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We are in the midst of holiday crafts fairs from the community center in Muir Beach to the community centers in Bolinas, the San Geronimo Valley, and Point Reyes Station. 

And that is in addition to last Friday’s Christmas-tree lighting in Point Reyes Station and an exhibit that opened Sunday in Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. It focuses on key women in early Inverness and on Point Reyes.

Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell

Point Reyes Station celebrated its 20th annual Path of Lights Friday. Many stores stayed open late, and luminarios lined the sidewalk in front of them. West Marin Senior Services sponsored the lighting of the town Christmas tree beside the bank.

Also in Point Reyes Station, the Dance Palace Community Center held its 48th annual artisan craft and holiday market all weekend. Terry Aleshire (center) confers with his elves.

Working the table at the Dance Palace fair’s raffle were (from left):  Allie Klein, Amelia Aufuldish, Bella Schlitz, Zoe Rocco-Zilber, and Melissa Claire.

Cannabis-based remedies for various ailments were on sale.

Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell

San Geronimo Valley’s community center held its 49th annual holiday crafts fair on the portico and inside the building, 89 years since it first opened as a public school.

Amy Valens, left, talks with local vendors Rebecca Maloney (center) and Denise Jackson. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell) 

Richard “Santa” Sloan determines who’s been naughty or nice.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Suzanne Sadowsky sits behind the Hanukah menorah. The holiday commemorates the oil that miraculously lasted eight days, lighting the Temple recovered by the Maccabees in 165 B.C. The holiday begins tonight.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Sarah Riddell Shafter (1823-1900) married Oscar Lovell Shafter in 1841 and bore him 11 children.

‘Those Shafter Women’ is the name of the exhibit that just opened in the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. “It focuses on the wives and daughters of the original six children born to Mary Lovell Shafter and William Rufus Shafter,” the museum newsletter notes. The eldest was named Wealthy Loretta Shafter Edminister…” Yes, her first name really was “Wealthy.”

Emma Shafter Howard married Charles Webb Howard in 1861. In 1890, they separated, and he agreed to support her for life and to leave half of his extensive West Marin holdings to her. However, he left her only Bear Valley Ranch, as Emma discovered when he died in 1908. Emma, who was known as “a strong woman,” sued to get her half of the property and was successful. This, however, caused bad feelings with some of the other heirs, her children and younger sisters.

Emma took part in numerous social causes. She was a lifetime member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She founded the Women’s Agricultural and Horticultural Union of California. 

The exhibit is in large part a genealogical presentation with history told as it relates to members of the Shafter family.

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Friday was like no other day in my lifetime.  I turned 75, which makes me an official oldster. I was born on Nov. 23, 1943, roughly halfway between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945, which made me a “war baby.”

It was a different reality then. Our windows in San Francisco’s Marina District were hung with blackout curtains at night. This was mandatory since it was feared that too many lights could allow a Japanese bomber to pinpoint his location. A submarine net was strung across the Golden Gate, and my parents for years talked about the night a whale got caught in the net and set off alarms all around the bridge.

In 1946, my family moved to the Berkeley hills, where I grew up. That was a long time ago, as I keep remembering when I drive past our old home nowadays. I hardly recognize the place. When I was a kid, our hillside property with all its eucalyptus trees and brush seemed huge. I could build forts and tree houses and go exploring. Since then, our former property has been repeatedly divided, and houses now fill much of my childhood’s adventure-land.

Dinner at Avatar’s —  From left: Lori Granger, restaurateur Ashok Kumar, David Fisher, Patsy Krebs, her husband Jon Fernandez, yours truly, Libby Colman, my wife Lynn, and Libby’s husband Paul Kaufman.

My birthday party Friday started at Avatar’s Restaurant in Sausalito, where the dishes are from India, sometimes fused with recipes from Mexico. I had two curried-sweet-potato enchiladas. Without exception we all came away praising our meals.

Lynn and I celebrating at the No Name.

Sausalito’s No Name Bar, a fun venue for serious jazz, was our next stop.  It’s a cozy spot, and I go there every Friday, often with Jon Fernandez or Lynn, as well as other West Marin friends. 

Friends we first met at the No Name long ago — (from left) regulars Diane Johnson, Paul LeClerc, and Ray Smith —  joined our celebration. Diane showed up from another event with slices of  pumpkin pie, which she topped with whipped cream provided by a bartender. As bars go, it’s an unusually friendly place. 

As we were leaving at the end of the evening, sax player Rob Roth congratulated me, and the Michael Aragon Quartet — with another drummer sitting in for Michael, who took the night off — played ‘Happy Birthday.’

