Icy Trails

P1000853A high pressure ridge is staving off the clouds leading to clear, cold nights. Recently overnight temperatures have dipped into the 20s, which leads to our damp trails turning icy. This can of course mean danger to those not paying attention or moving too fast. Runners in particular need to be cautious where the trail is icy or muddy.

Or, if you want to avoid the ice altogether walk in the afternoon, after the warmer daytime temperatures (typically in the 40s-50s) have a chance to melt the ice. You will still have mud to contend with, but it is generally less slick than ice.

Bottom line: stay safe out there while enjoying all the great things our trails have to offer.

Seasonal Creeks

12377639_10153144331341786_3674935992491065197_oSeasonal creeks are by definition creeks that only have water during the rainy season. In California, the rainy season can potentially stretch from early Fall into late Spring, although variations in weather patterns can of course add nuance to that schedule. However, for truly seasonal creeks it usually takes a fair bit of rain to form the runoff required to start them up.

So although we’ve had rain just about every week for the last month or so, it was only with the latest storm that we began to see the seasonal creeks on the Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve begin to run. Specifically, the creek that runs through what I call “Fern Glen” and across the Overlook part of the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail, has begun to run (see pic).

This is good news, as it means that our storage reservoirs will also begin to fill. And having been in a multi-year drought, this is definitely good news. However, runoff by itself isn’t necessarily good. We should trap as much of that as we can into the aquifer, where those who draw from water wells can take advantage of it. To a large degree, this means slowing down the runoff and making it soak into the ground instead of running directly to the bay.

Personally, I think we have a ways to go before we can say that we are doing the best we can at water capture in this valley. Until we figure out how best to harness our seasonal creeks to maximize underground water storage, we perhaps deserve the droughts that we will likely increasingly get.

Season’s Greetings!

Thanks to recent rains, trails on Montini Preserve and the Sonoma Overlook Trail are undergoing some remarkable transformations. The dusty browns and golds of late fall have been replaced by winter’s verdant palette – dormant ferns are reappearing and mosses now adorn tree trunks and boulders like festive green boas while the pungent scent of decomposing bay leaves permeates the mixed evergreen forest.

lichens - Upper Meadow

Lichens – Upper Meadow


Coffee Fern

Coffee Fern

When we first started the SOT Facebook page five years back, local photographer Ryan Lely captured these beautiful images after a period of heavy rain.

Cascading creek

Cascading Creek



Turkey Tails












When was the last time anyone saw so much water running off the hillside? Or turkey tails in such psychedelic colors? Fortunately we’re in store for more rain this coming week. Make sure to do a little rain dance when you get to the top!

“Tis the season for gratitude, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to the stewards and volunteers (Rich, Lynn, John, Fred, Joanna, Roy and anyone else I’ve forgotten) who take such meticulous care of these trails, and to the dedicated docents led by Rosemarie Marks. Let’s not forget Joanna Kemper (what doesn’t she do?), Laurie Friedeman, our new fundraising chair, and Linda Felt who has donated upwards of 100 hours of her time to the SOT Stewards.

Speaking of group hugs, experts now attest to the health benefits of hugging trees, so hikers need not feel self-conscious about the urge to wrap their arms around a favorite trunk along the trail – just mind the poison oak! Read more about the health benefits of tree hugging in Matthew Silverstone’s new book Blinded by Science where he explores a theory that suggests “When one touches a tree, its different vibrational pattern will affect various biological behaviors within the body….[a theory] backed up by hundreds of scientifically validated studies, providing overwhelming proof that tree hugging is not just for hippies, it’s for everyone.”

REI made a landmark decision this year to close their stores on Black Friday. CA State Parks partnered with Save the Redwoods League to make entrance to 49 state parks free to visitors on a day traditionally spent trampling over the good will of one’s fellow man for the best deal on a Play Station 4. In honor of spending quality time with friends and loved ones outside (who needs a flatscreen when you can see clear down to the SF skyline from the top of Schocken Hill?) perhaps a few of you have put off shopping for that perfect holiday gift, the one you didn’t buy on Black Friday? Or perhaps your New Year’s resolution is to connect more with the natural world, be a more informed observer, or maybe just share your outdoor experience with young hikers.

