Monday, September 12, 2016

EBMUD LANDS: A Personal History and Love Affair with Our Hometown San Pablo Creek and Watershed


"To watch for, describe, all the divine features which I detect in Nature. My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature - to know his lurking places."

(Henry David Thoreau, journal entry, September 7, 1851)


Of a post-rainy spell, the air sweet-scented with the promise of a grand nature ramble, you'll find me prowling about on Oursan Trail near Old San Pablo Trail in the "remote" East Bay Hills.
Yep, there. You know the place. Where the creek runs below a simple bridge hearkening back to a simpler time. That's where you'll find me, hot on Thoreau's spiritual trail, seeking small miracles and overlooked wonders, "alert to God in nature," and determined as ever to "live in the sunshine, drink the wild air," as Thoreau's contemporary and compatriot Walt Whitman exhorted.

Easy to do in this place. Where subtle beauty manifests in simple ways, and wondrous (but small) surprises await at every turn in lush landscapes of riparian richness and sylvan splendor.

Here, you'll find me bushin' along the sinuous creek, or leisurely strolling through the drought-parched, thistle-choked, burnt brown meadow trolling for bird life on the edges of aromatic pine forests rife with mystery and intrigue. (Albeit all very small stuff.)

Here and there, in my dilatory wandering, I chance upon Mother Nature's intriguing detritus: polished white bones; a pair of antlers; a reticulated fox skeleton laid out like an autopsy; a mess of turkey feathers, like maybe a coyote attack; a deep hollow nest recently fallen to the pine needly ground; a split apart bird egg nearby; unusual broken up pottery on the pebbly creek sand bars; and most mysterious, a distant tree holding the likeness of the Virgin Mary.

Here, down on the creek, easily overlooked nuances of life unfold: a pollen-drunk bee bobbing on a flower; a baby bird feather dangling from a branch; patches of succulent wild blackberry; gossamer strands of spider web festooned across bushes; a turtle surfacing with a curious expression; a tiny fish jumping for an insect; a pair of Kingfishers darting through an opening in the creek.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

Where the promise of simple exploration and small discovery awaits along the intestine-like riparian corridor of San Pablo Creek, flowing for 19 precious miles to San Francisco Bay from its origins in the East Bay community of Orinda.

Siren-like, this winding and twisting creek has cast a spell, hard to shake, hard to explain. Because, well, it's "just" San Pablo Creek, after all. But give the place half a chance and you'll find, like me, a ton of beauty and life packed into the nucleus of a few paltry acres. One big punch of nature in a largely unknown about, diminutive parcel of land.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!


Outside of protected and preserved watershed lands, it's been a different story. Thanks to tireless efforts by advocates for stream restoration, critical (urban) stretches of the creek have been rehabilitated, proffering new sprung habitat for all things wild, and educational opportunities to connect with nature for citified kids and adults.

Special shout outs to Ann L. Riley, author of Restoring Neighborhood Streams: Planning, Design, and Construction, and long-time neighborhood activist, Lisa Owens-Viani, Golden State warrior environmentalist / heroes who have been instrumental in saving and protecting several East Bay creeks, such as Strawberry, Baxter, Village, and Codornices.

Imagine the retro-primitive mind set of urban planners years ago, when city creeks were deemed dangerous and worthless, something to hide away and tamp down, instead of revered, cherished and nourished!

As consciousness evolved over the years concerning the many benefits of a healthy watershed to the community, many previously industrialized, culverted sections of San Pablo Creek and her ilk have been successfully rehabbed and brought to the light of day. Much to the ecological and spiritual well-being of - the planet! That's how important this work is.

Heroes of Friends of Orinda Creeks have brought their former bucolic San Pablo Creek back to life, creating "a revitalized state. . .a charming natural setting in the midst of a commercial area. . ." While it may never achieve pristine status as a place where once (not so long ago) "10 or 12 pound fish that men got with a pitchfork," were hauled out, the presence of a healthy(er) San Pablo Creek, mainly in its grittier urban stretches (Orinda, El Sobrante and Richmond) offers hope for a return to edenic days, when "your children could play. . .where you could relax and have a picnic. . .where you could wander leisurely and enjoy the cool shade, the rustle of birds in a dense thicket of willows, the smell of damp soil and growing things, the subtle shades of green that cloak creekside plants. . ."

