Hiker Notebooks #1: Who You Are

Photo credit: Lauren Marie.

When I first decided to review all of the entries in the 23 notebooks of hiker comments (so far!) gathered over the years, I had no idea what I would find. To be honest, after hiking the trail nearly every day for a decade I never made an entry and hardly even looked at them. I’m not sure why, but I hadn’t. So I didn’t really know what I would find.

What I found was both somewhat predictable and also surprising and remarkable.

I found that the people who hike this trail cover a lot of ground — from kids forced by their parents to take a hike they didn’t want to take, to teenagers and others coming up the hill for purposes other than exercise or the view (*cough*), to those seeking solace after loss and heartbreak, to those inspired to spend some time drawing, or creating poetry, or recalling quotes that were meaningful to them. And then there are those who feel inspired to look beyond themselves to encourage others, or to provide messages of hope and renewal. In other words, pretty much a complete slice of humanity and all of our drama, but with a significant skew to the positive.

By far, when people write in these notebooks they are coming from some pretty great places emotionally. And even those who are dealing with very tough times are on the trail to gain strength. In sum, people seek interaction with nature during both good times and bad, and they find reasons to be thankful for the experience no matter where they are emotionally. Except, that is, the kids forced up the trail by their parents. That will never change, sadly.

After reading what must have been thousands of entries, I want to tell you that you are an amazing group of people, who have come to this trail from all over the planet. You hail not just from Sonoma or nearby cities and counties, but from Australia, England, Germany, Greece, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other countries and U.S. states. And by far the messages you leave tip the scales heavily to appreciation and gratitude. There are so many entries relating to these sentiments that I haven’t even decided how to handle them yet. You love the trail, you love the interaction with nature, the views, the exercise, you love so many aspects of it and you have so much gratitude. Thank you for that.

As one of a dozen or more who work to make the trail a great place to be, I want to speak for all of us about how this makes us feel. It makes us feel so happy to know that you appreciate the trail as we do. And may you all get to experience it as often as you like, and if you do, please feel free to leave an entry in the notebook. I know I will, myself, finally. You’ve all inspired me.

The Hiker Notebooks

One of the features unique to the Sonoma Overlook Trail has been our Hiker Notebook, which is left at the bench at the top (see the blue box in the photo). Hikers are invited to “share your thoughts, express yourself, or just sign in!” And many of them do, as it turns out.

Over the years we have accumulated 23 mostly-filled notebooks, and now we are launching a project to comb through them and share some of the best entries in a series of blog posts. This post will eventually link to all of the posts of the series, so that there is one spot to get to them all.

In going through the books I was struck by how many people hiking the trail come from far away — from distant U.S. states but also foreign countries. They express deep appreciation for the trail and the experience of hiking it.

Other writers are inspired to wax philosophical, create a drawing, or express deeply held emotions like loss and heartbreak, hope, appreciation, and peace. These themes and others will be highlighted in the coming posts that will depict entries supporting that theme. Names will be redacted.

I hope you enjoy this series of posts as much as I have enjoyed reading your entries. You are a diverse and interesting group of hikers and it’s been nice to get to know you even by a tiny bit. Keep sharing!

  1. Who You Are
  2. Quotations
  3. Advice
  4. Loss and Heartbreak
  5. Drawings
  6. Encouragement
  7. Determination
  8. Appreciation, Part 1
  9. Love
  10. Philosophy
  11. Gratitude, Part 1

Grand Reopening!

  Sonoma Overlook Trail is re-opening April 28

        Come join us for a Celebration Event

At the Overlook Kiosk Sunday, April 28 at 11:00 am

  • Hike the new trail at 11:30

  • Enjoy refreshments

  • Meet friends, neighbors and government officials

  • Celebrate our renewed community trail

The Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards is an all-volunteer organization. It is fiscally sponsored by the Sonoma Ecology Center, a California non-profit 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation qualified to receive tax-deductible donations.

Tick Season is Here

Yesterday, after pulling invasive weeds on the Overlook Trail, I found a tick lodged in the inside of my arm. So today, as soon as I got home from my session of weed pulling, I stripped and inspected myself before heading to the shower. I was shocked to find that another was attached to my side. It had apparently bit me before I even had a chance to find it. I was out for about an hour-and-a-half. Luckily, I hadn’t yet mailed my envelope to the Sonoma County Department of Health Services to test the first tick for Lyme disease, so I added it to the envelope and doubled the check (they charge $33 to test a tick).

Part of the problem is that these buggers are quite small (see the picture of my first tick). That means when scanning for a tick on your clothing or body, you need to look for a very small, essentially black dot. Also, my work takes me off the trail into the vegetation, which most hikers and runners have no need to do (so my story isn’t necessarily indicative of the actual danger).

In a weird confluence of events, I found the first tick while in the quarterly meeting of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards. I discovered that my arm was sore, and I couldn’t figure out why that would be, so I looked at it, and found the tick. Thankfully I never go anywhere without my Swiss Army knife, so I ducked out of the meeting and extracted it with the tweezers. I wrapped it in a tissue for safe keeping.

