by Stefanie Landman
Like any wonderful grandmother, this oak is a comfortable, inviting presence. Along her branches are countless lichens, mosses, and insects seeking habitat. Birds and squirrels dart in and out of the tree, hiding among the leaves to eat or rest. Below the branches, a circle of cut logs provide respite for students and educators- a spot to explore, play, and share ideas.
For two years I spent countless hours around this tree. Multiple times a day walking or driving past, leading lessons or games at that coveted spot, showing students the life that thrives within and around this massive valley oak.
I was used to the relatively uniform oaks of the Northeast and Midwest and thought of them as a sturdy and reliable tree, but not especially entrancing. The oaks of California captured me immediately and remain my favorite part of the landscape. When the grass is golden and dead giving the appearance of something barren, the oaks stand green and alive. Their limbs grow gnarled, twisting in every direction, some defying gravity, attached seemingly by mere will. One of my first afternoons in this new environment I sat on the strong branch of a coast live oak, watching the cows munch and studying the uniqueness of these branches. Come fall, I longed for the drama of the changing seasons in the Northeast. But the subtle transitions these oaks used to mark the seasons required patience and attention, making it all the more rewarding.
Grandmother Oak stands in a field of planted black walnut, the sole survivor of a once oak savanna. Before the students ran to the benches- made from one of her fallen limbs- in our perfect outdoor classroom, there was a pause as all of us took in her grandeur. Like visiting a grandmother, being in her presence is comforting, and a thing to be grateful for.