Trees and Life–The Coast Live Oak

This spring, we started the renovation process of our backyard. The end result will be a phenomenal outdoor living space with a pagoda and manicured garden area that we can enjoy and use for relaxing. It is early in this process and we’re clearing the area. The focus of this past few weeks has been on removing hundreds of square feet of ice plant and two dense Acacia trees. We have cleared one of the acacias out of the way and will begin working on the second soon.

With the first tree mostly cleared, we were able to see what was going on in the area previously covered by dead branches. Richard discovered some bright green oak leaves sprouting under the leaf piles. He is knowledgeable about plant and tree identification; I am always impressed by that. Upon closer inspection and confirmation from a plant ID app that I use called PictureThis, we confirmed that it indeed was a Coast Live Oak sapling. We don’t have any of these majestic trees on our property, but there are some along the trails in a nearby community park, so we assume one of the squirrels, doves, or blue jays that hang around our yard had a snack stash here at some point.

We looked around carefully where the acacia had been and discovered not just one sapling, but six! Coast Live Oak is a protected tree where we live, and finding several sprouting up in such an unexpected area was quite an exciting discovery. Coast Live Oaks are phenomenal trees, slow to grow, but once established, their lifespan can exceed 1,000 years. Live Oaks are drought tolerant and can thrive under soil conditions where most other plants would not. They have been able to survive and reproduce for millennia to provide oxygen, shelter, and food for an abundance of life forms.

These tiny, growing acorns popped up next to each other within a small 3–4-foot area. Given that the 6-inch tap roots will eventually end up supporting a trunk diameter of 6 feet, growth of 80 feet in height, and canopies spanning over 100 feet, we felt they must be rehomed so they would survive. We’ll have to look far into the future of this property and put much careful thought and consideration into their new planting locations since they are protected trees with have such a long lifespan.

Richard and I have varying thoughts about these majestic oaks. They’re magnificent trees, but I think he sometimes finds it difficult to feel enthusiasm about planting something that will take decades to slowly grow, and he won’t be around to enjoy them. I know this profound sadness that sometimes bubbles out in his words stems from the traumatic loss of his only son, David. Everything I know about David tells me that he was a kind and gentle soul. He was a talented young man with a bright future and would have made his father extremely proud. David was a seed that Richard planted earlier in life, the seed of a legacy to be passed on to future generations. David was a student at UCSB studying in marine biology when he was held up for his laptop one night while walking back to his car, stabbed, and left to die on the sidewalk.

A mother to three grown children of my own, I can only imagine the grief Richard has endured every moment of every day since his pride and joy was stolen by such a corrupt and callous heart. David had given Richard a few trees to plant on this property when he first moved here 20+ years ago; and when I moved in, I spent hours learning about the plants and trees on the property so that I could help take care of them. Notably, there is a magnificent Northern Catalpa in the side garden. Also called the “cigar-tree” because of the uniquely distinct shape of its seed pods, the catalpa is a showy tree boasting large tropical heart-shaped leaves from spring until fall and bursting with fantastic bundles of bright white blooms in the summer.

Catalpa are deciduous trees with a native range spanning across a small portion of the Midwest. The range connects Illinois (where I was born) and Missouri (where Richard was born) along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Catalpa have a life span of about 60 years, but the life of this tree is so special that we will ensure its offspring have a home here on the property for as long as we can. This particular catalpa is extremely important. It is a living spirit; a healthy and thriving heart-shaped canopy of oxygen and solace. A gift from a son to his father.

In a way, these trees, between the unique beauty of the catalpa and the divine hardiness of the oaks, are the embodiment of everything Richard and I are trying to accomplish as we build our life together here. While finding the oak saplings was quite accidental, the deeper, more spiritual side of me believes that everything happens for a reason. There are no mistakes in nature. I find these tiny saplings to be symbolic of the cycle of life, wisdom, protection, prosperity, and endurance that encompass oak trees. The oak is a crucial link between nature, humans, and all life. If any tree deserves to be called the tree of life, it is the mighty oak.

I cherish these tiny saplings that we’ve been blessed with and hope that those who find their home here after Richard and I are gone will appreciate their spirit as much as we do. I wonder what this beautiful space we are creating now will be like in 50, 100, 500, and even 1,000 years, and who it is that may find themselves in the presence of one of these beautiful oaks. The trees on this property are special, and they have an extraordinary story to share with anyone who takes the time to listen.

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