This week we’ll look animals, both domestic and wild, in the eye to get a sense of what they see.

Newy, the stray cat we’ve taken in and who has been mentioned here before, can have an intense gaze when she’s looking off at something. It’s noticeable enough that it prompted me to look into, so to speak, the eyes of not only cats but other animals as well. A cat’s vision is not as all-powerful as it appears. A cat is most sensitive to blues and yellows and does not see colors like red, orange, or brown.

A blacktail doe looks up from grazing outside our bedroom window. The pupils in a deer’s eyes are horizontal, not round, and a flash camera makes them look blue.

A coyote displays his predatory nature as he stares into a field. As it happens, just now as I type this, coyotes are howling outside Mitchell cabin. (Photo by neighbor Dan Huntsman)

The no-nonsense look of a bobcat in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Foxes too are predatory, but their gaze makes them appear more curious than vicious.

Possums have good night vision but don’t distinguish between colors very well. Overall, their vision is so weak they must depend on smell and touch to find food.

Skunks, like possums, have very poor vision and navigate largely via their senses of smell and hearing.

Wild turkeys, on the other hand, see in color and “have an excellent daytime vision that is three times better than a human’s eyesight and covers 270 degrees,” according to ‘Facts about Wild Turkeys.’ “They have poor vision at night, however, and generally become warier as it grows darker.”

‘Livingbird Magazine’ reports that “Great Blue Herons can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.” Near Mitchell cabin, a gopher with the baleful stare of death hangs from the heron’s beak.

Buzzards have such “keen eyesight,” Seaworld claims, that “it is believed they are able to spot a three-foot carcass from four miles away on the open plains.”

A stern stare. Coopers Hawks are skillful hunters and like other hawks have excellent vision.

The smirk of a Western Fence Lizard (also known as a Blue Belly for obvious reasons). It’s one of the most common lizards around Mitchell cabin. As for their vision, most lizards have excellent eyesight, and some can see into the UV spectrum. 

Somehow my work glove hand ended up on the persimmon, and my bare hand on the barbed-wire fence. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

This moment became a test of my vision — and not in looking at the persimmons growing between the fields of Mitchell cabin and Arabian Horse Adventures. After some staring, I concluded that the Arabian waiting patiently for a persimmon is, in fact, a female mule. Nonetheless, I eventually gave her some fruit.  Later I found out the mule had arrived in the pasture not long ago after its owner died. So far I’ve never seen any of the stable’s trail riders on it. Arabian Mule Adventures? 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Canada Geese at Mitchell cabin.

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The behavior of a crazed loser did not originate with Donald Trump, as this 1982 New Yorker cartoons illustrates.

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Formal debate had already begun replacing aggressive prosecution in another 1982 New Yorker cartoon. I had considered the gladiators-versus-lions in the Roman Coliseum the ultimate high-stakes event. It never occurred to me a lion might have to to impeach a histrionic gladiator who had overindulged his sense of entitlement.

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As noted here before, my obligation to encourage wildlife a few years back led me to teach this possum dining etiquette. You could safely invite him in for your Valentine’s Day dinner. He’s certainly no Covid-19 carrier.

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Is this a Senate committee hearing or just another hungry-and-thirsty American in search of sustenance?

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From a 1958 New Yorker

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As part of my program to refine wildlife, I once mentored a bodhisattva possum on its path to enlightenment.

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What was Édouard Manet picturing in Le Déjeuner sur l’herb’? Lunch on the grass.

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And a hearty “Happy Valentine’s Day!” from the raccoon I’ve trained to work as a flower vendor and who, I might add, would be only too happy to provide the bouquet for your celebration.

I hope all this provided a ray of sunshine in these semi-dark times.

 

With Covid-19 regulations forcing me to stay home much of the time in recent months, I haven’t been able to roam the world and have been reduced to roaming Mitchell cabin. In doing so, I’ve been looking through my lifetime collection of music on 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records, tape cassettes, and CDs. With a number of notable exceptions, most of them had sat largely undisturbed for many years.

