Tuesday, October 12, 2010

⅝ of an inch: On the Measure of Things

21 grams: the apparent weight of the soul, or, the amount of weight lost when the human body dies

50% in 23 (a.k.a. “The Birthday Paradox”): the probability that 2 people in a randomly assembled group of 23 people share the same birthday--a probability that jumps to 99% in a group of 57 randomly assembled people

⅝ of 1 inch: the amount of rain that fell on Sunday morning, 12 September 2010, at 410—our first significant rain in over a month, a rain that awoke me with its most unusual sound, a sound that had been absent since early spring…

Mr. Froggie rain gauge, a gift bestowed upon me by my friends and neighbors Warren and Hamid for securing tenure and promotion, stands proudly in the garden as a testament to my fixation with measuring all things probable and improbable—a fixation that has yet to infiltrate my professional life, which, conversely, is fixated as it were on all things qualitative.

Measurement in our lives takes many forms:

▪ birthday-induced accountings of our accomplishments during the previous year;
▪ employment of Excel spreadsheets to measure how we live our lives (ahem…those who know me will know the neurotic truth behind this statement);
▪ goals we set for ourselves;
▪ advancements and promotions at work; and the like.

But somehow, despite our best conceived plans, life does happen to us—and sometimes quite unexpectedly. And so, because of the unpredictability of life, we come to rely on a particular kind of measurement: the palpable and the empirical, in short, the verifiable. Our lives and the passage of them obtain greater certitude, perhaps for some even greater clarity, when measured and accounted for in the myriad and infinity of ways possible.

The measurement of a garden is a much more difficult endeavor—but then I always thought the measurement of the soul was an improbable exercise, and yet it seems to have been done. 

Do we measure the garden by the number of beds we create, the acreage the gardens occupy, the number of specimens grown, the balance between herbaceous and woody plants, or its seasonal manifestations and attributes? Or do we measure the garden by types of (emotional, psychological, intellectual) iterative responses it elicits from visitors, the aesthetic judgments of others (with due regard paid to arrangement defined in terms of texture, color, and form) or the meaning gardens give to our lives? In all of those cases, measurement remains perfectly imprecise, for none of the variables captures the essences of a garden or the act of gardening.  But taken together, all of the variables bring us closer to the measurement of a garden—its worth, its value, its very meaning.

No matter: the garden needs few measurements to succeed or to Be. Mr Froggie offers that kind of necessary, yet understated, measurement central to cultivating a lovely garden. Like good friends, indeed, like the friends who gave me this most perfect and precious of gifts, Mr. Froggie and all other kinds of measurement reside perfectly and unassumingly in the background, always there to be relied upon, always there to share, always there to graft meaning onto and into our own lives. 

** For Warren and Hamid, in friendship ** 

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