It is forcast to be Chance of a Thunderstorm at 10:00 PM PST on February 28, 2015
Chance of a Thunderstorm

Reflections from on high

Sunday, August 28th, 2011 | Posted by

Marge and Todd Evans sit on the bench they built to honor their late son, Scott, overlooking the town of Sonoma. Todd Evans is looking at the notes that are left by hikers after reaching the summit. The hike is about a mile and a quarter from the parking lot. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD)


With stunning panoramic views of Sonoma Valley and beyond, the three-mile Sonoma Overlook Trail is popular with local hikers and visitors alike.

Yet while fans brag about the trail just a few blocks off the historic Sonoma Plaza, few discuss the massive stone bench at the viewpoint and the notebook that rests upon it, protected from the elements inside a sturdy plastic box.

The bench came first, a couple’s tribute to their son. Its metal plaque reads:

In Memory of
Who Loved to View His World
From on High

Scott lived in Sonoma but attended Napa’s Justin-Siena High School. Among his many passions were backpacking, photography and hiking. One February day in 1997 he went for a hike with friends after school in the hills behind the Silverado Country Club. While taking a photograph, he lost his footing and fell to his death.

“He was a remarkable young man,” said his mother, Marge Evans. “From childhood he possessed a great sense of compassion for the poor and a concern for the environment.”

After Scott’s death, friends and family members made donations in his memory. Marge and her husband, Todd, put the money aside, awaiting the perfect idea for its use.

Inspiration came when the Sonoma Ecology Center began developing the Overlook Trail.

“We decided to build a bench up there in memory of Scott,” Marge Evans said, “because he loved climbing and looking at his world from on high. The location we chose has the view we thought Scott would want to see if he were hiking here.”

The idea of putting a notebook there for hikers to pen their thoughts came from Dan Son, one of the trail’s first docents.

“A couple of weeks after the bench was built we got our first graffiti,” he said. “I thought maybe we could channel that activity into a notebook.”

Son’s idea put an end to the graffiti, but it had an unintended consequence. There was something about surveying the world from the Scott Evans bench that made people think profound or joyous or somber thoughts. They have been sharing them ever since.

These days, maintenance of the journals is carried out by the Sonoma Overlook Trail Task Force. Prior journals are kept at the group’s meeting site. The most recent, journal No. 17, is nearly filled.

Much of what is written expresses the kind of happy outlook that comes from exercise, a sunny day and a beautiful view:

“Spent the morning @ Dillon Beach & the afternoon here. Life is so good!!!”

“Enjoy the feast for today you are alive.”

“I live in the most beautiful state — California — in one of the prettiest places — Sonoma. Oh, man, I love it here.”

There are bittersweet reflections: “Almost drank today. Hiked up to the Quarry instead. I made a wise choice. Another Day. — An Alcoholic.”

Some write of struggle buoyed by hope: “I got fired today. This view I think is enough inspiration to keep my head up. It could be much worse.”

There is humor: “We’re not in Florida anymore!”

There is young love: “I brought my girlfriend up here to tell her that I loved her for the first time.” And old love: “Here in celebration of 25 years of wedded bliss.” There is even anonymous love: “I simply just love you … whoever you are.”

A budding nature-lover named Enzo wrote, “I saw a lizard, a tick, a mouse and an ant,” accompanied by a drawing of each small creature he had encountered.

In one of the journal’s most touching notes, a woman writes to her deceased father: “Dear Dad, Tomorrow will be your birthday and how I wish I could hear your voice again on the other end of the phone line … but it is not meant to be. However much I miss you I know you are with me at all times. Hiking up here, I can listen to your voice in the wind. I can hear you in the gentle breeze of the moving leaves…”

For a couple of years after the bench went up, Marge Evans occasionally sat upon it, enjoying the view and looking through the notebooks.

“I browsed them,” she said. “I liked reading what people had to say, how they enjoyed the view. And I would sometimes write a hello to Scott. Just a quick ‘Hi.’”

In a sense, each person who sits on that big stone bench and views the world from on high, and everyone who pauses long enough to jot a message in the journal, is also sending out a small hello.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terryannbubbles terryartmusic@yahoo.com

    High everyone,
    HIking makes you high!
    How awesome Dan Son had this idea of the notebook journal. I used to live in Sonoma and I know Dan Son from my home town. I was looking for him and found this article. I can’t wait to go on the trail. There is sad news for all that new Patty Westerbeck from the Westerbeck Ranch retreat center she has passed away and there is a memorial for her this wed 12,12pm 2012 at the ranch. I used to work there with Dan. Now I live in Occidental and have a tiny shop.
    Take care everyone,
    Thanks for creating another trail and the Journal idea is awesome,
    Terry Ann

Writer Spotlight

Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

email contact me    

Follow Us

facebook twitter googleplus pinterest rss