Before the pandemic, I indulged my taste in music every Friday night by going to hear live jazz at Sausalito’s No Name Bar. No more.

Based on what I’ve been pulling out of Mitchell cabin’s music collection, I’ve noticed something about myself. Much of what I’ve been listening to these past few months has to do with World War II and the years around it.  I was a “war baby,” born in 1943, and that may influence what I find particularly interesting now even though I don’t remember hearing the music then.

One particular CD album of World War II music has reminded me what a moving soprano voice the English singer Vera Lynn possessed. Her song promising an eventual end to the war, White Cliffs of Dover (click to hear), epitomizes the sort of music I’ve been listening to recently.

Bing Crosby was one of the most popular performers of the era. His post-war song Now Is the Hour (click to hear) was one of many sad farewells sung for soldiers. Crosby, as it happened, was often shown smoking a pipe. 

Douglas MacArthur, a five-star general in the US Army was also field marshal of the Philippine Army. He as befit the time frequently posed smoking a pipe

Filipinos speak more than 180 languages and dialects, so many Filipino troops couldn’t understand each other, let alone their English-speaking officers. The result was that orders would sometimes have to be translated from one group to another to another to another. Nonetheless, the Filipino forces under MacArthur were impressive in battle.

I took up pipe smoking in the summer of 1963 when I bought a briar from a sidewalk vendor in Paris. Perhaps because I was impressed by MacArthur’s demeanor I later tried switching to a corncob pipe like his. I could hold it with a firm bite, but the pipe could be a bit unbalanced — like MacArthur himself. In 1951, MacArthur lost his command when he had his troops invade North Korea despite President Harry Truman ordering him not to do so.

If one is going to smoke a long-stemmed pipe, I eventually decided, a churchwarden is much easier to handle although it can’t easily be held in one’s teeth with a firm bite like MacArthur’s. And you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.

In the words of the poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), “Winter is icumen in,/ Lhude sing Goddamm,/ Raineth drop and staineth slop,/ And how the wind doth ramm!/Sing: Goddamm.”

In Inverness, 2.5 inches raineth Tuesday night with the wind ramming hard. On Laurel Avenue in Inverness Park, the wind blew down a tree that crushed contractor David Cordrey’s work van (seen here). In the San Geronimo Valley, winds gusted to 73 mph in Woodacre and 72 mph in Lagunitas. A travel-trailer occupant in Lagunitas, Jay Cimo, was knocked unconscious and suffered a brain injury when the wind toppled a tree onto the trailer.

 In Inverness, a falling tree also destroyed a footbridge beside Inverness Way. The wind gusted to 59 mph in Inverness. The gusts brought down power lines in both Inverness and Bolinas.

Before the storm, a family of raccoons showed up on the deck at Mitchell cabin, so I gave them handfuls of kibble.

This, in turn, brought in a fox who dined alongside the raccoons.

The local fox is fun to look at, but he has a bad habit of marking his territory by peeing on our morning San Francisco Chronicle, which thankfully comes in a plastic bag. Obviously removing the newspaper from the bag must be done with care. Equally unsettling, the fox has taken to pooping on our deck at night. Better on the deck than the newspaper, for I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with sh*tty-fox news morning after morning.

Other members of the dog family (Canidae) are coyotes such as this one walking up to a patch of coyote brush near Mitchell cabin. We hear them most nights but see them only occasionally. What we are starting to see more often is coyote scat in the field below the cabin.

I’m certainly glad it’s in the grass and not on our deck or newspaper.

Worried that high winds could topple two dead pines along our driveway, I recently hired Nick Whitney and his Pacific Slope crew to cut them down and buck them up for firewood. Our neighbors Skip and Renée Shannon followed suit by having yet another neighbor, George Grim Jr., cut a tree, buck, and split it. Grim also split the trees I had cut down. With the Shannons contributing their tree (piled above), Lynn and I are accumulating quite a firewood collection, including three smaller stacks.

For the most part we use a woodstove to heat the cabin, so the bonanza of logs is most welcome.

