The 2019 Invasive Thistle Removal Season is Over

The weapon of choice: the glove that pulled thousands of thistles.

I’m calling it. Today was the first day I was out on the Montini Preserve and Overlook Trail properties and was unable to spot a single Yellow Star Thistle plant. So I consider this year’s invasive thistle removal season officially over. And what a long road it’s been.

I started pulling Italian thistle at the end of December, when I could pull it and discard it. Later, when blooms began to form we had to bag it in large contractor debris bags and carry it out. We dumped it beside a dumpster in the cemetery, as requested by City staff. As the season progressed, we moved to Yellow Star thistle while the Italian thistle that we couldn’t get to sadly went to seed.

For our next Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards meeting I will be giving a more formal and complete report, but here it is in a nutshell:

  • Yellow Star Thistle: Although we are clearly making progress, we may be 2-3 years away from complete eradication, except for along Norrbom Road, which has been completely unassailed so far. However, we have reduced the YST so far that we have now given it a setting of “zero tolerance,” which essentially means we are morally obligated to pull everything we see.
  • Italian Thistle: We only recently started to seriously address Italian thistle, and there is a long, long way to go. The Montini Preserve is all but overwhelmed with it, and removal operations were performed mostly along portions of the trail, largely for hiker comfort. On the Overlook, it was successfully removed from the entire trail, back at least 3-6 feet or more. It remains a substantial problem off-trail, although not as bad as the Montini Preserve. We have assigned a status of “calculated and opportunistic,” which means focusing on minimizing its spread by pushing it away from the trail and attacking isolated pockets elsewhere.
  • Scotch/French Broom: There is a bad section of broom near the cemetery that was unaddressed this year, and it is also encroaching on the Toyon Trailhead from the cemetery. Current status: unaddressed.
  • Tocalote: Tocalote is found in scattered areas across the property, but it’s extent is unknown and it remained unaddressed this year.
  • Bellardia: This is also un-assessed and unaddressed but doesn’t seem to be a major problem yet.
  • Others: un-assessed and unaddressed.

We still need to perform a systematic review of invasive species on these properties, but so far our efforts have been focused on removal of those that pose an existential threat to the existence of a diverse ecosystem. And so far we have our hands more than full simply trying to stem the tide.

Chasing the Star

Long-time sufferers of reading this blog know that we have been fighting a battle against invasive species. Not really a battle, actually, but a war of attrition. We just hope we can outlast them.

This season I made a rookie mistake of judging the extent of the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) too soon in the season. Seeing very little, I allowed myself to drift into a feeling of complacency and accomplishment. Then I went away on vacation for three weeks in July, just returning earlier this week. And wow, what a difference a few weeks made. We are far from out of the woods with Yellow Star Thistle. Yesterday I even had to do the unthinkable — leave some behind. My large contractor’s bag was simply too full. Today I returned and got that patch as well as many others. And that’s why this post.

I know we’re in a long game, and I know how it’s played — perhaps better than most. But anytime you set yourself a big audacious goal you’re running the risk of having periods of disappointment and depression. I’m having one of those now. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for sympathy or encouragement. I know what we’re in for, and I also know I’m good for it, and that this moment will pass, as it always has. But I want to take a moment to acknowledge that when you play the long game you’re going to have these periods of disillusionment, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. On the contrary, they are to be expected and weathered just like the periods of euphoria and accomplishment.

Also, I know that the years of work are having results, just not as rapidly and thoroughly as I want. But I’ll be back out there tomorrow and the day after that. And YST: I’ll see you next year too, and the year after that. Don’t be late. I won’t.

Meditation hiking

Jeff Falconer led a group of hikers on Sunday on a silent hike to the top of the Overlook Trail where the mindful walkers enjoyed the sweeping view with a deep calm.

Jeff started the hike by suggesting the hikers combine awareness of breath, body in motion, and enjoy the natural surroundings for an enhanced experience.

If you’d like more information about enhancing your hikes with the discipline of meditation Jeff’s newly published booklet on Walking Meditation is available for purchase at Readers Books.

