Ents gene   Robert Leverett
  Sep 13, 2006 06:54 PDT 


    I have come to the conclusion that we Ents are wired differently
from most folks, including otherwise highly accomplished forestry and
forest ecology professionals. I've been moving toward this conclusion
for a long time, but I'll now state it forthrightly. We're a different
breed - at least in so far as the treatment of numbers is concerned.
Inaccuracies actually cause us physical pain. I believe that. I know
where I feel the pain, but won't mention the location here. Okay, so
what brought this on?

   While scanning the two books on the geology of Wyoming that I bought
while on Monica and I were on our western excursion, I read the
descriptions that the two authors of one book and the single author of
the other wrote about the different mountain ranges of Wyoming and
discovered a number of factual errors with respect to the elevations of
prominent mountains. I even found conflicting information for the same
peaks at different points in the books. I had come to expect numbers
sloppiness from authors who must draw from other sources when writing on
a topic because they are not, themselves, experts.

   In the case of the three geologists, it became increasingly obvious
that they all cherry picked their way though old material to fill out
the formats of their books. But geologist authors shouldn't miss the
current altitudes of the most prominent mountains that they are writing
about. For example, the current listed altitude of Gannett Peak in
Wyoming is 13,804 feet. An old survey altitude used for years is 13,785
feet. Sources using the latter number are now clearly dated.

    I could give other examples from the two books, but it is not my
purpose to pick on these three authors. So, let's choose another book
and profession. The bible on stand dynamics "Forest Stand Dynamics" by
Oliver and Larson quotes in a table as factual the extraordinarily badly
mis-measured red maple in Michigan that American Forests carried for
years - the purported 179-foot tall one. Okay, administrative people,
which is what I judge the American Forests staff to be, putting together
editions of their magazine, aren't likely to know what is realistic and
what isn't in terms of the height of an eastern species, but
distinguished academic foresters should ..... you'd think. Well, maybe
they trusted the source, regardless of how outlandish the number
appeared. Maybe they didn't check. They just grabbed a table and
published (with permission from American Forests).

    The point I'm working toward is that when it comes to the use of
numbers, Ents don't do that. Why, I'll bet that when Will and Jess last
measured the tall tulip poplar in Cataloochee, not only was Will working
to insure the height number he would later quote to us was as humanly
accurate as possible, he could also tell us to within a half-millimeter,
how long the hang-nail was that he was nursing. And he'll remember both
numbers for decades.

     Like Will, Lee Frelich is amazing in the numbers that he recalls on
many subjects and the judgment he exercises on which magnitudes make
sense and which don't. He picked up on that dubious 64-degree average
annual temperature for Hot Springs, SD, I'm sure in the flicker of an
eye. And he knew approximately what the number should be and how to
derive the approximation. However, he holds a doctorate from the
University of Wisconsin, so such accuracy is to be expected. But I
believe that his demonstrated skill with magnitudes only partly does not
come from his academic achievement. I have a sneaky feeling that it is
really the Ent genes in him that sensitizes him to numeric accuracy
beyond that common to many other distinguished academics.

     I also see an Ents gene in Ed Frank who threads the needle on
numeric accuracy as well as procedural rigor. But then if I mentioned
everyone in ENTS who demonstrates numbers sensitivity, the list would
include all driven to measure trees to ever higher levels of accuracy.
It is a manifestation of the Ent gene in us. This doesn't mean that
there is only one kind of Ents gene. There are other types and thank
goodness for it. There is the Ent gene of the sort that Pamela Briggs
possesses. Her sensitivity to trees lies in other realms and we could
discuss the benefits of the non-numeric genes, but in this
communication, I'm just speaking about the numeric sensitivity gene.

     Anyway, it is clear that we Ents are a breed apart and we should
celebrate the difference, and celebrate we shall on the upcoming ENTS
rendezvous. Perhaps our motto should be: "Decimal points matter".


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society