Enjoying the warmth, Lynn sits by the fire with Newy, the stray cat we took in last year.

 

President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, walking up to the White House, their new home, after his inauguration.

Judging from what a number of West Marin residents told me afterward, the inaugural ceremony for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris earlier today cheered us not only politically but also musically. Before today, I could not have imagined singer-actress Lady Gaga, country-and-western singer Garth Brooks, and singer-actress Jennifer Lopez performing at such a formal event.

And I certainly couldn’t have imagined President Biden singing public notices, as per a CNN written report on climate crisis: “Biden will rejoin the Paris Agreement, singing a notice that will be sent to the United Nations later today.” I watched the day’s events but missed Biden’s operatic diplomacy.

As part of the ceremony, Amanda Gorman, 22, of Los Angeles, the youth poet laureate of the United States, read her poetry eloquently despite — like Biden — having needed to overcome a speech impediment. The New York Times called her presentation a “miracle.”

Kamala Harris being sworn in as Vice President of the United States. She is the first woman, the first Black person, and the first South Asian to hold the position.

Before the inaugural ceremony, Donald Trump left Washington, DC, in disgrace to spend some time at his Florida golf resort. However, because of a zoning agreement Trump previously signed, the City of Palm Beach is not yet not certain he can legally live permanently at the resort. (For that story, click here:  Mar-A-Lago.)

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Biden won the presidential vote has been disgraceful. Hoping to block the electoral college’s Senate vote to confirm the popular vote, he stirred up a mob (above) that a fortnight ago rioted in the Capitol. Trump supporters did major damage to — and stole property from — congressional headquarters. Five people died. Nor was that the last of the problem. Following today’s inaugural ceremonies, another crowd of violent protesters broke into and vandalized Democratic Party headquarters in Portland, leading to eight arrests with more expected. In Seattle, there was widespread vandalism downtown, and one woman was arrested on assault charges.

Most people — including some of Trump’s backers in high places — have become outraged. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been a sycophantic supporter of the President, has now accused him of feeding “lies” to the rioters, saying, “They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”

House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi has initiated an impeachment case against Trump that will be decided in the Senate. TV (seen above) printed her words as she spoke.

The mere fact that Biden is a decent person and experienced means a better day for America and the world has arrived.

Perhaps it’s just the newspaperman in me, but over the years I’ve collected numerous front pages reporting historic events. How events were covered as they unfolded often determines how they are remembered.

No other front page ever brought so much joy to my family as this San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 15, 1945, shortly before my second birthday.

The Berlin Wall is breeched.

“The fall of the Berlin Wall Nov. 9, 1989, was a pivotal event in world history which marked the falling of the Iron Curtain and the start of the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe,” to quote Wikipedia. “The fall of the inner German border took place shortly afterwards. An end to the Cold War was declared at the Malta Summit three weeks later, and the reunification of Germany took place in October the following year.”

It’s now mostly forgotten, but before the fall of the Berlin Wall, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that neither the United Kingdom nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany. She said they feared a revival of German imperialism, but the argument didn’t hold.

A new day in America.

Despite pockets of racism, the United States elected Barack Obama its first Black president in 2008 and reelected him in 2012.

Officers with guns drawn confront protesters breaking into the House chamber.

But now we have an insurrection with a pro-Trump mob breaking into the US capital building on Wednesday in an attempt to stop the Electoral College from confirming Joe Biden as our president-elect. Five people were killed, windows were broken, doors were smashed, vandals damaged the building’s interior.

The FBI is investigating, and it seems that the Trump crowd may be planning additional riots in each state on or around Jan. 20, when Biden will be inaugurated as our new president.

The violence has shocked the Western world but was gleefully reported in Russian and Chinese news media.

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Rather than end with news as dreadful as the pro-Trump insurrection, I’ll take a jump back to earlier times when deeds counted more than lies.

Henry Morton Stanley on the cover of Allgemeine Illustrite Zeitung, 1877.

