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.

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

‘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.

It Takes a Team

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about becoming a Sonoma Overlook Trail Steward is being part of a motivated, energetic, and inspiring group of individuals who all love the land and hiking out in it. But now and then I’m reminded that the official stewards group is only the tip of the spear, as it were, in keeping the trail safe and well-maintained. This week was one of those times.

Usually I’m out on the trail every day when I’m not away, but this week found me in bed on Monday with a cold I caught in the wake of two weeks in Thailand. Literally on my sick bed I received a text message from Melissa Beasley, a friend who is a yoga teacher for The Lodge and also leads hikes on the Overlook Trail several days a week. She had in turn received a text message from her colleague Lisa Turchet, who also is a yoga teacher for The Lodge and also leads those hikes. Lisa was warning Melissa about a tree down on the trail (see photo), and suggesting she might want to consider alternate routes for the hikes she might lead later in the week. Before I had even gotten out of bed, I fired off an email to a couple colleagues who assist with trail maintenance, Lynn Clary and Bill Wilson, hoping that one or more of them could get by there and help mitigate the hazard. Bill also serves as our liaison with the City, so I knew he would report it to the City so they could come out with a chainsaw and do a full removal.

Sure enough, within hours Lynn, Bill, and Richard Gibson, another steward, were on it and had at least made it possible to more easily pass with care. Since Monday was a City holiday, it took another day or two to get it fully removed, but now it no longer presents a hazard. All told, at least six different individuals or groups were involved, working in concert, to get this resolved, and only half were actual trail stewards.

This experience is not rare, but it served to remind me how we stewards serve within a much larger community of those who care about the trails and the land that they pass through. It takes a team, and that team is much larger than I think any of us can fully grasp. Thank you all, for your love and support. It’s appreciated.