I have several “volunteer” oak trees, trees that grew from acorns into maturity. One in the back garden is now fifty feet high, shading the bathroom. It has been growing for more than thirty years. Another is smaller, about fifteen feet, and I am hoping it, too, will grow to be large, shade the patio. In the front is another volunteer tree, partially shaded by a big oak and it struggles. I had two young trees in the back garden that were poorly placed, threatening another oak that is growing tall, and I cut them down, feeling virtuous that at eighty-five I can still do that. If a California live oak reaches 18 inches in circumference, it cannot be cut down unless there is a permit granted. These trees were fifteen inches in circumference, so they could be cut up and disposed in the green cans that the garbage company provides. We lost two big oak trees to Sudden Oak Death four years ago, trees that were more than seventy five years old, huge trees that cast shade over the front garden. They were coastal live oaks, the kind that never lose their leaves, cast off dead leaves every spring, remain green year round.
We have two big California Laurel trees (bay trees) that are, every two years, cut back until. they are simply naked trunks, and each time they grow new branches, new leaves, becoming, within two years, as big as they were. Because the California Laurel is a vector for Sudden Oak Death, we try to keep them in check so that our three remaining big oaks don’t succumb to the disease.
From our back garden the canyon hillsides visible are covered with the green of oaks and bays, and the occasional redwood tree. At dusk they turn a dark green. This week we have “red flag” warnings because the temperature approaches 100 degrees and winds begin to bend the oaks.
We live in a neighborhood populated by wild creatures: red and grey foxes, red and grey squirrels, possums, raccoons, as many as a dozen deer at a time wandering Oak Road, coyotes, and the occasional mountain lion. Except for the mountain lion I have seen all of them. At night I can hear owls, and in the morning acorn woodpeckers begin their hammering, followed by the shriek of gathering crows. We have had wild turkeys on our roof and a great blue heron regularly came into Gary Teply’s yard to spear the golden koi that he kept in ponds in his garden.
A few blocks from us the hills become ”open space” and are brown now with summer grasses, the occasional green Oak or Toyon providing a contrast. Much of what we see from our back garden is land controlled by the water district, since our water comes from the winter rains that fill the reservoirs scattered throughout the county. Steelhead trout still enter the small creeks and the last of the Coho salmon come into Lagunitas Creek and Walker Creek.
I have planted tomatoes in big horse troughs this year and now more than seventy tomatoes are ripening in the hot afternoon sun. At dusk I sit in one of the Adirondack chairs that I built and watch the sun go off the shoulder of Mt. Tamalpais, turning the folds dark green and then black. I can see nothing but green from where I sit, no houses, no street lights, nothing to remind me that I am surrounded by another world.