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

From "wilder" spring-fed upper stretches,
to (who knew?) Mokulumne River-fed flows west of Bear Creek Road bridge, the creek's protean nature, at every twist and turn, holds marvels and surprises, always enchanting, ever altering shape and character, flushing along, slowing down, grandly pooling, busily finding its anfractuous way to San Pablo Reservoir. There, it drops over a spillway to begin a different journey, through rehabilitated urban stretches, before debouching in the impressive 300-acre San Pablo Creek Marsh on the fringe of San Francisco Bay.

Imagine how it must once have been, before the days of the retro-primitive urban planners . . . to a time, not so long ago.

Owens-Viani, publisher of the RATS website (Raptors are the Solution), acknowledges that San Pablo Creek is "a much altered watershed," but she lovingly goes on to describe it as:

". . . A haven for native wildlife that rely on riparian habitat, including many species of concern, like Cooper's and sharp-shinned hawks, yellow warblers and the rare yellow-breasted chats (riparian songbirds), and, in the uppermost watershed, the threatened Alameda whipsnake and endangered red-legged frog. Unique and uncommon plants, such as the western leatherwood with its pale yellow flowers, the Diablo sunflower, bent-flowered fiddleneck, El Sobrante manzanita, Santa Cruz tarplant, and Brewer's western flax, grow near the creek and its tributaries in the upper watershed. Black oaks, their sweet acorns favored by the Native Americans, and valley oaks, some close to 100 feet tall and with roots that can grow 30 feet deep to reach water, also grow in the upper watershed. Each of these oaks can have over 300 species of birds-and 5,000 species of insects-living on, in, or around it."


It's so easy to take this unassuming area of land and water for granted, as a mere pleasant backdrop. But it is not stretching the imagination too, too much, to proclaim, one fine day when the creek is flowing - yes! - mightily! - to be suddenly reminded of - yes! - the Navarro River in Mendocino, or Ten Mile Creek up in the Siskiyous. Anywhere, somewhere . . . where a creek flows free and wild.

Thankfully, the watershed land, and the creek(s) that run through it, have been left to their own devises, free to flow, overrun their banks, or dry up as they please, creating a vital bridge linking tiny but not insignificant biota-rich segments of the creek ecosystem with contiguous "Bay Area Wild" lands, a truly separate reality, here in the 2.5 million strong East Bay population center.

If it's not clear by now, San Pablo Creek is where you'll find me a dozen times a year, escaping the world and all things artificial. Pining for my Indiana-reminiscent backwoods country crick scene. There. Where I'm all alone, with the exception of an occasional hiker or equestrian. Ambling thoughtlessly, in a meditative state of peace and joy. There you'll find me hugging trees, communing with birds and wildlife, lounging by the creek, paying homage to our modern day incarnation of a millennia-old, (once) pristine, (once) salmon-clogged, (once) grizzly-stalked strip of paradise in the East Bay Hills. As though I'm writing about the Amur River.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!


Protected for years from the ravages of industrialism and urban sprawl by prescient E(ast) B(ay) M(unicipal) U(tility) D(istrict) water managers, the watershed's 27,640 acres lend the appeal, look and feel of intangible "wildness." Fifteen years of efforts to restore riparian corridor and wildlife habitat have taken hold, evolving and transforming the ecosystem.

Despite being declared  a "2002 303(d)-listed impaired waterbody that is adjacent to a Shoreline Park" (California’s Critical Coastal Areas State of the CCAs 2006 Report).

Despite being rife with contaminants - nasty chemicals (the pesticide Diazinon), heavy metals (mercury), and toxic algae and pathogens. (And its fair share of trash.)

Despite being still in dire need of help - cleaning up litter and industrial waste, removing obstacles for the free passage of steelhead trout.

And yet, forgetting these woes, it's the biggest little creek around, cowboying up as more than just a poseur creek, taking its place proudly as a doppelganger of the Navarro River or Ten Mile Creek.

And still, the disbelievers and noninitiates will pooh-pooh otherwise. . . without ever seeing or experiencing the splendors of San Pablo Creek.

I know, I know. There goes Gambolin' Man again. But just take a look - this is a real wilderness creek, by God!

