Insurgent Oaks


I’m starting an insurrection.

If you live in an area that was once native oak woodland, join me. I’m talking to you, Oakland, Oak Hills, Oak View, Shady Oaks, Oak Ridge, Royal Oaks, Oak Park, Oakmont – all of you who live where communities and streets and shopping malls have names that include the word “oak,” but actual oak trees are as rare as the varied thrush, I’m talking to you.

Oak woodlands have been under attack for too long. One massacre after another is carried out in the name of Progress and Economic Development or Convenient Shopping. The army of Progress is relentless, using an arsenal of heavy machinery and chain saws to butcher woodland, while the only way oaks can fight back is by dropping acorns.

They need our help.

We can’t wage an all-out campaign to dig up suburbia and city-scapes, so instead we’ll need to advance by occupying one tiny spot of land at a time: a front yard here, a backyard there, that little scrap of no-man’s land at the end of the next street over.

In their natural state, oak woodlands provide food and shelter for over two hundred and fifty species of animals and insects. Maybe our re-landscaping efforts won’t lure black bears and white-tailed deer into our yards to browse on acorns, but if enough people join the insurrection, we can create urban forests that cool our neighborhoods, help clean the air, and provide food for some types of birds struggling to avoid extinction. (According to the Audubon Society, one-half of North American bird species are now in danger from habitat loss and climate change. They need our help.)

Even if you aren’t worried about birds, you should consider what this insurrection can do for you.

A yard shaded by large oaks can reduce a house’s air conditioning needs by thirty percent, and increase property value by thousands of dollars. One tree can supply the oxygen used by two people daily, and reduce the amount of particulates soiling the air. And native oaks fit naturally into drought-resistant landscaping, since they evolved to survive California’s arid summers without irrigation. All they need is winter rainfall. The recent dry winters and record high summer temperatures, however, have put them under stress, making summer soakings necessary in some cases.

A forest of any kind cannot be grown in one year. That means we must rebel against near-sighted ideals of what constitutes “curb appeal.” If you get any flak, tell your homeowners’ association to wise up. We aren’t competing for a “Best Manicured Landscape” award, or trying to grow pictures for magazine covers. We’re fighting climate change and species extinctions. If you’re afraid what your neighbors will think, post a sign like mine: “Insurgent Oaks, Chapter One.”

And throw away those ads for artificial turf. It’s a bad joke. Plastic grass was invented to perpetuate the charade that we all live in rain-soaked English countryside, and is worse than the kind of grass that needs water, having no carbon uptake, no oxygen production, and no decomposition to provide soil nutrients. Artificial grass feeds nothing, and is probably made out of fossil fuels.

In preparing to carry out your part of the insurrection, you might want to consult a native plant website or nursery so you can find out about techniques like “sheet mulching” to get rid of lawns without a lot of digging. You might ask your community college to offer on-line classes on converting sterile lawn-scape into vibrant oak woodland.

Personally, I’m trying the quickest way first. If that doesn’t work, the correct way can come later.

I have access to oak trees, so this fall I collected bins of dropped acorns and stored them in the garage out in the sun. Now that storms are bringing down the leaves, I’m dumping leaves by the cartload on the lawn out front. People probably think it looks awful.  I don’t care, because I can envision what that yard will look like in fifteen years, thirty years, fifty years.

Starting this project by cutting out sod that has been infested with Bermuda grass for decades would be labor-intensive futility. Bermuda growing beyond the lawn’s boundary would quickly invade any fill-dirt brought in. So I’m leaving the summer-parched grass, butch-cut, where it is, optimistic that my drifts of leaves will smother out much of it, adding nutrients to the soil in the process. If the grass is kept short, never watered in the summer, and covered with new drifts of leaves every fall, it should eventually become a vestigial presence that can be managed with minimal labor.

Soon, I’ll scatter acorns where oak trees would be welcome, then kick leaves around to give them a light cover. Winter storms should take care of the watering, but if the leaves start looking crispy, I’ll haul out the garden hose. By spring, I could have mulch drifts filled with treasure – sprouting acorns.

