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Here's the "nut graf" for this column, as we say in the trade: It has been said, by respected historians, that forests were so dense in the eastern part of what would become the United States that, before European settlement, a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River without touching the ground.

This is a terrific image, isn't it?

Of course, we are now told, by iconoclastic bloggers, that it isn't true. That the Native Americans cleared land just like the latecomers, that forests recede on their own and, I suppose, that no squirrel has that kind of stamina. Thus, the westbound squirrel, leaping from leafy treetop to treetop, passes into folklore. But the point is still taken. There were plenty of trees here in the 1600s. And most of them are gone.

The reason I bring this up is the current news that some of Santa Rosa Junior College's majestic oaks, which have long defined that beautiful campus, are doomed.

This is admittedly very bad news. The account I read estimated they were about 100 years old. I'm not an arboreal scientist, but I do know that the SRJC campus was built on a 40-acre parcel of "oaks and wildflowers" that was owned by the Chamber of Commerce and designated for a park called Luther Burbank Creation Gardens, honoring the famed horticulturist who died in 1926.

Improvements had come only as far as two restrooms and a walkway when the Crash of '29 came and improvements stopped. When the junior college, which had lived on the campus of Santa Rosa High School for its first dozen years, asked for the land as a permanent home, it was granted. Those oaks were there and may have been for 100 years already.

This news that several oaks must go shouldn't come as any great surprise, at least not in the context of 175 years of Sonoma County history.

Our oaks have been disappearing ever since the first Caucasian caught sight of them.

I read a description written in 1833 by Baron Ferdinand Wrangell, governor of Russian-America, who rode out from Fort Ross up the Russian River to the inland valleys. He talked about the "luxuriant grass" in the "immense meadows" and the "splendid oak forests, tidy like English parks."

Many of you have heard this before, I know, but Wrangell was only the first to make that comparison. The land apparently looked so much like the English countryside that one might have expected Robin Hood to drop from an oak tree.

In 1842 came a Swedish adventurer, a physician named W.S. Sandels, who visited General Vallejo in Sonoma and the Carrillo family in Santa Rosa. In his travel book "The King's Orphan," Sandels reported that the Santa Rosa Valley was "wooded and watered more like an English park than a country farmland."

Then, in 1850, an American named J.W. Leigh checked in, coming as one of the professional hunters who killed everything edible to sell in Gold Rush-hungry San Francisco.

Leigh later laid down his gun and picked up a pen, becoming editor of a San Jose newspaper and favoring us with his memoir of those early days.

"My recollection of the face of the country is that it wore a smiling and peaceful aspect, suggesting nothing of a wilderness, but looking rather like an English park." It was those oak trees. I'm sure.

I'm sure of that because Tom Lockwood, who crossed the bay in a whaleboat with two companions to establish that first hunting camp on Petaluma Creek, built a shelter, using an oar for a ridgepole, and decided it was the start of a new town.

Because it was in a grove of oaks, he named the place Los Robles, Spanish for "the oaks." If his plan had succeeded, Petaluma might have been Oakland.

British writer Frank Marryat, who was here in the 1840s, had the distinction of being the first to cut the giant redwoods of the area west of Healdsburg. He also paid homage, in his memoir titled, "Mountains and Molehills," to the "oak-timbered valleys" that apparently escaped his saw only after he spotted the redwoods.

His account is followed by that of a professional travel writer, Bayard Taylor, sent on assignment to California in 1849 by Horace Greeley, the famous "Go west, young man!" editor of the New York Tribune.

Those first dispatches, later published in a book titled "El Dorado," were full of exclamatory descriptions of the "beautiful groves" and "picturesque clumps" of oaks.

But when Taylor returned 10 years later to revisit the area for another book, "New Pictures from California," he was dismayed to find the trees he had so admired were gone.

"Who cut down the magnificent trees that once stood here?" he asked in dialogue with an imaginary Californian.

The answer was that it was the "Pikes," a shorthand term for Missourians, which was another shorthand term for wagon- and boatloads of people from east of the Missouri River who came hunting gold and stayed to farm.

Those folk, Taylor wrote, had an "implacable dislike" for trees in general and oaks specifically, probably because they are big and presented a challenge.

"Girdling is (the Pike's) favorite mode of exterminating them; but he sometimes contents himself with cutting off the largest and handsomest limbs," Taylor wrote. "When he spares one, for the sake of a little shade near his house, he whitewashes the trunk. ...

"It was melancholy," he continued, "to see how wantonly the most beautiful trees in the world had been destroyed; for the world had never seen such oaks as grew in the Russian River Valley."

The ones that grew on the land that became the SRJC campus — great, old oaks that now must come out because of diseased root systems — lasted longer than most and have provided the backdrop and the shade for graduation processions, have given name to the student newspaper — The Oak Leaf — and have served as shaded sometime-classrooms for many springtime lessons. It's a shame to see such landmarks disappear.

Unlike those early "Pikes," most of us work hard at saving oaks. It isn't so much the Druid thing as the fact that their lifespan is so much greater than ours that we tend to think of them as, well, forever. They were here so long before we were, we expect them to be here when we're gone.

So, while history reminds us that this is nothing new, we mourn the impending loss of the junior college oaks. But we save a little sadness as well for the bitter truth about that squirrel — that it's all just a good, old story that never happened.

I, personally, will choose to believe that the pesky fellow who drives my dog — dare I say "nuts" — is descended from generations of "westering" squirrels whose ancestors once stole bird seed from Priscilla Alden's bird feeder, used Miles Standish's attic vents for winter storage and planted new oaks every fall in Puritans' flower pots.