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Some critters get along with their animal neighbors better than we might expect. Here’s a look at some inter-species neighborliness that’s caught my eye around Mitchell cabin.

A curious black-tailed doe watches a housecat clean itself.

A great blue heron goes gopher hunting near Mitchell cabin beside a grazing deer.

Seven wild turkeys hunt and peck alongside four black-tailed deer.

Wild turkeys, in fact, can often be found roaming around with other creatures, such as this lone peacock.

A scrub jay and a roof rat comfortably eat birdseed side by side on our picnic table.

Towhees are nowhere near as brazen as jays, but this one seems unconcerned about eating next to a roof rat.

Raccoons and skunks manage to dine together on our deck almost every night. As previously noted, raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing rear ends, including the backsides of skunks. The skunks often shoulder aside raccoons competing for food but for some reason never spray them.

Another milepost in intra-species mingling: a possum, fox, and raccoon eat nose to nose to nose outside our kitchen door.

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One of the joys of living in West Marin is the abundance of wildlife that shows up in our yard and even on our doorstep. Here are some examples of critters we spotted in just the past two days.

Gopher hunting: A bobcat apparently heard a noise under the grass in front of our cabin Sunday and prepared to pounce. Unfortunately, the gopher remained hidden.

Also hunting: A young Cooper’s hawk sat on a fence post near the cabin yesterday to scan the field for small birds. The Cooper’s hawk captures birds with its feet and kills them with repeated squeezing. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Deer fight? Well sorta: Two young black-tailed bucks provided entertainment yesterday near our parked cars as they practiced head butting.

The sparring was so non aggressive, however, that it sometimes looked more like nuzzling.

The antlers of black-tailed deer develop under a layer of skin called velvet. Once the antlers are fully grown, the velvet dries and peels off. We had seen one of these bucks earlier use a post for scraping off dead velvet, and the locking of antlers almost seemed like a continuation of the process. Come winter, the bucks will shed their antlers and next year grow bigger ones.

Raccoons and a skunk will now provide this posting with a familiar coda. The raccoon mother (second from right) showed up on our deck last night with four kits in tow, and we gave them a bit of kibble. One of the four (probably the kit at right) was featured in an Aug. 15 posting about a kit getting separated from this mother for a day.

A skunk has taken to watching the raccoons and following them up onto the deck to share their kibble. As seen in several photos in previous postings, the skunk sometimes shoulders the raccoons out of the way but doesn’t spray them. For awhile last night, one raccoon was eating nose to nose with this stinker.

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Holding my step-granddaughter Cristina in Toby’s Coffee Bar. Last week was the first time we’d met, and we quickly hit it off.

My nuclear family (back row): Kristeli Zappa, Shaili Zappa, and Anika Pinelo with her two daughters, Lucia and Cristina; (front row): my wife Lynn and me. The young ladies all showed up last week for an end-of-summer visit.

Despite five marriages, I’ve never sired any children of my own; however, my fourth wife, a Guatemalan named Ana Carolina Monterroso, arrived with three daughters in tow. Although our marriage ended after a few months, I have remained close with those three stepdaughters. At least one of them visits me almost every year.

Kristeli, 30, Shaili, 26, and Anika, 32, all have dual US-Guatemalan citizenship since their natural father is an American. Shaili works for a finance company in Mexico City. Kristeli lives in New York, where she’s a clinical social worker providing mental-health therapy. Anika lives in Minnesota and before becoming a mother worked for a manufacturer that periodically sent her to South America to sell tanks. Those tanks, by the way, were not military but rather industrial vats.

My step-granddaughters, Cristina (four months) and Lucia (two years) turned out to be delightful young ladies.

I still have many of my childhood storybooks, and while she was here, Anika accepted them as gifts for her daughters. Although she can read only a few words, Lucia (at left) has already developed a fascination with books.

All three stepdaughters have led adventurous lives. Kristeli studied in France and then Taiwan before getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in New York. Shaili studied for several months in Kenya before graduating from the University of Minnesota. Anika, who also graduated from the University of Minnesota, took up skydiving before giving birth to two children.

At the kitchen door after dark.

Also getting together here last week were two other families; a mother raccoon and a mother skunk, both showed up with their kits. The skunks muscled in on the raccoons’ clumps of kibble, but they didn’t spray, and neither creature seemed afraid of the other.

Shaili leaned out a window to photograph them although she naturally worried about getting sprayed. She wasn’t, and the whole end-of-summer visit had a most pleasant air to it.

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Gallery Route One’s popular Box Show closed today with a silent auction, drinks, and hors d’oeuvres. A throng of art lovers and curious tourists filled the gallery within an hour after today’s show opened.

A box titled “XXI Century” by Ted Stoeckley, like several boxes in the show, amounted to artistic social-commentary.

