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 The great American writer Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is remembered especially for four novels: You Can’t Go Home Again,  Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, and Look Homeward, Angel, which is my favorite.  Although it’s a work of fiction, the book’s protagonist, Eugene Gant, is largely a stand-in for Wolfe himself. The author sets the stage for Look Homeward, Angel with an introductory poem:

. . . A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.  

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost!  Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Thomas Wolfe as a young, 6-foot, 6-inch, pipe smoker.

What brings all this to mind is remembering that a couple of decades ago when I was between marriages, I briefly tried answering ads published by online dating sites. As it happened, one woman I began exchanging emails with wrote that she is a fan of poetry and asked that I send her my favorite poem. Without hesitation I sent her Thomas Wolfe’s existential poem and was surprised by her response, which amounted to: “If that’s your favorite poem, you sound too grim for me. Goodbye.”

Apparently I disqualified myself by being a Wolfe man.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

This is a belated review of an entertaining linguistic book, A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings. It was originally published five years ago by Ten-Speed Press. My wife Lynn gave it to me for Christmas.  The author, Matt Sewell, is a Canadian ornithologist, illustrator, and artist who has exhibited in London, Manchester, New York, Tokyo, and Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As most of us know, a group of geese is called a “gaggle” — but if the geese are flying in formation — the proper term is “skein,” writes Sewell. The term “comes from an old French word for ‘V’ Formation.”

Some group names are grim but accurate. Here a “wake” of vultures divvy up a skunk killed by an owl.

Virtually every night at Mitchell cabin we can hear a “band” of coyotes howling.

Groups of coyotes are called “bands” although to my mind, “choirs” would be more accurate. Sewell notes that “outside of their guarded family units, coyotes hang together in unrelated gangs, scavenging and doing whatever coyotes do.”

A “sulk” of foxes atop a shed at Toby’s Feed Barn. These were spotted by postal staff outside a postoffice window.

 

A “plague” of rats. Given my recent experience with roof rats, I would second the group name “plague.” Roof rats found their way into my car’s engine compartment around Christmas and chewed wiring, piled up debris, and damaged the car’s computer. The final tab at garages in Point Reyes Staton and Santa Rosa to repair the damage came to more than $2,500.

 

A “trip” of rabbits.

Sewell frequently indulges his ironic sense of humor. Describing how groups of rabbits came to be called “trips,” Sewell writes: “Now, some of you may be thinking: the trip would be to follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole.  Sadly not: this term is from the 15th century, not the 1960s Jefferson Airplane lyric, or even Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which inspired the song. It is, in fact, about as psychedelic as a turnip patch.

“A colony of rabbits is a flighty bunch — not surprisingly, as the whole world is their enemy…. They are rarely safe for long, not when they’re hunted by hawks and owls, weasels, foxes, domestic pets, and humans, to name just a few.”

As noted previously, “jackrabbit” is short for “jackass rabbit,” a nickname it got because of its ears.

A “lounge” of lizards. This is a blue-belly lizard on the wall of our cabin.

 

Lizards are cold-blooded “so they need to warm up from the sun or on warm stones.”

“It’s this lounging that gets them into trouble though as lizards are easy prey in this laid-back state.

“If they are cruelly snatched, lizards at least have a last-gasp mechanism for freedom: they can release their tail, which will wriggle around in the predator’s mouth, confusing the daylights out of it while the lizard makes a dash for the undergrowth.”

I hope it gets there safely.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

This week’s puns are from a book, which (to my surprise) I found at West Marin Pharmacy, and gave Lynn for Christmas: Dad Jokes, the Good, The Bad, The Terrible, by Jimmy Niro. Most of this posting outlines the various minor calamities that have befallen this household of late. Also included are three amazing photos of wildlife.

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Yesterday a clown held the door open for me. I thought it was a nice jester.

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My wife Lynn was cooking Christmas dinner when our oven quit working. She had finished most of the meal but never got to bake any potatoes. Nor was there any baked turkey. None was available after Thanksgiving. Nor could she find fresh cranberries. Supply chain issues? 