Acorns sprouting in good spots can be left in place and marked with tree guards – gallon jugs or large cans with top and bottom cut out. A sapling that sprouts under power lines can be left to grow for years before it needs to be pruned down. In the meantime, that poorly-placed tree will provide leaf mulch, shade, and acorns. Excess sprouting acorns can be lifted into mulch-filled containers (tall to promote deep root growth), that are grouped in a shady area where it’s easy to water them.

In natural settings, saplings grow in the shade of mature oaks. They need to develop deep roots before they can withstand pitiless summer sun on their own. Therefore, seedlings in sunny yards should be protected with manufactured filtered shade. You might find more aesthetically-pleasing, inexpensive options, but for now I’m using tipped-over plastic lawn chairs, a picnic table, and propped-up pieces of painted plywood – whatever works without creating a fire hazard.

If the drifts of leaves get too dry before they turn into mulch, they may need to be bagged or covered with tarps during summer to reduce fire danger. Last summer, I had ten bags of leaves crowded together under a tupelo tree during the heat waves. The bags kept the root zone cool and moist. When the rains started, I spread the leaves back on the ground so they can decompose.

A caveat: don’t use eucalyptus leaves in the planting drifts. Eucalypts produce tannins that hinder the growth of other plants, to reduce  competition for water. I use sloughed-off eucalyptus bark to mulch areas where I don’t want anything to grow.

Later, the container seedlings can be given to members of an Insurgent Oaks Collective, or smuggled onto no-man’s land. Protected by tree-guards, and watered judiciously through the first few summers, those seedlings can turn a throw-away scrap of land into a life-saving rest-stop for migrating birds. (It helps if you also maintain a clean water source nearby – in a place that has nowhere for cats to hide.)

Other than gloves, rakes, garden carts and containers, this insurgency doesn’t need weapons. No chain saws or axes, shovels or earthmovers are allowed. Don’t remove an established tree of any species, unless it’s yours and you have a very good reason for doing so (like disease, invasive status, or safety concerns.) We have to preserve all the trees we can, because right now this planet needs all the shade it can get.

If you can’t find acorns nearby, maybe you can use social media to find a supply, or even organize an Insurgent Oaks battalion. Someone out there has acorns to share with their neighbors. Someone else has a surfeit of fallen leaves, or can haul compost, or knows a scrap of land that would make a good rest stop for migratory birds.

Don’t gather masses of acorns from parks. That could strip parks of their next generation of oaks. However, if you know of an oak woodland slated for massacre, someone should save those acorns. Please note: I am not advocating that people trespass on private property. I’m just saying every acorn dropped deserves the chance to become food for wildlife, or a mighty oak tree.

Don’t bring in oak leaves (or oak firewood) from distant areas. That could spread diseases and beetles that kill off established trees. And don’t try to dig up saplings. The process is likely to kill them. It’s much easier to work with acorns sprouting in leaf mulch, anyway.

Although strong trees should be able to survive on just the rain that falls during a winter of normal weather, seedlings and saplings that haven’t yet developed deep roots need help to get through dry stretches, especially during the triple-digit temperatures of summer. Water deeply, but infrequently. Soil that’s kept moist during warm weather promotes the growth of fungus that attacks oak roots. It can kill mature trees.

Keep an eye on all the trees during the summer, however, from the tiniest saplings to the biggest trees. If you notice crown leaves yellowing and dropping in mid-summer, that tree is suffering from drought. It needs a generous, four-day deep soak right now. The yellowed leaves will drop, but a new growth of foliage fills in. Don’t water that tree again until cold weather. During the winter, make sure trees get deep-soaked several times. If there isn’t enough rain, use the hose.

For decades, short-sighted landscaping practices have been subverting the eco-system services that native oak woodlands provide to us and other species, shortchanging us all. Let’s take back the land for the oaks, one drought-dead lawn at a time.

