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.

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.

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 even by a tiny bit. Keep sharing!

  1. Who You Are
  2. Quotations
  3. Advice
  4. Loss and Heartbreak
  5. Drawings
  6. Encouragement
  7. Determination
  8. Appreciation, Part 1
  9. Love
  10. Philosophy
  11. Gratitude, Part 1