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.

Editor’s note: Except for the first, the above coyote photos were shot at different times over the past 10 years. Part of the accompanying information first appeared in The Point Reyes Light back when I published the newspaper; it was later republished by the Tomales Regional History Center in my book ‘The Light on the Coast.’

 

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 Sausalito Gas, 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.

It’s not common, but every so once in a while I’ll spot in my bookshelves some intriguing volume I had forgotten ever buying. Last month I made one of those happy discoveries when I ran across The Secret Paris of the 30’s. It’s by the great French photographer Brassaï (1899-1984).

Brassaï’s photographs are engaging in a variety of ways, including the text he wrote to go with them. This photo circa 1932 is one of many shot in late-night settings. Titled “A Happy Group at the Quatre Saisons,” half the scene is in the mirror.

Other photos in the book include prostitutes and madams in brothels, dancers behind the scenes at the Folies-Bergère, police on the street, bums living under a bridge, an opium den.

He also documented gay and lesbian nightlife. In describing a lesbian bar called Le Monocle, Brassaï writes, “I was introduced to this capital of Gomorrah one evening by Fat Claude, who was a habituée of such places.  From the owner, known as Lulu de Montparnasse, to the barmaid, from the waitresses to the hat-check girl, all women were dressed as men, and so totally masculine in appearance that at first glance one thought they were men….

“Once in awhile one would see butchers from the neighborhood — rather common in appearance, but with hearts full of feminine longings — surprising couples. They would waltz solemnly together, their eyes downcast, blushing wildly.”

Photography closer to home: As I’ve often noted, raccoons are nightly visitors on our deck.

The raccoons have been showing up in search of food for so long they have worn two  paths to our steps, as was evident on a frosty morning last weekend.

Other critters have begun to use the raccoon trails during the day. Here’s a bobcat on one of them. Photo by Lynn Axelrod

To round out this set, here is the Michael Aragon Quartet playing jazz last Friday evening, as they always do, in Sausalito’s No Name Bar. Aragon is the drummer. Predictably the performance was excellent as it’s been for three decades, but the surprise for barkeep J.J. Miller came when I told him about a street in Rohnert Park which is also named “No Name.” I just discovered it myself a week ago. One possible reason the street isn’t better known is that it’s only one block long.

From bobcats to cathouses, from byways in Rohnert Park to jazz in Sausalito, this blog covers the waterfront. Be sure to stay tuned for more.

 

Of late I seem to keep coming back to local wildlife in these postings. It’s hard to avoid in more ways than one. When I was driving home in the early afternoon today, a gray fox ran across my driveway. That was a thrill, and it made me wish I had my camera with me; however, the fox took off so fast I probably wouldn’t have had time to snap a picture anyway.

Three grey foxes scavenging on our deck.

I’m generally glad to have foxes around Mitchell cabin, but one of them is becoming a pest. Every morning a San Francisco Chronicle driver throws a paper on our driveway, but 

We’ve seen some foxes that were brazen enough to walk in the kitchen door to pick up a bite.

sometimes recently when I’ve gone to retrieve it, I’ve found that a fox had peed on it. Thank goodness the paper comes in a plastic bag. Foxes apparently mark territory the way a dog does, and they choose the most prominent targets around.

Foxes sunning themselves on top of a Toby’s Feed Barn shed that extends into the Building Supply Center’s lumberyard. This photo was taken out a back window at the post office.

The number of foxes hereabouts varies from year to year. This past year there weren’t many. In some years, however, there have been so many around Point Reyes Station that a couple of them took to sleeping on the roof of a shed at Toby’s Feed Barn. People would occasionally see them crossing downtown streets and hanging out between buildings.

When the fox population drops suddenly, that’s often an indication that distemper has spread among them.

A skunk at Mitchell cabin.

Two weeks ago I wrote: “I can’t recall ever seeing as many squished skunks on West Marin roads as I’m seeing this year. Skunks have very limited vision, and because they can see only what is right in front of them, they can’t see oncoming motor vehicles.”

To my chagrin, I proved my point shortly after midnight Saturday morning while driving home on Lucas Valley Road. In a wooded area west of Big Rock, a skunk suddenly darted onto the pavement in front of the car. I hit the brakes but there was no avoiding the creature. That certainly put a damper on what had been a fun evening spent listening to jazz at the No Name Bar in Sausalito. At least the car did not pick up a skunk smell.

A coyote in our backyard.

My happier encounter with wildlife that evening also occurred on Lucas Valley Road, in this case east of Big Rock. While I was en route to Sausalito, a coyote ran across the road in front of me. I was traveling at the speed limit, so I easily avoided it, and in any case, the coyote didn’t cut it close. Judging by the timing of its crossing, this was a much warier creature than the skunk would prove to be.

