I’ve known always known that trees are fucking awesome. We had some really cool trees on our property in Santa Barbara. Homie, our pet pig, lived in a pigloo under a Loquat tree. Our swing hung between two huge Eucalyptus trees. The day I was born, my father planted a California Pine in our backyard. Our family house in Tahoe has quite a few acres of trees, beautiful and unharvested. My dad built me a treehouse in a bent Oak by our driveway, but looking back on it now, it was really just a bunk bed in a tree. Nevertheless, it did the job.
My grandmother’s house, which became my parents home in 2000, had a few groves of orange trees. Anyone who’s spent time in Ojai when the orange trees are blossoming knows exactly what I’m talking about, and completely understands how nostalgia can be brought about by a single smell. I used to hide out in the trees as kid, eating oranges, slice by slice. I remember playing tag and increasingly dangerous versions of dodgeball that often ended with someone swollen and crying. I loved being able to walk out of my door, walk less than a hundred feet, and pull an orange straight off the tree, sugary and delicious. It’s nothing short of amazing. We have Washington Apples, Meyers Lemons, Blood Oranges, Apricots, Nectarines, Grapes, and if I run fast enough, I can get to the neighbor’s Kiwi tree and back in less than five minutes.
When I was seven years old, there was a terrible drought in Southern California. It wasn’t as bad as the one that’s happening right now, but it did take its toll on our orange groves. Unfortunately, with the increasing price of water, we were forced to stop watering one entire grove of over sixty orange trees, leaving the massive acreage below the house somewhat baron and fallow. But near the house, at the top of the hill, we had massive Oak trees dropping thousands of acorns all over our driveway, desperately attempting to reclaim their mountaintop domain.
My dad offered me $0.01 per acorn to collect them from our driveway, put them in a brown paper bag, then head down to the empty field below the house and spread them. Looking back on it, this moment may have been a catalyst for my unrelenting competitive spirit and my extreme allergy to poison oak. I picked 2,000 acorns and hauled them down to the field, heaving handfuls as far as my puny little arms could send them. It may have been the most satisfying $20 I’ve ever made.
For some reason, all those acorns didn’t seed and grow into trees. Many did, but for the most part the field still remained fallow, free to grow whatever had the audacity and tenacity to spring up. It became this field of unbridled nature, home to the comings-and-goings of the animal kingdom. Deer. Coyotes. Bears and Bobcats. We’ve seen hawks, condors and eagles hunt the field, diving down to fly away with a writhing snake in their talons. Three years ago, we planted a field of wildflowers, where a hundred friends gathered to watch my brother Brian get married. We also added a circle of Olive Trees. My mother lovingly calls this field, The Garden of Eaton.
Over the past year, while my girlfriend has been working on the Planting Team at Our City Forest, I’ve had an absolutely blast while volunteering in the planting of trees around San Jose. I’ve learned the proper technique in digging a hole (like a sardine can), how to “tickle” the root ball (“coochy-coo” sound not required), proper staking distance (not too close!), and a few other invaluable tips and tricks (hydrate!). I planted four trees and truth be told, I’m fairly confident I could plant and stake my own trees from here on out. My acorn scattering days are a thing of the past, it’s all about scoring the sides.
To round things out, one of my recent guilty pleasures is the show Treehouse Masters. If you haven’t seen it yet, drop everything and go watch this show. The host, Pete Nelson, goes around building tree houses in people’s back yards. And we’re not talking my dad’s “bunk bed” treehouse, we’re talking serious, running water, televisions and fireplaces. It’s unreal and completely idea candy for someone like me.
Hopefully, by the time I have children of my own and they are old enough to appreciate trees, and create their own tree-related memories, those oaks I “planted” out in the field will be big enough, and strong enough, so I can build them a treehouse of their own… with a zip line.