“Thinking Outside the Box” by Rich Bolececk and Margaret Boehm.

A visitor studies “Celebrating Their Legacy,” a box by Bruce Burtch.

“Off We Go” by Dennis Ludlow and Prartho Sereno.

“The Bear Valley” by Bernie Schimbke.

“Where Are the Children?” by Suzanne Radcliffe.

More social commentary, “Immigration Policy” by Kieu Lam.

“Sticks and Stones” by Earl Speas.

The annual box show is both an exhibit and a fundraiser for Gallery Route One, and today’s show appeared successful on both fronts. Past Box Shows are archived on GRO’s website.

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Tomales celebrated its annual Founders Day Sunday with a parade up the main street (Highway 1) and a festival in the town park. For the second year in a row the number of parade entries was down, but the crowd was still enthusiastic.

Tomales Volunteer Fire Department was one of several fire departments represented in the parade.

The Hubbub Club from Graton, Sonoma County.

Wild Blue Farm is an organic-vegetable farm in Tomales. Cute pup.

Tomales rancher Al Poncia drove a three-wheeled motorcycle that pulled a trailer carrying barrels marked “Papa’s Grappa.” Another cute pup.

Walter Earle, former co-owner with his wife Margaret Graham of Mostly Natives nursery, rides as Grand Marshal, the sign noting “In Memory of Margaret Graham,” who died in 2018 in a Colorado car accident.

E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western heritage, has twice posted historic markers in Tomales. Loren Wilson (the driver), who once lived on the Cerini Ranch just north of Tomales near Fallon, is an ex “Sublime Noble Grand Humbug” of all the Clampers, as well as a past Noble Grand Humbug of Sam Brannan Chapter 1004.

The festival in the town park included dozens of booths selling jewelry, arts and crafts, food and drink.

The Pulsators from Petaluma performed in the park’s bandstand during the festival.

The sun shone on Sunday’s small-town festivities as a happy crowd picnicked and strolled about.

A couple of John Roche’s goats, part of his grazing service, showed up under an antique buckboard. John is an Inverness Volunteer Fire Department captain. He and Athena Osborn are looking for a house in West Marin for rent or as a care-taking work-trade. The couple and their baby have been running an ad in The Point Reyes Light.

 

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A mother raccoon and two kits on the deck at Mitchell cabin.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am fascinated by the raccoons that show up nightly on our deck, so as might be expected, I found an article in the Science section of last Thursday’s Washington Post to be particularly disturbing: ‘Caged raccoons drooled in 100-degree heat but federal enforcement has faded.’

The Post reported that “for two days running in the summer of 2017, the temperature inside a metal barn in Iowa hovered above 96 degrees. Nearly 300 raccoons — bred and sold as pets and for research — simmered in stacked cages. Several lay with legs splayed, panting and drooling, a US Department of Agriculture inspector wrote. 

“On the third day, the thermometer hit 100, and 26 raccoons were in ‘severe heat distress’ and ‘suffering,’ the inspector reported. Then a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists took a rare step: they confiscated 10 of the animals and made plans to come back for the others. 

 

 

The Ruby Fur Farm in Iowa. A USDA inspector during one check found the heat in the farm’s raccoon cages had reached 117.2 degrees. (Photo obtained by The Washington Post.)

“But after an appeal from an industry group to a Trump White House advisor, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials intervened, according to five former USDA employees. The inspectors and veterinarians were blocked from taking the remaining raccoons and ordered to return those they had seized.”

One inspector, who had worked 20 years for the Department of Agriculture, quit later that year, explaining to The Post: “It feels like your hands are tied behind your back. You can’t do many of the things you’re supposed to do when it comes to protecting animals.”

 

A mother raccoon sleeps comfortably in Point Reyes Station.

The Post article goes on to describe the Trump administration’s also easing bans against cruelty to horses. This particularly affects Tennessee Walking Horses, which compete in horse shows with high-stepping gaits. Some owners unfortunately short-cut their training of the horses by driving spikes into animals’ front hooves, burning away the center of the hooves’ bottoms with caustic chemicals, or tying chains tightly around their ankles. This “soring” makes it so painful for a horse to put much weight down on its hooves that it becomes used to quickly drawing them back up.

Here again, I have a personal interest in the topic. In 1970 while teaching at Upper Iowa University, I became a Fayette County delegate to the Iowa State Democratic convention where I advocated a ban on the soring of horses. Later that year, the ban became part of a new federal law that made soring a violation of USDA regulations. Sored horses could no longer be entered in competition.

Under Trump, however, the USDA has more compassion for horse owners than mistreated horses. The USDA now says that sored horses should no longer be disqualified from horse shows unless it can be demonstrated that they belonged to their current owners at the time they were sored.

I’m sure the owners of fur farms and Tennessee Walking Horses will be voting for Trump next year.