I get a kick out of seeing coyotes, but I’m not a sheep rancher. Coyotes put more than half the sheep ranches in northern Marin and southern Sonoma counties out of business after a federal ban on poisoning them took its effect in 1983.

At Mitchell cabin, however, the main way coyotes make their presence felt is with their nighttime howling.

The big story this winter has been the arrival of spring two months early. After a couple of downpours and a hailstorm, the sun this past week began prematurely shining through. The pleasant turn in the weather has given us all more to talk about than just events in Washington.

However, the mild weather seems to have confused at least some wildlife. I can’t recall ever seeing as many squished skunks on West Marin roads as I’m seeing this year. Skunks have very limited vision, and because they can see only what is right in front of them, they can’t see oncoming motor vehicles.

Their normal mating season is in the early spring and their young are born about two months later. Blind and deaf when first born, kits open their eyes after three weeks and are weaned in about two months. The kits stay with their mother for about a year, which is a long time for a skunk. Their typical lifespan in the wild is only three to six years.

 It’s been quite a while since a chipmunk was spotted on this hill, but last week two neighbors saw one cross our road. The only one I’ve ever seen up here is this Sonoma chipmunk, which I spotted out the kitchen window eight years ago.

It’s also been quite a while since I’ve heard frogs chirping as loudly at night as I have in recent days. (Of course, this began around the time I had my hearing-aid batteries recharged.) Winter is the main mating season for Pacific tree frogs. Males make their way to water and then charm females to the water with a chorus of chirping.

Deer can be found grazing around our home virtually every day of the year. The number of blacktail deer looks high this winter, but not dramatically so. What’s changed, as I’ve been reporting for months, is the number of jackrabbits grazing hereabouts. Apparently for cover, they tend to hang out close to bushes rather than in the middle of fields. Unfortunately, when driving home I sometimes flush one of them out of the bushes; it will hop onto the driveway and race uphill ahead of my car. Not a good strategy to avoid getting hit.

If you throw in the gray squirrels, such this one, plus raccoons and wild turkeys, the wildlife around here seems to be ready for full-on spring.

Friendly surveillance — A raccoon keeps track of what’s happening on our deck.

Anybody home? A wild turkey shows up at the kitchen door.

A beautiful attack — Perhaps the most amazing work of nature I saw during the past fortnight was a piece of firewood with an engraving that resembled the sun and its rays. It appears that the type of engraver beetles that carved this design probably was a variety of bark beetle.

Bark beetles have plagued pine forests around the world. Their “attacks are initiated by male beetles, which construct nuptial chambers beneath the bark,” the US Forest Service explains. “Each one then attracts several females, which, after mating, construct egg galleries radiating from the nuptial chamber.”

The beetles introduce a blue-stain fungus into the sapwood, and it prevents the tree from using a flow of pitch to repel the attacking beetles. The fungus also blocks water and the distribution of nutrients within the tree.

How ironic that an engraving with an artistic design is actually insect damage.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik on Monday wrote about designer Christina Kim interviewing famed restaurateur, author, and sustainable-farming-advocate Alice Waters. The interview took a somewhat surprising turn, Garchik noted, when “at one point, the conversation turned to tablecloths in Switzerland.” Now there’s one hell of an obscure digression.

But the culinary world is full of surprises. On Tuesday when I dropped by Toby’s Coffee Bar for my daily mocha, the blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli could be heard on the bar’s radio singing Time to Say Goodbye (click). It was a haunting duet with Sarah Brightman, but what impressed me was how skillfully barista Diciderio “DC” Hernandez could whistle along with it. Wow! I can’t even carry a tune whistling.

Rounded stingrays, the most common rays on California’s coast. National Geographic photo by Norbert Wu.

Odder but grimmer: Did you read where 156 people in Orange County were attacked by stingrays in just three days last month, 73 of them on Dec. 29 at Huntington Beach? Stings from the rays’ tails are painful and can get infected but are seldom fatal. Lifeguards said there are far more stingrays around than usual, apparently because of low tides and because unusually warm water this winter is drawing them back to shore .

Victims are usually stung while wading in shallow water, and the easiest way to avoid them, lifeguards note, is to shuffle one’s feet, which stirs up muck and scares them away.

Another odd story: Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California Assembly, is well remembered for championing civil rights, economic reform and other liberal causes. However, his brief nod to burlesque and porno filmmaking seems to be mostly forgotten.

So let me remind you that Brown (center) as mayor deemed July 13, 1999, the official day of Tempest Storm, the “queen of burlesque,” (at left). He then went on to deem July 28, 1999, the official day of porno actress Marilyn Chambers (at right). Chambers starred in Behind the Green Door and other pornographic movies while Storm was known as a striptease dancer.

Perhaps President Trump will someday name a holiday after his former porno inamorata Stormy Daniels.

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