Another productive weekend   Robert Leverett
  Sep 12, 2005 07:53 PDT 


   This weekend was another numerically intense one for yours truly,
both Saturday and Sunday. A full accounting follows.


    I modeled the huge Mount Tom hemlock for volume. The big tree about
drove me nuts, but by the end of the modeling, I settled on 749.8 cubes.
However, based on the events of Sunday, the jury on the hemlocks volume
must be declared as still out. It looks like the volume of the big tree
can be safely put at between 720 and 770 cubes. I won't go into the
calculations and cross-checks that I did on Saturday to support this
range, but I think that even with future refinements, the volume of the
Mount Tom tree will not go below 700 cubes and I canít imagine it
reaching 800. We are closing in on its volume.

    For me, an important observation about the Mt Tom hemlock volume is
that it, representative of the largest Northeastern hemlocks, is around
50% of the volume of the largest Smoky Mountain hemlocks. When thinking
about it, I find this a remarkable statistic. The hemlock is most
commonly associated with the Northeast, where it grows widely across the
landscape. It shows up just about everywhere. But in the lower latitudes
of its full range, the hemlock is restricted to the mountain South. In
the North, the hemlock has an enormous range of habitats and area to
strut its stuff. In the South, its distribution is very limited.

   What follows is a set of comparisons for the hemlock, north to south.
I'm using rounded figures below based on approximate maximums.


Max North                  145    
Max South                  170
Ratio North to South      0.85


   Max North                   16
   Max South                   20
   Ratio North to South      0.80


    Max North                750
    Max South               1500
    Ratio North to South    0.50

    Thanks to the contribution of the mountain South, with the exception
of the bald cypress, the hemlock is presently our most voluminous
eastern conifer. I should note that ENTS has very little volume data on
the bald cypress, so we donít truly understand its volume range or how
often it achieves volumes in the range of the largest hemlocks, but
based on what I've read and seen in old photographs, I have no problem
putting the bald cypress as #1 and the eastern hemlock as #2.

   For volume, the white pine and loblolly are presently in a race for
3rd place. Will Blozan believes the loblolly to be #3. Heís probably
right. Historically, it may have been a close race between the two
species of pines, but thanks to Congaree, the loblolly is ahead at this
point in time.

    In terms of tree height, there is not the slightest doubt as to
which is the modern-day winner among the tallest eastern conifers. It is
the eastern white pine. Perhaps the loblolly matched the great whites in
times past. Weíll never know. But not now.


   This day turned out to hold a delightful surprise. It started out to
be a so-so day with not much to be accomplished by me on tree measuring.
What would keep me from the trees? My partner, Professor Monica Jakuc,
needed to catch up on tasks associated with her upcoming concert of Sept
24th. It is an all Schubert concert featuring some of his most complex
music. As part of her concert preparation, on Saturday evening she
played and recorded the A Major Sonata Opus posthumous. The piece is
listed as number 959 in his catalog of compositions. The A major sonata
is a grueling 40 minutes long. According to Monica, it challenges the
performer's endurance, technique, and concentration. When Monica records
a practice session, afterwards she needs to carefully study it. But too
tired to do that on Saturday night, the review was to occur on Sunday.
Rats! I needed to be out and among the trees. Stalemate! After
hand-ringing and a woe-is-me performance by yours truly, Monica agreed
to go with me to the forest provided I would listen to the recording in
the car, both going and coming, and give her feedback, as a lay
listener, while she followed the score and made notes on her music.
While in the woods, she would sit among the trees and work on her
program notes while I flittered around measuring whatever came into my
view, but remaining unobtrusive. Sold!. We were off to the Charlemont
Inn for a quick breakfast and then into the woods when guess who we ran
into? There was our old friend and super tree measurer mathematician
John Eichholz with his wife Patty, and a friend from Arizona named Ken.
We had breakfast together. Unfortunately, Patty had John's day all
planned out for him - lined up full of chores. However, John and I
succeeded in talking Patty into giving John a few hours off so he could
help me with my RD 1000 calibration. Yippee! So after breakfast, off we
went to the Elder's Grove, which had been where I originally had wanted
to go.

    Well, John Eichholz put his savvy as a mathematician to full use as
I explained to him the idiosyncrasies of the RD 1000. We modeled Saheda
again, finding that at 96 feet to the trunk, the instrument tends to
understate the diameter by one click. At 124.5 feet to the trunk, the
instrument tends to understate the diameter by two clicks. Further
calibration rules need to be developed. However, from 50 to 80 feet,
the values obtained as "best fit" seem to be reliable.

