Being Thankful for the Trails

An adult wild turkey in the Red Quarry, blissfully oblivious of what most people in the US are doing today.

An adult wild turkey in the Red Quarry, blissfully oblivious of what most people in the US are doing today.

On this, Thanksgiving Day, it’s appropriate to consider what one treasures. For me, the Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve are high on the list. I started hiking the Overlook 5-6 years ago, on virtually a daily basis. When the Montini Preserve was opened, I lengthened my hike by starting there, making my way to the Overlook and then back. For quite a while now this has been my daily exercise, a four mile hike with around a 400 foot elevation gain. This replaces what is for many people their indoor “spin class” or gym time.

So in the spirit of the holiday, these are just some of the things I’m thankful for that have come into my life through hiking these trails:

  • My health. Breaking a sweat for over an hour is always a good thing, especially when performed multiple times each week.
  • My mental health. Unlike a number of people I see on the trail, I don’t have earbuds in my ear piping in music. This lets my mind wander and process a lot of things as well as foster new ideas. I’ve had a number of ideas on hikes that have led to real results once I’ve left the trail. Also, there is new evidence that exercise prevents or decreases depression.
  • The views. I love seeing long distances. Perhaps this explains my love of the Grand Canyon and treehouses. There are some great views from the trails.
  • The wildlifeYou pretty much always see wildlife on the trail, whether it is the ubiquitous birds and squirrels, the frequently-spotted deer, or the more rarely spotted snakes (yes, including rattlesnakes). Of course let’s not forget insects.
  • The sense of adventure. My favorite times on the trail are actually when a storm is raging. I love when the creeks rise so high that they are a challenge to cross, and when there is a waterfall that crosses the Holstein Hill trail. It seems raw and exciting. Plus you often see more wildlife (like a flock of turkeys running in the rain) and fewer people.
  • The friends I’ve madeBy walking the trail so much, and running into volunteer trail Stewards and other regulars on the trail, I discovered a new source of good people to have in my life whom I appreciate.
  • The chance to do good. Whether it is picking up trash on a daily basis, or pulling invasive weeds in the Spring-Summer, there are multiple ways you can make a difference on these precious properties. Knowing that your work is both making an impact and is appreciated (as I’m often told by visitors on the trail), is a gift indeed.

The trails in the hills above Sonoma are truly a treasure. Many people I’ve met have traveled some distance to enjoy them. So those of us who live nearby are well and truly blessed. I am thankful indeed, on this Thanksgiving.

Rain, Rain, Come and Stay

Ripening Toyon berries in the rain.

Ripening Toyon berries in the rain.

Today was my first hike in the rain for the season and I was reminded what a joy it is. Hiking in the rain is a joy, you ask? Yes, it is to me, and for these reasons:

  • You tend to see fewer people and more wildlife.
  • Colors are more vibrant.
  • When runoff starts, it’s more exciting.

And if you have the right gear, you don’t get soaked. I have rain pants, waterproof hiking shoes, and a rain shell. But if it is raining only lightly I will often pull my rain shell through a caribiner and clip it to my belt, since if the storm is warm I can get more wet from sweat than a light rain. A ball cap helps keep rain off my glasses. So it’s really quite simple and even if you get a little wet, it’s just water. And the hiking is well worth it.

Given this, and the drought that we are still experiencing, I welcome the rain and wish for much more to come our way this winter. If you’re on the trail when it’s raining, look for me.

The Season of the Buckeye

buckeye2This is the time of year when the California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) earns its name. Named for the rather large seed pod they drop that resembles the eye of a deer, they are now easily found on the trail.

When they shed their covering they reveal a rich brown colored seed pod (see pic). Pacific Horticulture has this to say about the pods: “Though thoroughly inedible (unless leached of their toxins, as the Native Californians did), there is something irresistible about this seed, looking as if it had been carved, lacquered, and polished; few can resist picking up one or more, often pocketing them to be brought home for a show-and-tell with family or friends.”

Get them while they’re hot.

Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

rainpoolsWe’ve been lucky so far this Fall, with rain coming almost on a weekly basis. It has been enough to both finally end one of the worst fire seasons on record as well as foster the eager growth of new grass.

I love hiking the trails in the rain. There tends to be fewer people and more animals. One day in the pouring rain I saw a large flock of wild turkeys — the most I had ever seen.

Out on the trail today although I didn’t see many wild creatures I saw a few hardy people and water beginning to pool and start to run off the trail. After returning home, it poured even harder. If it keeps up we my have water running in the creeks by this evening.

We certainly need this moisture, but we need so much more to escape this period of drought that it’s hard to imagine getting enough in one rainy season. So let’s all hope that the rain doesn’t go away and that it soaks the ground, fills our reservoirs, and ends our latest drought.

The Mistletoe Tree

mistletoeThere is a tree on the Overlook Trail that I’ve dubbed “The Mistletoe Tree”. This is because it harbors several clumps of the parasitic plant, and at elevations where it would be easy enough to pluck a sprig to hold above one’s loved ones for a kiss.

Wikipedia says that “It is associated with Western Christmas as a decoration, under which lovers are expected to kiss. The reasons for this are less than clear.”

But then who needs a reason?

Being parasitic, mistletoe penetrates the host tree to steal water and nutrients. Mistletoe typically does not to lead to the demise of the host, except in extreme infestations, but large clumps may lead to the loss of a limb. The University of California has more information on mistletoe as well as how to control it, but here on the Overlook we let nature take its course as much as we can.



Winter Is Coming

fernglenFor the first time on the trail today, I noticed that the ferns are coming back. At the place I call Fern Glen, on the trail that connects the Montini Preserve with the Sonoma Overlook Trail, they are shooting up fairly quickly, in response to the off-and-on light rains we have had recently (see pic).

This is very nice to see. It’s a sign that we are getting enough moisture to renew plants such as these which rely upon dampness. As is probably quite obvious, winter is coming. It’s just nice to see the weather signs that indeed it is.