Responding to the President’s ranting, American newspapers, big and small, this week are editorializing in defense of a free and unfettered press. I’ve read several editorials, but I’m particularly impressed by the words of a small-town newspaper in a red state, The Yankton County (South Dakota) Observer. Yankton County’s politics are hardly Berkeley’s. Donald Trump carried South Dakota in 2016 and beat Hillary Clinton 58.8 percent to 34.3 percent in Yankton County. (Third parties picked up the remaining 6.9 percent.)

“President Trump would have you believe the media’s role is to serve him,” observed an editorial in The Observer. “Criticism of his words and deeds are reframed as unpatriotic attacks on America. He calls the press ‘the enemy of the American people’ because they are counting his mounting pile of lies. There is a long and hateful history to labeling groups as ‘enemies of the people.’ Stalin, Hitler, and Mao all used those words….

“[America’s] founding fathers did not always like their newspaper coverage, but they knew a free press was democracy’s best defense. They enshrined that ideal as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment.”

Thomas Jefferson

America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, was the principal author of the US Constitution. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government,” he wrote, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Once again Trump is at odds with our founding fathers.

Unfortunately, as the editorial from South Dakota noted, “our 45th president answers coverage of his easily disproven stream of lies by smearing the press for spreading ‘fake news.’ Trump’s lifelong love for false witness is catching on. Elected officials at all levels see his success with the ‘fake news’ deflection technique. Many have weaponized it for their own purposes.”

Having spent 35 years working at five large and small newspapers, I have seen reporters risk their lives to get the facts. And in the relatively few cases where they got something wrong, they corrected it. When Trump works himself into a sweat, calls journalists “enemies of the American people,” and says that they’re “disgusting” and “scum,” it sounds to me like his colon has backed up into his mouth and he’s relieving himself orally.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters photo)

Meanwhile across the seas in Turkey, Trump’s doppelgänger, President Tayyip Erdogan, is using the same sophistries to rationalize repressing the free flow of information. In part because of Erdogan’s policies, the Turkish economy is in a shambles. The value of Turkey’s lira currency is collapsing, and inflation is staggering. The mainstream Turkish press, however, is too intimidated to fully analyze the problem, so the Turkish public has begun discussing among themselves in social media whether there will be currency controls. Erdogan wants everyone to shut up.

“There are economic terrorists on social media,” Erdogan recently declared. “They are truly a network of treason,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “We will not give them the time of day… We will make those spreading speculations pay the necessary price.”

Turkey’s interior ministry has reported identifying “346 social media accounts carrying posts about the exchange rate that it said created a negative perception of the economy. It said it would take legal measures against them but did not say what these would be,” Reuters added. “Separately, the Istanbul and Ankara prosecutor’s offices launched investigations into individuals suspected of being involved in actions that threaten Turkey’s economic security.”

The French philosopher Voltaire in the 18th century could have been talking about Erdogan or Trump when he warned: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

 

 

Inverness Park’s Richard Blair and his wife Kathleen Goodwin have a new book, which consists of top-notch photography documenting life in San Francisco from the 1960s to the present. Although a couple of Richard’s subjects are well known, the quality of his photography makes each come alive in new ways.

Much of what makes Richard’s photography great is his combination of timing and perspective. Here’s the Transamerica Pyramid as seen through a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen looking up from Fort Point on the San Francisco shore.

A variety of artists painted the murals inside Coit Tower during 1934 as part of a public work project.

Most of Coit Tower’s murals can be seen on the main floor, but, as Richard notes, “A rarely seen section on the second floor, where space is tight, can be viewed as part of a tour.”

An exotic, jungle-like elevated walkway at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

A highlight of a drive through Golden Gate Park is the elegant San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers on John F. Kennedy Drive.

Hippie days recalled — A pyrotechnic display last year illuminated the conservatory during a 50th anniversary celebration of the Summer of Love. During that summer back in 1967, “music was in the park with the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane providing the soundtrack,” Richard writes. “We were stoned on pot or acid, and life was good (if the Vietnam War didn’t get you).”