Having grown up in a Jewish household, Christmas was not part of her holidays. Lynn opted to cook eggnog-coated, breaded pork cutlets instead. Pork was a frequent meal in her childhood household, notwithstanding some stereotypes. The faux-kosher meal, which included previously baked yams and turkey stuffing sans turkey, was delicious.

After we ate, Lynn contacted large-appliance repairman David Brast of Inverness. She told him a section of the oven coil had gotten very bright, and a huge amount of steam had emerged from a stovetop coil. Then the oven stopped working. He said, “That wasn’t steam. That was smoke.” Brast quickly figured out the problem, sent away for parts, and agreed to come over and fix it this Thursday, which he did. 

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The lady helping me at the bank has a big stain on her blouse. Should I teller?

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The day after Christmas my car developed its own problems. Dashboard lights started telling me to “check engine” and showed tires skidding. Monday when I took my 12-year-old Lexus to Cheda’s Garage, mechanic Tim Bunce quickly figured out the problem. Rats had gotten into the engine compartment, chewed on the wiring, and started to build a nest.

Cheda’s too had to send away for parts, but it turned out the rats had also damaged an injector harness for the engine’s computer. Now I have to take the car to Santa Rosa to get the harness replaced and the computer reprogrammed. Goddamn, it doesn’t sound cheap! Which raises the question….

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How does the Vatican pay bills? They use Papal.

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The car and oven breakdowns came on the heels of the smoke detector in Mitchell cabin starting to give off a bird-like chirp every minute or so when the air was cold. That has now been fixed, but I’m wondering what will go wrong next.

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“Dad, I’m cold,” his son said. “Go stand in the corner,” replied the father. “It’s 90 degrees.”

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There are times reality can be as humorous as puns. We’ve been hearing coyotes howl every night for months, so I was particularly intrigued by the “People’s Choice” award winner of this year’s Living with Wildlife photo contest sponsored by WildCare. 

Photographer Janet Kessler managed to snap a shot of a coyote knocking down a “Don’t Feed Coyotes” sign.                                                                                                      

 

This photo of a peregrine falcon taken by Carlos Porrata of Inverness won the “Best in Show” award.

And this photo of a badger, which Porrata also submitted, was among the contest’s finalists.

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A doctor made it his regular habit to stop at a bar for a hazelnut daiquiri on his way home from work each night. The bartender knew of his habit and would alway have the drink waiting at precisely 5:03 p.m.

One afternoon, as the end of the workday approached, the bartender was dismayed to find that he was out of hazelnut extract. Thinking quickly, he threw together a daiquiri made with hickory nuts and set it on the bar.

The doctor came in at his regular time, took one sip of the drink, and exclaimed, “This isn’t a hazelnut daiquiri.”

“No, I’m sorry,” replied the bartender. “It’s a hickory daiquiri, Doc.”

 

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Christmas week seems full of unlikely events — especially this year. Winter begins on Tuesday, the longest night of the year, and Friday will be Christmas eve. Among the unlikely events at Mitchell cabin has been the debut of occasional chirps, such as a bird would make, every minute or so in the morning while my wife Lynn and I are still in bed. I thought nothing of the chirps, but they kept waking Lynn up.

Eventually she traced the chirps to a smoke alarm in the peak of the roof over our upstairs loft. I then noticed that the chirping stopped when I turned on our wall furnace or lit a fire in our woodstove. Clearly, the alarm was not warning of smoke but of cold air, which may interfere with the alarm’s batteries.

Lynn is in process of hiring a handyman to fix the problem, but he faces the problem of positioning a ladder to reach the smoke alarm since it’s directly over a steep staircase. Before we’re done we may have to build a temporary tower.

When I was a little boy living with my folks in Berkeley, I made a disappointing discovery regarding Christmas. On the morning of Dec. 26, I hurried down to the living room where our Christmas tree stood, but there was nothing new under it. “I guess Santa Claus just comes once,” my mother heard me sigh. No doubt she told me I’d have to wait a year for his return, but to a little boy a year might as well be forever.

