The Remains of the Day

For a while now on Facebook (friend me, maybe?), I will occasionally post a “Remains of the day” post, with a picture captured on the trail of some remains of an animal that I encounter while hiking. So if you are squeamish about such things, now would be a great time to bail, as I’m about to discuss these. Just sayin’.

For those of you still here, here we go as I recap some of those encounters — never sought, but not avoided either. Every living being deserves to have their lives (and deaths, witnessed).

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American shrew mole (I think).

Almost always the method of demise is mysterious, as it was to me when I encountered this American shrew mole (I think that’s what it is, but I’m open to be corrected on that) in the middle of the Holstein Hill Trail on the Montini Preserve. Why had it died? It didn’t appear to have any trauma, or other obvious signs of why it had expired. So…why? I’ll never know, but there it was. I never saw it again, although I’m up on the trail almost every day.

Perhaps more easy to interpret is this scene of a squirrel pulled apart. I would guess a coyote was the predator, but it could be a fox, or a bobcat, or even a mountain lion. But as I came upon it on the Montini Preserve (isn’t it interesting that I can remember exactly where I found these remains even years later?), my guess is a coyote. Coyotes are frequently evident on the Montini, whereas it may be a bit close to civilization for a mountain lion. I wouldn’t rule out a fox or bobcat, though.

It frankly surprises me that a predator was able to catch a squirrel, as I’ve seen them scamper up trees with a rapidity that puts my sorry running speed to shame. Either it was sickly, or a predator was really skilled or lucky. I will never know which.

Then comes this mystery, but one that clearly happened not long before I happened upon the evidence. The blood hadn’t yet dried. Bright red and still very liquid, with a few feathers, clearly some bird had only recently fallen to a hawk or owl, or? Again, I will never know. But the evidence was clear — a bird of some kind was no more, felled in a moment by something hurtling unexpectedly from the sky.

When I discover tiny dioramas like this, I can’t help but pause in my determined hike up the trail and ponder on the uncertainties of life. Not one of us owns a guarantee on life, although we may fancy that we do, or at least delude ourselves toward that end. This bird no doubt thought it was doggedly in pursuit of food, or water, or nest materials, or whatever, and it was cut down in the process out of the blue. Can any one of us have more surety than that bird? Maybe. But perhaps not. Actually, I know not.

Sadly, I think I know who this next predator is. Since this gopher snake was killed, but not eaten, I suspect a misguided hiker who believed that he (almost undoubtedly a male, sorry guys, I know my gender) had encountered a rattlesnake and chose to kill it. Rattlesnakes, should they be encountered, should never be killed, just avoided. And they make it easy, since they frequently (almost always, in my experience) warn before they try to strike. They don’t want to mix it up with you any more than you do. Just take a wide berth and both get on with your lives. We don’t need more death in this world.

In the universe into which we’ve all been born — humans, cockroaches, elephants, what have you — death is the price we pay for life. Having said that, I don’t think many of us forsee our own death before being faced with the reality, whether it is a creeping but vicious disease like cancer (FUCK CANCER!), or something more immediate, like a heart attack or a violent accident of some kind.

Like you, I don’t know how I will end. Neither did any of the animals depicted on this page. It happens, and mostly it isn’t in our control, and we must accept that as part of our bargain for existing in this reality.

I just know that every time I bear witness to remains like those depicted on this page I pause, look up, scan the horizon, and try to really take in the world in which I’m still alive. I enjoy the breath filling my lungs, the heart that still beats in my chest, and the eyes that can still enjoy the light the sun brings to our planet. It is, in the end, all that any of us can do, day by gorgeous day.

Hiker Notebooks #5: Drawings

After reviewing all of the entries into our hiker notebooks so far, a few things are clear. First, you Overlook Trail hikers can be deep. Also, you can totally be artists. This next post in our series focuses on the visual artists among you — those who drew in our notebooks. You know who you are. And we want you to know that we totally appreciate you.

We begin this post with a simple message and a simple but interesting drawing. “I love this hike.” Yes, thank you, many of us do, but not all of us (I certainly don’t) stop to create art to give honor to the love you (and the rest of us) feel for this hike. Thank you for taking the time, and for sharing your artistry with us, who may not (like me) have your talents. At least we can appreciate yours. Keep it up, please.

Part of what I really enjoy is thinking of you, the artist, sitting on the stone bench at the top of the trail, looking out over the town of Sonoma, and off into the distance into Marin County and San Francisco, and inscribing your art, mostly anonymously, into a book for others to enjoy without any recognition. Thank you for that. May you keep it up.

This next submission I wanted to highlight because…well, why not? Space Turtle? Well, OK. I’m not sure I get that, but it’s kind of a really cool turtle, and if it happens to be hurtling through space, then that is totally cool. So I’m down with that. Good on you.

