In Northern California, despite the current cold snap, we have essentially entered Spring. This means several things. Plants like poison oak are flourishing, sending tendrils out to conquer new areas. We are presently trying to cut this back from the trail.
Soon we will also need to watch out for ticks, which are particularly bad early in the season, from March to mid-May. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, so it’s important to prevent the little buggers from biting you. Wear long pants and inspect yourself after your hike. If you do get bitten, then watch the bite carefully for signs of Lyme disease, as early treatment by a medical professional is essential. Thankfully, we have the Western Fence Lizard to help us out, since when a tick bites that lizard an enzyme is transferred to the tick that cures the Lyme disease. This has led to a much lower incidence of Lyme disease than in other areas without this helpful lizard. So be kind to the Western Fence Lizard! They are already scurrying across our trails.
Another hazard to watch out for is rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in the Spring when the days become warm enough for cold-blooded reptiles. I’ve already seen the Western Fence Lizard scurrying across the trail, which means snakes will not be far behind. However, this recent cold snap has sent them to ground. But rattlesnakes are typically around from March to September, so we are entering the time when they will be coming out of hibernation in the lowlands and making their way to their higher hunting grounds. Since they will be on the move, most of my sightings of rattlesnakes tend to happen in the Spring.
So stay alert and safe out there!
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.
Sunday, March 11, 4:00-7:00pm
Welcome Back Daylight Savings Time
Walking Meditation has been practiced for centuries in many parts of the world. It has been used as a healing tool by people from many spiritual and religious traditions, as well as folks who just want to “feel good”.
The everyday activity of walking, combined with an awareness of one’s breath, one’s own body in motion, and one’s surroundings, can quickly reward the mindful walker with a deep calm and increased sense of belonging in the natural world. This easy discipline offers a valuable enhancement to the long-established benefits of walking as exercise.
First explore this lovely activity on a relaxed 2.5 mile loop hike to the top of the Overlook Trail to enjoy the sunset and welcome back daylight savings time. Your guide, Jeff Falconer, will begin the journey with a brief overview of Walking Meditation, followed by a short standing meditation to ground and center us before embarking.
Jeff has practiced meditation for many years. He spent time at an ashram, a spiritual hermitage, in India in the early 1970’s, is also a Tai Chi enthusiast, and an avid… mostly mindful… hiker. Jeff’s newly published booklet on Walking Meditation will be available to purchase to guide your personal journey after the class.
Where: Meet at the Sonoma Overlook Trailhead
Whenever I turn a corner on the trail and spot a discarded facial tissue (which happens with some frequency) my heart skips a beat. Ahh, I think, some hiker has left something of theirs behind for me. I approach it, casually lean down, pick it up, and slide it surreptitiously into my back pocket, hoping that no one sees me. This is because I am fundamentally selfish. I want the tissue experience to be mine and mine alone.
Just think of the metaphysical implications of the placement of that artifact. Was it left in the middle of the trail, it’s otherworldly whiteness in stark contrast to the reddish brown soil, to spark contemplation about life’s fleeting nature? Or was it deposited just so with folds carefully applied, to make one consider the nature of art? Or perhaps it was discarded almost without thought, as a commentary on the disdain with which the hiker contemplates the natural world that surrounds them.
I guess we will never know if any of these are the reason, unless I happen to witness someone in the act of placement, when I can ask them their intent. Meanwhile, I will continue to gather these symbols of humanity’s fleeting dominion wherever I find them.
Well, that was fun.
But seriously, people, tissues are trash. If you pack it in, pack it out.
When hiking out in the wild it’s inevitable that you run into the remains of deceased (and probably eaten) wildlife. Some hikers may be sad to see these signs, but I take it as an indication that the ecosystem is working as it should. In a world of carnivores there is simply going to be carnage.
But at the same time, I pause and admire the feathers, or bones, or hair that remains behind and see beauty in what is left. I’m afforded a much closer view than I usually get, since squirrels scamper away as I approach and birds take flight. It’s a chance to admire the colors and textures of skin, hair, feathers, and fur.
A rare occurrence is to find an animal intact (see photo of a Shrew Mole), and at those times I feel particularly blessed with an opportunity to study it. More frequently, I find the animal mutilated (see photo of the snake) or largely gone (see photo of what was left behind of a squirrel).
But I find even the fragments fascinating in their own way, and grateful for the opportunity for close-up inspection.
When you are out on the trail, keep an eye out for these sights, and count yourself blessed should you come across a relatively intact wild animal. And if there are only remains, you will know that they fed a predator and are part of a cycle that includes not just a life but also a death that nothing living on this planet escapes.
If you’re a reader of this blog you likely know that dogs are not allowed on the Montini and Overlook properties. However, there is one type of canine that is definitely allowed, Canis latrans, or coyotes. I happened to spot one today out in the meadow below the Holstein Hill trail on the Montini Preserve (see photo).
Even if you don’t see a coyote you can often hear them. The other day I was hiking on the Montini Preserve and sirens started going off below me in the town of Sonoma. They were met by howls from above me by a coyote responding to the sirens. They also bark (see the video below of a coyote barking on the Montini Preserve).
Coyotes are abundant throughout North America, and they thrive in the kinds of mixed meadows and woodlands we have here in Sonoma Valley. They eat small game such as rabbits, rodents, fish and frogs, and deer. They can also consume snakes, insects, and even fruit or grass (but most of their diet consists of mammals). Near humans, they have been known to eat garbage and pet food.
Canis familiaris, the domestic dog, is descended from the coyote. So you could say that we owe coyotes quite a bit.
Keep your eyes peeled the next time you’re out on the trail, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot one (or hear one).
Hiking the Overlook is great at any time of year, but winter can be particularly rewarding, especially this year! When other parts of the country are muffled in deep snow and freezing temperatures, the Sonoma County trekker can take to the trails in relative comfort and ease. This year, after the fires, the green grass blanketing the ground gives us all a great breath of hope and renewal. Wintertime hiking is a joy and offers some unique benefits:
- You’ll see less people and more wildlife
- Mosquitos and other bugs are nowhere to be found
- Rattlesnakes are still hibernating
- Less people=less noise. Enjoy the quiet peacefulness
- Hot food and warm drinks taste even better after a cold weather hike
- Hike the trail on a sunny winter day and you will instantly feel the happy effects of endorphins as they kick in!
If you haven’t been up the trail lately, now is the perfect time to shake off those solstice doldrums and take advantage of our Northern California winter. You’ll be glad you did!