In 1962, a few years before my mother accepted my father as her true love and so begot me as a reward for her bravery, a Milanese man called Elio Cesari, born in the great city in 1938, grabbed a pencil and sat in the Lombardi capital to compose a song.
At that time Milan had fewer than the three-point-three million inhabitants the Metropolitan City boasts today, and much less than the nine million people who call the south Indian city of Chennai, formerly Madras, home, and where, in 1936, Arnold George Dorsey was born.
Cesari, now 83, and known as Tony Renis, and Dorsey, now 86, and known as Engelbert Humperdinck, are both still crooning, though somewhat more shakily than in their youth, their own versions of the song Quando, Quando, Quando.
Around five months before Dorsey was born, along came Roger Dean Miller Sr., who arrived via his mother in Fort Worth, Texas, where about a million people cruise its wide streets in pick-up trucks daily.
Miller didn’t ever record a version of Quando, Quando, Quando, but he did make a record of a little-known tune called Reincarnation, which he wrote and performed for the first time in 1965, three years after When, When, When.
Now, let me introduce one more player in this complex and retrospectively ill-chosen narrative. But, now that I’ve started, I feel I should finish.
It’s name is Pando. Pando was born a little earlier than Cesari, Dorsey, or Miller, and also still croons and shakes every day.
Pando was born in Utah, not far from Fish Lake, near the Mytoge Mountains, and has lived there all of its life, enjoying the fresh breezes that sing their way through its dense cover, having never changed its name, or smoked cigarettes.
Pando hasn't written lyrics about sharing divine love, or asking when a betrothed will be true. It's not told the object of its desire (if it has one) that it needs them to complete itself, nor demands that they don’t make it wait for an answer. And Pando doesn’t have to tell anyone that everyday seems like a lifetime, as for Pando every day does.
That’s because Pando was born around 11,979 BCE.
Pando is the ‘Trembling Giant’, a forty-three hectare quaking aspen tree, and the largest and heaviest, and one of the oldest, known organisms on planet Earth, even older than Tony Renis and Englebert Humperdink.
Pando is also the poster plant for reincarnation, which would’ve made Miller swoon had he not spent most of his life smoking the bits of paper he wrote song ideas on, because it’s actually forty-seven-thousand genetically-identical offshoots of one root system, which reproduce when a branch dies. As older branches expire and fall down, light is able to penetrate its thick canopy and stimulate new growth of clonal stems. After thousands of years, Pando is now home to sixty-eight plant species and an abundance of animals that hide and hunt, eat and sleep, and enjoy their lives in the thick of it.
But, like all old crooners that reach a certain age, Pando is in danger.
We know humans love to kill things, and ancient quaking aspen are not immune to wildfires and controlled burning, grazing, and recreational activities, as well as a climate we have changed forever, with no chance of return, which will kill Pando and the rest of us soon enough.
And when sooty bark, leaf-spot, and conk fungus aren’t attacking it’s core, deer and elk are nibbling off the tops of stems, which, once dead, just stand there, not allowing light and subsequent new growth to be stimulated on the ground.
So, Pando is a dying animal, a leftover from an ancient age and a bygone era, but still quaking everyday in the face of its eventual demise, and asking anyone who will still listen, When, When, When.
At 83, 86, and 14,000, I’m taking bets.
Photo by Moses Sola