Whether you’d like to learn more about historic Native American land management practices in California, the fabulous world of fungi, the life cycle of an oak, or find out what the soundscape has to tell us about the fragile state of our planet, there’s a book for you. In celebration of 2015, I put together a very short list of a few of my favorite books with a brief (and borrowed) synopsis. I’d love to hear your recommendations!

GreatAnimal Orchestra CoverThe Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause (Little, Brown and Company)
“Musician and naturalist Bernie Krause is one of the world’s leading experts in natural sound, and he’s spent his life discovering and recording nature’s rich chorus. Searching far beyond our modern world’s honking horns and buzzing machinery, he has sought out the truly wild places that remain, where natural soundscapes exist virtually unchanged from when the earliest humans first inhabited the earth.”
(Plus, he lives in Glen Ellen!)


Life of an oakThe Life of An Oak: An Intimate Portrait by Glenn Keator (Heyday Books)
“The Life of an Oak takes an intimate look at all aspects of the oak tree, from a microscopic examination of its cellular processes to a survey of the grand Diaspora by which members of this remarkable family have spread around the world and diversified. The separate yet exquisitely coordinated development of male and female flowers, the bursting of buds, the outpouring of leaves, and the groping of roots are described in language and art that will enchant the professional and armchair botanist alike.”

child inteh woods

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
“In this influential work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature-deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as the rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.”

Coyote GuideCoyote’s Guide to Connecting With Nature by Jon Young

Connection, Awareness, Belonging. For children and adults alike, Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature sparks the excitement of discovery, real connection with animals and plants, and a sense of belonging through knowing our place on the planet. With this manual in one hand and someone we care about in the other, Coyote inspires us to follow curiosity s magic. Coyote’s Guide lifts the lid off the mind of a mentor to reveal how you can design invisible learning experiences. Offering dozens of activities, stories, and games, so mentors, educators, and parents can lead in ways that fit your people, your place, and your plans. Coyote’s Guide sets fresh standards for environmental literacy that engages body, mind and spirit.”

Assembling CAAssembling California by John McPhee (Macmillan)
“At various times in a span of fifteen years, John McPhee made geological field surveys in the company of Eldridge Moores, a tectonicist at the University of California at Davis. The result of these trips is Assembling California, a cross-section in human and geologic time, from Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada through the golden foothills of the Mother Lode and across the Great Central Valley to the wine country of the Coast Ranges, the rock of San Francisco, and the San Andreas family of faults. The two disparate time scales occasionally intersect–in the gold disruptions of the nineteenth century no less than in the earthquakes of the twentieth–and always with relevance to a newly understood geologic history in which half a dozen large and separate pieces of country are seen to have drifted in from far and near to coalesce as California. McPhee and Moores also journeyed to remote mountains of Arizona and to Cyprus and northern Greece, where rock of the deep-ocean floor has been transported into continental settings, as it has in California. Global in scope and a delight to read, Assembling California is a sweeping narrative of maps in motion, of evolving and dissolving lands.”

mushroom field guideAll That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora (Ten Speed Press)
“Full-color illustrated guide to identifying 200 Western mushrooms by their key features.” Arora’s book Mushrooms Demystified takes you deeper into the world of mycology. But it’s not portable!



Tending the WildTending the Wild by M. Cat Anderson
“M. Kat Anderson presents a wealth of information on native land management practices gleaned in part from interviews and correspondence with Native Americans who recall what their grandparents told them about how and when areas were burned, which plants were eaten and which were used for basketry, and how plants were tended. The complex picture that emerges from this and other historical source material dispels the hunter-gatherer stereotype long perpetuated in anthropological and historical literature. We come to see California’s indigenous people as active agents of environmental change and stewardship. Tending the Wild persuasively argues that this traditional ecological knowledge is essential if we are to successfully meet the challenge of living sustainably.”

