To me there’s something special about native California oaks, the big gnarly ones with thick bark and drooping branches. You know the trees I’m talking about; the ones that stop you in your tracks, forcing that involuntary, mouth-gaping stare — the neck benders.
Lately, I’ve been on the hunt for these “Specimen Trees” in the urban area around our neighborhood. I’ve needed time outside more than usual (as I’m sure you have too), and spending time with these large, urban oaks has been my wild refuge. Not only do these trees provide a much-needed sense of calm for me, they serve as habitat for many species that find refuge among their branches.
Towering above a suburban home, this valley oak provides refuge for a range of wildlife and opportunities for passersby to ground themselves to something distinctively Californian.
When standing at the foot of these giants, it’s fun to hit the imaginary rewind button — to speed a few hundred years back in time and try to picture what things must have been like back in the day. I can imagine hulking California grizzly bears (now extinct but still prominently displayed on the state flag) at the base of the then young oak sapling, gorging on a crop of fresh acorns. And, in the distance, the sounds of a faint, rhythmic thud as Ohlone women smash the same precious fruit into flour.
Can you see it?
The acorns from native oaks were a staple food source for California’s Indigenous people (a food they still enjoy), who actively managed the landscape to ensure the abundance of this crop. Fire was their main tool, and they regularly burned the areas around these trees to stimulate the soil and increase the production of acorns. It’s been a radical realization for me to see these old oaks as not only large specimens that are nice to look at, but as living relics of an ancient, agrarian civilization.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more