This was hardly a bonanza year rain-wise for the Conejo, making life even that much more grueling for already drought-distressed oaks just beginning to rally after the 2017 deluge.
Yet the amount of “groundlevel” greenery in riparian corridors shaded by our frail, gallant coast live oaks can be astonishing, even as summer unleashes its initial round of withering heat.
I’ve been house-sitting for a Thousand Oaks friend who lives not far from Oakbrook Regional Park, an area I’d never explored much before, so it’s been a summer of sightseeing delights.
The park’s main trail starts out about average road width, then peters out to a footpath that is as inviting as it is forbidding. It is fringed in overbearing greenery to brush through, much of which is poison oak.
There’s also spiny blackberry, prickly wild oats, thorny wild rose. On the upside, there’s the soft, felt-like foliage of snowberry, California fuchsia and mountain mahogany. The abundant mugwort and climbing penstemon found there are also not rough on a hiker’s hide.
It’s definitely an “at your own risk” decision to proceed on a narrow footpath surrounded by potentially itchy, scratchy things.
My friend recently showed me phenomenally lush photos from her visit to Panama’s parks and mountains. Our humble little footpath’s setting holds up well in comparison.
There’s the high drama of a massive rock outcropping that in wet years must funnel a torrent of white water directly across the path’s entrance into the now-dry creek bed.
Currently sun-dappled and coated in fuzzy moss, the chunky slabs suggest a giant’s staircase. Nearly every crevice in the rocky mass has sprouted robust native plants, including coastal wood ferns and sapling toyons along with the same species that fringe the footpath.
The entire scene is a glowing green picture postcard of what seems so improbable—a junglelike jumble of plants thriving in our rain-deprived environment.
When I arrived at the footpath, the day’s heat was ameliorated by a breeze that swirled from my ankles to earlobes. Straggly as they appeared, the oaks still provided for an overheated hiker the sanctuary of their shady canopies.
The footpath has an alluring enchantment to it, but the contact factor with poison oak must be kept in mind. The itchy, blistering, oozing rash is unpleasant. I opted for admiring the vista from a slight distance, and found reward aplenty in the calm, quiet setting, joined there by hummingbirds, lizards and butterflies.
Not everyone is susceptible to the oily residue of our native poison oak shrub. The plant is easily recognizable (“leaves of three, leave it be”). There are products to apply beforehand as protection and “wipes” to use if you fear you’ve brushed too close.
Be aware that pets can transmit the residue from their fur to your skin.
Oakbrook Regional Park is at 3290 Lang Ranch Parkway, off Westlake Boulevard in Thousand Oaks.
Glasser is a local freelance writer and nature enthusiast. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.