Wise Ancient Oaks in Los Osos
May 10, 2012 § 7 Comments
On my vacation last week I was able to spend a lot of quiet time sketching at the Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve. Located just above San Luis Obispo near Morro Bay, Los Osos Oaks is a 90-acre grove of dwarfed 800-year-old coastal live oaks. From the State Parks brochure posted at the site “similar woodlands were once widespread along the coast, but most fell to clearing, grazing, firewood cutting, and development.”
I first visited Los Osos Oaks in 2004, on a bicycle tour down the coast. It rated a single sentence in the bike touring Canada-to-Mexico guidebook I was using. I stopped explored a few minutes, did a two-page two-hour sketch then that I still like, and hopped back on my bike continuing south.
During my vacation last week, I had planned to spend some time in town in S.L.O. and a day or two at Los Osos Oaks Reserve. After most of an initial day with the oaks, I returned and returned for four days in a row. I was just really enjoying sketching, exploring and just sitting among these ancient groves. It’s not that big a site, but each day I found new paths and new spots. I drew a lot of trees that fascinated me… but there are at least another thousand great oaks there that I passed up.
None of my cell phone photos or artwork quite does this site justice. It something that needs to be seen, heard and felt at the site itself. Oak canopies have their own signature light, temperature, stillness and even a telltale sponginess of thick oak leaf mulch underfoot.
This stillness isn’t to say that there’s not a lot going on there. As I sat drawing for the better part of four days, I encountered less than a dozen humans… but nature came to me. Wild turkeys, quail, squirrels, lizards, dragonflies, spiders all wandered up toward me. There were plenty more birds I saw or heard and don’t know the names for; this included a cute small black-headed ground-feeding bird, foraging in pairs.
Even the plant matter is dynamic. While drawing, there would be an intermittent but frequent trickle of falling leaves, and even occasional falling animals – tiny red spiders, little worm-larvae stuff – dropping onto my page. I would set my sketchbook down, get up and stretch my legs, and inevitably, returning a minute or two later, there would be something that had fallen down onto the page.
One thing that worried me there is this:
It’s a kind of pale green stringy
parasite (?) organism that was draped from a lot of dead and dying oak branches. I don’t know if it’s part of the natural cycles (there are certainly lots of different kinds of lichens growing on the bark of these trees), or if it’s some nasty invasive species… but it seemed to be pretty widespread in quite a few parts of the grove. It made me think that the continuity of creek flow, climate, and adjacent habitats may have been disrupted, placing new stresses on the grove. (Update: Thanks, commenters, friends, family – it’s called lace lichen and it’s a good symbiotic thing that actually helps the oaks out. Won’t be the last thing I’ve been wrong about!)
Swamp Thing comes to the realization that he isn’t just a scientist turned swamp monster, but a plant elemental that recurs throughout the earth’s history. He goes to the Brazilian Amazon rain forest to spend time among a council of ancient elder elementals who have rooted, who have moved beyond transient earthly concerns.
Los Osos’ pre-Colombian oaks have stood their ground in a California landscape that shifted from indigenous to Spanish to contemporary suburbia only a stone’s throw away. Their numbers have been ravaged by us short-lived short-sighted human folks… but they’re still there… rooted and strong.
It was a privilege to spend a few days among them.