Birds hunt and peck for birdseed among the Christmas lights on the railing of Mitchell cabin’s deck.

In a normal year, we’d attend or throw a Christmas Day dinner, but with people staying home because of the Covid pandemic, about our only preparation for the celebration has been to string Christmas lights on our deck railing and on our tannenbaum, which we bought at Toby’s Feed Barn. (By the way, the song “O Tannenbaum” is German for “O Fir Tree,” in case you didn’t know.)

One last unlikely event worth mentioning is Point Reyes Station’s noon moo. A loudspeaker above the Western Saloon blares mooing up and down Point Reyes Station’s main street at noon each day. The town a couple of decades back decided a noon moo would be less intrusive than a noon whistle, and so that’s what we got.

These days, the noon moo has become an 11:45 a.m. moo, which can be confusing. Radioman extraordinaire Richard Dillman awhile back corrected the timing, but it’s now slipped off schedule again. Another unlikely event this yuletide.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

This week I’ll reprint a bit of the humor that’s been emailed to me in the past week, including a few unlikely photos.

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A good looking man walked into an agent’s office in Hollywood and said, “I want to be a movie star.” Tall, handsome and with experience on Broadway, he had the right credentials. The agent asked, “What’s your name?”

The guy said, “My name is Penis van Lesbian.” The agent said, “Sir, I hate to tell you, but in order to get into Hollywood , you are going to have to change your name.”

Just a pinch

“I will NOT change my name!” the man replied. “The van Lesbian name is centuries old. I will not disrespect my grandfather by changing my name. Not ever.”

The agent said, “Sir, I have worked in Hollywood for years… You will NEVER go far in Hollywood with a name like Penis van Lesbian! I’m telling you, you will HAVE TO change your name or I will not be able to represent you.” The guy responded, “So be it! I guess we will not do business together,” and he abruptly left the agent’s office.

Five years later, the agent opens an envelope sent to his office. Inside the envelope is a letter and a check for $50,000. He reads the letter enclosed: “Dear Sir, Five years ago, I came into your office wanting to become an actor in Hollywood. You told me I needed to change my name. Determined to make it with my God-given birth name, I refused. You told me I would never make it in Hollywood with a name like Penis van Lesbian.

“After I left your office, I thought about what you said. I decided you were right. I had to change my name. I had too much pride to return to your office, so I signed with another agent. “I would never have made it without changing my name, so the enclosed check is a token of my appreciation. Thank you for your advice.”

Sincerely, Dick van Dyke

 

 

 

Praising the sun

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CNN (click to read full story) — Former President Donald Trump railed against his one-time close ally Benjamin Netanyahu in a new interview series, saying he felt betrayed by the then-prime minister of Israel’s video message to Joe Biden congratulating him on winning the presidency.

“It was early. OK? Let’s put it this way; he greeted him very early. Earlier than most world leaders. I’ve not spoken to him since. Fuck him!”
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Duck surfing a dam.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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When my New Yorker arrives in the mail each week, the first thing it does is remind me that I’m more interested in humor than in more serious matters. And it’s only after I’ve thumbed my way through all the cartoons and jokes that I take time to check out what the main articles are.

This week’s posting is going to be kept short because I’m having troubles with my computer program. For example, there’s an unintended space between the fifth and the sixth jokes. Sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Birthday lunch. Maddy Sobel of Point Reyes Station (standing) took my wife Lynn and me out for lunch at the Station House Cafe Tuesday to celebrate my 78th birthday.

Because of Covid restrictions, the cafe’s only seating was outdoors in the garden, which was attractive but chilly enough to warrant my wearing a hood while eating.

Now in my 79th year, I’m enjoying myself but have problems walking and remembering things. In short, I am definitely slowing down.

