We Love You, But Keep Your Distance

As volunteers tasked with taking care of our beloved trails, we love anyone who also loves to get out on those trails and experience the beauties of nature. But in these days of a global pandemic, it’s very important that we heed the warnings to stay away from others at least six feet.

I’ve been out on the trail a lot in the past several days, and I’ve been dismayed to see the increased number of hikers simply passing each other on the trail, barely a foot away. Whenever I see someone coming, I get off the trail, and afford us both at least six feet of distance. I implore you all to do the same. If just one party leaves the trail, that’s all we need. Be that party.

Tissues are STILL Trash

As a volunteer trail steward, I hike the trail knowing that I have special responsibilities. I can’t just breeze through on my daily hike thinking I can ignore things like branches across the trail, invasive thistles sprouting up in the way of hikers, and trash carelessly tossed aside. I just can’t. And since I hike the trail nearly every day, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Oddly enough, the single most common piece of trash I’ve ever seen is facial tissues. I’ve even written about this before, three years ago nearly to the very day, and nothing has changed.

I think that perhaps those who toss tissues believe they will quickly degrade and not be noticed. But as reported by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), toilet paper, which is designed to degrade quickly (unlike facial tissue), can last one to three years in the outdoors before it totally degrades. So perhaps you’re counting on me to pick it up, and I suppose you’re right, as I do.

But in this day of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), is that really something you want to put on someone else? So please just carry your own tissues out. Thank you for your consideration.

Fighting the Fight Because It Must Be Fought

I don’t know if you’ve ever faced this situation in your life, but I have, and more than once. I’ve had ore than one fight enter my life that I could not turn away from — fights that simply needed to happen, because some things are simply worth fighting for, despite the odds, despite the near certainty of defeat; because then you can live with yourself, knowing you did what you could. Some fights are worth fighting for the fight itself, and if you don’t believe that, I’m not sure I even want to know you.

If you choose your fights based on winnability, that is not a criteria that I respect. I choose my fights based on what I believe is worth fighting for, and if I need to go down fighting, then so be it. But at least I can look myself in the mirror, because I did what my conscience demanded. I believe we all need to know which hill we’re willing to die on. And there may be more than one.

This means that I’ve lost, sometimes even disastrously (buy me a drink sometime and I’ll tell the stories), but I’ve never regretted fighting. That’s the beauty of struggling for what you believe in — you actually win even if you lose, as you’ve stayed true to yourself. Some people can’t say that, and that makes me sad.

So yes, I keep my defeats as close to my heart as my victories, perhaps even closer, as they are what makes me cry, even decades after, as my victories never seem to do. If you are wise in choosing your fights then the price you pay is to remember them for the rest of your life. Otherwise, they never meant anything to begin with. Choose wisely, knowing the price.

Although this is one of the much, much lesser fights of my life, and likely not one I will ever cry over, I will probably die not knowing if we ever won the fight against invasive species on the trails above the city of Sonoma, after decades of fighting. But I will die knowing I did everything I could. And that’s really all I need to know. At least this will be one of my much lesser defeats. I hope all of your defeats are much less than this. May they always and forever be.

Tick Season is Here!

This week I found the first tick of the season crawling up my pants. In my experience, ticks are more prevalent in the wet period of winter and spring than they are in summer. Therefore, you will need to be vigilant for ticks for the next several months at least.

And being vigilant can be hard, as they can be quite small (see picture). When you’re inspecting yourself, look for any small dark dot. It’s good to look over yourself and your companions once you’ve left the trail. Even better, take a shower after your hike, so you can do a thorough body check. Try not to brush against trail vegetation, as they like to sit on the ends of grasses to get on you as you brush by.

Finally, if you do get bitten, extract the tick carefully with tweezers, put it in a small ziploc bag with a moistened cotton ball and send it in to have it tested for Lyme disease. I did this twice last year and thankfully neither tick had the disease. However, I tend to have a serious reaction to the tick bite if it has been in me for longer than an hour or so, which includes pain, itching, swelling, and a temporary scar at the bite site (which can last for months).

So by far, the best strategy is to prevent yourself from getting bitten in the first place. Stay safe out there!

