Long about now, I get a little frenzied, as I know that the “thistle season” is drawing to a close. To be specific, as we slouch toward August, our chance to pull invasive thistle begins to wane, as it begins to go to seed and pulling can lead to seed dispersal, which we definitely don’t want. By now the Italian thistle has long since dried out, making it a dubious target, although potentially still fair game if you’re careful. But by this time our focus has shifted to the Yellow Star thistle (YST), which is blooming, and will continue into August. And there is still plenty to get, although on the main part of both the Overlook and Montini properties we are looking pretty good.
The place that isn’t so great for YST is along Norrbom Road — specifically, the water tank properties. That is where I’ve been focusing my efforts in recent weeks. Primarily, I’ve worked on two goals:
- Reducing the physical extent (drawing in the boundaries), and
- Reducing the seed load (pulling the large, most productive plants that are most likely to spread seed).
I’ve essentially cleared it along the road from the Overlook parking lot turnoff to the Rattlesnake Cutoff crossing, but north of there still needs a lot of work. This is essentially from the road to the fence. Beyond the fence is another story. There is still so much left to do there. I’m thinking of organizing a workday, which if you know me you know how desperate I’ve become. Organizing an event is one of my least favorite things to do.
A lot of what I’ve been pulling has been very small (see the picture). I know it’s because any thistle coming in this late in the season has a physical awareness that it needs to bloom right away, and not try to grow big. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking about the Nazis, sending in their youth in a last gasp of trying to save the Third Reich from inevitable defeat. I like to think that the defeat of invasive thistle on these two properties is just as certain. The thing is, it isn’t certain until it is, and we are still a long way away from that.
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.
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!
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.
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.