(First draft posted at on Aug. 19, 2015)

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To Bree

Congratulations on being invited to give keynote speech!

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Does Anyone Have News About Bree?

I understand that Bree Newsome and her friend had a court hearing on Monday.  Were the charges against them dropped? Did the judge issue a gag order?  I can’t find any information  on what happened at the hearing.

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The Confederate Flag Comes Down in SC

I just read that lawmakers in South Carolina have voted to remove the confederate flag from public spaces, and the bill is sure to be signed by the governor.  It’s a victory that took too long, but we can still celebrate.  Now we need to make sure the charges against Bree Newsome are dropped.

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Don’t You Dare Call Me Anti-Semitic

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again:

The government of Israel is not entitled to crush the human rights of Palestinians in its pursuit of some Zionist’s dream of the perfect Israeli state.

This statement does not make me anti-Semitic, so don’t you dare try to pin that label on me.

The statement means I believe in human rights. It means I believe the Palestinians are human. It means I abhor the militant Zionism that has violated the rights of Palestinians for over sixty years.

With the rest of the world, I have watched while Palestinian land has melted away like patches of snow in the sun. Soon, the little puddles left will evaporate, letting militant Zionists warp history to fit the fable that the modern state of Israel was founded on a “land with no people.”

It’s odd how this land with no people contained stone houses where successive generations of Palestinians lived without interruption for five hundred years before the state of Israel was established.  How much of the world heard the sound of large stones crashing down when those houses were bulldozed by monolithic Caterpillar (made in the USA) earthmovers?

Of course, everyone heard the sound of small stones hitting ground near the feet of armored Israeli soldiers carrying automatic weapons. Flung by angry Palestinian youth, these small stones were presented to the world as a symbol of unprovoked aggression, while the government of Israel hid the provocation behind news blackouts and censored reports.

Then the sound of stones hitting ground morphed into the sound of explosives launched from the Palestinian side of a wall cutting through Palestinian land. Maybe we wouldn’t be listening to the sound of explosives if we had paid more attention to the sound of stones.

Let me repeat:

The government of Israel is not entitled to violate the rights of Palestinians in its pursuit of the perfect Israeli state.

This statement does not make me anti-Semitic, so don’t you dare pin that label on me.

In my association with the peace community, I have worked with a diverse group of people. Many of those people are Jews. Some of them go to temple, some attend Unitarian services, some eschew religious observances in favor of secular activism. I don’t try to keep track, any more than I keep track of the religious habits of the Episcopalians, Buddhists, Quakers, Muslims, Catholics, atheists, Methodists, or secular humanists in the peace community.

Some Jews serve the Peace and Justice Center on the board of directors. Some produce regular musical events to raise funds that help defray the center’s operating costs. One volunteer is a self-described anarchist (non-violent) who can lecture on the history of the labor movement at the drop of a hat. Another teamed up with her friends from Central America to produce a monthly bilingual film series (Spanish films with English subtitles or vice versa) offered to the surrounding community for free.

One center volunteer used her time there to work with a stressed-out, mentally ill man whose behavior can scare people, teaching him to lower his voice and speak slowly and clearly, so he can communicate successfully and fit in with the group.

Another stepped in to help defend her friend’s god-daughter against a trumped-up charge of felony kidnapping during a child custody fight. This saint spent a mind-boggling amount of time and personal resources, recruiting and housing a pro-bono attorney, and organizing a little army of supporters to attend hearings and write letters in the years-long struggle to get the criminal case dismissed so the god-daughter could go with her family back to the life they had built in Mexico.

There are other Jews in that peace community, probably more than I know, since I don’t make a habit of asking people about their religion or race or cultural heritage. That information is revealed in the natural course of working together on events and issues. By the way, many of the Jews I know speak out eloquently for the rights of the Palestinian people. I’ve worked with these people, and they are my friends. So don’t try to pin the label of anti-Semitism on me.

