Secrets of the Oak Woodlands: Plants and Animals among California’s Oaks

Science/Nature/Environment Finalist, Next Generation Indie Book Awards

A Californian may vacation in Yosemite, Big Sur, or Death Valley, but many of us come home to an oak woodland. Yet, while common, oak woodlands are anything but ordinary. In a book rich in illustration and suffused with wonder, author Kate Marianchild combines extensive research and years of personal experience to explore some of the marvelous plants and animals that the oak woodlands nurture. Acorn woodpeckers unite in marriages of up to ten mates and raise their young cooperatively. Ground squirrels roll in rattlesnake skins to hide their scent from hungry snakes. Manzanita’s rust-colored, paper-thin bark peels away in time for the summer solstice, exposing sinuous contours that are cool to the touch even on the hottest day. Conveying up-to-the-minute scientific findings with a storyteller’s skill, Marianchild introduces us to a host of remarkable creatures in a world close by, a world that “rustles, hums, and sings with the sounds of wild things.”


“A wide range of nature enthusiasts will enjoy Kate Marianchild’s informative and well-balanced natural history book....Marianchild’s articulate yet easy to understand writing style makes the book suitable for armchair readers to investigative scholars. The science is clear, research up-to-date, and depth satisfying...At the same time she inserts interesting relevant information and builds the readers’ appreciation for intricately rich oak woodlands.”—Fremontia


“A wonderful enrichment for hikers and nature lovers, Secrets of the Oak Woodlands is highly recommended.”—The Midwest Book Review


“A unique and captivating book.”—Debbie Diersch, Albatross (Santa Cruz Bird Club's newsletter)


“Marianchild’s enthusiasm is infectious because she grounds it so well in precise observation, skilled prose, and careful research. Each essay is packed with fascinating and marvelously concise assemblages of facts gleaned from scientific studies. The result is both educational and entertaining. Like the best entertainment, it leaves the reader wishing for more.”—Blue Heron


“Kate Marianchild’s beautiful and celebratory work guides us through an exploration of trees, trunks, and the creatures that make them home. Open this book and join this biologically diverse community. You’ll be glad you did.”—Dan Gluesenkamp, executive director, California Native Plant Society


“I love this book. It reads like a walk in the woods with the best naturalists. The clear layout helps me scan for the information that I am looking for, or browse and learn something new. The natural history stories in this book are detailed and rich, sharing discoveries from the latest research and field observations. You cannot help falling more deeply in love with oak woodlands and feeling inspired to care for them.”—John Muir Laws, author-illustrator of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada


“In this sublime ode to California’s most ubiquitous plant community, Kate Marianchild fills the oak woodlands with life, enabling us to peer under fallen leaves, gaze inside layers of bark, and look deeply at animals that scurry on the branches, burrow under the roots, and rest in the shade of trees and shrubs. Secrets of the Oak Woodlands introduces you to the magical community of the oak and its neighbors—like the coyote, western fence lizard, and California quail—and once you’ve read this book, you’ll forever see the oak woodland as the catalyst for a marvelous array of life.”—Beth Pratt, California director, National Wildlife Federation

About the Author

Kate MarianchildWhen Kate Marianchild migrated to the oak woodlands of inland Mendocino County in 2001, she promptly fell in love with an ecosystem. After writing for Audubon and other nature-oriented nonprofits for several years, she began the research that led to the writing of this book. Marianchild studied Chinese language and literature at UC Berkeley and New Asia College in Hong Kong, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Berkeley with a degree in comparative literature. Following years of grassroots political activism, she moved to Mendocino County in 1980 and supported herself as a carpenter while founding and running Rising Tide Sea Vegetables, a company that is still thriving today under new ownership. For the past thirteen years she has lived in a cozy twenty-five-foot-diameter yurt with no indoor plumbing except a sink and a two-gallon hot water heater. In addition to watching wildlife, leading nature walks, and giving slide presentations, Marianchild sings with two community choirs, kayaks, swims, and participates in the events of her beloved community. (Kate Marianchild was known as Kathy Roberts before she changed her name to honor her deceased mother.)