Secrets of the OakSecrets of the Oak Woodlands: Plants and Animals Among California’s Oaks by Kate Marianchild (Heyday Books)
“A Californian may vacation in Yosemite, Big Sur, or Death Valley, but many of us come home to an oak woodland. Yet, while common, oak woodlands are anything but ordinary. In a book rich in illustration and suffused with wonder, author Kate Marianchild combines extensive research and years of personal experience to explore some of the marvelous plants and animals that the oak woodlands nurture. Acorn woodpeckers unite in marriages of up to ten mates and raise their young cooperatively. Ground squirrels roll in rattlesnake skins to hide their scent from hungry snakes. Manzanita’s rust-colored, paper-thin bark peels away in time for the summer solstice, exposing sinuous contours that are cool to the touch even on the hottest day. Conveying up-to-the-minute scientific findings with a storyteller’s skill, Marianchild introduces us to a host of remarkable creatures in a world close by, a world that ‘rustles, hums, and sings with the sounds of wild things.’”

SonomaPlaceNamesThe Stories Behind Sonoma Valley Place Names by Arthur Dawson
“A wonderful local history book that provides rich layers of Sonoma Valley’s past. Along with dozens of tales there are 120 Place Names and their origins.” I’ve seen this book at the Visitors Center on the Plaza. Arthur has done several training on the SOT for docents, is extremely knowledgable about both natural and cultural local history, and a wonderful story teller.


From the ForestFrom the Forest by Sara Maitland (Counterpoint)
“Fairy tales are one of our earliest cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient landscapes. Both evoke similar sensations: At times they are beautiful and magical, at others spooky and sometimes horrifying. Maitland argues that the terrain of these fairy tales are intimately connected to the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils.”



And everything on John Muir Law’s website! http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/

Happy hiking!

Lisa Summers

Teamwork on the Trail


Teens and adult volunteers worked together.

You might think that the life of a volunteer trail steward is all glitz and glamor, and no one would fault you for thinking so. But no…it’s actually a life of picking up trash, reminding hikers of the rules, kicking loose rocks and branches off the trail, reporting trees down, and of course maintaining the property in as fine a condition as we possibly can.

It was this last responsibility that brought out a crew of 10 stewards and Sonoma Valley Teen Services members this past Saturday to reseed and cover with straw and jute webbing a shortcut (also called “rogue”) trail. This trail is very steep and prone to erosion, as well as being a hazard for hikers who walk down it in sometimes very slippery conditions. After letting it go for a while we decided that we needed to close it off for both hiker safety as well as to better protect the condition of the property.

Under the direction of Steward Fred Allebach, stewards and teen volunteers hauled seed, straw, rolls of burlap webbing, and other materials to the Upper Meadow Loop. They scraped the soil to prepare it for the seed, laid down the seed, covered it with straw, then webbing, then more straw.  Thankfully the rain held off until the next day. The soaking should give the seed a good start toward germinating.

We are very grateful to have a partner like Sonoma Valley Teen Services with which to work with on this project, as well as the individual teens who participated. If you would like to support the work of Sonoma Valley Teen Services, see their support page.

If you would like to support the work of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, donations are tax deductible and can be sent to “Sonoma Overlook Trail Fund,” c/o Linda Felt, 18782 Deer Park Drive, Sonoma CA  95476.

FullSizeRender (5)

Steward John Donnelly tacking down the webbing, with the town of Sonoma below.

Stewards Rich Gibson, Lynn Clary, and Fred Allebach after a good day's work.

Stewards Rich Gibson, Lynn Clary, and Fred Allebach after a good day’s work.

The Season of the Buckeye

buckeye2This is the time of year when the California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) earns its name. Named for the rather large seed pod they drop that resembles the eye of a deer, they are now easily found on the trail.

When they shed their covering they reveal a rich brown colored seed pod (see pic). Pacific Horticulture has this to say about the pods: “Though thoroughly inedible (unless leached of their toxins, as the Native Californians did), there is something irresistible about this seed, looking as if it had been carved, lacquered, and polished; few can resist picking up one or more, often pocketing them to be brought home for a show-and-tell with family or friends.”

Get them while they’re hot.