Party time in Mission Dolores Park — “The largest concentration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGTQ) people in the world lives in San Francisco,” Richard notes. “Their freedom is a wonderful thing that everyone can enjoy, whether they are gay or straight.

“LGBTQ people are a major contributor to the city’s economy. Because of San Francisco’s tolerance we are getting a lot of the world’s talent!”

A dancer at Carnaval San Francisco. Photo by Kathleen Goodwin.

As it happens, all the other photos in this posting are by Richard Blair although his wife Kathleen Goodwin also shot some of the notable images in San Francisco, City of Love, including this one.

Marian and Vivian Brown were identical twins born in 1927 who grew up to be frequently pictured in the press and on television sporting identical snappy outfits and coiffed hair. They accompanied each other everywhere and would often eat dinner at one of the front tables in Uncle Vito’s restaurant near the top of Nob Hill. Marian died in January 2013, and Vivian died 22 months later.

An old man heads across the street in Chinatown.

San Francisco, City of Love does an impressive job of documenting the city’s fascinating people and special places. The book is starting to be available in bookstores, and at Toby’s Feed Barn, and can also be ordered from <richardblair.com>. 96 pages, $9.95

 

California’s wildfires reached the Tomales Bay area this Wednesday. The first of two was a small fire near Highway 1 in Olema. The fire, which was started by a tree falling onto power lines, broke out around 4 a.m. Thanks to a quick response from county firefighters, Bolinas volunteer firefighters, and Inverness volunteer firefighters, the fire was limited to about 100 square feet, but more than 2,000 homes and businesses at the head of the bay were temporarily blacked out. Most got their power back over the next few hours, but a few were without electricity for up to 11 hours.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on a line of flames.

The second fire was on Black Mountain west of Platform Bridge, and it was far larger.

The wildfire was first reported at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. Five air tankers, two helicopters, an air-attack plane, three bulldozers and 100 firefighters from the county, the City of Novato, Ross Valley, Bolinas, Inverness, Nicasio, Skywalker Ranch, and Novato responded. They were able to limit its spread to approximately 50 acres, the Marin County Fire Department reported.

Firefighters worked through Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning they reported 80 percent containment. At 3 p.m., they announced full containment.

The fire began beside the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road west of Platform Bridge and the Farm Stand. Fueled by dry grass, the fire raced up a ridge to the top of Black Mountain where firefighters stopped its advance. No structures were damaged. No people were harmed or needed to evacuate although one herd of horses was evacuated as a precautionary measure. The Point Reyes-Petaluma Road was closed at Platform Bridge and at Highway 1 until Thursday morning.

 

The air tankers’ repeated dropping fire retardant left Black Mountain looking as if an artist had taken a paintbrush to it. Photo by Linda Sturdivant

 

Looking out the kitchen door earlier this week I saw a handsome bobcat among the dandelions.

It’s been a periodic visitor around Mitchell cabin, but of late its visits have become more frequent. When the bobcat’s around, it spends most of its time hunting gophers, often sitting or standing like this waiting to pounce. I can only assume it’s seen a gopher head pop out of the dirt for a moment or that it can hear a gopher scratching underground.

A smelly surprise this past week was a triad of young skunks marching in close formation back and forth across the hill. I have no idea why they arranged themselves in that fashion, but it was fun to watch.

But the biggest surprise I encountered this week was in a 28-year-old copy of Hustler magazine that I came upon.

As part of a photo feature in the men’s magazine, there was a picture of a wind farm with a couple of scantily clad young ladies standing in front of it. All that was typical Hustler. The odd part was the accompanying quotation from Wade Holland of Inverness, who back then was manager of the Inverness Public Utility District.

Before I asked Wade today about the quote, he was unaware he’d been in Hustler and found the revelation quite amusing. Wade said the remark dated from an abandoned proposal by IPUD directors to use windmills to generate part of the town’s electricity. God only knows how the magazine came upon his comment. Did someone at Hustler have a subscription to The Point Reyes Light (where coincidentally Wade is now copy editor)?

