Posted by: atowhee | February 13, 2016


“If only people were trees…I might like them better.”   –Georgia O’Keefe

OAK (1280x960)This photo is one of the oaks in Wennerberg Park in Carlton, Oregon.  The park has Acorn Woodpeckers and other birds aligned with oak trees in their daily lives.  Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Great Gray Owls, White-breasted Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, House Wrens, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, squirrels and chipmunks–all loyal fans of the local oak tree.  That should make us humans take note.

I grew up in southern Missouri where the dominant trees were oaks.  They outnumbered the ash and hickory, were bigger than the persimmon, dogwood and redbud.  Their twisted, off-kilter shapes and branching patterns were most distinctly seen in winter against a clear sky.  All winter the previous year’s oak leaves lay upon the ground, or under the snow, slow to become humus.  It was oaks that held the rope swing, the hammock, the bird feeders and nest boxes, shaded the lawn chairs when the temperature topped 100 degrees, rustled alarmingly and shed small limbs when the wind storms crashed through.

The oak for millenia has been a source of acorns eaten by hominids, squirrels, woodpeckers and other creatures.  Oak wood makes great, sturdy furniture…hot-burning firewood…great fence posts…facing for barns…planks for flooring.  I would argue no other tree family has been ore important across the temperate climate zone for human use.  And its equally important for wildlife in the habitat from California to Spain.  In England the tallest trees are transplanted redwoods from California, but there the native oak tree is protected.  Much of that nation’s antique furniture is made from native oak.  Chairs and tables that have been in use for centuries.  In the Mediterranean region the cork oak covers dry hillsides with its smokey green foliage and supplies the cork that goes into millions of bottles of wine every year. In Extremadura they still make a liquor from acorns.  In much of the arid west acorns supplied important food for Native Americans.

Many of the great conifers of the western U.S. dwarf even the tallest valley oak.  Redwoods, sequoia, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine–all much taller and bigger around when mature than even our largest oak. Yet size does not explain the place of the oak in our American forests.  It is the stubborn, inelegant, stalwart presence of these slow-growing, rooted creatures that often catches our attention, our admiration.


  1. Great quote from G. O. I totally agree with her!

    Since I have lived in this little valley I have lamented the fact that (like the entire Applegate) it was totally logged years ago. Only 15 ponderosa pines managed to spring to life and then the oaks took over. What erosion and desolation I would be looking at without the oaks.

    Question: I plan to go to Klamath in the spring and summer for the grebes. Is there a chance that the place you saw the pygmy owl might be easy for me to find? I don’t remember you talking about pygmies when we were there so I am thinking this was new to you.

    m a

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