Being Gently Powerful

You could say that I’m a treehouse nut, as I’ve never understood why most people think that treehouses are for kids. The fourth one I’ve built, is in my backyard — a three story monstrosity that tops out at 32 feet above the ground. In the “crows nest” at the top, you can see over our house and down across Sonoma Valley to Sonoma Mountain, and south down the valley toward Marin. The lower parts of the treehouse were built 13 years ago and the upper parts 10 years ago. Both are slowly being absorbed and warped in odd ways by the tree.

In one spot (pictured), the ladder leading to the crows nest has been slowly bent way out of its straight up and down position. Clearly if it had been warped that badly all at once, it would have shattered. But rather, the tree gently but persistently pushed against it, and it has slowly but surely stretched it into its present position. It is this aspect of “being gently powerful” that one sees a lot in nature. Trees can also break stone using the same technique of very slow but persistent pressure.

In a related example, on a river trip through the Grand Canyon you eventually come to a section deep in the canyon where the oldest rock is exposed. It is a very hard, metamorphosed volcanic granite and schist. And yet the Colorado River has not only carved it’s path through the very heart of it, it has actually sculpted it, with intricate and fascinating incisions (see photograph). These were formed not by one cataclysmic event, but by the very slow and constant caressing of suspended silt and sand by the river over eons. The river is being gently powerful over a very long period of time.

I’ve come to believe that is exactly what our efforts to clear the Overlook and Montini Preserve of invasive species needs to be like. We need to be gently powerful for many years. As I said to someone on the trail recently, “this is a program, not a project.” You could also call it a war, not a battle. But that’s a more violent image that I prefer to avoid. I prefer the idea of being gently powerful, as that is more like what it feels like.

Each day that I can get out on the trail during thistle pulling season I am blessed to experience the outdoors, feel the sunshine, sweat like crazy, and do something that I feel is meaningful. That feels like being gently powerful. And something that feels worthy in and of itself.

So the next time you see one of us out there pulling invasive species, think of us as a tree or a river — gently, but powerfully and persistently, pressing against what we oppose. It, too, will give over time, as all things that are gently, powerfully, and persistently opposed eventually do.

 

Vishnu schist photo by Al_HikesAZ, Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 2.0.

There’s Never Just One

Tripping down the trail today I thought to myself, “Oh, hey, there’s one!” I had spotted an invasive purple thistle plant at the trail’s edge (see pic). I stooped to pull it out.

As volunteer trail stewards, our remit includes not only maintaining the trails, but also helping the City of Sonoma to maintain their property that the trails traverse. This includes removing invasive species such as broom, purple thistle, and yellow  star thistle.

Purple thistle season begins in early Spring, which means we are already working to remove it. Later in the season the yellow star thistle will start to come in. Since we’ve been attacking the yellow star thistle for several years with vigor, we are seeing some real progress on eradicating it from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties.

However, purple thistle is quite another story. Mostly due to years of cattle grazing, purple thistle has essentially already overrun the Montini Preserve. So at this point we only focus on yellow star thistle there. But on the Overlook, we think we have a chance to knock back the purple thistle so we are working on it as well. Since we only began our work on it last year, there is still quite a bit of it on the trail.

Today, as I stooped to pull the plant I had spotted I thought to myself, “Oh, wait, there’s five — no ten, crap, there’s a lot!”

I had momentarily forgotten that until the day when we reach the point of eradication — years, perhaps even decades from now (if ever), there’s never just one.

The Removal Season Has Begun

Each Spring we enter “removal season” on the Overlook and Montini properties. We begin with cutting back poison oak from the trail, as the runners begin encroaching as early as early February. So I was out today doing just that (see photo).

It was encouraging, though, as it seemed evident that previous years of cutting back the poison oak was reaping dividends. I was able to cover the bulk of the Overlook trail in one two-hour session.

After poison oak we will be on the lookout for Purple Thistle, as this non-native has been a scourge along the trail. We just started tackling this in earnest last year, so this year it will likely still be bad.

Following the Purple Thistle the Yellow Star Thistle will be coming in, by early March. That will likely keep us busy until early August. However, progress is being made on all these fronts and each year it becomes easier and easier, and some major patches are essentially already gone.

Once we get all these species under control, there are others we will need to tackle. Scotch Broom, for example, is one, although it isn’t as big a problem at the moment as the thistles.

If you want to help with this work, let me know! It basically takes a contractor bag (which I can supply you with) and gloves, although I frequently pull the Yellow Star Thistle gloveless.

