No More Mr. Nice Guy

Long-suffering readers of this blog are probably saying to themselves, “Oh no, here he goes again!” And that is perfectly understandable, as during invasive species removal season (essentially the first six months of the year), I’m obsessed with it. I admitted this nearly four years ago, and the disease sadly continues unabated. So here we go again. Buckle up, buttercup.

For years now, the primary method we’ve been using to fight invasive species (first Scotch Broom and Yellow Star Thistle, now Italian Thistle) is pulling. Early in the season we can just pull and drop the weeds, as they are not in danger of going to seed. But later we pull it, bag it, and carry it out. After years of doing this, and largely being successful against the Yellow Star Thistle (which has yet to be spotted on either the Overlook or Montini properties this season!), I’ve become discouraged at the progress against Italian Thistle.

Unlike Yellow Star Thistle, which grows only in open meadows, Italian Thistle will grow anywhere. It’s rampant on the Montini Preserve, although we may still have a chance at reducing it on the Overlook. For the last couple years I’ve focused on pushing it back from the Overlook Trail to prevent it’s spread. For some sections of trail I’ve also been able to completely eradicate it this season. I’ve noticed some progress from last year along the trail, but this must be compared to areas where it has now spread, mostly into areas where the Yellow Star Thistle had been cleared.

Although pulling remains the only sure way to reduce the extent of thistle, we’re getting close to the time when the seed is produced (some already has) and at my current rate of pulling there are going to be a lot of areas that I won’t be able to address. So I’ve decided to take a chance at cutting it. Cutting is typically not advised, as the thistle can still produce flowers and seeds after being cut, but I want to try it this season hoping that I’m late enough in the season that it doesn’t have time to regenerate — although the recent rains likely aren’t helping.

So if you see me out there channeling my inner Jamie Lannister, that’s why. I can cut a lot faster than I can pull, and there is still so much out there. We shall see if it’s effective or not, and make adjustments as the evidence indicates.

It’s all we can do.

Oh, Spring!

Spring is the season of renewal, which manifests itself out in the wild in a myriad of interesting and beautiful ways. Certainly the abundance of wildflowers is an obvious example of spring, but it’s by no means the only sign. In certain areas of the state, we were blessed with a “super bloom” of rather massive proportions that was truly something to see. Entire hillsides were painted with orange, or purple, or blue wildflowers. I was in the Merced River canyon just outside Yosemite in April and you could look up and see an entire hillside of California poppies. So…yeah, wildflowers are, I assert, one of the most beloved signs of spring.

But of course there are others.

Once the Western fence lizard makes an appearance, you know spring has sprung. These reptiles need warmth to be able to move around, so once the weather gets warmer they will be seen on the trail. They are definitely our friends in a particular way. “Studies have shown,” Wikipedia tells us, “Lyme disease is lower in areas where the lizards occur. When ticks carrying Lyme disease feed on these lizards’ blood (which they commonly do, especially around their ears), a protein in the lizard’s blood kills the bacterium in the tick that causes Lyme disease.” And since another sign of spring is the presence of ticks, the timing is fortunate.

Other reptiles such as snakes are frequently spotted in spring, as they are out and about looking for a mate. Many mammals are as well. Just today on the Montini Preserve I saw a male wild turkey in full display, trying to attract a mate from a bevy of females (see picture, the females were out of the frame). A couple females were fighting, I presume over the right to go after this fine specimen. Oh how I wish females would fight over me, but then I’m not nearly as good looking as a turkey. Sigh…

 

Hiker Notebooks #4: Loss and Heartbreak

I wanted to do my “Loss and Heartbreak” post kind of early in this series, so we could get some of the heavy stuff over early. This isn’t to minimize it in the least. These are deeply heartfelt messages that must be respected. But I also didn’t want to end on what is essentially a downer. So here they are, and again, I want to make sure they get the respect they deserve.

What gives me hope is that it’s clear that these writers came to the trail for solace and hope. And I sincerely hope they found it. I know that I do. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that when I’m faced with a terrible loss, or an awful situation, I need to get outdoors, clear my head, and think about it without distraction. When I was a teenager and a friend of mine died in a fire I had to get out and hike in the woods to try deal with it. It seems that, perhaps, others do too.