A true oasis lies hidden beneath a healthy mantel of Oak, Big Leaf Maple, Sycamore, sheltering native plants and flowers, fish, birds and other animals.

The astonishing, elemental thing to grasp, is the recognition / realization that San Pablo Creek and Watershed sustains an everything-hitched-to-everything-else ecosystem of interdependent elements, allowing animals to criss-cross difficult, disparate open space, plants room to pollinate, and affording humans (those who know) access to the calming influence of flowing water and green shady forests, always precious to find in a densely populated urban area.

PLEASE: when entering this environment, always practice Respect and be mindful of principles of least impact. When you visit, please abide by all rules and regulations of the watershed. If Respectful, you can venture on and explore intricacies of EBMUD lands, stumble on hidden natural treasures most will never chance upon. Without respect, you will get bitten by a rattlesnake, stung by a wasp, eaten alive by mosquitoes, tormented by ticks, caught in a hail storm, attacked by a mountain lion, and barring that, contract torturous rashes and blisters from poison oak and stinging nettle. And maybe get your eye poked out by an errant branch.


OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

Love it, respect it, take care of it!


Appian Creek, Baden Creek, Barn Creek, Bear Creek, Big Oak Creek, Briones Reservoir, Cascade Creek, Castro Creek, Coal Mine Creek, Clark Creek, Dutra Creek, El Toyonal Creek, Greenridge Creek, Inspiration Creek, Kennedy Creek, La Colina Creek, Lauterwasser Creek, Leastrot Creek, Lila Creek, Miner Creek, Newell Creek, Oak Creek, Oursan Creek, Overhill Creek, Rose Creek, Russel Creek, San Pablo Reservoir, Sather Creek, Schoolhouse Creek, Siesta Valley Creek, Tarry Creek, Tin House Creek, Wagner Creek, Wilkie Creek; Wire Ranch Creek.

With 35 tributaries trickling down from various gullies and ravines in an earthquake contorted landscape showcasing respectable topography and untouched ecosystems, it's a wonder such a place exists at all in the throbbing metropolitan East Bay.

But it does, thankfully. No questions asked.

These many feeder streams, arteries of water - dry most of the year - form the life-sustaining aorta of "the largest, deepest creek" coursing "across the landscape, its flows swift and strong, unaltered by dams or other impediments," Owens-Viani writes in A History of the Watershed for SPAWNERS (San Pablo Watershed Neighbors Education and Restoration Society).

Yep, San Pablo Creek is where you'll find Gambolin' Man getting his requisite dose of action-packed adventure, albeit very small measured up against climbing El Cap, say, or blazing a 3200 ft. trail down to Big Granite Creek from high on, or mountain biking the Flume, or rappelling down a slot canyon, or trekking the Himalaya or scaling Venezuela's tepui mesas; let alone base jumping or back country route finding.

Well, with a changed mindset - and it helps if you love birding and engaging in do-nothing, go nowhere zen nature rambles - you will, I promise, find bona fide adventure and rapturous discovery (got to pay attention!) in a bustling environment of moving water, quaking trees, dancing leaves, birds flitting about and singing their hearts out. This, I humbly submit, is a kin of Paradise - Greek, parádeisos, "park for animals" - albeit a mean and lowly paradise, in the grand scheme of things. But a park for animals, nonetheless, me and you included.

I will take it any day.

And - this is important - this particular prosaic little parádeiso is as significant in the scheme of things as the great swathes of Alaskan wilderness and Patagonian llanos, Serengeti Plains and Sierra Nevada peaks in the Range of Light.

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED!

Hard-charging (surprising!) and alternately languid, San Pablo Creek packs an electric charge of unusual riparian "wilderness" beauty . . . I'll say it again! . . . despite abutting a busy roadway with frenzied commuters zooming to and from from Richmond to Orinda and beyond. Splendidly hidden from view, but in plain sight, San Pablo Creek chugs and churns along its primal watercourse draining the beautiful hills, valleys and broad plains of the East Bay Hills. Homeland to families of Bay Area aboriginal peoples. Chochenyo (Ohlone group) speakers. Peaceful Ones who prospered for millennia in propitious environs in symbiotic relations with the natural world and harmonious interactions with neighboring groups.

