Level Level

JeffI in field with tape measure  for big oak tree

Jeff had been talking about this for a few weeks. He wanted to measure a big oak tree at the edge of a farmer’s field behind his house and he enlisted our help. We resisted watching YouTube videos on the subject. I gather there is one that suggests you climb the tree, start your stopwatch as you jump, carefully avoid limbs on the way down and stop the watch when you hit the ground. There would be some gravity based calculations that come into play at that point.

We have our own sources. We talked to our neighbor, Jared, about how he would go about measuring a tree. He suggested we use his six foot level and his telescope so we borrowed those. It seemed like his objective was to form a triangle at a distance from the tree and then sight the uppermost limb and determine the angle. From that we could calculate the height. “Simple Pythagorean theory stuff.” But what would we measure the angle with? The tiny transparent protractor I had when I was a kid seemed like it would leave a lot of room for error.

We brought a tape measure out there and we stepped 200 feet back from the tree. We found some old boards nearby and we stuck them in the mud so they formed supports for our level level. We pivoted the end nearest the tree in the air and the measured the distance from the end of the level to the top of the board. We never used the telescope or came up with the angle but we had measurements for two sides of the right angle and from those we planned to extrapolate to the 200 foot length. The equation would give us the height of the tree.

I didn’t get the best grades in high school but I did get 100% on the Geometry Regents. Back at Jeff’s we did the equations on paper while Jeff made soup. Peggi did the calculations, even the square roots, with her phone. The numbers were in the millions “of inches.” The tree is 98 feet tall.

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