liveoaktreeTwisted or straight, thick or thin, smooth or rough. Tree climbing is a year-round activity and a fantastic way to connect with the smells, sounds and feel of our local species.

Hands and knees on the bark, notice distinct features, and critters that call these trees home. Even if you are not physically able or comfortable scaling trunks, branches and limbs, observe the tree base and its fine details. On winter walks, here are some of our family’s favorites:

Redwoods provide a circus of climbing options. Hopping over burls, slipping into cavities or down through chimneys carved out by fire. Explore a cathedral of redwoods growing in a ring.Some redwoods grow thick branches off the trunk from the base; a climber can ascend the tree like a ladder, high into the canopy. Rectangular cut-outs in stumps (left from lumberjack springboards) are hand and foot holds. Once on top of the stump, it is a castle, a throne, a pulpit for a speech. Nose to trunk with a redwood, notice the spongy, reddish-brown bark in long, parallel lines. Spiders spin their webs like hammocks in the deep furrows. These bark grooves are deep enough to support a bird nest along the vertical trunk.

Coast live oaks grow old and twisted. Multiple thick trunks and branches spread out from the base. One of our favorite live oaks looks like an octopus on its head. Another we call the “elephant leg tree” for the gray bark and bulk. Old trees have deep hollows where branches broke off. These holes gather rain and debris and are home to arboreal salamanders. Oak moth caterpillars graze on the quarter-sized, prickly leaves. Later in the year, we’ll find their yellow and black chrysalises hanging in hidden nooks.

Mossy trunks of California bay laurel trees provide good grip for climbing. A fallen tree may become a nurse log; new shoots grow perpendicular to the old trunk, racing for the sun. The fragrant leaves, especially after a rain, or a foggy, dewdrop morning, smell spicy, like pepper and cinnamon. Bay nuts, the olive-sized fruits, drop this time of the year. Find one and open the green flesh to find the big seed.

Other favorites include the flaky red bark and cold, smooth feel of madrones; peeling strips of aromatic purple and blue eucalyptus bark; sappy, rough pines. Scraped knees, torn shirts, sticky hands, sharing space with the birds.

Connecting with the trees is a wonderful winter activity. Climb on!