A friend dropped a pop quiz on me the other day. “What’s the oldest living thing on the planet?” she asked. First I guessed ‘Blue Whale,’ but that’s the biggest not the oldest. So then I went with ‘trees,’ (a bit generic) for my next guess. No to both. Amazingly the answer which you already know by reading my

headline for this blog post is seagrass. Specifically seagrass that grows on the sea floor between Spain and Cyprus. DNA tests indicate this section of

English: Floridian seagrass bed

Image via Wikipedia

seagrass could be thousands or even tens of thousands of years old. One 15 km swath of grass was estimated to be an amazing 200,000 years old. That’s a hell of a lot of candles. Also, it’s big time proof that a Mediterranean Diet really does promote longevity.

I have stood next to trees gnarled by time, hundreds of years old, gazing up into the branches and imagining what the tree had witnessed in its long life. Yet that is only a fraction of the life span of seagrass. If I impose my perspective on why the seagrass is so effective a survivor, I would probably point to its flexible nature, its ability to bend under pressure and then spring back unbroken. Strength without forcefulness. Sounds a bit like the Buddhist way.

Scientists on the other hand would suggest that the seagrass’ ability to reproduce asexually for as long as…well, I guess we are still finding out how long seagrasses can survive, is a fundamental factor in its longevity. I can’t imagine any man or woman choosing to go that route, even it was possible, no matter how enamored they are of the possibility of triple-digit birthdays.

The other aspect to this whole seagrass thing is that it received so little airplay. I didn’t see it at all on TV news. Nor did I read it in my daily paper. Though that is not a big surprise. With all its cost-cutting measures of the past decade, our once great city paper is now a shell of what it was. Many of the top writers have retired or gone on to teach at local universities. Printing costs have cut the paper’s size down tremendously, its dimensions seem to shrink almost weekly. Worse still it has been going through a series of owners, each of who come in with great fanfare, spewing promises that go unfulfilled. The paper’s focus has become narrower, global issues have been marginalized, long-form investigations relegated to the past. I grew up reading newspapers and for most of my life considered my breakfast incomplete without a newspaper propped up against the cereal box. That has changed dramatically now. Although I use the Internet to check on breaking news and sports scores, I also liked to read the paper for commentary and analysis. But primarily because of the changes I mentioned, with a outllook that seems to indicate the newsworthy world ends at the city limits, I have gotten away from reading the paper on a daily basis. All those years of dire predictions from the newspaper industry itself about its imminent demise seems to have come true. But is it the result of changing technology or a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you tell people for long enough that you are struggling, can’t compete and are  being outpaced by other technology, at what point does that negative thinking tip over into reality?

The New York Times is one of the few great city papers still pumping out worthwhile news coverage. I confess though that the quality and quantity of the cultural attractions in NYC are compelling enough to make me swoon. I definitely have Arts Envy.

Okay, I got way off track there…back to seagrass, the senior citizen of the sea.

Amazing to think while great civilizations rose and fell, wars raged and history was made, seagrass was a constant. Being able to adapt to change, learning how to bend, not break, with all that life throws at us are powerful qualities to nurture. Grace under pressure is an old standard but one that still resonates and is all the more needed in today’s stress-filled world.

This discovery should prompt a new birthday greeting…

May you live as long as seagrass and dance among the waves.



Related articles