Less amused was a different Wade B. Holland. When I initially tried to call West Marin’s Wade B. Holland, I found the number I was using had been changed. I then searched online for another number and found one that looked like it might be his cellphone.

I called the number, and when a man answered, I asked if he was Wade Holland. He said he was, so I asked him if he were aware he’d been quoted in Hustler back in 1990. The man, who turned out to be in North Carolina, was astounded.

And when I read the quotation to him, he become a bit indignant, saying he was not the Wade B. Holland in that magazine. So I said goodbye and left him to tell his friends about the bizarre call he had just received from California.

There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because of poisoning by sheep ranchers in northwest Marin and southern Sonoma counties. However, coyotes never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, and after the Nixon Administration banned the poison 10-80, they started spreading south and showed up here again in 1983.

A lean coyote on my driveway last week. (Photo by my neighbor Dan Huntsman)

In the years since then, coyotes put an end to more than half of the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.

A coyote eyes my car as I park at Mitchell cabin.

Ranchers initially proposed outfitting their sheep with poison collars since coyotes typically go for the throat. The collars would not save the sheep that was bitten but would prevent the attacker from killing more sheep. The collars were not allowed, however, on grounds that a coyote which died from poisoning could, in turn, poison buzzards and other carrion eaters that came upon it.

A coyote runs past my kitchen door.

In 1995, Tomales sheep rancher Roy Erickson told The Point Reyes Light he had lost six ewes — most of them pregnant — to coyotes in the previous two weeks. Back then, each ewe sold for $85, and the unborn lambs would have been worth the same amount the following year. Financially, “it’s like someone slashing a pair of new tires every few days,” Erickson said.

Unless the state loosened its ban on toxic collars, the sheep rancher sarcastically remarked, “they’ll have to rename our place Fat Buzzard Ranch.” Fortunately, the ranch was able to survive.

Coyotes can walk at more than 20 mph and run considerably faster than 30 mph.

Tomales sheepman Dan Erickson today told me that thanks to special fencing, guard dogs, and hunting, there are still 10 or more sheep ranches in the Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford region. Coyotes continue to kill a few sheep, but they haven’t won yet. I’m happy to report we’re not hearing the ranchers howling, as the coyotes do almost every evening.

A sad afterward: Friday evening, July 20, Lynn and I were on Lucas Valley Road when we saw a young coyote walking in the grass beside the road. This was on the flats about a mile and a half east of Big Rock, and since there are no sheep ranches in the area, seeing it was a treat. Alas, later that evening when we passed the same spot while driving home to Point Reyes Station, we came upon a flattened coyote in the roadway. What a shock! Dammit, we all need to slow down at night.

 

A bohemian resident of Sausalito, poet Paul LeClerc, 71, is a regular customer of the town’s No Name Bar, which I visit every Friday night with Lynn or a friend to listen to the Michael Aragon Quartet perform stunningly good jazz.

After I got to know LeClerc (above), he began encouraging me to read Joseph Mitchell’s 716-page book Up in the Old Hotel, a combination of factual stories and fiction (each identified as such). I rather suspected the coincidence of our names is what inspired him to recommend the book, but in any case, I took his advice and read it.

For almost 60 years, Mitchell (at left) wrote for The New Yorker, and several sections of the book first appeared in that magazine. All are set in the 1930s and 40s. Here Mitchell chats with restaurateur Louis Morino outside Marino’s Sloppy Louie’s restaurant near the Fulton Fish docks in New York City. (Photo by Therese Mitchell)

In ‘McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon,’ the opening section of the book, habitués of this saloon and other joints in lower Manhattan, provide characters for Mitchell’s story. In Shannon’s Irish Saloon, for example, he encounters Arthur Samuel Colborne, who describes himself as “the founder and head of the Anti-Profanity League.” A street preacher, he claims his league has passed out six million cards urging people not to swear.

