The following is a transcript of a talk given by Jane Hall in 1977. This presentation depends very much upon what artifacts you have to pass around, your own imagination, and your audience. This is just one technique of using what's in this kit. Telling oak tree's story is a good way to introduce or conclude a program about the forest/foothill environment. Another use of this kit is to pass out an item to each child and have them tell how their object might be part of the oak tree's habitat. You can elaborate on what they say.
It was 1477, and it was probably a good year. It would have had to be a good year, because one little acorn (Show ACORN) got planted somewhere. The squirrels had enough to eat so they missed it, the Indians must have had plenty of acorns because they missed it too. So the acorn got the chance to sprout. There was just the right amount of moisture in the ground, just the right amount of cover to make a mulch. There was lots of sunshine, lots of protection for the acorn, so the deer couldn't nibble it off the stem when it sprouted. And so it began to grow. And what happened to it as it was growing? What things were happening around it during this time?
Well, I'm going to talk about rocks first because rocks are very important. They make the base, the soil. Here among my rocks I have a piece of good old California serpentine (or chert). You want to feel it? (Pass articles as you present them, or pile then up and let the children handle them at the end.). Some other rocks come into the picture too. Imagine we are in a special place in California, on the edge of a seam of the earth. Because we are on this seam we get some different kind of rocks. Our little oak tree may be planted in a canyon, and there are going to be different rocks which fall down, they're brought down by water, earthquakes and landslides. One of the rocks may be granite . Granite is made of many minerals, and it looks like a lot of little crystals. Feel it. It's very hard stuff. And another rock that comes off the mountain to the west is sandstone. Feel it. If you chip it, there may be little grains of sand. Then there is a very special rock that comes down from the other side of the canyon, and this is called serpentine. It is smooth and slick and sort of soapy, and green. And they all pile up at the bottom near our tree.
Now as the oak tree grows, other things are going to grow around it or fall down beside it. Maybe one of the things that is going to grow is a vine. Let's just hope it is not poison oak. But, of course it' is poison oak because we are in an oak woodland, and poison oak likes to grow there. (At the beginning you may pick a child to represent the tree, holding a branch, and lay the articles around him or her.)
The tree (the representative tree person) is about 50 years old now. It's just a young tree. And other things are beginning to happen. Of course, it has some leaves - stick your hand out here - and hold this branch, because that's the kind of oak tree it is (branch of live oak preferred). Its very formal name is Quercus agrifolia, but you don't have to remember that, but it does have a lot of cousins whose names are also Quercus, too. This tree is an evergreen oak tree. Do you think it's going to lose it's leaves? Do evergreen trees lose their leaves? Sure they do. But why do we call them evergreen? They don't lose all their leaves at the same time. Here's where I digress a little bit. We have evergreen skin. Every time you wash your hands, a little skin comes off. You don't have the same skin that you had as a child, it stretches and grows with you. You lose a little bit of skin all the time. Our oak tree is going to lose some of its leaves, but it will always have some green one's on it. Now, what's the other kind of tree called that loses all its leaves? Deciduous. Can you think of a deciduous animal? A snake, sure, let me find my snake skin.
Every once in a while a snake comes along and there's a big rough rock down here. The poor snake has been growing, but his skin hasn't stretched, so it is too tight, so he gets a bad temper, and he finds a neat rock to rub off against, and peels off his skin. Unfortunately, we don't find much of the snake skin around, because many little bugs can't wait to eat it up. The skin will decay and become part of the soil. And maybe another snake comes along. He's a little snake, not a baby. He may end up under the tree, and die, or be eaten. And maybe we have a lizard or two.
From up the hill. A pine tree is going to lose some of its branches or cones. The needles are leaves. And this is going to land beside our tree and become part of the forest floor. And maybe there's a squirrel around, and he's hungry and finds a buckeye, and eats some of it, and drops the rest beside our tree. Or maybe there's a partially chewed pine cone. The squirrels chew on it like a piece of corn on the cob.
There's a very enterprising bird called the acorn woodpecker. He likes acorns in the winter and he is very smart. He finds a soft or decaying tree, full of bugs, which is easy to dig into. Can you imagine taking your nose, and drilling a hole in the tree? Well that's what the birds do. They have specially designed beaks. While they're at it they can eat the bugs they find under the bark. Then they stuff the acorns into their hole. A group of acorn woodpeckers work together storing their acorns in one tree for the group to eat. They also help take care of each other's young.