“On March 21, 1871, Henry Morton Stanley set out from the African port of Bagamoyo on what he hoped would be a career-making adventure. The 30-year-old journalist had arrived on the Dark Continent at the behest of the New York Herald newspaper,” the website History relates. “He had been placed in charge of a grand expedition to find the explorer David Livingstone, who had vanished in the heart of Africa several years earlier.

“Dr. Livingstone was the most renowned of all the explorers of Africa. Among other exploits, the Scottish missionary and abolitionist had survived a lion attack, charted the Zambezi River and walked from one side of the continent to the other. In 1866, he had embarked on what was supposed to be his last and greatest expedition: a quest to locate the fabled source of the Nile River.

“The mission was supposed to last two years, yet by 1871, nearly six years had passed with only a few scattered updates on Livingstone’s whereabouts. Many Europeans had given him up for dead.

“Stanley knew that Livingstone had last been spotted in the vicinity of Lake Tanganyika, but reaching the area proved to be a monumental task. Between March and October of 1871, the New York Herald expedition endured repeated setbacks as it trudged though endless miles of swampland and jungle. Crocodiles and swarming tsetse flies killed their pack animals, and dozens of porters abandoned the caravan or died from illnesses. By the time they arrived at Ujiji, a remote village in what is now Tanzania, they had crossed more than 700 miles of territory.

“On Nov. 10, 1871, after hearing rumors of a white man living in Ujiji, Stanley donned his finest set of clothes and entered the town with a small band of followers. As crowds of locals gathered around them, Stanley spied a sickly-looking European with an unruly beard and white hair.

“Sensing that he had found his man, he approached, extended his hand, and asked a now-famous question: ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ When the stranger answered in the affirmative, Stanley let out a sigh of relief. ‘I thank God, doctor, I have been permitted to see you,’ he said.

“After being resupplied by Stanley, [Livingston] parted ways with his rescuers in March 1872 and made his way south to Lake Bangweulu in modern day Zambia. His illnesses later caught up with him, however, and he died from malaria and dysentery on May 1, 1873.”

A Pacific tree frog after I rescued it from my hot tub.

When I opened the lid of my hot tub one day four years ago to check the amount of chlorine and other chemicals in the water, a tree frog that had been hiding between the lid and the top of the tub took a flying leap into the caldron.

At 104 degrees, the water is hot enough to quickly kill a frog. I’ve seen it happen. This time, however, I had a sieve with me and was able to scoop the frog out in time to save it.

A Pacific tree frog climbs a bamboo shoot growing near the hot tub. Lynn and I are fond of the little guys even though frogs aren’t exactly people. But as the Greek philosopher Bion (c. 325 to c. 255 BC) observed: “Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest.”

Tree frogs change their colors as they move between dry and damp places. This frog is sitting on a dry persimmon leaf on the deck beside the hot tub.

When I lifted the lid off the hot tub, I found these two fellows squeezed under it. Notice that they are starting to change colors.

Tree frogs hanging out around a hot tub and the people soaking in it can occasionally create unlikely juxtapositions. Twice in years past, lady friends obliged this photographer by posing with frogs that showed up dazed from immersion in the hot water.

The U.S. Postal Service also recognizes how alluring frogs can be and featured four varieties on its “forever stamps” a year ago. I wish I’d bought more.

For many of us, Christmas Day triggers memories of Christmases during childhood — our family traditions, the excitement of opening presents below the Christmas tree, guests joining us for Christmas dinner. Two boyhood Christmases in particular stand out in my memory: the year Santa brought me an electric-train set and the year he brought me a bicycle.

Alas, because the Covid-19 pandemic is requiring us to “shelter in place,” most of us have had to scale back our yuletide festivities this year. Lynn and I never left home Christmas day, nor did anyone visit us. We, however, did use the occasion to revive some yuletide practices.

Our Christmas tree in the loft as seen from the living room.

Unlike Christmas mornings in childhood, we slept late. Here Newy, the stray cat we’ve taken in, sleeps on top of my sleeping wife.

Also getting some rest on Christmas morning were these four deer in the grass near Mitchell cabin.