And we’re here for you.

Come to the trail, walk among the plants and wildlife, and think through the dilemma or the disaster that faces you. Many of us have done exactly the same thing. Many of us who have never written in the notebook like you bravely did, but were experiencing similar things nevertheless. It doesn’t mean that we are “over it”. Frankly, we never are. At least I’m not. I still cry for the friend I lost in a fire as a teenager. Some things you simply never get over. But, I assert, there are things you can do to make yourself feel better, and those are things that should be done, as you are deserving of having a good life. Everyone is.

Therefore, perhaps one source of comfort could potentially be that you are not alone. Many of us who have walked the same path have, well, walked the same same exact real, physical, path. Perhaps we haven’t been totally in your shoes, but we’ve been close. And even if we don’t feel your exact pain, we feel something quite close, and just as true.

Thank you for sharing your pain, as I believe it makes us all stronger knowing that others can be just as damaged as we are, but not all of us have your courage to write about it. Thank you for that.

It’s Snake Season, But Don’t Worry!

I saw a gopher snake the other day, draped right across the trail enjoying the sun. I took some pictures (see one to the right) and walked around it, leaving it undisturbed. I then told other hikers to look for it, secretly hoping it was still on the trail so they could see it. Seeing snakes on the trail is actually a rare occurrence, and should be viewed as an excellent opportunity to see a type of wildlife that one doesn’t see very often.

Rattlesnakes, which are of course more dangerous than the harmless gopher snake, have also been sighted this season. Spring is actually when snakes are most often spotted by hikers, and Richard Dale, Executive Director of the Sonoma Ecology Center has an idea why: “Now that the weather has warmed, adult Northern Pacific rattlesnakes, the only likely species in this area, are making their way out of their winter dens to mate, and males will be facing off to vie for females. Perhaps this is why in my experience they seem to be most visible this time of year, and they seem to be less so as the year progresses.” That has been my experience as well, nearly every rattlesnake I’ve ever had the delight to spot happened to be in Spring.

Although rattlesnakes inspire fear in people (me included), it’s important to realize that snakebites are actually quite rare. Richard Dale says “55% of bites occur on men between ages of 17 and 27, and 85% of all bites occur on hands or the forearm…and 28% of bite victims are intoxicated. So it’s probably a good idea not to pick them up with your hands, especially while intoxicated. Not to make too light of them, they are dangerous, but common sense will very likely keep you safe.” That has also been my experience. I know of several incidents when I or another hiker was standing within striking distance of a rattlesnake and the snake did not strike, it warned with its rattle. Of course that causes most of us to jump wildly away from the sound, which is exactly what the snake wants. It doesn’t want to bite something so big that it has no hope of eating, it just wants some space, and most of us are only too happy to comply.

So if you happen to walk up on “Big Jo/e” (s/he, not sure which), who hangs out on the Montini Preserve (see photo), just give him/her a wide berth and go about your business, as will s/he. If you stick to the trail you really have nothing to worry about.

We Have a New Map!

Just in time for our Grand Re-opening Celebration on Sunday at 11am at the Overlook Trail Kiosk, we have a new map produced by a team of Overlook Trail Stewards, the Sonoma Ecology Center, and the City of Sonoma.

Some of our goals were:

  • Greater clarity on hiking options, parking, mileage, and elevations.
  • A better sense of options of getting to and from the trails (for example, including the bike path).
  • Depicting open areas and forested.
  • Showing areas of the trails accessible to wheelchairs.
  • Putting the properties within a broader context by showing locations of such landmarks as the Sonoma State Historic Park, Field of Dreams, and the Plaza.

Eventually the map will be joined at the kiosk with text trail descriptions to give hikers a better sense of what a particular trail offers (e.g., views).

This map is temporary, which provides us with an opportunity to invite feedback on potential enhancements to the map. Therefore, if we can add or change something that would help you understand the trails better, please let us know by commenting on this post.

Hiker Notebooks #3: Advice

The vast majority of the entries in the journals that I’m likely to highlight fall into the categories of gratitude and appreciation. Essentially, as a whole, hikers of the trail are very appreciative of the chance to get out into such beauty and are grateful that it is here for their enjoyment. But occasionally some of you are inspired to give advice to other hikers, which will be highlighted in this post.