This part of California, the East Bay Hills, also supported grizzly bears, mountain lions, condors, and vast herds of Tule elk. Not to mention maybe 300 species of birds.

Things aren't too shabby today, for that matter, for resident bobcats, coyotes, deer, fox, raccoons, opossums, and - still could be! - 300 species of birds! (More likely, 60.)

Come! Let's take a look-see!


From the Orinda Connector Staging Area, alongside the pretty country bridge crossing the creek, maybe a quarter mile in, I love to stop and gaze down at the pretty water flowing and pooling and channeling and rippling and lazily backing up in surprising twists and turns.

Lots of languid lounging and slow-moving, fine ass birding await in this small nature area (patience a must!). Plenty of time for dilatory activities. Take note - you can't just come here and walk with a destination, point A to point B, and back, in mind; no, when you come here, plan on spending two or three hours and covering less than a mile and an acre or two in a loopy out 'n back route contained within delimited but eye-poppingly rich and splendidly varied confines. 
The other day, hiking too near, and put off by, an ugly array of high-EMF-producing electrical pylons south of Briones Reservoir, I veer the opposite direction, not apparent except for a deer path, and divert down an otherwise impenetrable area of brambles and tropical-like viny overgrowth of green smothering vegetation. Like a little deer, I follow it down to the creek.

High overhead, White-breasted Nuthatches are working hard, and some kind of Woodpecker flies in. Spotted Towhees, Jays and a pair of playful Bewick's Wrens skirt close to the ground. Vultures circle overhead, a Hawk exchanges a shrieking call, or maybe it's a Jay imitating a Hawk. Here's where I spotted my first-ever Golden-crowned Kinglet a couple of years ago, and a host of other not too often seen birds.

I've explored many stretches of the creek, often a mere few dozen yards at a crack, but what amazing treasures such tiny watery tracts harbor! For the first time, I've made my way to this "S" in the creek contour, whose vistas have eluded me for a previous dozen visits. (That's how much there is to explore in this tiny watery tract!)

But here, in the thick humidity of mid-summer, the creek's taken on the persona of a lazy back country Mississippi bayou swampland kind of place. Most surprising, and unusual. If not inordinately intriguing.

Here, the creek is essentially a long and winding yellow-green ribbon of algae, with a surge of water pushing through here and there to break it up. I watch a soccer ball move about twenty-five feet in six minutes. A pretty Flycatcher swoons and preens on a flimsy stick, snatching insects left and right. I've never seen anything like this here. I reckon upstream, the creek must be choked up by driftwood, causing the water to slow to a crawl, allowing for a mutant sort of photosynthesis to take hold.

 And deep in this boggy bosque, I stand alone in reverence, stopped in my (deer) tracks, looking, listening, watching for "all the divine features which I detect in Nature."

In the next few minutes, I'm suddenly aware of an incredible symphony of bird song and bird activity about me, a birdtravaganza! Six herons from four different species flush out or fly overhead. A Great White suddenly zooms right in, unaware of me, hidden as I am by overhanging branches alongside the creek. At the last second, the gangly but graceful bird yo-yos up and away with superb control and grace.
Next, an adult Black-crowned Night Heron (impressive creature) buzzes overhead, followed by a Great Blue skirting toward the horizon, letting loose a gigantic stream of streaking white poo in his wake. A few moments later, a Snowy Egret emerges from the impenetrable bayou depths, scared up and darting off like a specter in a dream. Here. Where you'll find me standing . . . in Awe and Reverence and Respect. And Beauty.

Looking down on this parcel of land from a Google Earth perspective, it surely seems to the Yosemite possessed or Tasmania obsessed adventurer, like a little ol' piss-poor patch of earth, "nothing", really, to get excited about or rave to your friends about, or go check out. You're probably laughing at my pumped up attempt to write about this place like it's the Amur River or somewhere equally uber-exotic and grand.

And yet.

Once truly grokked, you will come to know and appreciate a very special wildlife habitat and nature preserve. If only a wee oasis. If but an unrecognized holy place. Right in our midst. In classicist Thoreau-it-up-there spirit, a place where we have located "wildness within civilization."

And like Flannery O'Connor, "I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing."

OUR HOMETOWN SAN PABLO CREEK AND WATERSHED! 