How old are you now? Maybe about 100 years old? Who's living around here in the year 1577? Indians. Any white men? Were there ever any white men in California by this time? Oh, yes. There were some explorers who sailed up the coast, but they didn't leave many traces, except in some of the legends of some of the Indians. So it's just the good old Indians there, collecting their acorns, and waiting under the tree. I've a couple more stones I want to add. A nice smooth pebble. Some little Indian girl is going to help her mother, so she will go down to the stream near by and she's going to look for a nice smooth round stone, to give to her mother for a boiling stone. And this one just doesn't quite make it, so she tosses it at the foot of our tree. Then some little Indian boy is going to help his father, so he goes out to look for a piece of chert. That is what they made most of their arrowheads out of unless they could trade for some obsidian. The chert is smooth and slick, a little like serpentine, but much harder. Now I have here a stone that doesn't belong. This is a piece of obsidian. And how would it get here? Traded for it. This is very valuable because this is what they really liked to make their arrowheads from, and it has some very sharp edges. If the little Indian boy took his father's piece of obsidian and hid it under the tree, you might find it, or if they sat under the tree while making the arrowheads you might find the chips of stone.
Our oak tree is getting bigger and bigger. It's going to spread out its arms and be very large, and provide a nice place to build some bird nests. Now I have some nests that might be found in the oak tree. Maybe we even have a horned owl. I found out something interesting about owls, who are predators. Do you know what a predator is? The owl who lives in a tree usually leaves the other birds who live in the same tree alone. He goes away from his tree to hunt for food. If we have a nice hole in the tree, we may have an owl there and some other birds all nesting in our tree. We have an enterprising squirrel who climbs up to build a nest. If you see a gray squirrel it will usually be a tree squirrel, because it tends to match the bark. On the other hand a ground squirrel is tan or golden like the soil and grasses, and lives in holes on the ground. The squirrels are camouflaged. to match their surroundings.
Down on the ground, around the roots of our tree, or maybe a little farther out, we may find a gopher - nature's little hot dog. I've seen gopher holes fairly near the tree, and our tree is very friendly. So we will have a gopher digging his hole near our tree. And that's very important. Now you don't like gophers in your back yard, but in the open fields gopher's burrow are O.K. What happens when it rains on our California hillsides with the hard clay-like dirt? Water runs off. The gopher's job is to aerate (create air spaces) the soil so that when it rains, not all the water runs off, and this is important to the trees whose roots then get watered.
This is a Stellar jay.(This is a good place to tell the story of why the jay has a flat head and squawks.). He likes to live in the oak woods; there are lots of trees, and leaves. The Stellar jay has a very important job. He flies up to the top of the tree, and somebody comes creeping by, he squawks. He is a watch guard.
We have some deer in our forest. How do I know we have some deer in our forest? Well, if I were a Native American, or a nature detective, I'd would see signs. Maybe a deer came by, and lay down under our tree. When he got up, he made a little pile of droppings. Great fertilizer. Maybe one deer got very old and lay down and died. But that doesn't happen very often, because in a forest environment, a natural situation, you're going to have enough meat eaters to take care of the weak or old animals. Animals usually don't die of old age. There may be some bones or some antlers. You don't find many antlers in the woods even though deer lose theirs each year. Why not? The antlers are full of calcium and phosphorus which are chemicals which make up your bones and teeth. Human children drink milk to get these minerals. But, the small mammals of the forest don't have milk after they leave their mothers. So they gnaw on the antlers that the deer shed. Sometimes the bones are gnawed on too, and this is a marvelous bone because you can see the teeth marks of the rodents. If you have a natural system at work, you won't find many bones in the woods either. Look at this deer hoof. Can you imagine walking along on your toe nails?
We've already covered a couple of hundred years. Let's say it's been three hundred years, and our tree is getting a little older. What happened in California in 1777? What was happening in 1776? Revolutionary War, but only in the east. In California, the first settlers from Mexico were coming up into this area and saw San Francisco Bay in 1776. With them, they brought a lot of changes. Things are changing for our oak tree. Some of the things they brought were new plants, such as mustard, and corn and wheat. They brought cows, horses and sheep. They cut down the trees and plowed the fields. Maybe one of those ranchers lost a cow or horse out in the fields and it stepped in one of those gopher holes and broke its neck and died. So now we have different bones. Now we have bones of cattle and horses. (Show jaws.)
I've also got some feathers, dropped by native birds. Our poor old tree is getting pretty old. There are orchards all over. Try something. Hold one arm out horizontally and one vertically, and see which tires first. Explain why large old tree branches fall so suddenly. Maybe there was a storm, and the branch fell off.
These galls may have been found on a valley or live oak. (Most of this presentation will be determined by your materials). The larvae of a wasp chewed away at the inside of the gall and got out through these holes. If the insides of the tree trunk are being chewed out by termites, the tree doesn't die. (Explain the cambium layer is just under the bark. If you have time you can introduce orchards(Prunes) the gold rush, and related incidents. Possums were introduced at the turn of this century.)
(As you get to the closing, it should follow this format:) John and Mary go to the woods, and carve their initials in the tree. (Also introduce modern litter) The tree is old and can't withstand the attack of shelf fungus, which gets into the cambium layer and eventually destroys the tree. Ranger Rick comes to the park where our big old tree lives, and decides it is unsafe for children to climb on. So it is decided that it should be cut down.
But, what has the tree been doing all the time? Making acorns! And from acorns we get new trees. So come back in 500 years and I will tell you the story of the new oak tree."