Guest contributor: Nathan Davila, Arborist, Utility and Urban Forester in San Diego County with Davey Resource Group and the SDG&E Sustainable Tree Program. All photos courtesy Nathan Davila.

As time goes on and the seasons change, the landscape evokes memories in the stratigraphy of its soil. The richness of the color in the new leaves that sprout from the branches of magnificent old trees reminds me that the world is a wonder of natural romance, a landscape filled with native vegetation, mountains and the blessing of strong wind.

Coast Live Oak
Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus

The first time I visited Campo CLEEF (Camp Lockett Event and Equestrian Facility), it was by chance. While providing trees to a community park through the SDG&E Sustainable Tree Program., I was introduced to Rick, who expressed interest in planting trees at an equestrian event center that served as a non-profit open to the public. I agreed to visit the site.

Little had I known that the Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus was right there! Rick and his family host the hikers every year when they start and finish on the Trail.

So here was a property right on the border that was the site of passionate land stewards providing resources and entertainment for the community as well as the start of one of the most exciting trails in the world.

PCT Campsite at Campo CLEEF
Dancing Coast Live Oaks

My attention was so fixated on the Pacific Crest Trail at this preliminary interaction that I failed at first to realize the historical landmark right in front of me.

In the 1800’s, African Americans began serving as soldiers in the United States Army Cavalry. The Indigenous people in the area, noting their “fierce fighting spirit, dark complexion, and curly hair,” called them Wild Buffalos, which a term which evolved to Buffalo Soldiers. (See for sources.) In the post-civil war era in America, these men served under harsh conditions, both on and off duty. The Buffalo Soldiers were famous for conducting themselves with dignity and honor.

On June 23rd, 1941, Camp Lockett was established as a military post. Located in Campo, San Diego County, California, the 10th, 11th, and 28th  Cavalry Regiments served as America’s first line of defense against any potential invasion from Japan or Germany through the Mexico-California border. By 1944, however, once the military established the use of Jeeps and armored vehicles, the Buffalo Soldiers were dismounted. Camp Lockett would become the last military post for the cavalry units in the U.S. Military.

Buffalo Soldier Monument
Oak Strength

I learned all of this during my second visit to Camp Lockett. I hopped into Rick’s truck and he drove me to the Oak Grove, the location of a museum that documents some of this important history. There, Rick showed me several coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolias, which had been planted over a year ago. My intent was to view their progress.

As we approached the Grove, I was struck by the massive weight of ancient wisdom at hand. These oaks were old. Very old. I admired their large trunks and sprawling canopies. I noted a certain whimsical nature in the growth of the limbs that had danced with each other throughout a centuries-long saga in this forest stand. Seeing a baby oak planted in an opening surrounded by elder oaks is absolutely priceless. Out of the hundreds of site visits I have made to audit the trees which were provided for plantings, this became my favorite scene.

I can sense the energy being communicated between the elder and younger oaks, and it is not an exclusive conversation. Trees communicate with us as well. We share a deep, intimate relationship with them. At its base, the conversation consists of I breathe CO2, you take. You breathe oxygen, I take. Awesome. Let’s take care of each other.

My love for arboriculture has been evolving into a need to know more about the nature of how trees grow and communicate. Through experiences like the one at Camp Lockett, my observations have led me to believe that we have so much to learn from old-growth trees. They’ve seen it all. They have been through the seasons time and time again. In honor of the Buffalo Soldiers, we owe it to the oaks to lean in a little more and listen.

Why are trees important to us, and how can we all take part in preserving and caring for them? I encourage you to find an answer to these questions like the hikers who embark on the Pacific Crest Trail. Take time to openly explore the natural world around us. Get your entertainment from the trees and how they move in the wind. Watch and listen to the playfulness in birds. Find a source of running water, and just stare at it for as long as you can while clearing your mind of all thoughts, obsessions, worries and desires. Let those things float away. They really don’t matter.

In the grand scheme of things, you are doing enough. As long as you strive to be the best you can be, to live honestly, and to do everything you can to appreciate and protect this land we call Earth, Nature, Home… then everything will be alright. Just remember, you can always take a moment to sit under a tree and breathe.

Old-Growth Tree, DBH 60-80 Inches