Hiker Notebooks #9: Love

This is another one of our series of posts about entries that Sonoma Overlook Trail hikers have left in our hiker notebook, which can be found on the bench at the top of the trail. This post is focused on a topic that we all…well…love. That is, LOVE (sorry, I went there, and I’m not proud of it).

It’s hard to argue that there is a human emotion more deep and potentially dangerous than this one. Love is where we feel the most utter joy and can be hurt just as deeply. If your heart is open to love then it is also open to be hurt, and that can be a difficult thing for anyone. And yet the first entry I’m highlighting isn’t wrong either. “Love is everything!” it boldly states, with tremendous confidence, and you won’t find me arguing with it.

But perhaps it worth pointing out that “love” comes in a variety of guises. It doesn’t always and only mean romantic love. You can love your dog or cat, you can love a wilderness area (I have many, but primary among them is the Grand Canyon). You can love a piece of music. You can love cooking a particular dish. I’m not saying these “loves” are equal in their intensity and meaning to your life, but I just want to say that, yes, love is indeed everything. If you aren’t loving something, each and every day, no matter how relatively inconsequential, then perhaps reassess your life choices. Because, you know, love is everything. 

One of the reasons why it is, is deftly expressed by another hiker who writes, “Everything is always so beautiful when you’re in love.” Yes, indeed it is. So why not be in love every single day? And in whatever way that is meaningful for you. Clearly, a lot of people love to hike the Sonoma Overlook Trail, and that means that those people have love in their life whenever their foot falls on the dusty or muddy trail, which could be, for some, almost every day. And what’s not to like about that?

This next entry, penned on Mother’s Day 2012, kind of blows the door off this car, as you will soon see, written from a man to his wife. “Happy Mother’s Day [redacted],” it begins, “Let this mountain be my witness to a proclamation of love: I love you with all my heart, my soul, my mind, my body. I have for as long as I recall. And I will forever more. Please hear my message. And receive it with your heart as well. I am not afraid, because love is all powerful, and with ours no obstacle is too great, no challenge too difficult. As our love endures, so shall we. Thank you for being in my life, and for being the most amazing woman, wife, spirit, artist, lover, friend, adventurer, and mother, that I could have ever imagined. Yours forever.” WOW. Just…WOW. All the best, you guys. I mean, srsly.

And lastly, we have a message about those just beginning their journey of love. I’m sure you’re with me as I wish them all the best in their life together. And as a trail steward, it really means a lot to me that their family began their special day hiking the trail, and sharing something about their special day with the rest of us. Thank you for that. “Six of our family are taking this hike on a special day,” it begins, “Today we will celebrate the marriage of Ryan and Alina and we will all remember coming together to reflect on their love — and on our love of family — in this beautiful place.” Yes, indeed. We hear you, and share you best wishes and sentiments.

As I write this, I’m approaching my 36th anniversary with my beautiful wife. I couldn’t have asked for better. I certainly didn’t deserve it. I’m grateful, and clearly some of those writing entries in our Hiker Notebooks are as well. Please keep them coming.

We hear you.

Hiker Notebooks #8: Appreciation, Part 1

In this series about the entries that hikers have written into our Hikers Notebook left on the stone bench at the top of the trail, appreciation reigns supreme. We have had more entries expressing appreciation than any other category. This isn’t surprising to me or anyone else who loves the trail, and what it provides us — for some us, on a daily, or nearly daily basis. For me, it’s my spin class, my psychiatrist, and my health coach. It’s my spiritual advisor, my friend, and my love. So…yeah. Appreciation in spades.

Our first entry is astonishing in its simplicity and yet heartfelt sentiment. “Hello everyone, I love (heart) Sonoma Overlook Trail.” Thank you, whomever penned that, as we do too. You’re in some very good company, and we hope you come back often. It’s hard to get more direct than that.

A much more thorough and nuanced entry is our next highlight. The author expresses a lot of thoughts that many of us feel, and that bring many of us back, day after day. “I’m so thankful to have places like this in my life,” he or she writes, as if reading my mind, “a chance to be at peace with the stresses of our environment, our jobs, our lives.” Yes, so that.

