Monday, November 22, 2021

Standing leaf, er, leaves.

     So Wednesday, Edie and I were coming home from an hour's walk through the Techny Prairie, when I froze, one foot on the stairs.
     "Look at that!" I said, pointing to a leaf from the scoop magnolia next to our front door. A leaf embedded, tip down, in the crack between the boards, looking like a tiny modern sculpture. I snapped a photo. "What are the odds?"
     Quite good, when you think of how many leaves there are, falling from the trees in a span of a few weeks.
     Stop right there. How many leaves are falling from trees? Good question. This is a realm, obviously, where hard numbers are going to be scarce. But I found an estimate that made sense on a thoughtful blog called The Daily Apple where the author used an estimate for the number of trees in the continental United States—about 200 billion—times the number of leaves on a mature tree, about 200,000, and came up with an answer of 40,651,600,000,000,000, or 40 quadrillion.
     Squinting at that, my gut questions the 200,000 leaves per tree assumption. This seems too large to me, perhaps only applicable to the biggest trees. Most must have far fewer, a conviction that might come from planting dozen two-inch saplings this fall, each with maybe a few dozen leaves. That might have led me astray, however. An Illustrative Mathematics article, however explains how many times larger a large tree is from a small one, multiplying by height, breadth and depth, so that a small maple with 400 leaves means that a larger maple, seven times the size, has 137,200 leaves. A lot.
     In 2012, a Wired author did a fairly rigorous volume analysis and estimated 30,000 to 50,000 leaves had been on his oak tree (not that he identified it as an oak, though it clearly is from the photos. It says something about humanity that someone would do the math counting leaves on a tree and never mention what sort of tree it is).
     So close enough.
     And a reminder that in a world of 9 billion people, interacting continually, never mind possibly quadrillions of leaves, that fantastically improbable circumstances should not only come as no surprise, but should be expected,  counterintuitively, as ordinary. What would be odd would be if freakishly improbable events didn't happen, continually. 
        This was driven home to me, two days later, when I came home to find this:   
     Which led me to an unsettling question. The tree has been by our porch the entire 21 years we've lived in the house. If the Standing Leaf happened before, why did I not notice it? It seems I would have, given how arresting it was, and how it happened twice in three days. So if I didn't notice then, but did now, what changed? Maybe I did notice, but forgot.
     If it never happened before, why did it happen now? Has some environmental quality causes the leaves to be, oh, pointier, so they fall in a way to insert themselves into the crack? Or stiffer. Global warming perhaps? Maybe this isn't the work of nature at all but, for instance, a waggish postman? (We never think of the human aspect in this kind of thing which is why people believe in UFOs).
      I wish I could tie this all up, but I can't. Maybe these are the only two leaves that are going to do this, and I'll spend the next dozen or so autumns waiting in vain. It's a wild world.


  1. its likely the crack has gotten larger

  2. It’s nice when you notice simple little things like Standing Leaf. I have a feeling more of us will be noticing them now.

  3. Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives goes a long way to explain why events such as a leave landing a certain way occur.
    Mlodinow worked with Stephen Hawking often so his book is quite credible and very, very interesting.

  4. "fantastically improbable circumstances should not only come as no surprise, but should be expected" Yeah, and you use this rationale to bolster your belief that Unidentified Flying Objects are just mundane objects that are unidentified. While so many of the 9 billion people "know" that this pale blue dot is frequently being visited by aliens!

    I give Kitty credit. This stunt of hers was even more successful than could have been imagined. ; )

  5. Reminds me of the story about Peter Falk and the time he couldn't find his glass eye. After looking everywhere in his bedroom, he found it precariously and improbably resting on an open part of the bed frame.


  6. Hope it's more of a blessing than a curse. More like a hole in one rather than that bad song in your head that you can't get rid of it. Seems quite unusual, hopefully good luck is on its way.


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