A few years ago, a member of the peace community went to the Middle East with a delegation to observe conditions in Gaza. When she returned, she told us what she had seen, and gave us copies of her report to a citizen hearing. I haven’t tried yet to obtain her permission to quote that report, but back then what she told us prompted me to write a short poem “On Gaza Soil,” which ends with a statement some people might see as overly provocative. The poem was printed as a newspaper letter-to-the editor a few years ago. I’ve added it to this website on another page.

Let me say this again: the government of Israel is not entitled to crush the lives of Palestinians in its pursuit of some Zionist’s dream of the perfect Israeli state. This statement is not anti-Semitic; it is pro-human rights.

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If Evil Wants to be Forgiven

If evil wants to be forgiven,

the first thing it must do

is stop being evil.

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The Heart Breaks

Again, peaceful people are slaughtered simply because some twisted soul didn’t like the way they look.

When are we going to stop allowing guns to be placed in the hands of people whose minds are so filled with the vomit of hate that they view evil as a badge of honor?

When will it be more difficult to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license?

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Breathing While Black

Last week, I exchanged emails with a friend I worked with at the Peace Resource Center in Seaside.

A spiritual man, Akin served as board member, office volunteer, and curator of the center’s art gallery. He brought in a series of delightful exhibits by local artists to cover both long walls at the center. Akin told me he is still on the board of directors, but recently handed over the curating duties to another volunteer, and is using his volunteer time to spread the word about the murder of black men by police.

I’ve seen and read news reports about such tragedies that occurred earlier this year, but I don’t know much about the issue overall, so I asked Akin if he could send me information. He gave me his permission to quote his email messages in this blog post.

Akin posts on FaceBook. You can find his page under “James Miller (Akin)”
Hi Deanne,
I recently turned over the curating of the Art Gallery to a new board member. I have just finished helping the last artists on my schedule. I attend board meetings but I no longer do office duty.

I actually took a leave from the board in January to focus on #blacklivesmatter and the murders of black men by police. I had the opportunity to meet/hear Dr. Cornel West at CSUMB in April. Part of his speech dealt with how to maintain dignity in the midst of chaos. I’m reading his latest book titled Black Prophetic Fire (In dialogue with and edited by Christa Buschendorf.). He explores the genius of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells and others.

Please check my Facebook page ( James Miller ) as I post info on the acquittal of the policemen in Cleveland who, after a high speed chase involving many police cars, stopped a homeless black man and woman who were said to have been driving in the early morning looking for drugs.

The police began firing into the sides of the cars when the only officer charged jumped on the hood ( in Rambo style ) and pumped 47 rounds into the window shield, killing the passengers numerous times. He claims to have no recall of the event. He was acquitted.

Also in Cleveland, Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy was murdered by a cop who responded to a 911 call where the person said a young black boy was waving a gun in a park and that it was probably a toy gun. The cop pulled up and, within 2 seconds, fired into the boy’s chest.

Google: Black men killed by police within the past 3 years. Amazing stories, many revealing that the victims probably suffered some form of mental illness. All were shot in the upper body indicating no intent to maim or disable the person, just shoot them like any other animal.

So far, in the U.S., police have a nearly 100% acquittal rate in the murders of mostly unarmed black men.


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New Book Available

My fifth novel, Beyond the Aisles of Waln, is now available for purchase on my website .     In other words, the cubish pursuit has landed, so I can return to refining the orbish segments I most recently registered with the copyright office months ago, continuing  the saga that began with a story I copyrighted back in 2011.

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Wonder of wonders!

On Sept. 25 the Sacramento Bee published a brief item “U.S. to pay Navajo Nation millions to settle claims.”   The U.S. government is finally going to compensate the Navajo Nation for its mismanagement of Navajo funds and natural resources.  The article does not mention if some of the funds are to compensate the families of uranium miners (see post of Sept 14).  So I don’t know whether this answers one of my questions or not. But it’s a start.

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