Google Earth view of protected EBMUD acreage harboring a vital stretch of wild and free San Pablo Creek



Read Lisa Owens-Viani's love letter to San Pablo Creek and the precious watershed it supports @

Natural History of San Pablo Creek

Friday, January 29, 2016

BAY AREA ARBOREAL WONDERS: Magical Encounters / Spiritual Appointments with Our Beloved Old Acquaintances

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.”
(Henry David Thoreau)

Mythic Manzanita @ Morgan Territory
What nature lover worth their salt doesn't count a friend, many friends, in fact, among the great and small trees found in the forests, backyards and parks of the Bay Area. Whether a sweet-scented Brugmansia in your back yard; a towering Redwood in Muir Woods; a magnificent Mama Madrone at Mount Diablo; a tentacled California Buckeye starkly exposed on a hillside ravine; stunted remnant Apple, Plum, Pear and Cherry trees from an old homesteader's orchard; or a monstrously twisted Oak on yonder ridge, it's always special, always a joyful encounter, and always worth tramping eight or ten miles (or just a few feet) to keep an appointment with our most familiar and cherished and beloved of arboreal acquaintances.

Oak Defying Elements @ Vasco Caves

No need for gushing homilies or epiphanies in praise of the Planet Earth's most important biological beings; heck with ineffable words of pomp and bluster; who needs rhapsodic paeans to the plant kingdom's crown jewel of creation. To get the picture, simply take a long leisurely look at the sylvan gallery showcasing the diversity and splendor of trees found growing in the 9-county, 47-square mile, 9,000,000 strong Bay Area landscape.

Lumbering Behemoth @ Tilden Park

Trees you've come to know and love, develop an emotional relationship with, harbor deep feelings for, and yearn for their company evermore when you relive magical encounters and keep spiritual appointments with our Old Acquaintances.

Bay Area tree lovers (Dendrophiles!) have long rejoiced in a blessed abundance of healthy forest amidst urban surroundings. (Note: four years of extreme drought have threatened, weakened and hastened mortality for thousands of trees; in one instance, at Del Valle Regional Park, the District is removing 100 untenable Poplars and replacing them with drought-tolerant Oak.)

Weathered Pines @ Tomales Point Trailhead

Still. From sea level to over 4,000 feet elevation, native trees and exotic species alike flourish in diverse environments contained within a sprawling metropolitan area of skyrises, shopping malls, business parks, dense neighborhoods, and industrial blight - not the sort of surroundings you'd expect to find surrounded by expansive green belt!
But. Flying over the north flank of 2571 ft. Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, pilot Barbara Rowell remarked to her famous photographer / mountain climber husband, Galen, "This is incredible. It’s all unbroken forest down there. I’m seeing more continuous forest right here in the Bay Area than in all my flights over the national parks of Costa Rica." (Tragically, both perished in a plane crash near Bishop CA in 2002.)

No hyperbole on Barbara's sober-minded observation. Bay Area Dendrophiles are indeed fortunate to have in our midst, at our recreational disposal, beautiful open spaces abutting our large cities, splendid nature preserves contiguous to urban sprawl, and coastal foothills and pristine shoreline on the ecotone of the wild and the civilized, protected for all time.

Octopotamus Oak @ Pleasanton Ridge

Not too surprising that the oldest, tallest, baddest ass trees in the world reside here. Or once resided here, in the case of wiped out stands of old growth Coast Redwood, Douglas Fir and bountiful Oak groves - trees once numerous in their established ranges. Muir Woods National Monument, in Marin County, California, holds within its moist and ancient bosom the Bay Area's only remaining OG forest, where once reigned the very tallest of California's Redwoods.

Lone Twin Oaks @ Sunol Regional Wilderness

Fortunately, much second and third gen OG Coast Redwood and Doug Fir were spared the ax, thanks to early preservationist efforts on the part of forward-thinking people horrified by wanton 19th century massacres ("harvesting") of the most prized and ancient local giants. (Not even the stumps of the Old Ones exist to attest to their once impressive embodiment, having been cut out and chopped into firewood for a growing - and very chill, you presume - East Bay populace.)

