The Cultural Landscape Foundation has given me the opportunity to showcase the Oaks of California.
Recently I did some photography for TCLF, of the famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s work at The Sea Ranch for an exhibit this is now touring the country. They asked me what I thought about the cultural landscape, and I chose to talk about oaks of California. I believe they have shaped our culture in invisible ways, thriving trees in a summer-dry climate that we are still learning to appreciate.
There is little doubt in my mind that oaks are the dominant tree in the landscapes of California. Yes, we have the worlds tallest trees, the Redwoods in the north coastal forests, the worlds largest trees in the Sequoias of the Sierra Mountains, and we have the remarkable Joshua trees in the southern deserts, but oak trees (Quercus species) grow all across state.
Oaks are native across the entire Northern Hemisphere but in California they are icons of the most habitable landscapes, especially here in the rolling Coastal Range hills where all these photos were taken, near my home in Northern California.
They grow all across the state where entire habitats are described by their presence: from Coastal Oak Woodland, Valley Oak Woodland, to Montane Hardwood Forest. Somewhere in our psyche and collected memory of how the West was won, winding roads among the Oaks of California are embedded in cultural memory.
I can almost see the Wells Fargo stagecoach or the Franciscan Mission Friars walking Alta California creating the earliest settlements along faint wagon roads such as this.
We have shaped the oak landscape in subtle ways as we have inhabited it. Here we see acres of wild mustard, as seen often covering vineyards in the spring, now dominating this landscape of dormant Oaks.
We are learning how to garden with the Oaks, and my favorites gardens are those that use the Oaks honoring the native landscapes – now a cultural landscape as we grow to love and appreciate it.
How lucky we are to live in such a landscape.
Panorama of oak trees