I think I can say, almost flat out, that Oaks are the best trees for our summer-dry climate.

Oak trees with Lace lichen, or Ramalina menziesii in autumn , Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County overlooking Petaluma Marsh
Oak trees with Lace lichen on Pinheiro Ridge overlooking Petaluma Marsh, Rush Creek Open Space.

 

I have been photographing Oaks for the past few days now, after the first rain, as the ground has become moist and photography fantastic with the early morning fog. Once the ground becomes a bit wet we get radiation fog, sometimes called Tule fog, in the mornings – moisture forming over the cool ground.

0aks are deep-rooted and tough, and native to many regions in the Northern Hemisphere. They are a major tree and not every garden has room for them but it would be my absolute first choice for any garden tree.  Sure, other trees have greater ornamental value, with showy flowers, or delicate shape, or extraordinary autumn color; but as a backbone for a sustainable garden, the Oaks have got to be kings.

I am extraordinarily lucky to live where so many native oaks thrive. Indeed, the very habitat description here in Novato is California Coastal Oak Woodland.  Our particular oak woodland is mixed with Madrone and Bay trees, but there is no doubt the Oaks are my favorite. I have Coast Live Oaks, Black Oaks, Valley Oaks, White Oaks, and Blue Oaks all around me and they hybridize freely, so I suspect this is Oak heaven.

I always get excited when the rains start, and we have been in such a drought that everyone’s spirits seems buoyed with the promise of a wet winter. I have spent lots of time, thrilling time, with my camera walking out my backdoor.

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Above the fog on Cherry Hill; Novato, California hidden below.

The hill behind me is called Cherry Hill, and I walk it every day with my dog, Kona. Most of the time I don’t pack along my cameras, but usually do have my camera phone. This one morning I sensed the Tule fog was thin and would dissipate quickly, so Kona and I charged quickly up the hill, knowing I didn’t have time to get my camera gear and tripod.

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Light breaking through the fog, Cherry Hill

As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, I took a series of photos with my phone and posted them in the blog called The Morning Walk.

Now I have a series of photos from a separate morning with my DSLR camera, as I set out hoping to make some art, walking across the street from my house to the Rush Creek Open Space, along a small ridge with beautiful Black Oaks, Quercus kelloggii.

Panorama of Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

It is a narrow ridge and the Oaks grow all across this habitat.  There are times when the path dips down and the Oaks are silhouetted against the sky. On a foggy morning, that sky is white and if you can find just the right angle the trees are outlined in full glory.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County
Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

For this one, I dropped down below the hill just a bit so I could frame the four trees just at the top of the ridge, then cropped for a strong horizontal.

Just below the hill, on the slope, this magnificent Black Oak presides over the lowlands in the distance below the hill.

Quercus garryana, White Oak in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road against fog sky , Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

The trail across this ridge is called the Pinheiro Fire Road, a seldom used path, as most hikers prefer the flat path along the marsh.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

The marsh has its own beauty and I’ve walked that trail many times, but there is a much more interesting plant palette on the ridge and a fine sense of being above it all, even though it can’t be more than 250 feet high.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

Up here on the ridge there is still enough summer fog moisture so that the Lace Lichen (Ramalina menziesii)  grows on the trees, similar to the look of Spanish Moss seen on trees in the southeast.

Lace lichen, or Ramalina menziesii Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

I marvel at the leaf color among these Oaks. The Black Oaks seem to be the ones with the best fall color, and it is just amazing to me to see the oaks living side-by-side, some with leaves totally gone, others with leaves dancing still.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County
Quercus kelloggii, California Black Oak leaves in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road.

I brought my dog Kona, who has learned to be patient as I stop and move very slowly to line up photographs. The very act of bringing my camera allows me the time to look carefully as I move quite deliberately among these oaks watching for different combinations of shape and line against the sky, studying their relationship to each other and the sky.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

This particular tree I can actually see from my office window. I just walked across by office to confirm, clearly visible just below the ridge maybe 1/4 mile away.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County

Was it was just yesterday I stood under the tree looking for a pattern in the gold leaves and dark branches ? I must have spent an hour looking up leaves against the sky, in the Cathedral of Quercus kelloggii.

Oak trees in autumn on Pinheiro Fire Road, Rush Creek Open Space, Marin County
Gold leaves of California Black Oak silhouette against white sky.

As I wandered down the trail there were moments I wish I could paint.

I have learned to see in two dimensions, perfectly suitable for photography, but the camera image sometimes frustrates me in that it is so sharp and detailed, much finer than a brush.  My camera is exceptionally good at capturing fine lines and details, but what I really like is its ability to capture subtle colors that I can manipulate in the Raw capture format. It is far far superior to the JPEG’s I get my camera phone and well worth lugging when I had any intention at all of creating art.

So knowing I have some great filters that I can use in Photoshop in my post production, that can change those fine lines into brushstrokes, I studied the images I saw in front of me.

I found myself staring intently at the leaves against the sky wondering what Jackson Pollock would see. I think I came away with something more like David Hockney, and once I got back into the office, down off the ridge back in civilization, I played the whole rest of the day yesterday and into the evening with these: Oak Leaves After the First Rain.

Before and After Slider

 Can’t wait to see this enlarged as a large print.

 

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great post Saxon. Gorgeous photos: you are very lucky to live in such a wonderful position where you can walk out of your door and view (and capture) this beautiful landscape. Love the last photo too – very David Hockney. Did you see his exhibition at the de Young? I visited 3 times as many of the video images made me wistful to be back in England and reminded me of long walks with my parents as a child! Happy New Year!

    • Thanks Jude – I loved the Hockney exhibit and always go see the video panel that the de Young installed in the lobby. Happy New Year to you too! Hope to see you in a workshop – if I can manage to get them scheduled.

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