Chasing the Star

Long-time sufferers of reading this blog know that we have been fighting a battle against invasive species. Not really a battle, actually, but a war of attrition. We just hope we can outlast them.

This season I made a rookie mistake of judging the extent of the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) too soon in the season. Seeing very little, I allowed myself to drift into a feeling of complacency and accomplishment. Then I went away on vacation for three weeks in July, just returning earlier this week. And wow, what a difference a few weeks made. We are far from out of the woods with Yellow Star Thistle. Yesterday I even had to do the unthinkable — leave some behind. My large contractor’s bag was simply too full. Today I returned and got that patch as well as many others. And that’s why this post.

I know we’re in a long game, and I know how it’s played — perhaps better than most. But anytime you set yourself a big audacious goal you’re running the risk of having periods of disappointment and depression. I’m having one of those now. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for sympathy or encouragement. I know what we’re in for, and I also know I’m good for it, and that this moment will pass, as it always has. But I want to take a moment to acknowledge that when you play the long game you’re going to have these periods of disillusionment, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. On the contrary, they are to be expected and weathered just like the periods of euphoria and accomplishment.

Also, I know that the years of work are having results, just not as rapidly and thoroughly as I want. But I’ll be back out there tomorrow and the day after that. And YST: I’ll see you next year too, and the year after that. Don’t be late. I won’t.

Hiker Notebooks #10: Philosophy

As we continue this series of blog posts about the best entries in our hiker notebooks over the years (chosen by me alone, it must be pointed out), this one focuses on those who wax philosophical when writing in our notebooks. To be sure, I only have a couple entries to highlight, but others have been philosophical as well, but I have slotted them into other categories that seemed to match what they were being philosophical about.

This first entry is brief and to the point, but it makes you think: “7 billion people experienced this day in a different way.” I often think about this when I travel — especially when it is a country that is vastly different than the United States. As I experience their very different reality it makes me think that on any single day as I go about my day where I live, these people in this other country have a very different experience of that day. Of course our hiker is pointing out that we ALL experience our day differently, even in the same household. And he or she is true, we do. Something to think about, and especially what effect it may have on how everyone ends up viewing the world.

Our next hiker is intent on making us all feel better, and have more empathy and understanding for our fellow travelers. Jeremy, as he signs his post, advises us to “Be mindful of the human condition — we are all lonely, scared, and sad, but together, helping one another we can love, laugh and feel strong. DO GOOD!”

It’s really hard to argue with that. Keep waxing philosophical, hikers! We read and “see” you. You’re awesome.

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.

 

 

The Remains of the Day

For a while now on Facebook (friend me, maybe?), I will occasionally post a “Remains of the day” post, with a picture captured on the trail of some remains of an animal that I encounter while hiking. So if you are squeamish about such things, now would be a great time to bail, as I’m about to discuss these. Just sayin’.

For those of you still here, here we go as I recap some of those encounters — never sought, but not avoided either. Every living being deserves to have their lives (and deaths, witnessed).

American shrew mole

American shrew mole (I think).

Almost always the method of demise is mysterious, as it was to me when I encountered this American shrew mole (I think that’s what it is, but I’m open to be corrected on that) in the middle of the Holstein Hill Trail on the Montini Preserve. Why had it died? It didn’t appear to have any trauma, or other obvious signs of why it had expired. So…why? I’ll never know, but there it was. I never saw it again, although I’m up on the trail almost every day.

Perhaps more easy to interpret is this scene of a squirrel pulled apart. I would guess a coyote was the predator, but it could be a fox, or a bobcat, or even a mountain lion. But as I came upon it on the Montini Preserve (isn’t it interesting that I can remember exactly where I found these remains even years later?), my guess is a coyote. Coyotes are frequently evident on the Montini, whereas it may be a bit close to civilization for a mountain lion. I wouldn’t rule out a fox or bobcat, though.

It frankly surprises me that a predator was able to catch a squirrel, as I’ve seen them scamper up trees with a rapidity that puts my sorry running speed to shame. Either it was sickly, or a predator was really skilled or lucky. I will never know which.

Then comes this mystery, but one that clearly happened not long before I happened upon the evidence. The blood hadn’t yet dried. Bright red and still very liquid, with a few feathers, clearly some bird had only recently fallen to a hawk or owl, or? Again, I will never know. But the evidence was clear — a bird of some kind was no more, felled in a moment by something hurtling unexpectedly from the sky.

When I discover tiny dioramas like this, I can’t help but pause in my determined hike up the trail and ponder on the uncertainties of life. Not one of us owns a guarantee on life, although we may fancy that we do, or at least delude ourselves toward that end. This bird no doubt thought it was doggedly in pursuit of food, or water, or nest materials, or whatever, and it was cut down in the process out of the blue. Can any one of us have more surety than that bird? Maybe. But perhaps not. Actually, I know not.

Sadly, I think I know who this next predator is. Since this gopher snake was killed, but not eaten, I suspect a misguided hiker who believed that he (almost undoubtedly a male, sorry guys, I know my gender) had encountered a rattlesnake and chose to kill it. Rattlesnakes, should they be encountered, should never be killed, just avoided. And they make it easy, since they frequently (almost always, in my experience) warn before they try to strike. They don’t want to mix it up with you any more than you do. Just take a wide berth and both get on with your lives. We don’t need more death in this world.

In the universe into which we’ve all been born — humans, cockroaches, elephants, what have you — death is the price we pay for life. Having said that, I don’t think many of us forsee our own death before being faced with the reality, whether it is a creeping but vicious disease like cancer (FUCK CANCER!), or something more immediate, like a heart attack or a violent accident of some kind.

Like you, I don’t know how I will end. Neither did any of the animals depicted on this page. It happens, and mostly it isn’t in our control, and we must accept that as part of our bargain for existing in this reality.

I just know that every time I bear witness to remains like those depicted on this page I pause, look up, scan the horizon, and try to really take in the world in which I’m still alive. I enjoy the breath filling my lungs, the heart that still beats in my chest, and the eyes that can still enjoy the light the sun brings to our planet. It is, in the end, all that any of us can do, day by gorgeous day.