When I was born on Nov. 23, 1943, the US was about halfway through our involvement in World War II. My parents and I were living in the Marina District of San Francisco, and though I was too young to understand what I was seeing, my parents later told of freight trains chugging past the Marina Green carrying tanks and other military vehicles to ships heading off for the war in the Pacific.

The one thing I do remember of the war was the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945. China had been our ally against Japan, and the surrender prompted a massive celebration in Chinatown. Hearing about it, my mother loaded great aunt Amy and me into our family’s Pontiac and drove across town so we could see it first hand. The merriment no doubt was exciting, but as a two year old, I found it terrifying. Firecrackers were exploding everywhere, and as we headed up Grant Avenue, they started raining down on our car from overhead balconies. The traffic was so heavy, mom couldn’t immediately drive away, and for the next couple of years, loud noises — even from kids’ cap guns — frightened me.

Merely growing up in the United States has meant my lifetime’s been filled with warfare: World War II (1941-45); the Korean War (1950-53); the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Wars (1956-75); two wars in Iraq (1990-91 and 2014-17); and the Afghan War (2001-present). I never fought in any of these wars, but I did witness a couple of others. In 1984, while working as a reporter for The San Francisco Examiner, I was sent to Central America to cover the wars then being fought in El Salvador and Guatemala. All this left me with a sense that the world is never going to be peaceful, at least not in my lifetime.

Just keeping happy is enough for me these days. I spend afternoons carrying armloads of firewood into the living room and spend evenings sitting by the fireplace, smoking, listening to jazz from an earlier era, and chatting with Lynn when she’s not in the bedroom watching British murder mysteries on the TV. Keep calm and carry on, she says.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Among those performing with drummer Michael Aragon Sunday was Rob Fordyce, guitarist for the band Fuzzy Slippers.

It was a musical event to remember. Sunday afternoon, Jon Fernandez of Inverness and his wife Patsy Krebs rode with Lynn and me to San Rafael to be guests at a wonderful jazz reawakening.

Although he’d become widely respected in the Bay Area jazz scene, drummer Michael Aragon, 77, retired two years ago for health reasons. By then, his quartet had played the Friday night gig at Sausalito’s No Name Bar for 36 years. Jon and I, sometimes accompanied by Lynn, attended most Fridays in the last five years.

Last weekend, Aragon hosted a jazz party at the San Rafael Yacht Club, and a number of fellow musicians, along with fans from his Sausalito days, showed up.

‘Twas a convivial gathering in which the afternoon’s performers mingled with the guests. From left: keyboardist KC Filson, brothers Gene and Joe Handy, and caterer Diane Johnson, who showed up with a scrumptious array of hors d’oeuvres.

The San Rafael Yacht Club with its beautiful location on the San Rafael Canal has been around since 1938, but I was unfamiliar with it before Sunday’s party.

During a break, Aragon chats with Ray E. Smith, who with his partner Vivian, for years showed up at the No Name most Friday evenings to hear Aragon’s quartet. Also taking part in this discussion are Patsy Krebs and her husband Jon. Sitting next to me is Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, which was all over the news a year ago. “The [institute’s] first mission brought back an impressive 103 tons of plastic debris after 48 days at sea, setting a record for the largest open-ocean cleanup to date,” the North American Marine Environment Protection Association glowingly reported at the time.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Conga drum player Luis Carbone helped arrange for the party to be held at the Yacht Club and contributed a savory pot of chicken adobo to the hors d’oeuvres table.

Aragon is already talking about having another party at the Yacht Club. As evidenced by the enthusiasm of Sunday’s crowd, many of us would like to see it become his regular venue now that he’s performing again.

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Seven of the nine deer that often show up together these days in the field below Mitchell cabin.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has estimated that well over half the roughly 560,000 deer in California are Columbian blacktails, the deer native to West Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area.

For years many people believed (and many websites still say) that blacktails are a subspecies of mule deer, a species found from the Northwest to the deserts of the Southwest and as far east as the Dakotas. DNA tests, however, have now found mule deer to be a hybrid of female whitetail deer and blacktail bucks. Or so says author Valerius Geist in Mule Deer Country.