Hiker Notebooks #10: Philosophy

As we continue this series of blog posts about the best entries in our hiker notebooks over the years (chosen by me alone, it must be pointed out), this one focuses on those who wax philosophical when writing in our notebooks. To be sure, I only have a couple entries to highlight, but others have been philosophical as well, but I have slotted them into other categories that seemed to match what they were being philosophical about.

This first entry is brief and to the point, but it makes you think: “7 billion people experienced this day in a different way.” I often think about this when I travel — especially when it is a country that is vastly different than the United States. As I experience their very different reality it makes me think that on any single day as I go about my day where I live, these people in this other country have a very different experience of that day. Of course our hiker is pointing out that we ALL experience our day differently, even in the same household. And he or she is true, we do. Something to think about, and especially what effect it may have on how everyone ends up viewing the world.

Our next hiker is intent on making us all feel better, and have more empathy and understanding for our fellow travelers. Jeremy, as he signs his post, advises us to “Be mindful of the human condition — we are all lonely, scared, and sad, but together, helping one another we can love, laugh and feel strong. DO GOOD!”

It’s really hard to argue with that. Keep waxing philosophical, hikers! We read and “see” you. You’re awesome.

Hiker Notebooks #9: Love

This is another one of our series of posts about entries that Sonoma Overlook Trail hikers have left in our hiker notebook, which can be found on the bench at the top of the trail. This post is focused on a topic that we all…well…love. That is, LOVE (sorry, I went there, and I’m not proud of it).

It’s hard to argue that there is a human emotion more deep and potentially dangerous than this one. Love is where we feel the most utter joy and can be hurt just as deeply. If your heart is open to love then it is also open to be hurt, and that can be a difficult thing for anyone. And yet the first entry I’m highlighting isn’t wrong either. “Love is everything!” it boldly states, with tremendous confidence, and you won’t find me arguing with it.

But perhaps it worth pointing out that “love” comes in a variety of guises. It doesn’t always and only mean romantic love. You can love your dog or cat, you can love a wilderness area (I have many, but primary among them is the Grand Canyon). You can love a piece of music. You can love cooking a particular dish. I’m not saying these “loves” are equal in their intensity and meaning to your life, but I just want to say that, yes, love is indeed everything. If you aren’t loving something, each and every day, no matter how relatively inconsequential, then perhaps reassess your life choices. Because, you know, love is everything. 

One of the reasons why it is, is deftly expressed by another hiker who writes, “Everything is always so beautiful when you’re in love.” Yes, indeed it is. So why not be in love every single day? And in whatever way that is meaningful for you. Clearly, a lot of people love to hike the Sonoma Overlook Trail, and that means that those people have love in their life whenever their foot falls on the dusty or muddy trail, which could be, for some, almost every day. And what’s not to like about that?

This next entry, penned on Mother’s Day 2012, kind of blows the door off this car, as you will soon see, written from a man to his wife. “Happy Mother’s Day [redacted],” it begins, “Let this mountain be my witness to a proclamation of love: I love you with all my heart, my soul, my mind, my body. I have for as long as I recall. And I will forever more. Please hear my message. And receive it with your heart as well. I am not afraid, because love is all powerful, and with ours no obstacle is too great, no challenge too difficult. As our love endures, so shall we. Thank you for being in my life, and for being the most amazing woman, wife, spirit, artist, lover, friend, adventurer, and mother, that I could have ever imagined. Yours forever.” WOW. Just…WOW. All the best, you guys. I mean, srsly.

And lastly, we have a message about those just beginning their journey of love. I’m sure you’re with me as I wish them all the best in their life together. And as a trail steward, it really means a lot to me that their family began their special day hiking the trail, and sharing something about their special day with the rest of us. Thank you for that. “Six of our family are taking this hike on a special day,” it begins, “Today we will celebrate the marriage of Ryan and Alina and we will all remember coming together to reflect on their love — and on our love of family — in this beautiful place.” Yes, indeed. We hear you, and share you best wishes and sentiments.

