Oak Tree Masting Year

We are always observing the activities of the flora and fauna in our yard (native CA ecosystem restoration area), and this past fall, we became quite concerned when we noticed that most of the native Oak trees on our property (which are normally evergreen), were dropping the majority of their leaves, over winter. Were they overly drought-distressed? Succumbing to a disease? We had no idea, but were worried.

Then, as I was reading the amazing book, “Hidden Life of Trees,” I stumbled upon Peter Wohlleben’s description of how nut-bearing trees such as oaks will (in unison) drop a very high proportion of the leaves in their crowns, to make room for the ridiculous number of flowers (and later, the acorns) which they plan to make in the following year, which they have decided (in unison) will be a masting year. Masting years are the years in which the oaks bear a bumper-crop of nuts. They do this only once every several, unpredictable number of years – so as to produce more food than the regular population of nut-predators can possibly consume in a year, thus increasing the likelihood of successful procreation. They risk death by starvation in order to do this, but once masting year is over, they work hard to replace all the leaves they had jettisoned for the masting season.

So, I wrote the question in my diary, last autumn: does the leaflessness of oaks portend a masting year, where we live? Now, in the first warm sunshine after a long, rainy winter, we have the answer…

A masting year, it is! Achoooo!

So now, I know, when the oak leaves drop from a healthy-looking, California Coast Live Oak tree:

  • It is a good omen;
  • Plan to spend time in the autumn, harvesting and processing acorns;
  • Recognize that Nature will provide well for your family in the coming year.

 

Lynx Rufus!

When engaged in a multiyear, ecosystem restoration project, starting with helping to restore the living soil, then moving on to replanting mixed evergreen forest and coastal sage scrub plants, one 1-gallon seedling at a time, then waiting, and waiting , and waiting as the years tick by… it is easy to become discouraged, to wonder if you will ever really get the whole thing right, with all the plants and animals, mycorrhizae, and forest-floor clippings in balance. It is therefore heartening when the first native birds and reptiles move in and begin to fight for ownership of the property. It is even more heartening when you start to know (and name) the individual animals, the breeding pairs and their offspring — brush rabbits, quail, and red-tail hawks.

But nothing shouts success more loudly than the long-awaited arrival of your first top predator. In our case, it was the arrival at dusk, yesterday evening, of this beautiful Lynx Rufus, who came to hunt rabbits and rodents on our property, last night:

A healthy top predator is the best indicator that the ecosystem is finally robustly in balance, with all pieces of the food web healthy and thriving. The celebration begins tonight. Drinks are on me!

A Coast Range Planting Poem

Having grown tired of all the delightful ditties pertaining to farming schedules that have nothing whatsoever to do with my microclimate, I decided to begin to compose my own. Here is the first:

Seeds we planted Groundhog’s Day
Bring Salad Fairies, early May;
At end of June, we plant again
For Harvest Feast, come winter rain.

Rituals for the Vernal Equinox

Here in the central Coast Range Mountains of California, where I live, the Wheel of the Year is quite different from most other places in which Druidry is typically practiced. In order for my personal practice of Druidry to authentically connect with the land, sea, and sky with which I live, it was necessary to rewrite the Wheel of the Year and develop a completely new set of seasonal rituals, which honored our local spirits of place, and the wisdom embodied by the natural seasons and cycles, found here.

The following activities are those which I perform on the day of the Vernal Equinox (or thereabouts), typically at a beautiful coastal location, where we can wade in the warmish-waters of the Pacific Ocean, and enjoy tide-pooling and a picnic on the beach, before the icy upwelling of Summer spoils all the fun.


FLOWER SEASON READ-ALOUD

I/We come to the Sacred Grove today, to celebrate the Vernal Equinox, a time of balance between darkness and light that is shared by all living beings on Earth. It is also a time of dramatic change in weather, all over the world. This shared experience, of perfect balance coupled with rapid change serves to unite all beings of planet Earth, despite our many differences.

Here in the Coast Range mountains of Northern California, spring is the Season of Flowers. As the sun continues its journey northward, toward its summer home, the surface waters of the ocean warm up, and the land warms up, and the green hills come alive with color, as the wildflower season reaches its peak. Skies turn sunny and clear, and blue, as the rainy season begins to fade.

At this moment in time, we in the Coast Range Mountains of California celebrate the unbridled beauty of spring, the explosion of wildflowers blooming on the hills, and the myriad trees and bushes simply dripping with flowers – promising bountiful future harvests: pink-flowering currants, blueberry and manzanita berries, plums and apples, lemon, lime, and orange blossoms, and the wild lilacs, all purple, blue, and white, buzzing with the delighted symphony of thousands of pollenating, nectar-sipping bees.

This is the time to acknowledge and celebrate the unbidden blessings that bring joy to our lives, and as is right and proper in Nature’s gift economy, to share those blessings with others who cross our paths.


FLOWER SEASON – SONG

Sing “Spring Has Now Unwrapped the Flowers”
(a traditional, 13th Century Beltane carol):


FLOWER SEASON – ACTIVITIES

Weave flower garlands and crowns, and distribute them to random passers-by, spreading the unbidden blessings, and joy of the season.

Have each person in attendance describe an unbidden blessing in their life, for which they are grateful for, today.

Host a spring picnic on the beach, complete with wading, rock-scrambling, tide-pooling, and sand-castle building or beach-art activities.

And, even if (as it did this year) the beach excursion gets rained out, you can still celebrate, at home, and get outside a bit, between the raindrops, for sharing smiles…

Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees

by Estifanos (age 6), of California, U.S.A.

About the middle of January, I started seeing these bumble bees visiting the blueberry bushes in our front yard and the manzanita bushes in the back yard, getting pollen from the flowers. They make A LOT of noise when there are a lot of them buzzing around your head, so we wondered what kind of bees they were. I looked in the Kaufman “Field Guide to Insects of North America,” and found out that they are called yellow-faced bumble bees. These bumble bees live in the area between southern Canada and Baja California, along the west coast of the United States. They look like this:

I’m not very fond of bees, and so I wanted to know where their nest was, so I wouldn’t get stung. Mama found this video about bumble bees, that I found very interesting and very very amazing. The amazing thing I want to tell about was that a bee drove a mouse out of its home, so that the bee could own it instead! Since these bees nest underground, I think we should put a big rock near the entrance so that we remember not to go too close.