Whitetails first appeared on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago. DNA evidence suggests they spread south and then west, arriving in California about 1.5 million years ago.

In moving up the coast, whitetails evolved into blacktails, which resemble them in appearance and temperament. Blacktails eventually extended their range eastward, meeting up with more whitetails coming from the east. 

“Apparently the blacktail bucks [as seen here] were able to horn in on the harems of their parent species. The result: mule deer. Mule deer are so named because of their long ears.

Our word “deer” comes from the Old English word “deor,” which referred to animals in general, of course including deer. In Middle English, the language of Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the word was spelled “der,” and The American Heritage Dictionary notes it could refer to all manner of creatures, including “a fish, an ant, or a fox.” Or as Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, “Mice and rats, and such small deer,/ Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.”

A buck sniffs a doe to determine whether she’s in heat.

“Deer rely heavily on scent for communication, especially during the mating season,” writes Jane Meggitt in Mating and Communication Behavior of Deer. “Certain gland secretions mix with urine, which gives deer information about the sex and reproductive state of other deer in their vicinity.”

“Before the actual mating, does play ‘hard to get’ for several days. The buck chases a doe, and she eventually allows him to ‘catch’ her.

“After copulating several times over a period of a few days, the buck stays with the doe for a few more days until she is [no longer in heat]. He stays by her to keep other bucks away,” Meggitt writes.

“When he leaves, he might go on to find other does with which to mate. If the doe doesn’t get pregnant during that cycle, she goes into another estrus cycle within three to four weeks…. After an approximately seven-month pregnancy, a doe gives birth to her fawn, or fawns.

“It isn’t unusual for healthy, well-nourished does to give birth to twins or triplets. Fawns found alone aren’t usually abandoned. Their mother is nearby, but out of sight. Does and fawns vocalize to let each other know of their whereabouts. If a predator threatens a fawn, the mother stamps her forefeet, snorts and might try to drive the threatening animal — or person — away,” Meggitt adds.

Two bucks ignore each in passing. The older deer in the foreground initially eyed the younger buck to see if it would try to horn in on his harem. It didn’t, and the old guy soon lost interest.

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Billy Hobbs holds a croton houseplant my wife Lynn gave him Wednesday as a house-warming present.

A NEW DAY has dawned for a long-time-homeless resident of Point Reyes Station, Billy Hobbs. Billy, who was homeless for seven years following the breakup of a 25-year marriage, is now housed.

Thanks to the California Section 8 Housing Program, Billy two weeks ago moved into a pleasant, one-bedroom apartment in San Rafael. The second-floor apartment comes with a fireplace and the deck on which he is standing above.

In his younger days, Billy, now 63, worked in construction, house painting, agriculture, and more. In recent years, however, he’s occupied himself with art.

 

Here he is seen drawing outside the Point Reyes Station postoffice two years ago.

Billy Hobbs was sleeping outdoors in Point Reyes Station when the rain and cold winds hit two winters ago, so Lynn and I offered to let him wait out the bad weather in Mitchell cabin. Once he did, Billy was able to resume showering and getting his clothes cleaned regularly. Add to that a haircut and a beard trim, and he had dramatically cleaned up his act.

This past winter, I parked my second car (since donated to KQED) on Mesa Road downtown for him to sleep in; the car had to be moved every 72 hours to comply with the law. Earlier this year, he stayed briefly in a San Rafael motel at county expense. His Section 8 housing is funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

By now, Billy’s situation is known to editors around the world. A posting I wrote about Billy two years ago was reprinted by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and distributed among members in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia, South Africa, Nepal, and China. And these reprints do get read. A reprint of my Aug. 20 posting, in which I mentioned breaking my shoulder falling on the stairs, drew a get-well message from France.

I know of folks who have been on the waiting list for Section 8 housing 20 years, so Billy would probably appreciate it if readers who know a bit about his story wrote to congratulate him on his new home: 100 Laurel Place, Apt. 17, San Rafael, CA 94901.

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