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.

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 by even a tiny bit. Keep sharing!

  1. Who You Are
  2. Quotations
  3. Advice
  4. Loss and Heartbreak