Enjoying a “presidential” pardon from becoming Christmas dinner, this gobbler takes in the view from the railing of our deck. Lynn isn’t happy with wild turkeys showing up on the deck. Not only do they eat seed we’ve put out for small birds, they leave large droppings.

In lieu of turkey, Lynn cooked kosher-style ham for our dinner while I poured champagne.

In keeping with my family’s traditions, I brought out my parents’ fine china, delicate glassware, and fine silver flatware, none of which we normally use, along with candlesticks my mother bought in Quebec.

The scene got even warmer when Lynn while clearing the table leaned over a candle and set her hair on fire. Luckily she was able to slap the fire out before much was burned, but it did add to the day’s excitement.

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As for the pandemic, a popular joke these days goes like this: Yesterday I purchased a world map, pinned it up, and handed my wife a dart. I told her to throw it, and “wherever it lands, I’ll take you for a holiday as soon as Covid-19 peters out.” Turns out we’ll be spending three weeks behind the fridge.

Located on a grassy hillside, Mitchell cabin is constantly in the midst of various wildlife — at least 40 species and subspecies of birds, along with various snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, deer, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, gophers, roof rats, field mice, squirrels, cottontails, jack rabbits (which are actually hares), bobcats, and the occasional badger.

I’m always impressed by how often the different species manage to get along with each other.

A flock of wild turkeys casually wander past a couple of grazing deer.

The turkeys, in fact, are so indifferent to the deer that when a young buck challenges a weary companion, they don’t even notice.

And even when the two bucks start actually sparring, the turkeys just continue their hunting and pecking.

A flock of Canada geese fly overhead honking as they go.

Add a domestic cat to this mix and the wildlife come to resemble zoo animals. Here Newy, the stray cat we adopted last summer, climbs a persimmon tree to take it all in. Last week’s posting showed her in the grass interacting with deer and wild turkeys.

Many of Newy’s wildlife displays, however, present themselves at our kitchen door. Here she studies a gray fox eating dog kibble left behind by raccoons.

The fox soon spots Newy but just gives her a quick glance.

Newy was traveling with several raccoons when she first showed up in late July. A veterinarian, who later spayed her and trimmed her claws, estimated her age as five to six months. While she enjoys keeping an eye on her raccoon friends, the unfamiliar skunks particularly fascinate her. Like the fox, a couple of skunks regularly show up to enjoy the last of the raccoons’ dinner. For her, the scene is all part of the zoo in which she finds herself now living

This posting is a bit late, but I’ve been having various problems with the computer program that loads the photos. Finally tonight a friend in Glenview, Illinois, David LaFontaine, over the phone helped me solve the problems, so now we’re off and running again.

This hurry-up posting, now that I can get back online, is simply a random mix of animal photos shot this past week, political cartoons, and religious humor that relatives have sent me.

A bonding experience. A blacktail doe near Mitchell cabin cleans her fawn’s ear last Monday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The bonding is complete as the fawn responds by nuzzling its mother. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The stray cat we have taken in, Newy, joins a couple of deer grazing in our field last Sunday. Despite their close proximity, none of them seem at all nervous. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Newy, however, is a bit nervous as wild turkeys stroll past the cabin right behind the deer. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

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Goodnight, West Marin.

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And now for some religious humor that my cousin Leck Mitchell and his wife Pat sent me from Colorado.

A Sunday school teacher asked her class, “What was Jesus’ mother’s name?”  One child answered, “Mary.”

The teacher then asked, “Who knows what Jesus’ father’s name was?” 

A little kid said, “Verge.”

Confused, the teacher asked, “Where did you get that?” 

The kid said, “Well, you know, they are always talking about Verge n’ Mary.” 

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I had been teaching my three-year old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer.

Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer:

“Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us from email.”

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A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” 

One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”

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Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang, and talked outloud. Finally, his big sister had enough.

“You’re not supposed to talk outloud in church.”

“Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked.

 Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, “See those two men
standing by the door? They’re hushers.”

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