It Seems Impossible, Until Suddenly It Isn’t

New findings could improve diagnosis, treatment of depression | Berkeley NewsToday, as most days, I was out pulling Italian thistle on the Montini Preserve. This is what I call a “long game,” and if anyone knows how such games are played, it’s me. I’ve even written my own (as yet unpublished) essay about it. Long games are played by long, concerted effort over years and decades, one day at a time. I’ve also called it being gently powerful. I know this. But I still have my good days and my bad. Today was the latter.

I decided to tackle a patch that I figured I could knock out in an hour of concerted effort (think simultaneous two-handed pulling). I was wrong. When I realized how wrong I was, I had to walk away. As I left the trailside to go down the hill, I noticed a rock above Red Quarry that was perfect for sitting — flat and at the right height. I was right, the rock was perfect. I sat down and looked around. I inevitably looked down and that’s when I saw yet even more Italian thistle. The area also looked a bit trampled, as if this was a familiar rock to one or more people who visited it to smoke dope or just hang out.

Since invasive species work can be an obsession, I pulled what I saw and then moved back toward the trail, where I found yet another patch that I mostly pulled. But that’s when the depression really set in. In this one small area, I had a big patch and two smaller patches. I then mentally multiplied it by the size of the two properties (the Sonoma Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve) where I have committed to do this work. Let’s just say I’ve had better days.

Later, at home, I decided to rewatch the trail movie that I made last year. Not only do I enjoy seeing the trail scenes and all of the flowers, insects, mammals, and birds of the trail I also feel like it naturally lowers my blood pressure (let’s just say it’s a theory). But I made an astonishing (to me) discovery. One of the photos in the movie is from several years ago, and as soon as I saw it, I recognized a spot on the trail that was covered in Italian thistle. THEN. Not NOW. This clear evidence of progress literally brought tears to my eyes. I AM making a difference.

I was then reminded of something Nelson Mandela once said, that I will take the liberty of rephrasing, without changing the meaning: “Something can seem impossible until suddenly it isn’t.” I just had to have my down day, and then move on. As one does, when playing the long game.

All Clear, For Now

Poison oak.

Today I finished inspecting all of the maintained trails of the Sonoma Overlook Trail and Montini Preserve properties. As of today, the trails are clear of Italian thistle and poison oak to about three feet away from the trail. We achieved this milestone more than two months earlier than last season, which now means we can move on to other tasks and goals in our Vegetation Management Program. Trailside can now be moved to “maintenance” status from “attack,” which means we will need to continually check and monitor the trails, as new thistle comes in all the time, and poison oak keeps growing, of course, but we will now begin attacking other areas.

This essentially means a couple tasks: 1) continuing to push Italian thistle away from the trail, and perhaps eradicating it completely in some areas, and 2) being opportunistic in attacking patches that are in danger of furthering the spread of thistle on both properties. In general, the Overlook is in better shape than the Montini, so typically I spend more time on the Montini, although my goal this year is to eradicate thistle from some specific areas on the Overlook where it appears we have a chance to completely eradicate it.

Be sure to let me know if you want to help with this exciting (haha) work!

February 1 is Roy Tennant Day in Sonoma

Roy Tennant receives the Celebrate Sonoma Award in recognition of his uncommon dedication and hard work on the Sonoma Overlook Trail.

Roy Tennant is a stalwart member of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards. For over 10 years, Roy has spent literally thousands of hours in his goal to remove invasive species not only on the Overlook Trail and surrounds but also on the Montini Preserve.  He is dedicated, he is persistent and he is absolutely relentless in his efforts. 

Invasive species threaten our ecosystem. They take hold and grow quickly, crowding out native plants that are the source of food and shelter for birds, mammals, insects, and reptiles. Roy intelligently, methodically and organically pursues Italian Thistle, Yellow Star Thistle and Broom not only within 6 feet of the trail but also in meadow areas where these species threaten to take hold. 

Trail walkers and runners are very familiar with Roy, as they see him at work practically every day between January and August removing poison oak that encroaches the trail or attacking his targets and hauling off his thistle and broom winnings.

Roy serves in many capacities as an active Overlook Trail Steward volunteer including trail repair, downed tree removal, answering questions from walkers, and participation on the map and signs committee.  Yet, his passion is the removal of invasive species. Through the website he manages, “”, Roy also educates the public about the problems of invasive species and encourages active participation from the public. His work is truly exceptional.

A “Celebrate Sonoma” Certificate of Recognition in honor of Roy Tennant, an outstanding City Volunteer and Overlook Steward extraordinaire will be presented at the City Council meeting February 1 by Vice Mayor Harvey.

Building an Armored Swale

Today Jessica M. and I (both volunteer stewards) tackled a Montini trail project that I had long planned. There was a place on the Rattlesnake Cutoff Trail where water, during heavy storms, would flow across the trail. Since the initial construction of the trail didn’t take this into account, the water would pool on the trail, leading to a long trail segment that would essentially turn into a tiny lake (see photo).

The Montini Preserve was heavily mined in the early 1900s (this property and adjoining Schocken Hill, now the Sonoma Overlook Trail, essentially paved the streets of San Francisco at the time), and there is a quarry “divot” in the hill above that collects rainwater and funnels it out to the trail. Being essentially bedrock, the water has nowhere to go but out and down. 

The finished armored swale.

What the trail needed is what’s called an “armored swale,” which is essentially a channel cut into the trail that is protected by a floor of rocks to prevent erosion. I had been waiting for rain to soften the soil, as we would first need to excavate the existing rocks and in summer the ground is like concrete. It rained yesterday, so the soil was going to be about as soft as it was going to get. Also, since I knew that an “atmospheric river” was set to dump several inches of rain in a matter of a few days, now was the time to act.

So Jessica and I went out today and built it. We first needed to excavate a channel across the trail, then place stones to protect from erosion, and fill in gravel and soil around the stones. Do your worst, atmospheric river, we’re ready for you!

That orange peel you just tossed aside? Yeah, don’t do that.

Facial tissues are the one piece of trash I see on the trail the most (by far), but I also see an occasional orange peel or apple core. I know where hikers who toss these aside are coming from — since they are food items, the idea is that either an animal will get it, or mother nature will.

The problem is that often neither of those are true. If an animal does not eat your leftovers (which is much less likely than you think), then it is going to be there for quite a while. But don’t just take my word for it.

In an article published in Popular Science, Alisha McDarris writes that “…food scraps like orange and banana peels can take up to two years [emphasis added] to break down in the wild, meaning they’re going to be sitting alongside the trail or in a ditch by the road for a lot longer than you might think.”

The essential problem is that the great outdoors is not like a compost pile. A compost pile is a situation that is supremely optimized to enhance the breakdown of organic matter. This is a very different environment, as it turns out, then simply beside a trail. “The conditions present in a compost pile or facility—like a microbe-rich environment, heat, and the frequent turning of materials,” writes McDarris, “are required to break down food waste so quickly. Those conditions don’t exist in nature.”

And it gets worse, as McDarris lays out:

The food itself can also make animals sick and even kill them. Most of what people leave outdoors—peels, cores, and trail mix, to name a few—is almost never food that’s part of animals’ normal diet. Often, they can’t decipher the difference between actual food and scented items like chapstick, potato chip bags, and snack bar wrappers, which can be fatal.

So yeah, the cardinal rule of trails remains: If you pack it in, pack it out. Thank you very much, from the person who has to pick up the shit you leave behind.