“I wish more people could experience beauty like this, and truly appreciate its healing powers.” We do too.

“This book is a great idea. Thanks to whomever put it here!” You’re most welcome.

“Musically yours.” Whomever you are, thank you for that wonderful entry. We hope you get to experience the “healing powers” of being out there as much as you want and need.

Next I want to highlight two very brief entries. This first one is so droll that I can’t figure out if it is serious or not. I like to think of it as being just plain funny. But even if it’s completely serious, I still think it’s funny. “I had a mediocre time,” it begins, and yet ends with “This place is okay,” signed, “Allee”. Yeah, Allee, it’s pretty darn OK. Glad you think so too.

This final entry I imagine comes from a young person, whom I also imagine is coming to learn that being out in nature can be a great way to spend some time. “Hikes are fun,” it reads, with a big drawn heart. You know, we think so too, so we’re glad that you’ve discovered a love of hiking, which will be your friend throughout your lifetime.

I began my hiking life with my family as a boy, in the Sierra Nevada, and then went on to hike almost all of the (mostly unmaintained) trails in the Grand Canyon from 18-21, until I became a commercial river guide and discovered an entirely new way to experience the wilderness of the Grand Canyon and elsewhere. But trail hiking (and running) have always been a part of my life.

I’m just happy that many of our Hiker Notebooks entries also express a deep appreciation of what being out in nature provides. We who maintain the trail hear your appreciation, we share it, and we thank you for expressing it.

Hiker Notebooks #7: Determination

This series of blog entries based on what Overlook Trail hikers have written in our Hikers Notebooks has been a lot of fun, but we are still far from over. This time we look at a couple of entries from a couple hikers determined to accomplish something in their lives, and they give every indication that they will be successful in achieving their goals. We wish them luck and godspeed!

This first one is short but very sweet. “Having my first baby,” she writes, “and want to hit 100 trails before he is born. Today will be hike #53 at Sonoma Overlook Trail.” Thank you for having our trail be part of your total! And we have no doubt that you can reach your goal, and giving your baby a very healthy start as part of the bargain. Our journal writer is not the only pregnant mother hiking the trail. Jes, a yoga teacher for The Lodge in Sonoma, leads hikes for guests on the trail, and she’s been doing it while still being fairly far along in her pregnancy. What a healthy thing to do for your unborn child!

Our other entry for this post is longer, and apparently from a graduating senior in 2016. “Here where I’m sitting,” it begins, “I’m going to promise myself that as much as people walk away or whatever life brings me I’m going to make the best of it. I’m going to try more. More in improving myself trying better to become a truly happy person. Basically ‘do you’ type of thing. I’m going to do what makes me happy and not going to let one simple thing bring my motivation down. Self-esteem needs to be higher!” We hope that now, a few years later, that you’ve met those goals you set for yourself. Somehow I think that you probably have.

Stay determined, Overlook hikers! There will be many challenges along the trails in your life, so we hope that traveling this one gave you more strength to handle those challenges. I know that it does for me.

Hiker Notebooks #6: Encouragement

I’ve come to think that hiking the trail puts many of us into a contemplative mode, I know that it does for me. So I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that some hikers are put into a frame of mind where they are thinking encouraging thoughts that they wish to share with others. This post highlights some of the best of those that I’ve found in the hiker notebooks (click the link for the entry point into the entire series). I hope you like them too.

This first entry is a fairly bright and hopeful message from an enthusiastic soul. “May all beings,” it reads, ” be happy, free, and safe from harm. May we all see the expansiveness of our own potential. May be spread our wings and fly into the light. – Namaste and Mahalo”.