Hiker Notebooks, #12: Gratitude, Part 2

In yet another installment in our ongoing series about thoughts or drawings people have left in our hiker notebooks, this is the second in a mini-series on gratitude (see also our first “gratitude” post), as it is an emotion that is very frequently expressed by hikers in their notebook entries, I think for somewhat obvious reasons — at least for anyone likely to be reading this blog post. Those who enjoy getting out in nature on a well-constructed trail with views and a variety of environments are all too likely to be grateful for the experience. As we are too. Read and enjoy what these visitors have felt inspired to write at the top of the trail.

Our first highlighted entry, as many have been, comes from a visitor, not a resident. From “KL” on October 20, 2012, they write: “My first and maybe only time here — coming from gray, rainy Seattle — this place feels so different and refreshing. There are so many places in the world — big towns, small towns — with people who are happy and sad. But if they got outside and visited this tree with the unusual pods [likely the California Buckeye] and looked out to the hills and trees and water and all the people doing all the things in the valley — it would make them feel just a little bit better, I think.” We agree, KL, we are right there with you.

From a person even farther away we have this entry from a visitor from Ames, Iowa on the 14th of November, 2012. “We live on such a beautiful Earth. As I sit here and write, a brilliant green hummingbird calls on the buckeye branch, with a dark throat and glints of the most amazing purplish red, flashing in the sunlight. Life is such a blessing. Do I really have to hike back down the hill? In gratitude to those who made this trail and maintain it…” Right back atcha, Ames, Iowa. We love that you are so grateful for the trail. It inspires us too, all the time.

Our next entry, from January 16, 2013, by Sam, is an introspective reflection on gratitude and feeling blessed, which hiking the trail clearly so often inspires: “A heavenly beauty surrounds me on this mountain. A gentle haze blankets the valley as my life achieves clarity. Becoming whole in myself I am grateful for everything life has given me. I strive to make the world a better place and know that we are all here for a reason.  Thank you for this gift. It is truly a blessing. Love to the world, Sam.” You seem like a really fine person, Sam, to be so grateful for what you have been blessed with and your desire to make the world a better place. We wish you all the best in your life’s journey, and we hope that you will once again return to the trail one day.

Our final entry for this post is really hard to argue with, and frankly needs no embellishment or even transcription. We love it too, whomever you are, we do too.

The War Begins Anew

A young Italian thistle, which can grow to be over 6 feet tall.

Today I spotted the first Italian thistle plants (see picture) of the 2020 invasive species removal season — or what I simply call “thistle season,” as the species we’re most focused on at the moment are the Italian and Yellow star thistle. These species are fully capable of taking over entire ecosystems and driving out native species and even wildlife. Thus we fight.

Thistle season has grown to last from the end of December, with the early onset of Italian thistle (slightly later this year), to well into August with the Yellow star. That makes thistle season nearly 8 months long, with only 4 months off. It doesn’t mean that we’re out there every day, mostly hand-pulling the weeds, but it means that every day we can starts to add up to a real difference. As it is, we’re witnessing a decrease in the volume and extent of Yellow star thistle, since we’ve attacked it for close to a decade. It’s even gone from some areas. But Italian thistle has essentially overrun the Montini Preserve and it is threatening to do the same on the Overlook Trail property. Thus, our recent efforts on Italian thistle have tended to focus on the Overlook Trail — first to eradicate it from the trail verge, where traffic on the trail can spread it, and then to fight it back from the trail into the surrounding areas.

Last year we were successful in clearing it back from the trail, but much beyond that was mostly untouched except for a few select areas. This year we’re hoping to have the time to take the fight further out from the trail, and especially hit some meadows where it hasn’t yet become widely established, such as the Upper Meadow on the Overlook. But the season has just begun, so we shall have to see what we can accomplish this season.

Meanwhile, if volunteering to help us pull these weeds is something that might interest you, I recommend you first read this post: “‘Don’t Look Up’ and Other Lessons from Invasive Species Removal.” We’re not trying to scare you off, really we aren’t, but it’s best to approach this work with your eyes open. Trust me on that. If you’re still game, let me know.

If you don’t wish to volunteer, but see us doing the work when you hike, throw us a wave. Feelings of pity and “there, but for the grace of God…” are also appropriate.

August seems like a long, long way off from here.