Thursday, August 23, 2012


Approaching this tree on Vineyard Drive west of Paso Robles, CA I thought to myself, "Gosh that's a pretty darn big valley oak."  But, like so many of the bigger valley/California white oaks (Quercus lobata) in the area, this one had seen better days, and had been through the wars of lightening strikes, dropped branches and the minor detail of having a road built over its root system... leaving me to think to myself once again, "By golly, I wish I could have seen it about 50 years ago."

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Then as I got nearer to the trunk of the tree I just about locked up the brakes and thought to myself, "Holy moly that tree is huge!"  Because apparently I have taken to thinking to myself in dialogue from episodes of Ozzy & Harriet. 

To return to the more appropriate lingo of 2012 central coast California:  Bro, this dude is a beast.
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Need a little scale?  Here you go:
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That is my ball cap.  Stylish, eh?  Keep something in mind here:  I have a big head.  A really big head.  And not just figuratively.  My older brother played football at our very large suburban Minneapolis high school, and he was the only kid on the team for whom the school didn't have a large enough brain bucket.  He had to order a custom helmet from the same place that used to outfit the Minnesota Vikings.  Do you know what we call him in the family?  Pinhead.   As usual I didn't have a tape measure with me, but I'd estimate the dbh (diameter at breast height in forestry jargon) at 7 feet.

The California white oaks of the coast range hillsides and valleys amaze me.  Summer temps hover around a bajillion degrees.  Winter temps often go well below freezing.  Rainfall is as infrequent as it is sporadic.  These oaks cling tenaciously to life for decades & centuries, and then the second they tap into a water source (in this case a creek/ditch) they grow to immense proportions.

This is the base of a branch this tree dropped:

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The base of the branch is bigger than most mature oak trees in my native Minnesota!  The architecture necessary to support a branch of those proportions boggles the mind.
Oh, yeah - remember the pruning scare on the roadside of the tree, the pruning scare that left much too long a branch stub?  Here's what you see as you drive by:

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Yes, I could be a curmudgeon and file this under "Oak Abuse," but come on.  I'm not a big one for anthropomorphizing trees.  My friend/mentor/hero Donald Willeke (co-founder of the American Chestnut Foundation, past president of American Forests, co-founder of the Twin Cities Tree Trust, etc etc etc) once wrote a typically hysterical and acerbic piece lampooning Joyce Kilmer's poem Trees, in particular questioning the contortions required for a tree to press its "mouth" against the Earth while at the same time lifting its "leafy arms to pray" while "looking at God all day."

But you have to admit, giving this tree a face is pretty cool.

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