 California Buckeye @ Diablo Foothills / Castle Rock

Today, in the Oakland Hills, at Redwood Regional Park, you can stand in the "fairy circles" of Titan Sentinels once spotted by confused navigators from sixteen miles out beyond the Golden Gate Strait. No doubt amazed and humbled by their presence; perish the thought or need at that time of cutting them down for utility and profit. For buccaneers, privateers and military patrols, the tallest trees in the world stood as beacons of orientation, welcoming them gently into the great San Francisco Bay from the rough outer waters of the Golden Gate strait. . .

Dendrophiles, count your hundreds of thousands of blessings for a myriad of species of trees dotting Bay Area open spaces and natural places. Trees glorious trees, sheltered in 65 East Bay Regional Park District designations; harbored in an astounding 51 State Park sites; thriving in 10 National Parks, including the world-famous Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore; and last but not least, providing shade, succor, bird habitat and eye candy in countless backyards and city and county parks.
Famous "W" Sycamore @ Sunol Regional Wilderness


Bay Area trees have it good today. That is, unless you happen to be a reviled Blue Gum Eucalyptus just trying to make a living in the East Bay Hills. Long a contentious "fire safety" issue, the Australian transplant is also the bane of ecologists for its bio-adaptive ability to change soil conditions to its benefit but to the detriment of native flora. After the devastating Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991,
neighborhood and environmental groups pressed for their removal, along with a few thousand other non-native fire-hazardous trees. The divisive issue only recently has bloomed into public consciousness, especially since news and clamor of the campaign broke, spearheaded by various public agencies to partner up with a master plan to cut 'em all down, root 'em all out.
Elephantine Trees @ Muir Woods Nat'l Monument


Not to be accomplished without the herbicide Garlon 4 and Garlon 3A, of course, whose judicious applications (quote unquote) will introduce into the environment over the next ten years untold amounts of toxic Monsanto RoundUp. No matter how you apply it, poisonous chemicals will leech into the immediate biosphere for half a generation.

According to the Claremont Canyon Conservancy website, the herbicides "will be used in such small quantities and under such strict controls that it will not be a carcinogen." (What would Rachel Carson say?)

Fractal Oak @ Pleasanton Ridge

What would founding board member Marilyn Goldhaber say? She admonishes, "being afraid of the herbicide is not a reasonable point of view.” (What would the Sierra Club say?) Attested to the common good, the harvesting plan, we've been told, is backed by sober impact review / appraisal and solid scientific evidence, and entails ridding East Bay ridges of the dreaded scourge of unwanted Eucalypti. Trees that have been part and parcel of the East Bay Hills landscape for over a hundred years.

Dendrolithic Monuments @ Redwood Regional Park

Trees that, yes, are suffocating out native plants. Trees that, Jesus!, were meant to bring a huge profit for their importer and grower, Frank Havens, but the old boy made a colossal blunder in his choice of inferior (useless) species to propagate. So much for obscure history, but it's left us with all these damn unwanted combustible trees! (What would YOU say?)

No matter if it's the right approach or the best thing to do, Gambolin' Man will go out on a limb and proclaim the plan, while conceding scientific and public safety arguments, is an unabashed case of Might Makes Right, and an irrepressible urgency to spend a $5.6 million dollar FEMA windfall underwriting the clear cutting Operation Nuke-alyptus.

Dwarf Sargent's Cypress @ Pine Mountain
One thing is for sure, though: the plan is not, repeat, is not, in the best interests of Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and many other birds and insects who nest, feed and shelter in the otherwise unwanted trees' dense canopy. Oh, well, we're told - and must believe - for how can we dispute scientific evidence? - that the benefits of Blue Gum eradication far outweigh any and all harm - end of argument! But who speaks for the Owls, Red-tails, and many other birds and insects? Surely, they won't be poisoned, will they? Surely, they will successfully relocate elsewhere, won't they? (What would Leonardo DiCaprio say?)

Tree Rock Fusion @ Vasco Caves
Back to the rich forests of the Bay Area -  harboring a trove of native and exotic trees: Pine. Spruce. Cedar. Juniper. Redwood. Yew. Willow. Madrone. Manzanita. Walnut. Birch. Laurel. Bay. Holly. Maple. Cypress. Nutmeg. Sycamore. Alder. Poplar. Dogwood. Cottonwood. Throw in a dozen species of Oak and voilà - a DENDROPHILES' TREETOPIA! Other species of woody plants too numerous to mention also thrive in our local city parks, open spaces, wild places, residential landscaping, backyards, unincorporated areas, and along roadsides. In short, wherever a tree can find purchase.

