The certificate arrived a few weeks ago, and right away I was impressed. On the left side was a lovely picture of an aspen forest. On the right it read: “A grove of five trees will be planted in memory of Jessica Linn. A contribution to TreePeople has been made by your friends at The Malibu Times.”
I admired the quality of the paper, its texture and natural color. The small print read: Printed with soy ink on 100 percent Kenaf-Tree-free, chlorine-free, acid-free paper. Nice.
In the same package, I learned that the group’s next tree planting, an oak savannah restoration, would be at Wind Wolves Preserve just a few miles north of the ranch.
So early Saturday morning, I put on my hiking boots, packed a lunch and drove to Grapevine to meet what I expected would be a small group of, well, tree people. What I found was about two-dozen cars and trucks full of folks in hiking gear and a den of Cub Scouts from Valencia bent on making their voices heard in Fresno. My dreams of a quiet meditative commune with nature were dashed, but I resolved to soldier on, hoping for the best.
Among the TreePeople volunteers that day were members of the Sierra Club: avid hikers, a building contractor, a concert violinist and his wife, a music teacher, and many old friends of David Klendenan, who manages Wind Wolves Preserve. He didn’t seem to know what to do with so many would-be tree planters; usually no more than nine would show up, he said. But he did his best to organize us into about eight, four-wheel-drive vehicles. I could see he also was hoping for the best.
Tom Persons, who leads the planting for TreePeople, arrived, helped get us all signed up, counted Cub Scouts and herded us back up the highway to Fort Tejon (only a mile from where I live) where we parked cars not equipped with all-wheel drive. The caravan followed Klendenan to the top of Digier Road, about a 1,500-foot climb, I guessed, through a gate and south across a ridge to the top of a steep canyon where we abandoned all but six of the most rugged vehicles: two stake trucks, one pickup and three SUVs (finally in their element).
The rest of us hiked down the steep narrow trail to Tecuya Meadow, a lovely oak savannah where cattle grazed until about a year ago. Bordered on the south and west by the Los Padres National Forest, the secluded canyon is managed by Wind Wolves Preserve and the Wildlands Conservancy.
We were to plant 40 Valley oak seedlings around the dripline of 200-year-old oaks, a dozen tall bare-root cottonwoods alongside Tecuya Creek, one large-leaf maple and two box elders (already in leaf) growing in five gallon cans. The part I was dreading, digging all those planting holes, was accomplished with two rented augers operated by four very strong men.
The volunteers cut and shaped chicken wire baskets, my least favorite chore, to protect the seedlings from gophers. These were topped with fiberglass mesh to prevent deer and grasshoppers from munching the tender leaves. A bit of potting soil was mixed in the top two inches of soil in the planting holes and a thin layer of bark chips added to hold surface moisture.
The scouts, who still had energy to burn, were dispatched to uproot horehound. Good thought. Surely they would be subdued after wrestling with the stickery weeds. I took five oak seedlings, wire baskets, fiberglass bonnets and a bucket of potting soil and bark to some already augered holes around a bend in the nearly dry creek. Finally out of earshot of the scouts.
It seemed the perfect spot for Jessica’s little grove, protected by the shade of this sturdy old tree that had been home to many hawks. Jessica loved the big red-tails that nested in our oaks and used to watch by the hour as they soared on thermals above our canyon. We had grown some seedlings from acorns shed by our trees, and they had leafed out and grown to six or eight inches. But they had never survived more than a season after transplanting. I realize now that I had planted those seedlings in all the wrong places, usually choosing a spot where I wanted a tree rather than where the seedling would naturally grow.
As I worked my hands in the dark, damp earth, I saw how much richer the soil was at the dripline of the older tree, shaded by its canopy and nourished by years of dried leaves and decomposing vegetation (and aging cow pies).
I was determined to try again with my oaks. This time I would place the seedlings around the dripline of an old tree and protect the tops with fiberglass screening. Klendenan said it might be too late to start with acorns now and that he would gladly give me a few seedlings from the 800 or so he had left to plant.
I’ll take him up on that, and I think I’ll go back again to help with the restoration of Tecuya Meadow. That way I can keep an eye on Jessica’s little grove.
Pam Linn’s granddaughter, Jessica, died earlier this year in an auto accident.