Oaks against the sky

What’s your favorite landscape? For me, the oak savannah ranks pretty high. I got to know this eco-community during the decades I lived in California, and a few days ago I had the briefest opportunity to say hello to it again at the Helen Putnam Regional Park just outside Petaluma in Sonoma County. In the waning sunlight of a winter late-afternoon, my friend and I headed to the nearest park to pick up some trails and enjoy the views.

  Oak savannah

The oak trees were massive. It’s hard to show just how enormous these old trees are.

Coast & valley oaks

We saw two kinds of oaks. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see both. In the foreground is the valley oak, Quercus lobata, a deciduous tree whose large leaves turn brown and drop in autumn. Just behind it is the coast live oak, Quercus agrifola, an evergreen keeping its small prickly leaves all year round.

Standing under a tree and gazing up, you can see only a maze of gnarly branches, an effect heightened by the shadows cast in late-afternoon sun:

Gnarly oak

The bark of the coast live oak is often flecked with lichen, and the side of the tree that has no lichen may well be covered by moss. Here is the lichen side:

Oak lichen bark

But my favorite tree of the afternoon was this valley oak silhouetted against the view. Look at the deep crevice in the trunk, the hole through which you can view the sky.

Bowing valley oak