 

 

 

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Separated mother and kit find each other after a day apart.

Two or three families of raccoons show up on our deck each evening, hoping we’ll reward them with some kibble, which we usually do. The families range in size, and the kit seen here with its mother is one of four siblings.

Last Sunday around 6:30 a.m., Lynn heard a kit’s usual gurgling calls sounding more like screeches. This was a bit past the time raccoons begin heading to their dens unless they’re still searching for a last bit of food. Lynn watched the kit for a while as it circled Mitchell cabin, calling for its mother and sniffing the deck where the family had been the night before. The call became increasingly shrill and prolonged as early morning turned into bright day. At some point, Lynn took pity on the kit and set out water and sliced grapes. The kit soon popped out from its temporary shelter in the dark under our lower deck and gobbled up the grapes. Then came more circling and calls until the tired youngster went silent under the lower deck for more than an hour.

Around sunset Sunday, Lynn noticed the kit was on the upper deck peering out between the rail posts. Shortly thereafter, the mother showed up. After they thoroughly sniffed each other to confirm identities, the kit became increasingly excited, even crawling under the mother and trying to suckle. She not only nursed it but gave her little one a good overall licking as it stretched out underneath her. The kit’s suckling may have been as much for emotional reattachment as milk, for it’s probably close to fully weaned.

Blue Fish Cove Resort at Clear Lake consists of a cluster of cottages on the shore of the lake. I first discovered this well-worn gem of a resort back in the 1990s while researching an article for The Coastal Traveler, which was then a supplement of The Point Reyes Light. What I found were unpretentious rooms looking out into glorious scenery, so when Lynn and I a few weeks ago started discussing our taking a short trip, Blue Fish Cove immediately came to mind.

Our cottage came with a cozy deck where I could escape the 100-degree weather thanks to cooling breezes off the water.

The view from our deck as well as from the decks of several other cottages was so beguiling we briefly discussed staying an extra day. We didn’t, but Blue Fish Cove is only a 2+ hour drive from Point Reyes Station, so we’ll probably go back again before long.

In its joy at having its mother back, a kit nuzzles her, and she returns the affection.

Wednesday night after we had returned to Mitchell cabin, Lynn anxiously watched to see if the traumatized kit and its mother were still together. Yes, they were! In fact all four tiny kits were on hand. It was the perfect ending to our trip.

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A trio of East Bay bluegrass musicians known as Fog Holler on Saturday afternoon serenaded an enthusiastic crowd sitting on the lawn next to the Inverness Firehouse.

Inverness has been holding community fairs off and on since 1946 — sometimes pausing for years. The fairs, for example, stopped from 1950 to 1953.

In the June issue of Under the Gables, which is published by the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History in Inverness, Meg Linden writes that “in 1953 there was a community fair sponsored by the Inverness Improvement Association and many other community groups, including the Inverness Garden Club, the Volunteer Fire Department, the PTA, the Inverness Recreation Council, and St Columba’s.

“In addition to normal fair activities, games, food, items for sale, it included a demonstration of military hardware by the Sixth Army Anti-Aircraft Unit from Fort Barry [Sausalito].” After that, there were no more Inverness Fairs until 1965 when an elaborate celebration was held at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church. 

Bill Barrett, a director of the fair’s sponsor, the Inverness Association, told the crowd a bit of the Inverness Fair’s history. 

People and dogs paced around a circle during two cake walks. When the music stopped, so did the walkers. The number under people’s feet when they stopped determined who the winners were, with the winners receiving cakes.

Martha Martinez, assistant program manager at West Marin Community Serves, serves a tostada in a booth beside the firehouse.

Kids encountering kids. Youngsters were fascinated by two young goats being tended by Kegan Stedwell. Inverness Fire Capt. John Roche brought the kids (at right) with him to the fair.

A used-book sale outside the Inverness Library raised funds for the library.

Inverness Garden Club as always sold a variety of plants during the fair.

Numerous nonprofits and local craftspeople lined Inverness Way with booths selling everything from oysters to jewelry to handwovens.

It was a day to put aside our cares. At the Outside Lands Festival, which was being celebrated at the same time in Golden Gate Park, “no fewer than 23 metal detectors awaited customers at the main gate,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported. “Beefy guards checked pockets, purses and packs.” The paper quoted San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott as saying, “We are addressing the current incidents that have occurred in the state, country, and world.”

In Inverness, however, the world on a sunny Saturday seemed far away. There were no metal detectors or searches for guns. Nor did I see a single cop. In fact, several people expressed relief at being able to escape — at least for a day — the chaos of national affairs.

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Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)

What happens when a priest loses his faith? Spanish writer, philosopher, and political activist Miguel de Unamuno provides an inspiring look at the dilemma in his short novel, San Manuel Bueno, Martyr, which I just re-read. The book fascinated me when I took a Spanish-literature class at Stanford, and this prompted me to take a second look some 55 years later.

