Hike to the top with other hikers

Our community hikes on Wednesdays are becoming more popular. Come and join us for a refreshing, invigorating hike to the top of Overlook Trail and enjoy the view. . . .and maybe make your entry into the Hikers Notebook that’s up there. (Read about the notebook in this blog–Roy is pulling out great quotes and stories from nearly 20 years of notebooks).

Meet at the Overhead Trailhead Kiosk at 8:30am every Wednesday.

View from the top–last week’s hikers. . . before coffee!IMG_7862

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.

Why We Fight

I’ve posted a lot about invasive species removal from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties. Anyone but me would likely say too much, and who could blame them? Not me.

But in reviewing what I’ve written over the years about it, I realized I’ve never explained why we fight this fight. So now I rush to make good this oversight, and try to explain why I go out, nearly every day I can from January through July or beyond, and fight something that will very likely never be defeated.

First and foremost, it’s necessary to highlight the fact that species such as Italian and yellow star thistle will completely take over an ecosystem. You don’t need to go far to see this happening. The picture here was taken at the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and shows how Yellow star thistle in the foreground, and Italian thistle in the background, have essentially taken over a meadow. This crowds out native plant species and even mammals.

Thistle creates a “no-go” area for wildlife, who avoid such patches until they can’t be avoided at all, and then they move elsewhere. This of course leads to a an ever-increasing monoculture and “dead zone” where only the invasive species thrive. “Invasive species are among the leading threats to native wildlife,” states the National Wildlife Federation, “Approximately 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species.” This is clearly a serious threat that must be addressed.

The impacts of this monoculture are many. Wildlife doesn’t have the food sources they should. The lack of diversity in plant life affects the diversity of everything else — insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Invasive species can also affect the chemistry of the soil, as well as the intensity of wildfires.

There are, then, many reasons why we fight this fight.

Recently as I walked along the main path in the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, I was in despair seeing the extent of Italian and Yellow star thistle invasion. It was heartbreaking to see. But I had to turn away, knowing that I have my own battle to fight on the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties. Thankfully, the Yellow star thistle is nearly eradicated on those properties except right along, and next to, Norrbom Road. But we have a long, long way to go against the Italian thistle, let alone Scotch and/or French broom and other invasive species that we have yet to assess, let alone seriously address.

In the end, we fight this fight because the alternative is so much worse. We fight because we love the native ecosystem and we believe deeply in saving it. We fight because we have no choice but to do so, loving these properties and trails as we do. Frankly, that’s the absolute best reason ever to fight for something — for love. So if you see me or my comrades out there, with a large bag and a glove, you’ll know what we are doing. We are fighting for something we love.

That’s why we fight.

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.

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.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Long-suffering readers of this blog are probably saying to themselves, “Oh no, here he goes again!” And that is perfectly understandable, as during invasive species removal season (essentially the first six months of the year), I’m obsessed with it. I admitted this nearly four years ago, and the disease sadly continues unabated. So here we go again. Buckle up, buttercup.

For years now, the primary method we’ve been using to fight invasive species (first Scotch Broom and Yellow Star Thistle, now Italian Thistle) is pulling. Early in the season we can just pull and drop the weeds, as they are not in danger of going to seed. But later we pull it, bag it, and carry it out. After years of doing this, and largely being successful against the Yellow Star Thistle (which has yet to be spotted on either the Overlook or Montini properties this season!), I’ve become discouraged at the progress against Italian Thistle.

Unlike Yellow Star Thistle, which grows only in open meadows, Italian Thistle will grow anywhere. It’s rampant on the Montini Preserve, although we may still have a chance at reducing it on the Overlook. For the last couple years I’ve focused on pushing it back from the Overlook Trail to prevent it’s spread. For some sections of trail I’ve also been able to completely eradicate it this season. I’ve noticed some progress from last year along the trail, but this must be compared to areas where it has now spread, mostly into areas where the Yellow Star Thistle had been cleared.

Although pulling remains the only sure way to reduce the extent of thistle, we’re getting close to the time when the seed is produced (some already has) and at my current rate of pulling there are going to be a lot of areas that I won’t be able to address. So I’ve decided to take a chance at cutting it. Cutting is typically not advised, as the thistle can still produce flowers and seeds after being cut, but I want to try it this season hoping that I’m late enough in the season that it doesn’t have time to regenerate — although the recent rains likely aren’t helping.

So if you see me out there channeling my inner Jamie Lannister, that’s why. I can cut a lot faster than I can pull, and there is still so much out there. We shall see if it’s effective or not, and make adjustments as the evidence indicates.

It’s all we can do.