For now I will set aside such issues as a vacuum lacking any oxygen, no apparent means of propulsion, a complete lack of freeze-dried food, etc. I’m just sayin. But thanks for playing, it’s a cool drawing. Perhaps we can inspire other imaginative drawings, which I’m totally down for. Bring it, hikers.

This next drawing is clearly from a child (or, well, from me, but I will not claim ownership). But I love it on so many levels. I love that she saw a deer and clearly felt the special nature of that. l love it because she felt like both drawing and writing about it in the Hiker Notebook. Good on you, Kate.

I also can’t help but think that Kate will be a lifelong hiker, as many of you putting up with these posts are. We love getting out into nature and seeing wildlife (not just deer, but wild turkeys, many different kinds of birds, squirrels, snakes, lizards, etc.). We just love being out in the natural world. And I love that Kate, at her young age, is just discovering something that may stay with her for the rest of her life. It has through mine. We should all be so lucky.

In preparing for this post, I reviewed a lot of drawings, and I’m sorry if your drawing didn’t make the cut. I’m not sure that I can totally defend my decisions, so don’t feel bad. But for my last drawing I wanted to highlight this rather haunting portrait of a woman. Is this a random drawing of a generic woman? Or a love unrequited? We will never know, and we clearly are not meant to know, as no text accompanies it. The mystery is frankly much of its allure.

I’m also struck by the very spare use of lines. It frankly reminds me of Rembrandt van Rijn’s very spare etchings where he would completely capture the essence of a person with very few lines (see his drawing of his wife). I’m still astonished at this ability, wherever I see it. As someone who is…uh…artistically challenged, I’m simply in awe. I have no idea how you do it.

Just, please, keep it up. We love it. Whatever inspires you, whether it is seeing a deer or thinking of one you love or who you lost, we’re down with it. Rock on.

 

Please see the entry point to the entire series.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Long-suffering readers of this blog are probably saying to themselves, “Oh no, here he goes again!” And that is perfectly understandable, as during invasive species removal season (essentially the first six months of the year), I’m obsessed with it. I admitted this nearly four years ago, and the disease sadly continues unabated. So here we go again. Buckle up, buttercup.

For years now, the primary method we’ve been using to fight invasive species (first Scotch Broom and Yellow Star Thistle, now Italian Thistle) is pulling. Early in the season we can just pull and drop the weeds, as they are not in danger of going to seed. But later we pull it, bag it, and carry it out. After years of doing this, and largely being successful against the Yellow Star Thistle (which has yet to be spotted on either the Overlook or Montini properties this season!), I’ve become discouraged at the progress against Italian Thistle.

Unlike Yellow Star Thistle, which grows only in open meadows, Italian Thistle will grow anywhere. It’s rampant on the Montini Preserve, although we may still have a chance at reducing it on the Overlook. For the last couple years I’ve focused on pushing it back from the Overlook Trail to prevent it’s spread. For some sections of trail I’ve also been able to completely eradicate it this season. I’ve noticed some progress from last year along the trail, but this must be compared to areas where it has now spread, mostly into areas where the Yellow Star Thistle had been cleared.

Although pulling remains the only sure way to reduce the extent of thistle, we’re getting close to the time when the seed is produced (some already has) and at my current rate of pulling there are going to be a lot of areas that I won’t be able to address. So I’ve decided to take a chance at cutting it. Cutting is typically not advised, as the thistle can still produce flowers and seeds after being cut, but I want to try it this season hoping that I’m late enough in the season that it doesn’t have time to regenerate — although the recent rains likely aren’t helping.

So if you see me out there channeling my inner Jamie Lannister, that’s why. I can cut a lot faster than I can pull, and there is still so much out there. We shall see if it’s effective or not, and make adjustments as the evidence indicates.

It’s all we can do.

Sonoma Raceway Hike        

IMG_1519bWe had a lot of smiling hikers this past Saturday at the Sonoma Raceway.

Huge thanks to Steve Page, CEO of Sonoma Raceway, who led a large group of 5 mile hikers and Chelsea Lazzari also with the Raceway, led another group of 3 mile hikers. This is the 4th year Sonoma Raceway has opened up the “back country” of the Raceway to host hiking and to support the Overlook Trail.

We enjoyed having glorious weather, seeing woolly weeders and baby wooly weeders, and of course everywhere there were jaw dropping views.

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There were over 100 hungry hikers that enjoyed a generous lunch provided by Levy Restaurant.

Thanks to Hope Nissan for organizing the day, Connie Bolduc for making registration so easy, and the many volunteers that helped with the hiking, parking, and welcoming.

Most of all thanks to the hikers who support the Overlook Trail! With your help the trail is maintained and kept in tip top shape as our local treasure.

Oh, Spring!

