Tree height measurement    Lee E. Frelich
   Dec 11, 2002 07:22 PST 
Tom et al.:

Standards for measurements have only been existence for 150-200 years, and
good standards for only 50-100 years. Most people are several decades to a
few centuries behind science. I have gotten so used to this that it doesn't
bother me anymore, as long as I measure things and report them in the
scientific literature correctly, and as long as I am able to communicate
with others who measure to today's standards, even if they only make up 1%
of the population.

During the 1600s and 1700s, when the King of England claimed white pines in
New England for ships masts, trees to be used for masts were required to
have a diameter of 40 thumbs or more. One thumb was officially defined as
the average width of the thumbs of three men in the nearest village. One
man was to be larger than average size, one about average, and one smaller
than average. Twelve thumbs, of course, was a foot. So you can easily
imagine that the same oak tree or pine tree in Pennsylvania could vary from
120 to 170 feet tall and every measurement would still be accurate and meet
official standards. That was reality for people in 1700, and similar
accuracy is still reality for most people today. Trying to change the way
people view reality with regard to tree heights is going to be no more
successful than trying to change their religion. Why worry about something
you can't change when there are fun things to do, like get your own numbers?

Measurements Past and Present    Leverett, Robert
   Dec 11, 2002 07:39 PST 

Good advice to be sure. It is always interesting to learn more about past methods of measuring and how much past commensurationists relied on body parts. Thumbs, for inches, yards for nose to tip of thumb on an outstretched arm, etc. What is especially interesting today is the mix of Kentucky windage and high tech devices. I see it constantly.

I admit that we shouldn't get bogged down in too much controversy over tree measurements, with perhaps the exception of situations like Zoar Valley where the protection of a special place is at stake. Even there we need to keep our sense of humor - which I do about half of the time. Let's see now. Half. That's midway between my two ears. Midway. Hmmm.

By the time Timothy Dwight was measuring those 250-footers, which was in the mid-1700s I wonder what the system of length measurement was and how administered, walking foot to foot down the length of a bole? Interesting to contemplate.