Stump of Ancient Redwood, North Coast

Outside of tundra and extreme desert conditions, very few places are inhospitable to trees - the planet's preeminent manifestation of life's tenacious spirit, surely evolution's crowning natural achievement with tiny seedlings taking root in the most unlikely of places, surviving in the harshest of climes.

Think of venerable Bristlecone Pine, individual trees robust and living (and half-dead) for thousands of years, in California's nutrient-poor, high altitude White Mountains.

Cached "Egg Horns" @ Ohlone Regional Wilderness


Think of a hardy stand of Palmer Oak ruling atop a distant ridge at Vasco Caves Regional Preserve, representing the tree's northernmost range, an uncommon desert species of Quercus known for its large acorns and Holly-like spiny leaves and generally found at altitudes a couple of thousand feet higher than Vasco Caves.

Yet here they exist, in splendid isolation on that high, distant ridge.

Holy Convergence @ Redwood Regional Park

Think of specially adapted species eking out successful survival strategies in nutrient-depleted serpentine soils. Marvel at the stunted "genetically pure" strain (you believe) of Sargent's Cypress growing in rocky soil on Pine Mountain in Marin County. Or, that wondrous lone Western Juniper rising out of a rocky crag above Donner Falls in Mount Diablo's Oat Canyon. Think Coulter and Grey ("Digger") Pine. normally found at higher foothill elevations, but taking root and thriving in the perfect niche environments of Henry Coe and Mount Diablo State Parks. Think Canyon Live and Black Oak found in dispersed, selective habitats, knotted, ancient gnarly-assed species, draped in spooky strands of pale green moss, co-existing with parasitic Oak apple gall and other epiphytic entities that could easily compromise their being.

Spooky Manzanita Brush @ Gary Giacomini

You have your favorite trees, the ones that when you come upon them during your nature outings, you recognize them as dear old friends. You bow down reverentially to them as living monuments; you hug and kiss them shamelessly, and smell them lustily, and commune silently with them - in a mostly futile endeavor to mind meld with their undetectable y-wave penetrations carrying tantalizing hints to their mysterious existence.

Yeah, a lot to think about when it comes to the divine nature of trees, the heavenly trees of nature.

Medusa Oak @ Wildcat Creek

Certainly, you've learned through repeated osmotic sensations, that being in the company of trees, connecting physically / psychically with them, is the best therapy you can give yourself (next to water flowing). Who else listens so well? Who never talks back? Who does not stand in judgment, nor fall to the ground in resentment, whether felled by the logger's ax or a bolt of lightning from the heavens. Who just stands there, existing in a timeless state of transcendent patience and infinite but unseen forbearance.

For trees, you have come to know and appreciate, have a supernal ability to infuse your spirit with calm and peace, and pervade your senses with joy and love! Truly, trees are holy, something "only God can make" as you smile and nod at the reference to Joyce Kilmer's famous poem.
Sculptural Madrone @ Alpine Lake, Marin County


Over the years, certain stands, copses, clusters, groves and woodsy tracts have become part and parcel of your dendro-cosmology. Individual trees you've fallen in love with, whom you romanticize and apotheosize, standing out from all others.

And now, enjoy a few of Gambolin' Man's favorite tree profiles:

From Morgan Territory Explorations:

Glorious Oak @ San Pablo Creek

"Growing in a proto forest, right off the trail, is an enormous Manzanita, the most impressive Arctostaphylos you’ve ever seen, maybe residing in this sanctuary like a guardian of the ages for the past 300 years. Who knows. Nearby Manzanitas deign to compete in girth, height, textural richness and sculptural complexity, but fall short of measuring up to this old dog . . . an absolute epic specimen showing off dark red chocolate skin tones the color of ancient Mayan cinnabar, thick bodied, gnarled-branched piece of work. You circle it repeatedly, touching and stroking it, lost in rapt admiration, more even than you would for a prized sculptural masterpiece in the Louvre - if you were able to touch it."
Olympian Oak @ Ohlone Wilderness


From Ohlone Wilderness Hike:
"A sentinel Oak sits off trail over 2000 feet above sea level in the Ohlone Regional Wilderness near Livermore, California. A stand-out tree if you've ever seen one, an antediluvian specimen with a trunk five feet wide - such rotund girth! - and deeply furrowed bark, richly textural, an ancient and sentient being as though Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce himself incarnate ("John Smith"). There is sanctity and purity about this tree. You spend an inordinate amount of time admiring it, wondering about it, inspecting its various oddities, scrutinizing its subtle profundities, fascinated with lichen and moss growth and dozens of acorns cached in the deep grooves."