To prevent your own up-close-and-personal encounters with ticks (which is really the purpose of this post), I suggest doing the following:

  • Avoid touching or brushing against vegetation.
  • Inspect yourself and others for small black dots.
  • Tuck pants legs into your socks.
  • Shower after your hike.

I made a couple signs to this effect to put at the entrances to the Overlook, and will make another two for posting on the Montini. In my ignorance, I hadn’t realized that ticks would be out by now. Richard Dale, of the Sonoma Ecology Center, told me at the Stewards meeting that they have been out for a couple of weeks. In the future, I hope to be better about warning people of the danger as soon as it becomes real. Even I could have used the warning. Stay safe out there, hikers and runners!

Sonoma Raceway Hike!

You’re invited to join us for our ever popular and very unique opportunity to tour remote stretches of the hills and valleys surrounding Sonoma Raceway‘s 1,600-acre property and help support a good cause to boot!

Participants can choose either a three or five mile guided hike through the splendid hills and grasslands of the raceway’s extensive open space to the west of the main facility. These somewhat hilly hikes will be guided by Overlook Trail docents and Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway’s President and General Manager. This property, offering 360-degree views and bayland vistas, is not usually accessible to the public.

The route meanders through native grasslands and with our exceptionally wet winter promises to produce a spectacular wildflower season! You may even encounter some “Wooly Weeders” and their Spring lambs in action! Afterwards, we’ll enjoy a catered lunch including wine or soft drinks.

Proceeds support the Sonoma Overlook Trail maintenance, restoration, recreation and education programs run by the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, an all-volunteer group that maintains the Overlook Trail.

Date/Time: Saturday, May 11, 2019 – 10 a.m.-1 p.m
Cost: $50 Non-refundable, Tax Deductible Donation 
Includes:  
  • Docent led hike
  • Lovely picnic lunch catered by Levy Restaurants
  • Wines and non alcoholic drinks
  • Jaw Dropping Views!
Early registration is advised as our similar event sold out last year.

Register Here

The Sonoma Overlook Trail is fiscally sponsored by the Sonoma Ecology Center, a California non-profit 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation qualified to receive tax-deductible donations. Its tax ID number is #94-3136500

The Fungus Among Us

The rainy season is of course also the season of fungus, which thrives on damp conditions. The rains we have experienced the last few months has only spurred these interesting organisms to new bursts of growth. Just the other day, I was delighted to come upon a large patch of bright orange and yellow fungi (see picture of only two of dozens in one area) that had recently pushed up past the detritus of dead leaves and decomposed vegetation that comprise the forest duff.

The two kinds pictured above are of course just a couple of many, many different kinds of fungi found in Northern California. And since positive identification can be difficult if you aren’t an expert, you won’t find me climbing out on that particular limb. But that doesn’t meant that I can’t appreciate their diversity, color, and sheer exuberance in pushing up through a sometime thick layer of compost toward sunlight.

All of the pictures included in this post were taken on either the Overlook Trail or the Montini Preserve, so be on the lookout to see these and others now and in the coming days.

‘Don’t Look Up’ and Other Lessons From Invasive Species Removal

Pulling an Italian Thistle in its early stage.

At the risk of completely turning off our loyal readers (Hi Mom!), I once again sally forth into the area of invasive species removal, but this time it’s to describe some “lessons learned,” after years of doing this work. But if you read beyond this point you may want to see your psychiatrist. Just a friendly warning. Jump to the end of this post if you don’t believe me.

They’re called “invasive species” for good reason. Native plant species have existed in a particular ecosystem for many years, decades, even millennia. So when a new plant species is introduced into an area, the local ecosystem often has no defenses against it. This can (and often does) allow the invasive species the opportunity to completely take over the local ecosystem, thereby crowding out native species until there is essentially a monoculture. I’ve seen this happen. One of the first things to understand, then, is that this is a very real threat, and one that we have not always been good at fighting.

It’s not a battle, it’s a war of attrition. Don’t think that this is a battle that can be fully won. All we can hope to accomplish is to reduce the level of invasion to a manageable level and keep it there, or reduce it over time. We may be successful in keeping a particular species off the properties completely, with due diligence over years and constant vigilance, but we will likely never completely rid these properties of invasive species altogether. It’s just what it is. Know this going in.

Don’t look up. Invasive species removal is what’s called a long game — something that takes concerted effort over many years to reach your goals. Think of marriage, or saving for retirement — things that take work over long periods of time to achieve lasting goals. I’ve also called this being gently powerful, as a river is when it erodes very hard rock. The point about not looking up is that if you see the entire job before you, you may despair. But if you keep your head down, and only look at what is in front of you, then you have a chance at going on, and really making a difference in the long term. This is a real issue when it comes to achieving a difficult task like fighting back invasive species.