Colborne chastises people on streets and in bars for using not only obscenities but also words such as hell. “It might not be one-hundred-percent profanity, but it’s a leader-on,” he tells Mitchell. “You start out with ‘hell,’ ‘devil take it,’ ‘Dad burn it,’ ‘Gee whiz,’ and the like of that, and by and by you won’t be able to open your trap without letting loose an awful, awful blasphemous oath.”

When Mitchell offers to buy Colborne another beer, the old man declines, saying, “I seldom have more than two, and I’ve had that. Nothing wrong in beer. Good for your nerves. I’d have another but I want to get home in time for a radio program.” Colborne later acknowledges having drunk beer heavily on at least one occasion, and Mitchell writes, “He was the first beer-drinking reformer I had ever encountered.”

‘Joe Gould’s Secret’ is probably the best-known section of Up in the Old Hotel. Gould (above) was an unemployable eccentric who sometimes called himself Professor Seagull. He claimed he’d learned the language of seagulls and had translated various poems into “seagull language.”

He survived on donations of money, food, and clothing. To justify his having no job and no money, Gould told people he was busy writing “the longest book in the history of the world.” He called it An Oral History of Our Time and was constantly recording in composition books conversations he was overhearing.

In reality, there was no such book, only a bunch of his notebooks, as Mitchell would discover. Gould was eventually hospitalized with a variety of physical and mental problems and died with people still looking for a copy of his Oral History.

Paul LeClerc, who brought Mitchell’s remarkable book to my attention, lived and worked in and around New York City for about four years, driving taxicabs and working in bookstores. He’s familiar with McSorley’s Saloon and the Fulton Fish Docks area where most of the book’s tales take place. When he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, he continued to work in bookstores.

In this 2015 photo by Peter Fimrite of The San Francisco Chronicle, LeClerc is filling his tank at Bridgeway Gas in Sausalito, the most expensive station in Marin County. “I live in town and I don’t drive that much so the price isn’t as big of a deal,” LeClerc explained.

At the time, the station had temporarily raised its prices to almost $8 per gallon. David Mann, the owner, “provided an unusual reason for the surge,” The Chronicle reported. “He doesn’t like complainers.” The newspaper quoted Mann as saying, “Yesterday, some guy asked me, ‘How high are you going to go?’ I said, ‘As high as I need to go to get you to stop complaining.’”

Mann, like LeClerc, is a bit eccentric (as am I), but certainly not on the scale of the Up in the Old Hotel’s eccentrics.

The book is available through Point Reyes Books and, of course, via Amazon: Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, Vintage Books, 2008

It’s been a mixed week.

Last evening I was amazed to look out a bedroom window and see a red ball shining in the eastern sky. Lynn and I realized that the Lake County fire was the explanation. News reports said smoke from that fire was blowing south into the San Francisco Bay Area. As of this writing, the Pawnee Fire in Lake County has burned 14,150 acres and is only 73 percent contained.

 

Not wanting any wildfires here, I’d hired some guys to mow the fields around Mitchell cabin and neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman’s home. All went well except for this one patch in the middle of a field that wasn’t cut all the way down. Much of the land was mowed using a tractor, but when the tractor operator got to this spot, he suddenly came under attack from a colony of yellow jackets which had a hive in the ground. I could have had the hive destroyed but opted not to since yellow jackets can be beneficial: they dine on flies and spiders.

This gopher snake showed up at the edge of the garden the same weekend two months ago when Lynn and I were married. I decided that was a good omen since we were overrun with gophers.

Today, Lynn spotted this four-foot-long gopher snake on our front steps. To give you a sense of scale, the railroad ties that make up the steps are three feet long. This snake’s tail winds through the grass up to the step and back down where it disappears on the left side of the photo. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

I was impressed by the snake’s girth and snapped this photo of it.

