Rabbi ! helps the Head Surveyor see things differently

Nothing ever happened at at the Epiphany Cafe without the Head Surveyor witnessing it. He examined every part of the town of Kenilworth. He had the whole place measured, calculated, charted, and appraised. There was nothing that missed his omniscient eye, except that which cannot be measured, calculated, charted, and appraised.

For instance, the Head Surveyor didn’t know what to make of the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. He liked his coffee: Cowboy Coffee. It was good, stick-to-your-ribs coffee that kept the Head Surveyor going through a whole day of surveying, tromping through the overgrown thickets, briars, and rock strewn fields. It sharpened his eye for the transit and steadied his hand for the rod. The Head Surveyor liked the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat’s coffee, but he wasn’t sure about the man. He was a working man, to be sure, but not a plain man. Not an upfront, straightforward, easily understood man, but a man with thickets and briars, who’d traveled a rock strewn path. His fences built on the wrong side of the line. His corner stakes were missing. There was something about the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat that he could not put his finger on, something, perhaps, the Head Surveyor had overlooked.

The Head Surveyor was mulling this over when Rabbi ! asked him a question. Knowing the Head Surveyor liked to measure things, the Rabbi had a question that wasn’t really a question, it was more like a rhetorical device that set up another sermon. Knowing the Head Surveyor liked to measure things was like blood in the water for Rabbi !.

“What is the circumference of Cedar Lake?” the Laughing Rabbi asked, inquiring of Kenilworth’s largest body of water, a mill pond over by the old piano key factory.

The Head Surveyor, having his maps with him, pulled them out, put on his glasses, and estimated. “Oh, about seven miles.”

“No, I mean precisely.”

The Head Surveyor paused. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would need to know the circumference of Cedar Lake, much less the Rabbi of the local Reform Congregation, but he liked to measure things; so he pulled out a ruler and measured. Since the Rabbi wanted a precise measurement, the Head Surveyor thought he would demonstrate his precision by talking through all the steps of his calculation. Little did he know he was playing right into the Laughing Rabbi’s hands.

“The legend on the map says that one inch equals one mile. I can eyeball it and quickly estimate that it’s seven miles, all around. But, since you want a precise measurement, I’ll count up every quarter inch, corresponding to quarter miles. This way I won’t be cutting through all the coves, inlets, and points that comprise the shoreline of Cedar Lake.”

The Rabbi keep quiet while the Head Surveyor counted up his quarter inches and waited until he completed his calculations.

“There,” said the Head Surveyor. “The answer is thirteen and a half miles.”

“Thank you. But what would be the answer if you counted every eighth or sixteen of an inch on the map?”

This took more time, but the Head Surveyor didn’t mind. He really liked counting things and coming up with an answer. In fact, he liked to count precisely because counting gave him an answer. The Head Surveyor was an answer man, who liked to reach the final word about everything.

“Counting every sixteenth of an inch I get twenty-seven-and-three-sixteenths miles.”

The Rabbi laughed, “Interesting how the lake gets bigger the smaller the unit of measurement!”

The Head Surveyor was dead serious. “That’s because of the irregular outline of the lake. If the map were bigger and had more detail, I’d get a much more accurate count.”

“What if you went to the lake, itself, and paced it off? What if you walked with your right foot in the water and your left foot on dry land and transcribed the shoreline in a clockwise manner. Would your measurement capture all the coves, points, and inlets that eluded you before?”

“Pacing it off is not an accurate manner to obtain a measurement. I would use a Gunter’s chain or a walking wheel.”

“OK, if you used them, then.”

“It would take a long time, but, yes, I could; and it would capture all of the cove, points, and inlets that using a larger measuring device could not.”

“But, surely not all the irregularities are along the shoreline,” countered Rabbi !. There are thousands of rocks on the border between water and earth that create irregularities in the outline of the lake. Would your chain or wheel capture those?”

“Each link of the chain is eight inches, so no, not every irregularity caused by a rock would be accounted for. The wheel would do better, but I’d have to carefully transcribe the outline of every rock bordering the lake.”

“Interesting,” said the Rabbi. “Although, if you ever looked at the surface of a rock… it’s rough, angled, or curved. There are cracks and pits. Could you account for all those on where the rock and water meet?”

“I don’t know of a device that would enable me to measure the circumference of the lake in that way.”

“But, if you did, would the circumference be greater than if you just used the wheel or the chain?”

“Of course. In this circumstance, the measurement would be greater as the measuring devices become more precise.”

“What if you went down to the molecular level? The shoreline follows all the crevices and creases between the compounds of water and mineral.”

A lesser man would’ve been annoyed at the Laughing Rabbi by now, but the Head Surveyor had full control over his emotions. He prided himself on his objectivity. He could be neutral in every boundary dispute, detached from every claim. Personal bias was banned and prejudice was prohibited. He had his shit under control. It was as if the Head Surveyor did not exist at all, except in the form of a measuring, calculating, charting, and appraising machine. It was all a matter of mathematics. Numbers, angles, and lines could settle everything.

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” he said.

“Then there’s the sub-atomic level to take into consideration and if there are more levels smaller than that, we don’t know, but there could be!”

The Head Surveyor shrugged. “So?” He was a practical man.

“So, what is the true circumference of Cedar Lake?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

“You, what? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.”

“I said I don’t know.”

“You’re the Head Surveyor!” the Rabbi laughed. “How could you not know the true circumference of Cedar Lake? Not only do you not know; it sounds like you can’t even find it out!”

The Head Surveyor looked positively shamefaced. He hung his head. Then he thought of something and recovered.

“I do know. It’s infinite. Given an infinitely precise device for measuring, the circumference of Cedar Lake, and any lake, would be infinite.”

Rabbi ! laughed, pulled on his beard, and laughed some more. “Infinite!” He clapped the Head Surveyor on the back. “Infinite! That’s what I thought you’d say, my friend! It’s funny how the Infinite is everywhere and hides in plain sight!”

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S. Harry Zade

Writing a blog keeps me alive.

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