OK I admit it; I am an unabashed tree hugger– a pagan at heart. My white skinned ancestors were the Celts, the ultimate nature worshippers. And I am disturbed. There were several small items in the newspaper last week that were actually very big things. Scientists have realized that there exists a humungous Argentine ant colony that stretches from San Diego to San Francisco that is forever changing the mini-ecology of the entire area. Another study found that introduced Louisiana crawdads are eating many of the native salamanders and tadpoles in California’s streams.

But the most personal and upsetting news to me is the continued loss of hundreds of oak trees in Marin and Sonoma County. A fungus is attacking them and causing quite rapid death. For many of us this is equivalent to church burning. And apparently arborists have no clue as to how to protect the oak woodlands. The trees continue to die.

The genus for oaks is Quercus, which is derived from 2 Celtic words- quer -fine and cuez, tree. Great choice, they are fine trees. The priestly class of the Celts- the Druids – identified certain oak groves, as sacred in ancient Britain. Indeed the first thing the Christian missionaries did when attempting to convert the local heathens was to chop down and destroy the groves.

California is rich in Oaks there are 19 species and a mess of hybrids. Even the dendrologically challenged know oaks. They have acorns, distinctive wind pollinated flowers, very strong and lovely wood and oaks can live for centuries. The native peoples heavily relied upon acorns for sustenance. Countless birds and mammals depend upon the trees for food and shelter.

So what is our legacy to our grandchildren? A California devoid of red-legged frogs and newts. Will they never experience the architectural majesty and beauty of a solitary oak in a grassland? Will the chatter of gray squirrels and the raucous laugh of an acorn woodpecker not grace their world? That is too sad to imagine. This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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August 6, 2009