At a guess, I’d say 99.9% of the recurring vegetation on the front ridge of the San Gabriel Mountains is evergreen. That colored covering all the year round is soothing to the eye and saves us from gloomy thoughts when among skeletal deciduous trees, every branch stripped of its leaves, that much of the Northern Hemisphere sees in winter.
Not surprisingly, broadleaf trees are generally found in these mountains only in those rare places with a sufficient reservoir of water to sustain them through the long dry season. What is surprising, to me at any rate, is how little “sufficient” is. The Arroyo Seco, coming out of the mountains at the Jet Propulsion Lab, has the only water anywhere near that flows all the year, and it supports a plethora of maple, sycamore, oaks and other trees that live on a similar diet.
Elsewhere, however, even an occasional gully where rain gathered for a short time months and months ago but doesn’t even look damp when fall comes, is enough to support a grove of healthy trees. For much of the year, you hardly notice them: they blend in with everything else in summer, and their bare branches don’t attract the eye in winter. Every year, just about now, however, they announce their presence in splashes of gold.
That’s typical of such trees the world over, of course, but what is unusual here is that a solitary tree, where some chance combination of favorable conditions has occurred (and maybe the determination of a few seeds to live on when other seeds have given up) can stand out bravely on a whole hillside of dark green. I pass by the one in the photo every day when I’m out hiking. It stands there without a companion, at its foot a carpet of dead leaves. On the ridge behind it not a single tree shows.
Each time I pass I glance at the decaying leaves still holding on and there stirs in me the inclination to pat it and say, “Hang in there, pal. Come spring, you’ll feel like a young man again.”
I’m what you might call Woodland’s Visiting Angel.