There are numerous variations in the coloring of gopher snakes, but most retain a rattlesnake-like hide. In fact, when gopher snakes feel threatened, they try to imitate rattlesnakes, hissing, coiling up, and shaking their rattleless tails. A week ago I was driving home up Campolindo Road when I spotted a gopher snake that looked like this one, lying across the narrow roadway. Not wanting anyone to drive over it, I stopped, got out, and walked over to the snake, which did not move. I then leaned over and grabbed the snake right behind its head. The snake hissed and tried to turn its head but couldn’t, and I carried it into the grass and let it go.

Garter snakes could be found around here fairly often 25 years ago, but the only ones I’ve seen recently were along the levee road. When I moved one of those out of the roadway a while back, I got a dose of the stench garter snakes spray when they feel under attack.

A rubber boa with a slight eye injury. These seldom-seen snakes (they hunt in the evening or at night) can also emit a stinky spray when frightened. Mice and voles are among their main prey.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood, as was reported here awhile back. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A mother raccoon and her four kits receive a few handfuls of dog kibble when they show up in the evening. The kits are usually weaned by the the time they are four months old but often stay with their mothers for up to nine months.

A blacktail doe with two offspring are also staying together. Here the family rests contentedly after crossing the barbed-wire border between fields without getting separated. Under the current Administration, human refugees apparently deserve less.

 

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married on April 26. The first installment of our honeymoon began June 5 when we headed up the coast to enjoy a few days in Gualala, Mendocino County. The second installment will come later this summer when we’ll probably head down the coast to Monterey County.

Gualala makes for a romantic getaway, and we’d previously vacationed there a couple of times. The downtown sits beside an ocean bluff at the foot of forested hills. Every year ocean waves restore a sandbar that closes the mouth of the Gualala River. This creates a lagoon that lasts until the next rains swell the river enough that it can burst through the sandbar.

The Gualala River is a large part of what keeps bringing us back. (Lynn took this photo of me during a 2012 trip.) Adventure Rents, which operates from a clearing on the bank just downstream from the Gualala Bridge, offers kayaks as well as canoes; we always rent a canoe. The river’s current is fairly weak at this time of year, making it easy to spend an afternoon paddling upstream. Because of wind off the ocean, paddling downstream into the lagoon and back would have been far more laborious.

A bald eagle regularly perched in a dead tree near our inn. We were told it had a mate, but we never saw it.

A covey of mostly very young quail greeted us when we returned to Point Reyes Station after being away four days. In fact, young animals of other species had also begun hanging out around Mitchell cabin.

A blacktail fawn stays alert in this unfamiliar world.

A couple of small jackrabbits were among the other youngsters. Rabbits are weaned when they’re a month old or less. They then start grazing away from the nest but return to sleep. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

A rapid rabbit: While I was watching this adult rabbit last week, it started and bounded off downhill as fast as it could go. When I looked uphill to see what had alarmed the rabbit, I saw ….

a male bobcat. He was acting pretty much like a male dog: peeing on posts to mark territory and rolling on the ground on his back with his feet in the air. He didn’t chase the rabbit.

A raccoons with four small kits now show up on our deck every evening, and we usually give them handfuls of dog kibble. Unfortunately, a skunk recently figured out the routine and has begun arriving around the time the raccoons are done eating. Neither animal alarms the other. This mother raccoon sometimes takes a nap while the skunk eats. On other nights, they eat side by side. It’s really too bad that humans don’t have the gentility of raccoons and skunks.

This collection of Western Weekend-parade photos was supposed to go online two and a half weeks ago, but problems with my blog’s programing operation, WebPress, had kept it offline. Tonight two webmasters from Los Angeles, Dave LaFontaine and his wife Janine Warner, called and guided me through a couple of complex problems, so we’re back.

Point Reyes Station on June 3 hosted its 70th annual Western Weekend parade. (Western Weekend for many years was called the West Marin Junior Livestock Show.)

The grand marshal of this year’s parade was Rhea McIsaac of Tocaloma, who rode beside her husband Ted.