Spring is the season of renewal, which manifests itself out in the wild in a myriad of interesting and beautiful ways. Certainly the abundance of wildflowers is an obvious example of spring, but it’s by no means the only sign. In certain areas of the state, we were blessed with a “super bloom” of rather massive proportions that was truly something to see. Entire hillsides were painted with orange, or purple, or blue wildflowers. I was in the Merced River canyon just outside Yosemite in April and you could look up and see an entire hillside of California poppies. So…yeah, wildflowers are, I assert, one of the most beloved signs of spring.

But of course there are others.

Once the Western fence lizard makes an appearance, you know spring has sprung. These reptiles need warmth to be able to move around, so once the weather gets warmer they will be seen on the trail. They are definitely our friends in a particular way. “Studies have shown,” Wikipedia tells us, “Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards’ blood (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the bacterium in the tick that causes Lyme disease.” And since another sign of spring is the presence of ticks, the timing is fortunate.

Other reptiles such as snakes are frequently spotted in spring, as they are out and about looking for a mate. Many mammals are as well. Just today on the Montini Preserve I saw a male wild turkey in full display, trying to attract a mate from a bevy of females (see picture, the females were out of the frame). A couple females were fighting, I presume over the right to go after this fine specimen. Oh how I wish females would fight over me, but then I’m not nearly as good looking as a turkey. Sigh…

 

Hiker Notebooks #4: Loss and Heartbreak

I wanted to do my “Loss and Heartbreak” post kind of early in this series, so we could get some of the heavy stuff over early. This isn’t to minimize it in the least. These are deeply heartfelt messages that must be respected. But I also didn’t want to end on what is essentially a downer. So here they are, and again, I want to make sure they get the respect they deserve.

What gives me hope is that it’s clear that these writers came to the trail for solace and hope. And I sincerely hope they found it. I know that I do. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that when I’m faced with a terrible loss, or an awful situation, I need to get outdoors, clear my head, and think about it without distraction. When I was a teenager and a friend of mine died in a fire I had to get out and hike in the woods to try deal with it. It seems that, perhaps, others do too.

And we’re here for you.

Come to the trail, walk among the plants and wildlife, and think through the dilemma or the disaster that faces you. Many of us have done exactly the same thing. Many of us who have never written in the notebook like you bravely did, but were experiencing similar things nevertheless. It doesn’t mean that we are “over it”. Frankly, we never are. At least I’m not. I still cry for the friend I lost in a fire as a teenager. Some things you simply never get over. But, I assert, there are things you can do to make yourself feel better, and those are things that should be done, as you are deserving of having a good life. Everyone is.

Therefore, perhaps one source of comfort could potentially be that you are not alone. Many of us who have walked the same path have, well, walked the same same exact real, physical, path. Perhaps we haven’t been totally in your shoes, but we’ve been close. And even if we don’t feel your exact pain, we feel something quite close, and just as true.

Thank you for sharing your pain, as I believe it makes us all stronger knowing that others can be just as damaged as we are, but not all of us have your courage to write about it. Thank you for that.

It’s Snake Season, But Don’t Worry!

I saw a gopher snake the other day, draped right across the trail enjoying the sun. I took some pictures (see one to the right) and walked around it, leaving it undisturbed. I then told other hikers to look for it, secretly hoping it was still on the trail so they could see it. Seeing snakes on the trail is actually a rare occurrence, and should be viewed as an excellent opportunity to see a type of wildlife that one doesn’t see very often.

Rattlesnakes, which are of course more dangerous than the harmless gopher snake, have also been sighted this season. Spring is actually when snakes are most often spotted by hikers, and Richard Dale, Executive Director of the Sonoma Ecology Center has an idea why: “Now that the weather has warmed, adult Northern Pacific rattlesnakes, the only likely species in this area, are making their way out of their winter dens to mate, and males will be facing off to vie for females. Perhaps this is why in my experience they seem to be most visible this time of year, and they seem to be less so as the year progresses.” That has been my experience as well, nearly every rattlesnake I’ve ever had the delight to spot happened to be in Spring.

Although rattlesnakes inspire fear in people (me included), it’s important to realize that snakebites are actually quite rare. Richard Dale says “55% of bites occur on men between ages of 17 and 27, and 85% of all bites occur on hands or the forearm…and 28% of bite victims are intoxicated. So it’s probably a good idea not to pick them up with your hands, especially while intoxicated. Not to make too light of them, they are dangerous, but common sense will very likely keep you safe.” That has also been my experience. I know of several incidents when I or another hiker was standing within striking distance of a rattlesnake and the snake did not strike, it warned with its rattle. Of course that causes most of us to jump wildly away from the sound, which is exactly what the snake wants. It doesn’t want to bite something so big that it has no hope of eating, it just wants some space, and most of us are only too happy to comply.

So if you happen to walk up on “Big Jo/e” (s/he, not sure which), who hangs out on the Montini Preserve (see photo), just give him/her a wide berth and go about your business, as will s/he. If you stick to the trail you really have nothing to worry about.