We almost meditate on trees, we definitely meditate on jellies

I happened to be standing in just the right spot when we were talking about whatever we were talking about this afternoon and I glanced up and out the window and realized, from this point of view, the giant window frames the more giant tree perfectly. I just thought you should be made aware of the geometric accident that was taking place here.

There would come a day when that tree and that window would line up, just so. but it was a small act of faith. That window was put into place 30 years or so ago. What was the tree’s height? And then you’d need to be standing in just the right spot, relative to your own height, to see the crown of the tree fit inside the window’s view. And then, of course, you’d have to glance up, realize the hypotenuse, and be in just the right frame of mind to notice it at all.

One day I’ll have to stand in a different spot to see that, but that’ll take some time. Even so, this is worth enjoying. And for a while, I’ll think of this.

I could measure trees, when I was young. I had a tree scale stick. (Still do! It sits above my office door. I pick it up when I’m trying to bring back the muses. For some reason that works.) You stand with your back against the tree and walk off 66 feet. It must be 66 feet, because that’s the formula the stick uses. In the FFA’s forestry competitions, which I did for three or four years in high school, you have to step off that distance without measuring that distance. It was all about your stride. Mine was about 13 paces. We practiced counting that out relentlessly. One thing to do it on a wide and open cement floor, but it’s another thing to do it over cluttered forest floors.

The people that set up those competitions liked to find trees surrounded by as many bushes, logs and other things you had to tramp over as possible. That was part of the challenge. From 66 feet away, you use the tree scale stick, held plumb 25 inches from the eye, the stick was straight up and down. That takes a nice touch. Then you line the stick to the stump level, which was about the width of my pinky finger from 66 feet away, and used the scale to estimate how many 16-foot logs were in the tree. This has to do with estimating the circumference of the tree, at height, from some distance away. Purely eyeballing it across the hypotenuse.

It’s all explained here, and it only takes an eight-page PDF to do so.

All these years later, the amusing part is that while I was hating trigonometry in the classroom, I was getting pretty good at it in the woods, thanks to that technique and that simple, complex little stick. There’s probably a sonnet to be written about the Doyle Rule scale stick, or at least a haiku on the Merrit Hypsometer. Forestry competitions were pretty intense — all of that, species identification, forest inventory, disorder diagnosis and managing techniques like silviculture — but you spend a lot of time outdoors. One year, we made it to the state finals.

I put almost 2,500 words into this part of the web yesterday, so let’s just move quickly through today, shall we?

And so we return, once more, to California, which we visited last month. And, in particular, I’m now sharing videos from the wonderful Monterey Aquarium.

This jelly is all about light, which is to say this jelly is all about the dark. Without these spot lights this jelly disappears, and, of course, red looks black even just below the surface. And in the deep sea, where the bloody-belly comb jelly lives below 1,000 feet in the North Pacific, it is very dark. These jellies, then, hide in plain sight. Which is a shame, because they’re beautiful, particularly the light diffraction of the combs. Predators and prey wouldn’t see those incredible colors.


Technically, these are ctenophores, meaning that they are not true jellies, but the name is sticking, even though it is a new name for a non-jelly. These were first collected off San Diego in 1979 and described in just 2001.

Technically this or that, the bloody-belly combs are beautiful. You’ll see a few more videos of these lovely creatures over the next few days.

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