Unamuno was an early existentialist, and often at the core of his writing is the tension between intellect and emotion, between faith and reason. In San Manuel Bueno, Martyr, Unamuno tells the story of a priest, Don Manuel, struggling with that tension. He is intelligent, hardworking, provides volunteer labor, and is so kind that he inspires the members of his parish to be good to one another. Yet secretly he doesn’t believe everything he preaches.

“The imperturbable joyousness of Don Manuel,” says the fictional narrator Angela Carballino, “was merely the temporal, earthly form of an infinite, eternal sadness which the priest concealed from the eyes and ears of the world with heroic saintliness.”

“The marvel of the man was his voice; a divine voice which bought one close to weeping,” the narrator recalls. “How he did love his people! His life consisted in salvaging wrecked marriages, in forcing unruly sons to submit to their parents, or reconciling parents to their sons, and above all, consoling the embittered and the weary in spirit; meanwhile he helped everyone to die well.”

Ironically, Unamuno was known for standing up for his views.

A key section of the novel describes the death of the devout mother of the narrator, Angela, and Angela’s brother, Lazarus, who was a  nonbeliever. “The peace in which your mother dies will be her eternal life,” Don Manuel tells Angela. He then explains to Lazarus, “Her heaven is to go on seeing you, and it is at this moment that she must be saved. Tell her you will pray for her.” When the nonbeliever starts to object: “But…”, Don Manuel responds,  “But what? … Tell her you will pray for her, to whom you owe your life. And I know that once you promise her, you will pray.”

Lazarus, “his eyes filled with tears, drew near our dying mother and gave his solemn promise to pray for her…. And I, in heaven, will pray for you,” his mother replies. “And then, kissing the crucifix and fixing her eyes on Don Manuel, she gave up her soul to God.”

Lazarus later reveals to his sister that the priest had previously appealed to him “to set a good example, to avoid scandalizing the townspeople, to take part in the religious life of the community, to feign belief even if he did not feel any.” Don Miguel was not trying to convert him, Lazarus explains, “but rather [was feigning his conversion] to protect the peace, the happiness, the illusions perhaps, of his charges. I understood that if he thus deceives them — if it is deceit — it is not for his own advantage…. The people should be allowed to live with their illusion.”

Neither Don Manuel’s deception nor his losing his belief in God ever becomes public, and after he dies, his unsuspecting bishop sets in motion the process for beatifying him, hence the name San Miguel Bueno.

In 1901 Unamuno became rector of the University of Salamanca but lost the post in 1914 for publicly espousing the Allied cause in World War I. His opposition in 1924 to General Miguel Primo de Rivera’s rule in Spain led to his being exiled to the Canary Islands, from which he escaped to France. When Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship fell, Unamuno returned to the University of Salamanca and was reelected rector in 1931, but in October 1936, he denounced the fascism of General Francisco Franco and again lost the post. He was placed under house arrest and within two months died of a heart attack.

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The number of homeless people living in West Marin is rising while it’s declining in Marin County overall. In a meeting at West Marin School hosted by Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and the Point Reyes Village Association, county representatives last Wednesday reported on what’s occurring here and what county government plans to do about it.

Speaking for the county, along with Supervisor Rodoni, were representatives from county Health and Human Services and West Marin Community Services, and they presented three graphs of the situation.

There’s been a 275-person reduction in homelessness countywide in the past four years.

In contrast, the homeless population of West Marin increased by 79 people during the same period. Of course, not all the homeless are living outdoors. Many are living in their vehicles.

The increase, moreover, is probably under-reported. Taking a count of all the homeless people here and there around West Marin is incredibly complex, and the county is about to devote more time to doing it.

County staff and members of the public who spoke Wednesday stressed that too often people assume drug use, or alcohol, or mental-health problems, or laziness, or personal choice accounts for almost all homelessness. That, however, turns out to be far from true. “The primary causes of homelessness are things that most people will experience in their lives without losing housing,” Health and Human Services reported. More than half of the people without permanent shelter became homeless when their households broke up or because of physical-health problems.

Billy Hobbs, who is homeless in Point Reyes Station, lost his housing when his 25-year marriage ended. He now spends most days sketching outside the post office and spends nights sleeping inside it. He showed up for Wednesday’s well-attended meeting but did not address the crowd.

One young man living out of his van told Wednesday’s meeting that he, like numerous other homeless residents of West Marin, does various kinds of work. The problem is earning enough to afford housing, he said.

Here on the coast at least, homelessness definitely isn’t a ploy for getting public assistance. In fact, the county noted, “many people who experience homelessness in West Marin are less inclined [than the homeless in East Marin] to accept services.” County government says it is now going to give particular attention to getting past that resistance and helping the homeless navigate the hurdles to receiving medical care and housing.

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