From Muir Woods Cathedral of Trees:

"The massive trees of Bohemian and Cathedral Groves are up to 800 years old, soaring sky-high-ward, tapering out of sight with their huge canopy containing entire living ecosystems. These specimens compare to some of the biggest Redwoods in existence up and down the coast.

Titan Sentinel @ Muir Wood Nat'l Monument

Redwoods in the Mist @ Steep Ravine
Somewhere along Redwood Creek is a tree over 250 ft. tall, 14 ft. wide, and 1000 years young. It sprouted around the time Vikings set sail for Vinland, when Toltecs ruled central Mexico, as Europe was emerging from the Dark Ages. It has outlived forty generations of humans. It has survived fire, wind, storm, the ax.

Today, it is just middle-aged. Will it be alive a thousand years from now, in the year 3000? Will we paltry humans still be around to bear witness?"

From Vasco Caves Miracles

"Same thing goes for the big Cottonwoods and the 100+ year old Valley and Interior Live Oak, thirsty trees which require year-round access to water. In a geological conundrum, the preserve is a subtle water-dependent ecosystem where plants thrive in harsh conditions owing to ground water that is forced to the surface from far away by complex subterranean activities that somehow push it to this area."

From Arboreal Wonders of California:

Sycamore-lined Alameda Creek @ Sunol Regional Wilderness

"For indigenous coastal and inland native peoples of the Bay Area, the little acorn from the genus Quercus – especially from Black and Tan Oak – provided (along with salmon and shellfish) the bulk of their sustenance. The Sacred Acorn was the foundation of their subsistence patterns, the raison d’etre of their celebratory rituals; indeed, the powerhouse nut represented the key to life itself and the marking of new phases of time.

Supernal Madrone @ Rock City

It’s easy to see why the mighty Oak – Emerson's “the creation of a thousand forests in one acorn – was so revered by autochthonous tribal peoples in North America and ancients the world over. Wherever this ubiquitous keystone species is found, it has always provided an important dietary staple for humans, Oak groves create drought-tolerant islands of shade and coolness, and spawn environments conducive to a rich wildlife habitat. In California alone, Oak forests sustain over 100 species of birds, while multiple dozens of its land mammals rely on Oak in some symbiotic relationship during their lifetime."

From Original Jurassic Park - Oakland's Redwood Forest:
Western Juniper @ Mount Diablo State Park


"Make no mistake - this ain't wilderness, but it was once primal forest where grizzlies, mountain lions, condors and bald eagles prowled the ridges and patrolled the skies. Before the saw mills of the 1860s wiped them out, this locale supported the largest, tallest and most magnificent Sequoia sempervirens on earth.

Malcolm Margolin describes today’s present crop of offspring as a 'race of adolescent giants rising out of logged off remains. . . .With their great size and a botanic history that stretches back 100 million years to the Age of Reptiles, the redwoods . . . seem aloof from the modern world.' Indeed they are, and so are you when standing in their midst, lost and mindless to civilization’s buzzing, humming, whirring and mechanized noises down on the flats."

BONUS COVERAGE:
Check out Gambolin' Man's Paean to Arboreal Wonders of California

I on U White Alder @ Pt. Reyes Nat'l Seashore

Don't miss the photo gallery @ Gambolin' Man's TREETOPIA

Dendrophiles, please share some of your own favorites!

Lest Auld Acquaintance be forgot, here are a few more:



Bird Rich Canopy of Side Yard Oak @ North Berkeley


Stand-out Pine Tree @ Conlon Knoll


Eucalyptus Shedding @ Tilden

Animated Tree Swimmer @ Tilden




Moss-carpeted White Alders @ Liberty Trail

Half-live / Half-dead Manzanita @ Morgan Territory

Healthy Manzanita @ Black Diamond Mines