As I write this, I’m approaching my 36th anniversary with my beautiful wife. I couldn’t have asked for better. I certainly didn’t deserve it. I’m grateful, and clearly some of those writing entries in our Hiker Notebooks are as well. Please keep them coming.

We hear you.

Meditation Hike July 28

Join us for a Meditation Hike on the Overlook Trail, Sunday, July 28, 5:00pm – 7:30pm

Led by Jeff Falconer.  Cost: Free! No Registration or Reservation Needed
Meet at the Sonoma Overlook Trailhead Kiosk
198 1st St. West at the entrance to Mountain Cemetery

The everyday activity of walking, combined with an awareness of one’s breath, one’s own body in motion, and one’s surroundings, can quickly reward the mindful walker with a deep calm and increased sense of belonging in the natural world.

Please join us as we explore this lovely activity on a relaxed 2.5 mile loop hike to the top of the Overlook Trail to enjoy the sunset and light refreshments afterwards. Your guide, Jeff Falconer, will begin the journey with a brief overview of Walking Meditation, followed by a short standing meditation to ground and center us before embarking.

About Jeff:
Jeff has practiced meditation for many years. He spent time at an ashram, a spiritual hermitage, in India in the early 1970’s, is also a Tai Chi enthusiast, and an avid… mostly mindful… hiker. Jeff’s newly published booklet on Walking Meditation will be available to purchase to guide your personal journey after the hike.

Photo from last year’s meditation hike

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Hiker Notebooks #8: Appreciation, Part 1

In this series about the entries that hikers have written into our Hikers Notebook left on the stone bench at the top of the trail, appreciation reigns supreme. We have had more entries expressing appreciation than any other category. This isn’t surprising to me or anyone else who loves the trail, and what it provides us — for some us, on a daily, or nearly daily basis. For me, it’s my spin class, my psychiatrist, and my health coach. It’s my spiritual advisor, my friend, and my love. So…yeah. Appreciation in spades.

Our first entry is astonishing in its simplicity and yet heartfelt sentiment. “Hello everyone, I love (heart) Sonoma Overlook Trail.” Thank you, whomever penned that, as we do too. You’re in some very good company, and we hope you come back often. It’s hard to get more direct than that.

A much more thorough and nuanced entry is our next highlight. The author expresses a lot of thoughts that many of us feel, and that bring many of us back, day after day. “I’m so thankful to have places like this in my life,” he or she writes, as if reading my mind, “a chance to be at peace with the stresses of our environment, our jobs, our lives.” Yes, so that.

“I wish more people could experience beauty like this, and truly appreciate its healing powers.” We do too.

“This book is a great idea. Thanks to whomever put it here!” You’re most welcome.

“Musically yours.” Whomever you are, thank you for that wonderful entry. We hope you get to experience the “healing powers” of being out there as much as you want and need.

Next I want to highlight two very brief entries. This first one is so droll that I can’t figure out if it is serious or not. I like to think of it as being just plain funny. But even if it’s completely serious, I still think it’s funny. “I had a mediocre time,” it begins, and yet ends with “This place is okay,” signed, “Allee”. Yeah, Allee, it’s pretty darn OK. Glad you think so too.

This final entry I imagine comes from a young person, whom I also imagine is coming to learn that being out in nature can be a great way to spend some time. “Hikes are fun,” it reads, with a big drawn heart. You know, we think so too, so we’re glad that you’ve discovered a love of hiking, which will be your friend throughout your lifetime.

I began my hiking life with my family as a boy, in the Sierra Nevada, and then went on to hike almost all of the (mostly unmaintained) trails in the Grand Canyon from 18-21, until I became a commercial river guide and discovered an entirely new way to experience the wilderness of the Grand Canyon and elsewhere. But trail hiking (and running) have always been a part of my life.

I’m just happy that many of our Hiker Notebooks entries also express a deep appreciation of what being out in nature provides. We who maintain the trail hear your appreciation, we share it, and we thank you for expressing it.