     With John's steady hand and superior eye and Monica's tripod, we
modeled Saheda to a reduced 614 cubes. This is 200 less than my first
attempt when I mixed methods and discovered the err of my ways too late.
I'm surprised that Saheda isn't a little more bulky, but the great tree
does slender down a little quicker than its companion the Tecumseh tree.
So be it. I'd rather make my mistakes at the beginning than at the end.

      So, if Saheda shrunk, what was the delightful surprise mentioned
above all about? Running into John and family? Yes, of course, but there
was another. After modeling Saheda, I persuaded John that we needed to
check Saheda's height again to look for hidden sprigs. My success with
the #75 in Trout Brook the prior weekend made me hopeful that despite
all the measurements I had made of Saheda, we hadn't found the top. We
shot two tops and got 163.2 and 163.6 which matched prior measurements I
made in August. But John wasn't ready to give up. I had told him that
the high points of the tree were on the downhill side from our vantage
point. But we had exhausted the downhill possibilities, so John went
searching on the uphill side of the broad crown and after a while sure
enough got a bounce from a twig that held promise. Calculate,
recalculate, and Presto! Saheda's tall spot IS on the uphill side and
it is an exciting 164.3 feet! YES! That puts Saheda in the very
exclusive, aristocratic 50 Meter Club. That's 3 trees in Massachusetts
and 6 for all New England.

    Walking back from the Elderís Grove, there is a bridge that we cross
over the Deerfield River. From the bridge, the crowns of the tallest
white pines in the Elders Grove can be seen. Saheda stands out
prominently. So, the idea struck me as we started across the bridge that
through strong binoculars, we might be able to examine Sahedaís crown
and see if the uphill side looked taller than the downhill side. Monica
has an extremely good set of binoculars, courtesy of her ornithological
interest. After each of us examined Sahedaís crown, the three of us
agreed that the uphill side had a slightly higher top than did the
downhill side. At the distance we were looking, our perceptions didnít
substantiate our calculations, which show the uphill side to be a mere
0.7 of a foot more than the downhill side. However, the view through
Monicaís binoculars was consistent with our calculations and that was
good enough for me.

     The addition of Saheda to the 50 Meter club may be premature. John
and I need to go out again in the fall when visibility is better and
confirm the new measurement. At the least, though, there are no less
than 3 tops over 163 feet on Saheda, two of which have been verified by
repeated readings. The fact that the verification of this as a
contending top for 50-meter status has come so late in the series of
measurements of Saheda points to several topics worthy of ENTS
attention. The first has to do with my measurement methodology, the
others are more general.

1. Once I have identified what I think is the highest sprig, I measure
it over and over, (as opposed to looking for higher tops), to establish
the annual growth and to record the pattern of measurements that I can
expect from my different instruments used under differing measurement

2. A very tall, double-crowned conifer jutting through a fairly thick
hardwood canopy that is 100 to 120 feet tall can present almost
insurmountable challenges. Differing light conditions along with
intervening clutter can lead to widely varying results as the laser
bounces off different targets from what the eye sees. One tends to
return to spots of best visibility, which means one tends to re-measures
the same sprig or sprigs. Around 1996, Jack Sobon and I measured Saheda
with a transit and got 160.1 feet. The measurement was on the uphill
side of the tree and from the left trunk looking, up river. Willís climb
in 1998 was of the right trunk. The complex, double top must make
identification of all candidates difficult.

3. To resolve of close calls requires the attention of more than one
qualified measurer. More on this topic later.

4. Anyone following these list discussions on ENTS tree height
measurements should well understand the totally inadequate nature of
standard tree height measurement methods advocated by the state champion
tree lists, by American Forests National Register of Big Trees, and
commonly used in everyday forestry. The problem is that the maintainers
of the lists donít publicly acknowledge the limitations of their methods
and as a consequence the big tree lists are saturated with junk data. I
no longer look at or am the slightest bit interested in the champion
tree lists.   

     On our return trip, I dutifully listened to the 4th movement of the
Schubert A Major Sonata, thankful for Monica's fine music and thankful
for the great whites of Mohawk Trail State Forest. There is a little
more to this story, but Iíll save it for a future e-mail. I donít want
to mix measuring with the mystical.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society