How tall is the tree that my character climbs?
Okay, I don’t always give away how I research my novels, but you know what? When I have a character whose key act is to climb a very tall tree in British Columbia, Canada (near Lillooet, if you must know), I can’t just make up the species and height of the tree. Well, some authors would, but I take pride in doing research to keep my stories as authentic as fiction can be.
And this morning, while researching how tall the tree is that my character climbs, I found a very cool website: http://bcbigtree.ca/index.a5w
So, given the region in which I’ve chosen to set my current novel-in-progress, and the info on this big-tree website, I get to choose from an Engelmann spruce, white-bark pine, western white pine, black cotton wood or subalpine fir. And these measure anywhere from 14 meters (46 feet) in height to 56 meters (184 feet) in height. (The circumferences are pretty impressive, too: 3 to 5 meters, or 10 to 16 feet). If I want to, I can also quote the diameter and crown spread (hmmm, the latter might be important if a character climbs the tree to HIDE in the crown spread, right?).
Regarding the diameter, for it to have any meaning in my story, I need to measure a person’s outspread-arms span, and then figure out how many people it would take to circle the tree. That’s your math challenge for the day.
In other words, I don’t have to make things up, or become a grade-B author by mentioning a tree species that doesn't actually exist in the region, or a height that is unrealistic for a species. Nor do I have to contact a forester or drive to the forest and climb a tree with a measuring tape. (I actually did climb a tree two days ago, but that was to get my kitten down, a whole other story.)
What did we do before the Web? Thanks, Big Tree index.
P.S. The tallest tree currently alive and well in British Columbia is a 127-meter (417 foot) fir. Long may it live. And if you’re not good at picturing measurements, that means the height of a 40-story building. Whoa! Would my character actually climb that?