Why We Do It

I confess: I have begun writing a post many times in the past to talk about why we Overlook stewards give of our time, energy and essence to this endeavor, and why it matters.  Each time, the words simply didn’t come, and so I would delete the post without publishing it.  Today, I’d like to attempt to speak for the team on the notion of why we do it.

There are many benefits to being of service, to giving back to your local community or the global good.  These may include recognition, accolades, credit, and even occasional material rewards.  You tend to meet some of the best and most interesting people when you volunteer, and it’s a fantastic way to network.  Plus it looks great on your resumé!

There are also physiological benefits to volunteering as long as you perform it willingly: studies show that acts of service encourage your body to generate telomerase, an enzyme that helps to heal the ends of your chromosomes.  And if you work the trails like some of us, it’s an excellent source of cardio and weight bearing.  🙂

This is all wonderful, and reason enough.  Far beyond that, however, I can tell you that there is a stunning depth of satisfaction in one’s life that is born and thrives when one devotes oneself to these acts even in small stints.  It doesn’t matter what cause you choose as long as you help to drive it towards the best outcome.  Push the spinning wheel a bit further onwards, chop wood, carry water. Just jump in somewhere and you will eventually find the work that jives with what you have to offer.  As you do, you and your comrades, you will find the real reward, the one that words can’t describe.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

After the Fire, Life

AfterTheFireIt’s always interesting to me to see how quickly nature responds to fire scars. Where once there appeared to be, quite literally, “scorched earth,” plants begin to return the ecosystem to something more like “normal,” if that is a concept that even applies. In reality, fire is a part of “normal” as we seem to finally be discovering in this desert state of ours.

So I was happy to see that the fire scar on the Montini Preserve, about five acres, was already beginning to rebound with life (see picture). It’s possible that the tiny bit of rain that we received recently inspired some plants to send out new shoots. Whether that was the impetus or not is kind of beside the point, as whatever the reason it’s just nice to see the plants coming back.

As we endure bigger and worse fires due to the impacts of global warming, it wouldn’t hurt to remind ourselves that as much as we may be devastated by seeing our beautiful forests burned, there is still hope and renewal to be found. 

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.

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.

Hiker Notebooks #11: Gratitude, Part 1

The sentiments that hikers express the most in our hiker notebooks are appreciation and gratitude. We have so many entries that express these feelings that we must write multiple blog posts about them to cover even just the best of those thoughts. This seems to indicate that many, many hikers have the same thoughts as we stewards do toward the trail and the property that it traverses — we love it. And we deeply appreciate what it provides to us in our lives. We’re glad that so many can drink from the same well and get so much back from the experience.

We start this post about gratitude with one of the most direct, and beautifully depicted, sentiments along these lines: “What a Beautiful Day to be Alive!” the hiker exclaims to the world. Take a moment to think about the hiker who paused long enough to inscribe, multiple times, in the same lovely script, those deeply felt words. Many of us have been there as well, but perhaps didn’t take the time to so artfully express our emotions in the notebook. I know I haven’t, but I’ve felt the very same thing.

This next entry spoke to me personally, as my wife and I have daughters whom we raised in Sonoma (yes, we know, “Slownoma” to the younger generations) and went off to big cities far away. Although I may harbor a fantasy that they may one day move back like these young people, I’m not sure if that’s a reasonable desire. But despite my personal feelings on the subject, it’s just really cool to know that the Overlook Trail has held a special place in their hearts, and could welcome them home like nothing else could. [A side note: what is a “sophisticated” trail hike? Not sure I’ve been on one, LOL]

We move on to a visitor from Seattle, who expresses something I think a lot of us can get behind: simply getting outdoors and experiencing nature. On October 20 2012, the hiker wrote: “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 [most likely a 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 better, I think.” We agree, “KL”, we agree.

Reading through all of the hiker notebooks has been a joy, as so many hikers have expressed positive emotions during their hikes — even when dealing with serious life issues, as they have felt like their time in nature has helped them to deal with tough times. I know that it would be the first place I would head when struggling. So all of this appreciation, gratitude, and love is both fully expected and yet inspiring. It’s why we do what we do.