We’re Winning!

endofseasonFor the last five years we have been trying to eradicate the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from the Sonoma Overlook Trail. For the the last three years we’ve also been trying to do the same for the Montini Preserve. Today I ranged all over the SOT upper meadows and emerged with about half a bag of YST. This is a great improvement, and demonstrates that our campaign is making a difference. There is now so little on the Overlook that searching for it may almost be a waste of time, so now I will switch to the Montini, which is likely to still have serious infestations of YST.

This year we also started tackling the purple thistle, which has overrun the Montini but hasn’t yet done so on the Overlook. We focused on getting it off the sides of the trail, as that is a primary way that it spreads. Next year we will begin earlier in the year fighting the purple (YST comes on later in Spring than the purple).

If you want to help out, let me know. I have contractor bags and the only other things you need are a glove and persistence.

We’re Winning!

P1010218Faithful readers of this blog (all two of you, and one is my Mom) will know that we’ve been fighting the good fight against the invasive non-native Yellow Star Thistle on both the Overlook and Montini properties. The season for pulling it runs from mid-May to August. Now that we are in August, when the weed dries out and the seed heads drop off, we must quit.

But I’m here to tell you that we are winning the war. This is the second year that I can certify that all of the infestations on the main properties of both the Overlook and the Montini have been essentially cleared. Judging from the number and size of the plants we are pulling in most areas (see the small plants pictured), we are depleting the seed bank, which can be viable for up to five years.

We could not have reached this point without essential assistance from Rich Gibson, a biologist and a Sonoma Overlook Trail volunteer steward, and the Sonoma Ecology Center’s EnviroLeaders program. Twice, at least half-a-dozen teenagers from the EnviroLeaders Program came out and helped decimate the worst patches of Yellow Star Thistle on the Montini Preserve. Tony Passantino, the SEC’s EnviroLeader’s program manager, has been very willing to bring his team out to support our removal efforts whenever we called for help. And the teenagers who are a part of this program are willing hard workers and ready to learn about the environment and how to keep it great. We so appreciate their help.

Next season expect a call to go out for help in decimating this scourge. And if you see it, please consider helping. The situation gets better every year, but we are still years away from eradicating it completely. We can use your help to make YST only a memory on these properties.

 

Help Eradicate Invasive Plants in Montini Preserve

Friday, July 22 9:00am-11:30am

Field of Dreams/Police Station Parking Lot

What are Invasive Plants?Centaurea melitensis

Invasive species are, generally, non-native species that cause ecological harm to the biodiversity of an area. After human development, invasive species are the second greatest cause of habitat loss in the world.  In addition to displacing native plants and animals, invasives can increase fire risk and harbor pests.

Thanks to the work of our volunteers across Montini and Overlook Trail, we’ve made huge strides in suppressing the spread of many of the common invasive plants on our park land. However, it takes a community to constantly be vigilant and aggressive in maintaining outbreaks of yellow and purple thistles, harding grass and the other non-natives that threaten the ecological health of our lands.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6f/C._calcitrapa1.jpg/220px-C._calcitrapa1.jpg Come out on Friday, July 22nd and work alongside our restoration technicians to help keep our parks clean and free of the spread of invasive plants. Learn about native flora and the impacts of non-natives on our landscape and enjoy a nice day of hiking. We will be starting at the parking lot next to the police station and Field of Dreams off of 1st Street East.

Also in attendance will be Sonoma Ecology Center’s high school crew of  summer Enviroleaders. These students have been working through their vacation months, becoming young stewards of the land and leaders of their community.

Preparation

Volunteers should bring layered comfortable clothing, sunscreen, and a a water bottle.   We will provide gloves and trash bags if needed. Efforts to use reusable items are guided by a desire to reduce the overall event footprint. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

For any questions, please call Volunteer Manager, Tony Passantino at  at 707-996-0712 x124 or email Tony@sonomaecologycenter.org.

 
 

Once More Into the Breach

IMG_1263Lately I’ve been too busy with a more important project to get my daily hike in on the Overlook and Montini trails. But yesterday I cleared some time and made my way there. I knew that we were well into the season of the invasive Yellow Star Thistle, so I took along a feed sack to pull what I could.

Those of you keeping score at home likely know that the Overlook Trail Stewards have been waging war against this pest, and that war has been stepped up in recent years. Last year we were successful in eradicating it from the main Overlook and Montini properties. We knew it would be back this year, but we also figured that given how we beat it back last year it likely wouldn’t be as bad.

Having inspected a couple locations where it was bad last year I’m happy to say that it isn’t nearly as bad this year. We are indeed making progress, but we also know that this is a multi-year war and that it will require us to be vigilant and relentless.

This war is led by volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, who has called work days for groups to get together and take out both Yellow Star Thistle and Scotch Broom – another non-native that has a tendency to take over the landscape. Without efforts such as these our landscape would look very different than what it should be, and has been for centuries.