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Black Oaks Leaf Out (Quercus kelloggii)

Every year I get to watch a show.

It only lasts for a week, maybe ten days, so I have to pay attention. And it’s worth paying attention, because when the oaks leaf out, the whole world changes.

The first signs are the swelling buds,  starting to unfurl.

At this point, it’s something you can only see close up. If you’re too busy to look around you, you’ll miss it.

That tiny red tinge expands until it’s noticeable, except to people who are always in a rush. Suddenly, all over the hills, there’s a soft, rusty tinge.

While the rusty leaves are coming out at the bottom of the tree, there is more action up above: some of the leaves that get more sun are already turning an incredible briliant chartreuse, making a beautiful rust-and-green contrast in the trees. I bet you are expecting a spectacular photo right now, but unfortunately I can only say that I try every year – and so far have failed to capture how the light glows through them. I’ll keep trying.

Once the leaves have turned that brilliant, translucent green, I get to see another color show: the contrast of sharp spring green with loud shouting fuchsia blooms of redbud. That’s another show that I haven’t been able to photograph to my satisfaction, and it lasts only a few days. Maybe some things are only meant to be enjoyed live.  I do often wonder, though, why it is that in clothing, say, or room décor, I would loathe the chartreuse-and-fuchsia combo – but in nature, I love it. Maybe it’s something about the light.

Meanwhile, the oaks are going about their business, making the subtle tassel-like flowers that unite the green and rust of the leaves above them.

The leaves are still small enough to let the light through, like a glorious stained-glass window that is constantly overhead.

It’s not long until they become a fluffy opaque green. They’re full size, but they won’t take on their hard, dark green coating for a few weeks. These particular leaves were witness to snow.

In May. (I know I keep saying that, but really: snow in mid-May? For those of you who believe California is a tropical paradise…well, it’s not.)

In fact, this whole show is about a month late this year, like the cranes, the wildflowers, and the temperatures. I’ve heard reports of weird, not to say disastrous, weather in all parts, so I can be grateful that our peculiar weather is just an extension of the cool season. We are lucky.

And I think that I am lucky when I have the chance, each spring, to walk under that original cathedral of shining oak leaves, borne on high, arching branches.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • b-a-g May 17, 2011, 8:44 pm

    Yes, I did think that California had a tropical climate, but not any more. I know what you mean about getting frustrated because you can’t quite capture colours or textures in photos. I like to think this is because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rather than my lack of skill!

  • Gabrielle@flowerbulbcrazy May 27, 2011, 9:06 am

    I love how you captured much of its stages in photos to share! love it! thanks!

  • Daffodil Planter June 4, 2011, 6:43 pm

    I was too busy to notice (hanging head) and I thank you for this essay!

  • Martin Svec June 8, 2011, 12:47 pm

    You’ve got a great eye for pictures!

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