trunk and branches. Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) is the
second-most abundant tree in Marin, behind the California
bay. Herlocker immediately checks for acorns forming. “Not
many. Acorns are mysterious. Some years there are many,
other times hardly any.” When acorns form in unusual
abundance, it’s called masting, and there are no foolproof
predictors of the phenomenon.
In the interest of time, we drive up the main trail, a rutted dirt road. Herlocker drives slowly, creeping past the
bird-watchers to keep down the dust. We pass large oaks
and bay trees, shading a lush undergrowth of honeysuckle,
hazelnut and poison oak.
At the top of a ridge, one of my California favorite scenes
unfurls: golden grass — yes, that pesky Euro-import — and
well-spaced oaks. It’s a wide-screen effect like you’d see in
one of those classic 1950s black-and-white Westerns. This
is an oak savanna, defined as a grassland with a scattering
of trees, elementally simple in the number of components.
At the top of the hill, we reach the trees, get a closer
look, and see that the habitat is far from simple. It is full
of life and variety. This is the oak’s domain — actually
Photo spreads: The
oaks and landscape of
Mount Burdell. Left:
Marin County Parks
examines a tree.