Wonders of nature has always been a fascination as it comes with unexplained mysteries such as why a 9-metre-tall (30-foot) tree trunk known as the Old Man of the lake would float vertically in Crater Lake for about 120 years – since 1896.
The discovery was made in the said year by geologist and explorer, Joseph Diller, who nick named it ‘Old Man of the Lake,’ standing about 1.2 metres (4 feet) tall above the surface. And no, it’s not a deep rooted tree log, it actually floats from one location to another, inside the wide blue lake.
About Crater Lake and the Old Man of the Lake
It is said that Crater lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in the US and its water is so brilliant blue that one wonders if some blue colouring is usually pure into the water body. One of the unusual phenomena about this lake is how relatively empty it is; fish are not native to the lake, and the species that exist there now were introduced between 1888 and 1941, out six species introduced, only two survived – rainbow trout and kokanee salmon.
Appearing to be rooted and yet, still moving, the Old Man (tree trunk) seemed to defy the laws of physics. It is buoyant enough to support the weight of an entire person standing on top.
Story behind the ‘Old Man of the Lake’ (tree trunk floating vertically)
As the Old Man became a local celebrity, a legendary story was told that the hemlock tree trunk controls the weather, but as scientists would not stand for such fetish belief, they helicoptered a small submarine into the lake in 1988 to study its geothermal activity with intents to downplay such an idea.
To them, the Old Man was a navigational hazard, so they tied him up near Wizard Island—but the moment they did, the sky grew dark, and a storm blew in. Humbled, the scientists quickly released the Old Man, and moments later, the skies miraculously cleared.
Science Alert explained that if laws of basic physics apply here, the Old Man should be lying in the lake horizontal, not vertically since a floating object of uniform density will always have its centre of mass as being higher than its centre of buoyancy.
This means a long log will float with its axis in a horizontal orientation, and a short log will float vertically and being 9 metres long (30 feet) with a diameter of about 61 cm (2 feet), the Old Man of the Lake should be floating horizontally. So what’s making it orient vertically? Good question.
A ranger, Dave Grimes described the Old Man as an example of perfect balance—between movement and stillness, darkness and light, earth and sky. He credits Crater Lake’s clean, cold water for preserving the tree and the higher density of the submerged part for keeping it balanced.
Based upon initial carbon dating, Scott Girdner, an aquatic biologist with the park, says the Old Man is at least 450 years old but he isn’t sure how long it’s been floating in the lake. For the staff, the Old Man is much more than a floating log. “He has character, a story, and history that is part of the park,” says Girdner.
The truth behind the Old Man of the Lake might be obscured forever, just as some natural phenomenon are never meant to satiate human understanding.