Our second entry is rather amazing in its length and thoroughness: “Please learn to love yourself. Your hair, eyes, body, face. Everything. You only get this one life…so live it up. Keep your head up, eyes straight. Life is not easy but it’s what we make it. Learn to fall in love, or be independent. Want someone, don’t need anyone but yourself. At the end of the day, all we have is ourselves, our soul. Be at peace or go to parties. Take risks, lean from mistakes. Find yourself in what you love; your spouse, your playlist, your favorite movies and concerts. Life is too short not to make an effort. Go for it or go with the flow. Express yourself, don’t care what people think. I believe in you, you can do it. Find beauty in yourself, your smile and laugh. How can you love others when you can’t love yourself.” Great advice.

A similar message was penned by this next hiker. “Sometimes we need to put all stress, worry, and anxieties aside and take in this gorgeous world we live in and embrace the people that make us happy and put smiles on our face. Know…that we are all blessed!”

I hope that you have someone who makes you happy and that makes you smile. If you do, then you are indeed blessed.

Meanwhile, if you have a similar message for other hikers of the trail, please feel free to sit down and take a moment to offer your own words of encouragement to those who come after you.

We notice them, as do many others.

 

 

Hiker Notebooks #5: Drawings

After reviewing all of the entries into our hiker notebooks so far, a few things are clear. First, you Overlook Trail hikers can be deep. Also, you can totally be artists. This next post in our series focuses on the visual artists among you — those who drew in our notebooks. You know who you are. And we want you to know that we totally appreciate you.

We begin this post with a simple message and a simple but interesting drawing. “I love this hike.” Yes, thank you, many of us do, but not all of us (I certainly don’t) stop to create art to give honor to the love you (and the rest of us) feel for this hike. Thank you for taking the time, and for sharing your artistry with us, who may not (like me) have your talents. At least we can appreciate yours. Keep it up, please.

Part of what I really enjoy is thinking of you, the artist, sitting on the stone bench at the top of the trail, looking out over the town of Sonoma, and off into the distance into Marin County and San Francisco, and inscribing your art, mostly anonymously, into a book for others to enjoy without any recognition. Thank you for that. May you keep it up.

This next submission I wanted to highlight because…well, why not? Space Turtle? Well, OK. I’m not sure I get that, but it’s kind of a really cool turtle, and if it happens to be hurtling through space, then that is totally cool. So I’m down with that. Good on you.

For now I will set aside such issues as a vacuum lacking any oxygen, no apparent means of propulsion, a complete lack of freeze-dried food, etc. I’m just sayin. But thanks for playing, it’s a cool drawing. Perhaps we can inspire other imaginative drawings, which I’m totally down for. Bring it, hikers.

This next drawing is clearly from a child (or, well, from me, but I will not claim ownership). But I love it on so many levels. I love that she saw a deer and clearly felt the special nature of that. l love it because she felt like both drawing and writing about it in the Hiker Notebook. Good on you, Kate.

I also can’t help but think that Kate will be a lifelong hiker, as many of you putting up with these posts are. We love getting out into nature and seeing wildlife (not just deer, but wild turkeys, many different kinds of birds, squirrels, snakes, lizards, etc.). We just love being out in the natural world. And I love that Kate, at her young age, is just discovering something that may stay with her for the rest of her life. It has through mine. We should all be so lucky.

In preparing for this post, I reviewed a lot of drawings, and I’m sorry if your drawing didn’t make the cut. I’m not sure that I can totally defend my decisions, so don’t feel bad. But for my last drawing I wanted to highlight this rather haunting portrait of a woman. Is this a random drawing of a generic woman? Or a love unrequited? We will never know, and we clearly are not meant to know, as no text accompanies it. The mystery is frankly much of its allure.

I’m also struck by the very spare use of lines. It frankly reminds me of Rembrandt van Rijn’s very spare etchings where he would completely capture the essence of a person with very few lines (see his drawing of his wife). I’m still astonished at this ability, wherever I see it. As someone who is…uh…artistically challenged, I’m simply in awe. I have no idea how you do it.

Just, please, keep it up. We love it. Whatever inspires you, whether it is seeing a deer or thinking of one you love or who you lost, we’re down with it. Rock on.

 

Please see the entry point to the entire series.

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.