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.

 

Wildlife Torpors (one-night “hibernations”)

Two mini-hibernations I observed in the garden today:

At morning prayers (a bit earlier than usual, well before sunrise), I heard a noisy motorcycle revving its engine, and spluttering and revving and spluttering, and revving hard and long, successfully getting started… from up in the top of a coast-live oak. After its successful start, the engine abruptly aborted and ended in a couple of clear, hummingbird chirps, and then the hummingbird, now fully awake from its nightly hibernation, flew off to hunt for breakfast.

And tonight, while we were eating dinner as darkness was falling, a giant mama, yellow-faced bumble bee flew to a blueberry bush just outside our dining room window (single-pane glass allows some of our heat out to warm that bush at night, and the first rays of morning sun warm it in the morning), and after pumping her abdomen for a wee bit, trying to stay warm, she curled into a tight little ball huddled beneath a blueberry leaf, and turned to stone – hibernating for the night.

What a wonderful cold weather warning system.

Time to put on an extra layer of heavy, merino woolen-wear!

Lesson from a Hedge Rose

In the Coast Range Mountains of California, our Flower Season — our warm explosion of new green growth, with native wildflowers rioting on the hills and blankets of native flowers covering the shrubs and trees, has long since passed. The new generation of brush rabbits have already grown, and taken up their gardening duties of mowing the lawn and pruning up the garden hedges.

Hedge roses, not being native California plants, and living in the irrigated portion of our gardens, are one of the few sources of flowering beauty that we typically can enjoy during the festival of Beltane, when Druids elsewhere in the world are reveling in their own, native Flower Seasons. But this year, they are certainly taking their dear, sweet time about it!

So, during my morning meditations today, I asked the roses: what are you waiting for?

Answer:

Others will always desire the pleasure of my flowers and foliage, for food, or shelter, or spiritual sustenance. But I cannot be always giving, and never receiving. I need time to rest, to gather resources, to build up my strength, so that I may continue to offer my unique gifts to the world, in brief seasons of glorious productivity. Besides, my beauty is well worth the wait.

I feel as if there is some wisdom in that, for me, as well. I always come back stronger, happier, and more vitally able to give of myself, after retreating from the busy world of work and family, for a time, to rest and to reflect.

Time to schedule another nature retreat!

Lesson from a Fig Tree

This morning, I noticed my 3-year-old fig tree straining against the tethers that anchored it to its support posts. When I loosened the tethers, I noticed that underneath, the tree bark was beginning to suffer from damaging effects of trapped dampness. Fortunately, I caught my error in time, and gave the young tree some additional breathing room, in which to heal and continue to grow.

The tree pointed out that providing it the optimal growing environment required that I not simply tether a young tree to support stakes upon planting, nor that I simply free the young tree to fend for itself on this windy hill, but that instead, I maintain a closer vigilance, noting when it was just beginning to outgrow its tethers, and giving it just a bit more freedom, and just a bit more freedom, and just a bit more freedom — while it slowly builds up its own strength and powers of resilience.

As a parent, I find this to be a powerful reminder of my duty to provide an appropriate level of protection and support to my son, while also ensuring that I provide him adequate room to experiment, move, grow, and breathe. Finding the right balance between support and freedom is a real challenge. It requires vigilance because the needs of children (as of plants) will vary with the weather — both physical and spiritual — as they slowly lurch their way toward adulthood.

Lesson from a Camellia

Today, during my morning meditations, the camellia bush next to my sit-spot reminded me that, even in Beings that at times seem tough, prickly, and profoundly unhappy, new growth can be delicate, pliable, and vibrant. It responds robustly to a gentle touch, careful feeding, one’s full attention, and a few kind words. So, remember: treat it gently.

This is also true of human children, and human adults who are acting like children.