I was driving up Valley Street earlier this week with my all-time favorite relative. She just turned 20 the day before. I am still frankly flummoxed how miracles happen in their allotted time. Children grow at the snap of two fingers. Oaks take a little longer.
We had a few squalls come through this week where the raindrops were the size of water tanks. Farm water tanks. Years of drought, then magically, creeks formed throughout Santa Clarita, not caring whether they ran between the dotted lines in Los Angeles County’s last wild river, the Santa Clara, or madcap down carefully planned and paved freeways. Somehow, despite our best intentions, Nature and/or God saves us, in ways we cannot see. Seeds wait patiently, sometimes for centuries, to finally sprout and bloom, making a silent and beautiful symphony. On Valley Street and scattered throughout our community, still live a few ancient oaks.
We don’t have the oldest. Over in South Carolina, there’s a white oak species that’s estimated to be 1,500 years old, at least. Another member of the oak family, and one of the smallest, is the Japanese Evergreen. While topping off at just 30 feet tall, they can live to be 2,000 years old.
We don’t have the biggest oak, either.
It took more than a year, but the death verdict finally came in for the “Big Oak Tree” in upper Bouquet Canyon, near the reservoir. It finally died in November 1965. The epic fauna, recognized as THE world’s largest oak tree, burned in a horrific brush fire, despite valiant efforts by Forest Service and Fire Department crews. Because firefighters couldn’t get any trucks to the oak, they had to stretch more than a mile of fire hoses to reach the blazing tree. Helicopters took turns, dousing the tree with water or using their rotary blades to keep more flames from the oak. Forest rangers closely watched the ancient giant over the months and finally, sadly, declared it dead. The tree had been measured at 36 feet, 3 inches — IN DIAMETER — and had a staggering shade diameter of more than 50 yards. It was more than 100 feet tall and had seven main branches, each with a circumference of 15-plus feet.
The Bouquet giant? It was estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. Possibly much older.
Experts from many local and national concerns visited our Quercus chrysolepis for more than a year, trying to heal it. The fire was accidentally started by a careless camper. My daughter is an artist. I shared with her that this silent goliath, unseen by most, was an ancient tree when Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, a sapling when Leif Erikson first set foot in the Americas. Babylon had been abandoned.
Growth is the darndest thing, cursed as a cancer cell, glorious as a single blade of fresh grass, impossible to comprehend as the billions of living things that pop out of nowhere following a Newhall rain. How could it be that so many countless flowers and plants hide for years, then erupt from the ground, yawning, stretching, so profoundly beautiful and happy to be alive in various hues of radioactive green?
I still call my daughter “…my little girl.” She’s so pretty, smart, full of life and mischief. We had big rains the winter she was born, 20 years ago. We couldn’t drive across the creek for more than two months. Raging flood waters, like 10,000 freight cars, raced down Placerita Creek. You could hear boulders smashing into one another below the floodwater’s surface. We had to cross an ancient wooden foot bridge, then walk a half-mile home, carrying carefully wrapped art supplies, groceries and a newborn baby. The potatoes weighed more than the daughter. As I mentioned, my daughter’s still little. Her 20th birthday was this week and she’s grown ten-fold in weight since stepping into this grand blessing, this parenthesis of reality or not-so-much. Ten times. I think I’d have to catch my breath a few times if I had to carry her a half-mile today. Or maybe a half-foot. It’s wise that Nature installs speed checks into our cab interiors. I weighed about 185 at 20. That means, if left unchecked, I could’ve weighed 1,850 pounds by the time I turned 40. And 18,500 pounds by the time I was 60. And a svelte 16 tons by my current age.
That puts a strain on even the hardiest of patio furniture.
How would we handle smarts?
The things we learn from infancy to a year before voting age is staggering. Language. Foreign languages. A thousand disciplines. We go from not being able to sit up to crawling to stepping to walking to running, mumbling one word to adeptly sassing. Lately, I’ve marveled, watching college football games. There are children — children — running around on the gridiron who weigh north of 300 pounds. They run faster than I ever did and I was a pretty fast specimen. They can lift superhuman amounts of weight.
What the holy heck happened from 8 to 18?
A seeming quarter-hour earlier, these athletes were learning cursive writing, counting to 10 on fingertips coaxed along by some simpleton song. Now? Some of these babies-a-blink-ago are studying brain surgery. Flip side? Some are not being themselves, selling cable and phone packages and some are lying prone on a sidewalk in a drug- or alcohol-induced stupor. The latter? For many, their poetry shall never be written.
Not much is expected of an acorn or 1,000-year-old tree. Without comment, you live through sunrises. Sunsets. Full moons. Snowfalls. The passing of 365,000-plus days. Keeping topsoil from washing into the Pacific — at least for a bit. Cozy home for birds and varmints. Shade for the rare passer-by.
It’s nice to have a job.
To have a future…
The SCV’s John Boston is the most prolific satirist/humorist in world history. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com.