Oaks Replanted At Jack London State Park

Volunteers help prepare next generation of iconic trees

On the morning of Friday, October 26, as favorably mild winds slowed the advance of the Kincaid Fire over as-yet-unburned portions of western Sonoma County, a group of volunteers, advocates, and State Parks employees gathered among the oaks and eucalyptus of Jack London State Historic Park to plant the park’s future in the soil Jack London called home.

The event was a ceremonial oak planting to honor the London legacy of enlightened land management, to counter the renewed threat of sudden oak death syndrome, and to give the participants an opportunity to create a legacy connection to the park.

The nonprofit foundation, Jack London Park Partners, which co-manages the park with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, developed the plan to plant oak seedlings grown from acorns collected throughout Beauty Ranch to re-establish shade trees that have died or had to be removed for public safety due to their age and health.

This has significantly changed the character of Beauty Ranch from the time London lived there.

Historic photos were used to determine planting locations with the help of State Parks Historian Kathleen Kennedy. During Jack London’s time on the property, there were three large oak trees near the cottage that he would write underneath and reference in his writings. Oaks were planted there in addition to the picnic areas, to improve the visitor experience.

All the acorns for the planting are among eight native varieties, and some of them were gathered from the iconic “grandfather” live oak that shadows London’s writing cottage above the winery ruins and under which he presumably sometimes sat, snoozed, or simply thought.

The acorns were all nursed at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen, and the year-old seedlings were then transplanted by hand, many into pre-dug holes in the rocky soil, with the addition of some potting soil, some water and numerous protective pats.

Breck Parkman

Eric Metz, director of operations for the park, directed the project and explained that of the 15-to-20 trees being planted, 10 are expected to survive to adulthood. To protect them from hungry deer, each seedling was to receive a conical wire barrier, and the sprouting oaks will continue to be hand watered for at least the first two years, although, says Metz, “most of them should be good to go within a year.”

In the midst of the planting, retired state parks senior archeologist, writer ,and photographer Breck Parkman, shared some comments and quotes by way of blessing the trees.

“We’re breathing trees right now,” he said, in reference to smoke from the nearby wildfire, “and what we’re doing here today is balancing this out.”

Then Parkman offered some Dr. Seuss wisdom, reading from Seuss’s book, The Lorax, in which the title character states, “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

He also quoted Kahlil Gibran, who wrote, “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky,” and then John Muir, who wrote, “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

And then he offered the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Parkman concluded his commentary on trees by reading words spoken by a friend and Native American shaman who may have said all anyone really needs to know on the subject.

“Since the beginnings of humankind, we and the trees have been inseparable and we have always been dependent upon these green arbors of life.

Trees of every sort and species are interdependent, not just with their own kind, but with all trees, bushes and plants within their area. We both have a pulsing vascular system and a heartbeat. Our heartbeats are measured by so many beats per minute. The tree’s heartbeat is measured by one in so many hours.

“Yes, there really is something to this ‘hug a tree’ business.

“Did you know that trees have memory and the ability to pass on knowledge and chemical defense patterns to offspring, even generations not yet sprouted for hundreds of years.

“They talk to each other in amazing ways and share nutrients and knowledge, one with another. They can be very altruistic. Some trees sacrifice themselves to disease to provide time for others to build their defenses.

“Their will to live is equally amazing. There are few tree stumps without sprouts attempting to grow back—genetic regeneration we have yet accomplished.

“Trees are amazing in every way possible. As a collective, they are the lungs of Mother Earth. Without forests, oxygen-based life would quickly end.

“The voice of Creator is Silence. The voice of Creation is sound. The rustle of the wind in the trees is Creator’s Silence made solid. Trees are Creator’s power made visible. The Forest breathes for Mother Earth. Like Creator, the Forest sustains us in many ways, shelters us, nourishes us and even educates us if we study the trees carefully.

“Forests heal us, soften our depression and sadness, and celebrate our joy by their mere presence. Forests are everything. Like a popular bumper sticker says, “If you’re not forest, you’re against us.”

“Bless the trees? I think not. It is the Forest of trees that bless us. Let us acknowledge this and return the blessing in our own feeble words, draw close and around a tree, touch and praise it, speak to it, even sing to it, for the tree is life.”