relatively precisely.

But now that’s easier said than done, because if I get my will, the tree will easily outlive me (and this blog anyway), the house and any other tree in the garden, my children, their children and generations after them, and by the time the age of the tree becomes of special interest to someone – namely when it is big and old – any documentation of my planting the tree will long be lost.

So, how do I do that? How do I tell that someone a couple of centuries from now that it was in my lifetime when the tree was planted – and how do I explain to them when exactly that was?

What, in the information age, is made to communicate with a distant future?

The mutability of today’s media – and the resulting short life cycle for any piece of original information – could mean that we loose significant amounts of knowledge within two or three generations, without even a trace that it once existed. Centuries or millennia seem entirely out of range in this context.

And to me that’s a critical gap in our information technology. Not necessarily a problem it created, but certainly a problem it will exacerbate drastically.

Or maybe it’s a gap in our thinking: while we are so keen to unearth the knowledge of ancient kingdoms, we ourselves leave very little behind for those of our kind who will once look back at us from the same distance.