Mollie Donaldson, 16, of Tomales was the junior grand marshal.

The West Marin Community Services entry, like many in the parade, warranted a second look. 

A close look at staffer Andrew Hammond holding up one end of the WMCS banner reveals he’s wearing a live boa constrictor around his neck. 

This group from San Francisco called Cidade Juntos, which is Portugese for City Together, playfully danced and marched.

As the group passed by, onlookers quickly realized that this entry too warranted a second look.

The West Marin-Inverness School Wildcats also had more going on than first met the eye.

Behind the Wildcats marchers, a group of students holding a dragon flag aloft dashed around in ever-changing formations while dodging the horse droppings left by earlier parade participants.

Tim Bunce, a mechanic and towtruck driver at Cheda’s Garage, with his infant daughter on his lap drove an old tractor in the parade.

Not far behind Tim was more of the gang from Cheda’s with mechanic Curtis McBurney standing in front on a towtruck.

Lourdes Romo, the executive director of Papermill Creek Childrens’ Corner preschool, rode on a truck promoting One Heart One Community, a celebration at Sacred Heart Church in Olema. 

The Community Land Trust of West Marin, CLAM: At center is Paul Warshow. CLAM board member Jorge Martinez is to his left. CLAM’s executive director Kim Thompson (in a green dress) is to his right. Kerry Livingston, a member of the board, follows (in a red blouse).

The Rapid Response Team phone line is designed to notify West Marin residents of local Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity and provide immediate support to families in the event of a raid. Members of the team document ICE actions and inform these families of their rights.

Immigration politics not surprisingly were evident throughout the parade.

One of the more humorous political statements was worn by this young man.

The parade was mostly geared to young people, and the ones I saw were definitely enjoying themselves. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

A veteran of many Western Weekend parades, Terry Aleshire of Inverness rode his motorcycle with sidecar.

Another parade veteran is Jason MacLean, with his flame-shooting truck. Here a blast of fire soars in front of the Grandi building. With El Radio Fantastique in tow (band leader Giovanni DiMorente is disguised by his white-bird mask), the fire-and-music entry received the top prize from parade judges. 

Following the parade, much of the crowd headed to a Farm Bureau barbecue beside Toby’s Feed Barn.

The tardiness of this posting is unfortunate, but it seemed worthwhile to put it online if only to add to the scrapbook of West Marin history. With some technical problems seemingly solved, we’ll now see if postings can resume on a more regular basis.

A great believer in marriage, I got married for the fifth time on April 26. My bride is my longtime partner/girlfriend Lynn Axelrod, known to many in town as the coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council. As such, she works with the county fire department. She’s 68 and from New York and Boston. For many years, she worked as an attorney in San Francisco. I’m 74 and from the San Francisco Bay Area. I worked in journalism for most of my adult life.

Our wedding was in the bluff-top garden beside the 3rd floor of Marin County Civic Center. (Photo by Kathy Runnion)

The garden is right outside the County Clerk’s Office, and conducting the ceremony was (at center) Olga Lobato, a supervisor in the Clerk’s office.

The office’s wedding schedule is a busy one. We had to settle for getting married on a Thursday because Friday was booked up well in advance.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” supervisor Lobato told Lynn and me with a flourish. (Photo by Kathy Runnion)

Acting as official witnesses were Tony Ragona of Point Reyes Station and Paul Kaufman of San Rafael (formerly of Marshall).

I must say being married is fun although it’s had some prickly moments. For the past three weeks, I’ve been digging up, pulling up, and cutting up thistles in the fields around Mitchell cabin.

Now that’s not fun.

The night after the wedding we headed down to Sausalito’s No Name Bar for our weekly ration of jazz, which is inevitably fun.

Inside the bar, the bride spotted one of the regulars, the prominent Sausalito artist Steve Sara, sketching her as she listened to the music. Obligingly she moved a bit closer to his sketchpad and was rewarded with an attractive drawing.

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