September 2, 2017

Descanso Oaks
Oak woodland, Descanso Garden, La Canada/Flintridge (Inktense pencil and watercolor on watercolor paper)

Early in the summer I went to the Descanso Garden and did this watercolor. I was a little annoyed that some people were sitting in a shady spot in the rose garden that I had planned to occupy. So, I wandered around, out of my immediate comfort zone, until I came to a shady bench overlooking a grove of mature oak trees. A squirrel and me shared that bench while I painted and he/she scrabbled around in the oak leaf duff. I was looking to set up a backdrop of dark, huge coast live oaks with a small bright green Japanese maple as a focal point jewel in the center. The squirrel was either looking for various acorns (from the oaks) or burying found acorns under the bench. Hard to tell what was going on exactly, other than he/she was very busy and couldn’t be bothered with a woman with a shapeless canvas sun hat talking to her dark blue and green pigments in the paint tray. I’m sure the squirrel was equally disinterested in the woman with the shapeless hat trying to level her tray of mixed colors so they didn’t inadvertently run together. (I used to take a level and a bag of dried quinoa with me to level the mixing tray. I have since found a tray with large round holes that keep the colors away from each other.)

Enough of my idiosyncrasies and back to the trees… So, besides the amazing conversation I was having with myself regarding the spattering of blue wash for the sky, I was reminded of my love for oak trees. It’s not our state tree, but in my opinion it should be. (California’s state tree is the CA Redwood.) I think one of my favorite landscape subjects is a spattering of oak trees in a hilly vineyard, field of safflower or just in amongst the low golden weeds of summer. Over time I have painted just such landscapes in the Paso Robles area. There is a grove of oaks clumped together in a large green heart shape on the south side of some hills on Highway 46 on the way to Cambria. (Locals call that oak tree view “heart mountain.”) I did a watercolor and colored pencil rendering of the view—adding a row of nonexistent sunflowers in the foreground to that one. Those trees used to be a unique feature of those golden rolling hills, but recently vineyards have been added and now those rows of plants surround the clump of trees. Even though I adore vineyards, they can take away from the unique beauty of the oaks. I guess I should be thankful that the people who own that land didn’t remove the trees all together. That would make my heart hurt.

In July 2016 there was a scandal of a mass oak tree removal of thousands of oaks at a prominent winery in the Adelaida area of Paso Robles. Of course if you believe that owning land means you can do whatever you want with it, it may not seem such a scandal. But if you are a “tree hugger” like me, the removal of thousands of oaks just feels wrong. And so it goes here in California, we are always in a state of extremes. When the news broke it was just a local story I think. I happened to be in a coffee house in Morro Bay at the time and a patron of the shop said she was going to boycott the wine of said winery. I thought this a good idea, even though I had never purchased any of their wine, as it was too expensive for me. (If you go to their tasting room in Adelaida it costs 20 dollars just to taste the wine.) When I was first 21, wine tasting was free.

This got me thinking about boycotting products to make a political statement, but maybe that is for another CA story. Suffice it say, if I had been a regular patron of that wine I would have changed brands. There are plenty of other vineyards that make wonderful cabs and zins, and they have left their oak trees alone.

Note about the oaks in the Descanso Garden: Earlier in the summer one of our local public television stations did a nice “Lost in LA” documentary about the Descanso Garden. A great deal of the program focused on the oak woodlands of the property. I sat and drank a wonderful zinfandel wine cooler (no wine from the scandalous Adelaida vineyard), enjoying the stories and coolness of those huge dark oak trees. I was glad to know those trees weren’t going anywhere and I look forward to going back there and painting them again soon.

  • There is a big fire just across the 210. I worry about the firefighters, animals, other people, trees and houses (in that order) during such a fire. And BTW, whatever they pay the people who fight such a fire—it’s not enough!

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