By: Wendy Langhans
Sinuous - an adjective  that can describe a graceful shape (curving, winding, meandering) or a movement (supple, flexible, limber). That is an apt description of oaks in the “Oak Grove ” at Descanso Gardens.
The 165 acre site is packed with Coast Live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia) - over 1,000, according to the Descanso website . All but four of these oaks were planted less that 134 years ago, after the San Gabriel Mountain wildfires of September, 1878, to be precise. So these oaks are now middle aged, having reached the half-way point of their 250-year lifespan. I’m impressed - imagine a middle aged ANYTHING being gracefully sinuous.
But I do have a question about these oak trees. Yes, I agree that their shapes are graceful and sinuous. But what about their movement, their growth upward and outward? Does a Coast live oak sinuously curve, meander, twine, twist and coil into a sinuous shape? Or not? Are these logs of living lumber limber?
We may find a hint of an answer in a second definition of the word “sinuous”: indirect or devious. We are limited by our vision; we see the tree at a single point in time (a snapshot) and miss the movement and changes that occur over time (a video). Tree growth hides in plain sight.
So what do we see? What do we know? We know that Coast live oaks require light to survive, and they are shade tolerant . Looking at a snapshot view of the tree, we see several characteristics that help it adapt to low light conditions:
1) evergreen - leaves on the tree all year
2) dark green leaves - dark green helps to absorb light
3) convex leaf shape - helps capture scattered light from the outer edge of the grove
But imagine what we might see with a video view, watching the growth of an oak tree over decades, as the tree seeks out light. Here’s a tiny glimpse - a video  of an oak seedling - filmed over a period of 8 months. What would we see in a video filmed over 8 years? Or 80 years? My hunch is that we would see limber lumber.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, May 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30.
Saturday mornings, May 12 & 26.
May 12, 10 AM - 3 PM. Open House and Family Festival at Placerita Canyon. The usually serene Placerita Canyon State Park will bustle with activity when the county of Los Angeles and the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates host a big open house and family festival. Placerita Canyon Nature Center, 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, www.placerita.org .
May 19, 8-9 AM at Towsley Canyon. Busy Birds of May. May is a busy month for birds; time for the youngsters to test their wings and leave the nest. Beginning birders are welcom. Binoculars optional. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot. For directions and a trail map, click here .
New trail maps available. If you’d like to explore a bit on your own, the City of Santa Clarita has just created a new website with trail maps for our local open spaces: http://hikesantaclarita.com /.
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