Shane Brown is a lifelong naturalist and the caretaker at Big Oak Canyon, Earthroots 39-acre property in Silverado, California. This blog is a highlight reel of his experiences at Big Oak Canyon.

Wow, a lot has happened in a month! As our reality shifts with the unfolding pandemic, so too does the natural world undergo drastic changes as the days grow long and the plants and baby birds grow with vigor. Migrant birds such as Townsend’s warbler have been coming through, and I heard the first call of the pacific-slope flycatcher, a sound that will persist all summer, on March 14. As Earthroots has suspended in-person classes, and people are urged to stay home, I have been privileged to continue caretaking Big Oak Canyon. My focus has been, more than ever, on utilizing the resources that I have right at hand, and building resilience in doing so. I have spent time foraging, building up the gardens to grow food at Big Oak, and using the food I already have. I have also started a YouTube channel! Amidst the fear and grief that accompanies the pandemic and economic situation, I have had a lot of time to enjoy the beauty that surrounds me and feel well and full of vigor. Here’s a look at some happenings both before and after the lockdown went into effect.

Big Oak Canyon Highlights

UC Irvine graduate ecology students and professors learn how to make cordage from yucca leaves. Their field trip topics included ethnobotany, ecological study design, and conservation on private and multi-use lands.
A female lesser goldfinch gathers some fibers from a string to build her nest.
A lush carpet of miner’s lettuce grows under the chaparral, while mosses and lichens grow on old branches.
Indian Warriors bloom under the chaparral canopy.
A view across Orange County and Los Angeles, with the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance, on the first day of the COVID-19 lockdown in Orange County.
A raven watches over Catalina Island and Orange County during the first day of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Chaparral yucca puts on an extravagant display of flowers.
Coast live oak is full of catkins (flowers) this year, and will hopefully produce abundant acorns!
A Cassin’s finch does not stop from picking toyon berries as he sings his song from a high perch.
A bobcat, caught in my camera’s flash, exchanges a gaze with me as he walks around scent marking.
A Townsend’s warbler looks around for insects in the oak canopy.


A volunteer works on carving joinery on a pine pole to build a nail-less shade structure over the stage
Volunteers work on building a door for the compost toilet.
Melon and basil seeds sprout as I use the hot compost pile as a greenhouse.
I have done several grafting experiments to change the variety of fruit on some of our trees. Here, I have put different varieties of apple onto the same apple tree. I also grafted fruiting cherry onto non-fruiting cherry trees, different fig varieties onto the feral and tasteless fig trees, English walnut onto some black walnut sprouts, and almond onto peach stock in our nursery.


Answers for last month:

What was the main economic activity for the first homesteaders in Silverado and nearby canyons?


What common bird of the canyons goes into a state of torpor in the winter, and is named for the call that it makes?

-common poorwill

What kind of plant can become completely desiccated and spring back to full vigor in minutes after rain?


This month’s questions:

What two kinds of insects are known to live only on yucca?

What kind of local bird builds a long tube or sock-shaped nest?

What native fish used to migrate up the local creeks, like Silverado and Trabuco, in times of high water to lay their eggs?

Comment below with your answers!

Categories: Shane's Corner