There was a chill in the air this morning. (Of course it is 90 out now but...) this morning, it felt like Fall. The chill made me think of Fall -- of orange leaves, of fires, and of Oaks and acorns.
Kayta and I became very interested in the Oaks tree species of California a few years ago. From a farmers perspective, it is nothing short of miraculous to witness thousands of pounds of food falling from the sky every year. We dreamt then as we do now of bringing the abundance of the acorn into a our lives and into a CSA share someday...
First though, thought we, we must learn about the oak, and first still, to identify what we were looking at.
Our goal was simple: To be able to approach an Oak tree in Sonoma or Marin County and proclaim, with assurance, "This is a Black Oak tree!" or, "This is a Coast Live Oak tree!" or, "This is one of the other 6 species of Oaks." We packed our hiking bags with Tree Identification books, laced up our boots, and marched proudly into our future of Knowledge.
Life had other plans.
The first oak tree we approached, the "Wedding Tree" as our little neighborhood called it then, was a giant Quercus next to a tributary of Salmon Creek. It shaded and cooled us as we peered into our books. "See here, the leaf is lobed." "Yes, but not too deeply and not too shallowly." "Are there many lobes." "Yes, but they are rounded and not squared." "Hmmm." "The leaf seems as if it were a perfect amalgam of an Oregon White oak and a Valley Oak." "But what about the bark, is it gray or white?" "There seems to be a gradient from gray to white." "Is that possible?" "Evidently" "What about the texture of the bark?" "There, it is smooth. But here, it is ridged." "There it is like an alligator's hide, and there like an elephant's leg?"
The bark of the Wedding Tree seemed to match the descriptions of the barks of all the oaks. We scratched our heads. Wedding Tree swayed gently in the wind.
Foiled, but intrepid, we found another Oak. This tree, on a dry, south facing hill, had small, tough, dark green leaves that were armed with little spikes on the edges. A Live Oak, our guide books told us. But which? Again, we analyzed the tree; its shape, its leaf, its bark, its colors, we peered into our books --- and again, we could not ID it.
"Perhaps we are missing something?" we thought. "The acorn?" "We will wait for the acorn. We will wait for the Fall."
Late summer. The acorns grew. They filled out. Fall came. They turned from green to brown. They fell.
We returned to the Wedding Tree and searched the duff below her branches for our little fallen answers. Finding an acorn we held it high, admiring its perfection. We turned it over and over in our fingers and felt its weight in our palms. We busted out the books. "The cup is warty, rather than scaled, wouldn't you say?" "I don't know, there are tiny scales growing out of the warts." "Definitely egg shaped though, right?" "Too thin." "A thin egg?"
Fall deepened. So did our confusion.
We stood under countless Oaks up and down the State. We looked for the trees described in the books but we could not find them. Buoyed by a few victories (the unmistakable cupped leaf leading us to the Coast Live Oak and the iconic star shaped leaf leading us to the Black Oak) we journeyed on, but every tree seemed to defy the language in the books in one way or another.
Around Thanksgiving, a breakthrough came to us in the form of a website describing the Oak families of California, or "the Clades", footnoted by a simple yet profound statement that trees within the same Clade can and do hybridize, and that there could be such thing as an "Oregon Valley Oak". We knew, we had seen them everywhere.
We began leaving our books at home. We stood under more Oak trees. And finally, it began to click, we began to see what we had always seen.
Every tree had its own face, every hillside and every valley, its own tribe. There were the Blue Oaks of the Sierra Nevada foothills along Highway 49, long trunked, long acorned, leaves thick and grayish blue, shaped by their land and place. And then there were the light green leafed, egg shaped acorned Blue Oaks of Annadel Park in Santa Rosa, modest and protected in the rolling hills they called home. And there were the Interior Live Oaks on the upper ridges in the Ventana Wilderness near Mount Carmel with their squat, arrowhead acorns, and tightly wound branches, and then their brethren down the ridge with pin pointed acorns and languid branch. But each tree so unique.
In the end we found something. We found leaves and acorns that more or less matched the descriptions of what they should look like. We found some shortcuts for distinguishing California Oak species from one-another. But we didn't find what we thought we would. And we are glad.
What is out there, growing on the grasslands and in the canyons, is a reality more vast and incomprehensible than any book can hold. It is life. Ever changing, combining, and expressing. And every tree has its own face.
Perhaps it is up to us to give those special to us a special name.
See you in the fields,
David & Kayta
THIS WEEK'S HARVEST: Heirloom Tomatoes, New Girl Slicing Tomatoes, San Marzano Sauce Tomatoes, Italian Eggplant, Cured Cabernet Red Onions, Scallions, Sweet Peppers, Summer Squash, Hakurei Turnips, French Breakfast Radishes, Lemon Cucumbers, "Sarah's Choice" Cantaloupes and French Chanterais Melons, Broccoli, Kraut Cabbages, Red Ace Beets, Rainbow Carrots, Fennel, Red Russian Kale, Dino Kale, Arugula, Spicy Mustard Mix, Little Gem Lettuces
U-PICK in the GARDEN: Amethyst Green Beans, Frying Peppers, Padrones, Jalapeños, Husk Cherries, Strawberry snacks, all herbs and flowers. No limit on dahlias.
U-PICK on the FARM: Cherry Tomatoes, Wild Himalayan Blackberries, Raspberry Snacks
- Pesto!: Our first planting of basil is ready to be retired into pesto, I'll be emailing those who signed up for pesto this evening with instructions. Are you interested in harvesting large quantities of basil to make into pesto? If so, please send us an email or let us know in person and we'll give you instructions.
- Kraut Cabbages: We will put out boxes of older cabbage this week in the barn meant for kraut. These cabbages don't have to fit in your bag and you may take many. Check out last week's newsletter for our favorite simple kraut recipe.
- Pickling Cucumbers: This will be the last week that we will have pre-harvested bags of pickling cucumbers available for pick up in the barn. Picking cucumbers will become a u-pick crop starting next.