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.

Hike to the top with other hikers

Our community hikes on Wednesdays are becoming more popular. Come and join us for a refreshing, invigorating hike to the top of Overlook Trail and enjoy the view. . . .and maybe make your entry into the Hikers Notebook that’s up there. (Read about the notebook in this blog–Roy is pulling out great quotes and stories from nearly 20 years of notebooks).

Meet at the Overhead Trailhead Kiosk at 8:30am every Wednesday.

View from the top–last week’s hikers. . . before coffee!IMG_7862

Hiker Notebooks #7: Determination

This series of blog entries based on what Overlook Trail hikers have written in our Hikers Notebooks has been a lot of fun, but we are still far from over. This time we look at a couple of entries from a couple hikers determined to accomplish something in their lives, and they give every indication that they will be successful in achieving their goals. We wish them luck and godspeed!

This first one is short but very sweet. “Having my first baby,” she writes, “and want to hit 100 trails before he is born. Today will be hike #53 at Sonoma Overlook Trail.” Thank you for having our trail be part of your total! And we have no doubt that you can reach your goal, and giving your baby a very healthy start as part of the bargain. Our journal writer is not the only pregnant mother hiking the trail. Jes, a yoga teacher for The Lodge in Sonoma, leads hikes for guests on the trail, and she’s been doing it while still being fairly far along in her pregnancy. What a healthy thing to do for your unborn child!

Our other entry for this post is longer, and apparently from a graduating senior in 2016. “Here where I’m sitting,” it begins, “I’m going to promise myself that as much as people walk away or whatever life brings me I’m going to make the best of it. I’m going to try more. More in improving myself trying better to become a truly happy person. Basically ‘do you’ type of thing. I’m going to do what makes me happy and not going to let one simple thing bring my motivation down. Self-esteem needs to be higher!” We hope that now, a few years later, that you’ve met those goals you set for yourself. Somehow I think that you probably have.

Stay determined, Overlook hikers! There will be many challenges along the trails in your life, so we hope that traveling this one gave you more strength to handle those challenges. I know that it does for me.

Why We Fight

I’ve posted a lot about invasive species removal from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties. Anyone but me would likely say too much, and who could blame them? Not me.

But in reviewing what I’ve written over the years about it, I realized I’ve never explained why we fight this fight. So now I rush to make good this oversight, and try to explain why I go out, nearly every day I can from January through July or beyond, and fight something that will very likely never be defeated.

First and foremost, it’s necessary to highlight the fact that species such as Italian and yellow star thistle will completely take over an ecosystem. You don’t need to go far to see this happening. The picture here was taken at the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and shows how Yellow star thistle in the foreground, and Italian thistle in the background, have essentially taken over a meadow. This crowds out native plant species and even mammals.

Thistle creates a “no-go” area for wildlife, who avoid such patches until they can’t be avoided at all, and then they move elsewhere. This of course leads to a an ever-increasing monoculture and “dead zone” where only the invasive species thrive. “Invasive species are among the leading threats to native wildlife,” states the National Wildlife Federation, “Approximately 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species.” This is clearly a serious threat that must be addressed.

The impacts of this monoculture are many. Wildlife doesn’t have the food sources they should. The lack of diversity in plant life affects the diversity of everything else — insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Invasive species can also affect the chemistry of the soil, as well as the intensity of wildfires.

There are, then, many reasons why we fight this fight.

Recently as I walked along the main path in the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, I was in despair seeing the extent of Italian and Yellow star thistle invasion. It was heartbreaking to see. But I had to turn away, knowing that I have my own battle to fight on the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties. Thankfully, the Yellow star thistle is nearly eradicated on those properties except right along, and next to, Norrbom Road. But we have a long, long way to go against the Italian thistle, let alone Scotch and/or French broom and other invasive species that we have yet to assess, let alone seriously address.

In the end, we fight this fight because the alternative is so much worse. We fight because we love the native ecosystem and we believe deeply in saving it. We fight because we have no choice but to do so, loving these properties and trails as we do. Frankly, that’s the absolute best reason ever to fight for something — for love. So if you see me or my comrades out there, with a large bag and a glove, you’ll know what we are doing. We are fighting for something we love.

That’s why we fight.

Hiker Notebooks #6: Encouragement

I’ve come to think that hiking the trail puts many of us into a contemplative mode, I know that it does for me. So I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that some hikers are put into a frame of mind where they are thinking encouraging thoughts that they wish to share with others. This post highlights some of the best of those that I’ve found in the hiker notebooks (click the link for the entry point into the entire series). I hope you like them too.

This first entry is a fairly bright and hopeful message from an enthusiastic soul. “May all beings,” it reads, ” be happy, free, and safe from harm. May we all see the expansiveness of our own potential. May be spread our wings and fly into the light. – Namaste and Mahalo”.

Our second entry is rather amazing in its length and thoroughness: “Please learn to love yourself. Your hair, eyes, body, face. Everything. You only get this one life…so live it up. Keep your head up, eyes straight. Life is not easy but it’s what we make it. Learn to fall in love, or be independent. Want someone, don’t need anyone but yourself. At the end of the day, all we have is ourselves, our soul. Be at peace or go to parties. Take risks, lean from mistakes. Find yourself in what you love; your spouse, your playlist, your favorite movies and concerts. Life is too short not to make an effort. Go for it or go with the flow. Express yourself, don’t care what people think. I believe in you, you can do it. Find beauty in yourself, your smile and laugh. How can you love others when you can’t love yourself.” Great advice.

A similar message was penned by this next hiker. “Sometimes we need to put all stress, worry, and anxieties aside and take in this gorgeous world we live in and embrace the people that make us happy and put smiles on our face. Know…that we are all blessed!”

I hope that you have someone who makes you happy and that makes you smile. If you do, then you are indeed blessed.

Meanwhile, if you have a similar message for other hikers of the trail, please feel free to sit down and take a moment to offer your own words of encouragement to those who come after you.

We notice them, as do many others.

 

 

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).

American shrew mole

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.