For Love of the Trail

steward – to manage or look after

Before: out of place.

The Sonoma Overlook Trail is managed by a team of volunteer stewards (about 14 of us at this point) who perform a wide variety of duties related to managing the trails as well as the property as a whole, on behalf of the City of Sonoma, and in partnership with the Sonoma Ecology Center. We meet quarterly, and presently we take turns each quarter serving as Chair of the group.

After: not perfect, but it will have to do for now.

Here are just some of the jobs we perform:

  • Fundraising (to provide the funds to do trail maintenance, re-routing, etc.)
  • Hosting public hikes and events
  • Picking up trash
  • Removing or destroying invasive species
  • Kiosk maintenance and displays
  • Trail signs
  • Trail maintenance
  • Removing downed limbs and trees infringing on the trail when possible with a handsaw, or reporting to City staff when a chainsaw is required
  • Blocking and reseeding “rogue” (unmaintained) trails

Today, “trail maintenance” meant resetting a stair stone that had slid out of placement (see pictures). Day to day you don’t always know what you may be called upon to do. But what we do, we do for love of the trail.

 

Snake Season

We are thoroughly in snake season now, with rattlesnake sightings up dramatically this year. That news made me dismayed that I had yet to see a single one, despite being on the trail (and off) every day. All that changed today, when I saw two in one place (see photo). One appeared to be my old friend “Big Jo(e)”, which has a characteristic dark coloring and at least ten rattles. The other snake was new to me, with a distinct greenish hue and also a large number of rattles. It is the one coiled in the picture. I guess now I have to come up with another name!

The location where they were sighted was off the trail to the left when going up Holstein Hill trail, just prior to the wide wheelchair turnaround spot, also called “Coyote Point.” Since one snake subsequently slid into a crevice in the rock wall, it’s possible that there is a den there, so be extra careful in that area.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open anywhere on these properties and stay safe out there!

 

Completely Determined. Thoroughly Implacable. Absolutely Relentless.

Before: Note the white fluffy seeds.

Doing invasive species removal work has its ups and downs. Not long ago, I was down. But the mood tends to pass, and I picked myself up and got back to work.

And when I did, it was with a renewed sense of purpose: I refuse to be defeated.

I even know exactly how that works: you must be absolutely relentless, completely determined, and thoroughly implacable.

After.

This year I even upped my game. In previous years, by now I had stopped pulling Italian thistle, as it was going to seed. I thought that pulling it would simply spread the seeds. But this year, when I kept pulling it, I realized a few things:

  • It’s possible to pull it without spreading seeds. This can be done a couple of ways: one is to push the head of the thistle into the bag before you pull it. Another is to grab the thistle at the head where the seeds are coming away, pull it out, and put it all in the bag.
  • A large number of plants went dry without yet releasing its seed. These are easy targets.
  • I’ve even begun picking up the seeds themselves. Not in all cases, but certainly at times (see the before and after photos).

I’ve learned some other things: 

  • I have more determination than I ever knew I had.
  • I can make a real difference.
  • Being absolutely relentless works — it just takes time. Thankfully, that I have.

I see you, thistle, and I’m coming for you.

Little Patches Everywhere

A little patch of thistle in a meadow.

Today was not a good day.

Nearly every day since mid-January, I have gotten out of bed, had breakfast, and headed out to either the Sonoma Overlook Trail or the Montini Preserve to pull Italian thistle. I did this even during shelter in place, as I had written permission to do trail and land maintenance activities. Today, since we had achieved our goal of pushing the thistle back away from all of the maintained trails on both properties, I decided it was time to see what the upper reaches of the Montini Preserve looked like. By “upper reaches” I specifically mean the area north of the Rattlesnake Cutoff and Valley View trails. I had already been north of Rattlesnake Cutoff, and had cleared those areas fairly well. So it was really the areas north of the Valley View trail that I wanted to explore.

So today I went off-trail up into the hills. At the very upper edge I came to a patch that I started pulling. At first it seemed rather small, but as I pulled it kept going and going until I realized I would have to come back to finish it. I moved on, following the fence line. I came to another small patch of maybe a couple-dozen plants, then walked another ten feet of so and found another. Then another. And another. I soon came to realize that the hillside was essentially covered with it, but in small, lightly covered patches.

As I came back down the hill a different way than I had gone up, I began to realize the extent of the problem. Although trails (animal as well as human) are one vector of spreading, these infestations proved that it spreads in a lot of ways. Basically every way imaginable. I began to understand that to truly rid the property of this scourge it will take walking almost the entire property multiple times in a season. I really started to finally see what we are up against, and it isn’t pretty.

I have good days and bad days. When I’m discouraged I have a custom of asking myself this question: “Did I make a difference today?” The answer has always been “Yes.” Until today. Today the answer was “I don’t know.”