Look up. No, this is not a negation of the previous point, but merely the fact that sometimes it can really help to break out of the focus of the work you are doing and simply enjoy where you are. Look around, see the wildlife, fell the breeze, look off into the far distance, and just drink it all in. You are here for a reason, but you can also enjoy yourself at the same time. And if you are enjoying yourself, then you are more likely to keep doing the work.

Set achievable goals. When I first started pulling invasive weeds, I had no goals. I just went out and did it. But when I really took it on as a project, I discovered the need to set goals. Initially, in my ignorance, I set the goal of complete eradication. On the Overlook property, that ended up being achievable for the Yellow Star Thistle, since after 5-6 years of concerted effort, we seem to be getting there. But I’m not so sanguine about the Italian Thistle, so I’ve set the much more modest goal of eradicating it from the trail edge for now. Once that is achieved, another goal can be set. But don’t rush it, or you may fall into the trap of frustration.

Manage your discouragement. I don’t know of anyone who does this work who hasn’t had moments of feeling discouraged. Anything that is this daunting is likely to make anyone have feelings of discouragement now and then. How I handle it myself is I ask myself the question that is the verbal equivalent of “don’t look up” — “Are you making a difference?” Invariably, the answer is “Yes, I am.” And that’s how I turn discouragement into determination — by focusing on the small goal of simply making a difference. Just make next year better than this year or the year before. 

Don’t start at zero tolerance. Part of managing your discouragement is to know that in serious infestations there is no way you can get it all at one time. Don’t even think you can. Understand that you may need to hit the same general area one, two, even half-a-dozen times before you can feel good about it, and don’t sweat it. Only set an area to “zero tolerance” — where you pull everything you see — when the area warrants that designation. It may take you years to get to that point for some areas. It isn’t a failing. 

Know that there’s never just one. This is a rookie mistake – thinking that when you spot one invasive weed that’s all there is. As I’ve blogged about before, that is never the case. Just stop thinking that. As soon as you zoom in on that one weed, you will see others — perhaps many others. But there’s never just one.

Understand that not only is it not sexy, it’s not even remotely attractive. Much of this work happens off the trail, where no one sees you doing it. And even when you’re doing it on the trail, you’re sweaty, smelly, and sticking your big butt toward the trail. Believe me on this. It’s not a pretty encounter. Some of you reading this may have even been there, and can back me up on this. I’m sorry.

If you think you’ve won, you haven’t been doing it long enough. When I first started doing this work, I naively thought we could knock it out in a year or two. That was almost a decade ago and there are invasive species we haven’t yet addressed. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had a serious impact — we totally have. For example, I am proud to report that we’ve essentially eradicated the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from both the Sonoma Overlook and Montini Preserve properties, after years of work. Also, we have made a serious impact on Italian Thistle on the Overlook Trail property. So there has been progress. But there is also much further to go. Just don’t think we’ve won, because we never really do. But we make a difference, and that is important.

Don’t let one patch get you down. This is a lesson it took me a while to learn. When I found a patch of invasive weeds I thought I needed to pull it all before moving away. But I quickly realized that for my own sanity I would need to take a break, if it only meant attacking a different edge of the patch. Sometimes you just need to walk a bit and restart anew, and that is totally OK. These days, I only work on a patch until I feel like moving on, as I know I will be back tomorrow or the next day to fight it back farther, and eventually, over time, eliminate it. And that’s perfectly OK. Bottom line: only do what you want to do.

Use the seasons to your advantage. Invasive species have their own timetable, and some, like Italian Thistle, come in early, while others, like Yellow Star Thistle, come in later in the season. Meanwhile, you can get Scotch Broom pretty much any time. I’ve been pulling Italian Thistle starting in January, as it becomes to come in, which is a great time to get it, as it can be easy to pull from the wet soil and you can simply toss it aside, rather than hauling it out in a sack as you need to do later in the season. Later in the year I add YST to my itinerary, although as I’ve mentioned it is thankfully becoming more rare.

Beware of obsession.  I don’t know what to tell you about this. I just know that it’s possible to descend into obsession. Here is even a blog post about it. Just don’t let it happen to you. If you do, I’ll see you out there, and you’ll be welcome.

Lord help you. If you’ve made it this far then I feel for you. You may be in danger of catching the bug, which I’m not sure I would wish on anyone. Pretty much every day during Spring and Summer I ask myself whether I will hike or pull invasive species, and most of the time I choose the latter, as it needs to be done and I’m not sure who else will do it. Perhaps talk to me before choosing to do this. At least I will be able to give you the straight dope, and you can decide for yourself whether you are up to it.

No, I’m serious. Perhaps you thought I was kidding. I’m not. I really wish that I had not caught this bug. I see the people every day doing their hike or run and there I am, pulling stupid invasive weeds. Don’t be me. Take your hike or run and throw me a thank you every now and then. But I know it is actually pity, and I get that. It’s what I would do if I could. But I can’t. It’s too late for me. Save yourself.