Our first entry is both simple and direct:

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been
And the youngest you will ever be.
Live it up and soak in the view!”

It’s hard to argue with such a clear and true message.

Along those lines comes another entry that urges us to “enjoy the little things in life.” Indeed:

“There’s something about getting to the top of the mountain that is so replenishing. Maybe it’s the hike, maybe it’s the views, there’s just something about being one with nature. Take time to enjoy the little things in life.

Happy New Year. :-)”

That doesn’t mean we also don’t have a streak of realists hiking the trail, including those who are ready to give us a dose of reality from a child’s perspective. But first, here’s an entry that sure brought a smile to my face with it’s twist at the end, and I hope it does the same thing for you. It even has a title: “Life”:

“Life is such a gift. Though, it may be difficult at times it still has its good times. Its like a see saw. When you’re at a downfall in life there is nowhere to go but up. So smile every chance you get because everybody deserves a smile. Oh and rattlesnakes are pretty cool now that I’ve seen one.”

On a more cynical note comes this entry from what I can only surmise is a disgruntled young person who was dragged up the trail by her or his parents. But I can’t help but be impressed with the proffered advice, especially “If U reach the top you get $5,000.” I’m so down with that, as I’d be a millionaire several times over by now.

“The trail was “pretty” good…but it could be better! (a lot)

  1. make water stands
  2. don’t make it SO long
  3. Less rocky
  4. BETTER
  5. If U reach the top U get $5000.”

I really can’t make this up.

Now we take a turn from the comedic to the profound. As I’ve said before, you people are deep. Keep it up, as we read these, and starting with these set of posts we are also sharing the best of your thoughts with others who haven’t had the chance, as I have, to read through all the notebooks. Thank you for your thoughts.

“7:09 on a beautiful Tuesday night. I am always reminded how lucky I am to be here. Life is such a precious gift and we must remember to use it consciously and wisely. Watching these cotton candy clouds slowly turn into night reminds me ho we are constantly changing. Change for the better. You are your future. Be smart.

Have an amazing day.”

Here is the entry that I personally appreciated the most under the “advice” heading. Entitled “Hike with that one person,” I think it really speaks to what love is really about. Enjoy.

“Hike with that one person that makes you feel at home.
Hike with that one person, that shows you love and care like no other.
Hike with that one person who you laugh with so much that distance doesn’t matter because you don’t want that special moment to end.
Hike with that one person who you’ve told them all your flaws but still sees through all your flaws and wants to be with you more than anything in the world!”

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Reading your entries has been inspiring and up-lifting. Keep it up!

Hiker Notebooks #2: Quotations

Clearly, some of you are deep. You are able to pull quotes up from the dark (dimly lit?) recesses of your mind and get them on the pages of our Hiker Notebook — or perhaps anywhere else. You rock.

From “Annie S.” comes this stanza from William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud (with an illustration, even!):

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Certainly, daffodils can be spotted on the Overlook, so extra points for accuracy. One could just imagine lying on one’s couch (as one does), pondering a recent solo foray on the trail, and appreciating the opportunity to commune with nature alone, even if you also (and we often do) appreciate sharing the experience with others.

 

Also along the theme of solitude and communing with nature alone comes a portion of Lord Byron’s, Childe Harold, Canto IV:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

 

This quotation actually showed up twice. Was it the same person? You decide.

 

Some chose to quote poets of the more modern era, as this hiker did when supposedly quoting Jimi Hendrix, but this quotation is disputed, and has been variously attributed also to Sri Chinmoy and William Gladstone, in slightly different versions. If anyone has serious evidence backing up this quote, let us know. Meanwhile, the words still ring true, even if no one said them exactly this way ever in print or voice.

 

Lastly (in this post), we have a quotation from one of our world travelers by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), from his book The Innocents Abroad:

 

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

 

Like I said, some of you are deep. But you may need to do a better job of checking your sources. In the end, though, it probably doesn’t mean a whole lot who said it, as these quotes ring true to us anyway. And thank you for sharing these wise words with us on the trail. May you continue to do so.