The fact that I’m beginning my 76th year has been causing me to take stock of where I’ve been and where I am. I certainly don’t see, hear or walk as well as I once did. Peripheral neuropathy, which has desensitized areas on the bottoms of my feet, sometimes makes it feel like I’m walking on a corrugated-steel roof. However, I can still get around and carry loads of firewood uphill to the house.

What really bothers me about aging is my declining memory. When I encounter people I haven’t seen in awhile, I often can’t remember their names. Although I was a journalist for 35 years and taught English at Upper Iowa University for two years before that, I frequently can’t think of some word that I want to use in a conversation. It’s extremely frustrating.

But aging has not been a totally downhill slide. I’ve learned my tastes in art, music, books and periodicals, and this results in fewer false starts. Probably some of my decisions are better informed than they might have been years ago. Life is for learning, I’ve heard said.

Ironically, back when Sparsely Sage and Timely was my column in The Point Reyes Light, I referred to myself in it for several years as “the old man” although I was only in my 30s at the time. Now at 75, I’m twice as old as my “old man,” so to speak.

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A friend I met in Sausalito’s No Name Bar where I go Friday evenings to listen to jazz, poet Paul LeClerc, has again recommended a fascinating book I would not know about otherwise. It’s Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi. As The New Yorker once commented, “Mr. Trocchi’s ideas…are set down in prose that is always clean and sharp and often ferociously alive with poetry.”

Poet Paul LeClerc in Sausalito’s No Name Bar.

This is the third book LeClerc has recommended that is set in a low-rent, mostly industrial area along the docks of Manhattan Island. The first two were Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore, which I wrote about in the postings linked above. Much of LeClerc’s interest in that setting stems from his having driven taxis in New York City, where he also worked in bookstores. (He later did the same in San Francisco.)

Alexander Trocchi as a young man with his typewriter .

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1925, Alexander Trocchi in his 20s moved to Paris where he became a life-long heroin addict. He wrote six pornographic novels and edited an avant-garde literary magazine, Merlin. The magazine lasted from 1952 to 1954 when the US State Department canceled its many subscriptions because, according to Trocchi, of an article by Jean Paul Sartre that praised the homoeroticism of writer Jean Genet.

Trocchi then moved to the US, first to Taos and later settling in New York City, where he became a bargeman on a Hudson River scow. The character Joe Necchi in Cain’s Book is a stand-in for Trocchi. Often Joe spends days alone moored on a scow, at night sleeping in a shack atop the deck. Inside the shack he fixes himself with heroin, smokes marijuana and cigarettes, and types manuscripts by the light of kerosene lamps.

On the scow, “I became fascinated by the minute-to-minute sensations, and when I reflected, I did so repetitively and exhaustingly (often under marijuana) on the meaninglessness of the texture of the moment, the cries of gulls, a floating spar, a shaft of sunlight, and it wasn’t long before the sense of being alone overtook me and drained me of all hope of ever entering the city with its complicated relations.”

Alexander Trocchi with his wife Lyn Hicks.

Trocchi neither condemns nor romanticizes heroin addition. He simply shows what it is like. His character Joe lives in an unmoral world where junkies rip off their friends. Joe seduces men and other men’s wives. Women resort to prostitution to pay for their drugs.

And it was all real. When Cain’s Book was published in 1960, notes Wikipedia, “Trocchi was deep in the throes of heroin addiction; he even failed to attend his own launch party for [the book]. His wife prostituted herself on the streets of the Lower East Side.”

Trocchi playing chess with pieces made from used heroin syringes.

“To be a junkie is to live in a madhouse,” Joe muses. “Laws, police forces, armies, mobs of indignant citizenry crying mad dog. We are perhaps the weakest minority which ever existed; forced into poverty, filth, squalor, without even the protection of a legitimate ghetto.”

Growing up, Joe had also been in poverty — but not because of drugs. His mother took care of the house, but his father became a total shirker and stopped contributing anything, he recalls. “Whenever I contemplated our poverty and how it situated me at the edge of an uncrossable gulf at whose far side strolled those fortunate few who had lived their lives in well-mannered leisure, I felt like a tent pegged down in a high wind.”

Yet for all this, Cain’s Book is not a downer. Rather it’s enlightening, making it understandable how some people get hooked on heroin and what then happens to them. Norman Mailer called the book “different from other books: it is true, it has art, it is brave.” In a time when this country is in what’s called “an opiod crisis,” Cain’s Book makes clear that it is possible to become addicted and yet examine oneself through art.

Trocchi died of pneumonia in 1984 at the age of 59.

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Thanksgiving, Nov. 22 this year, is only a week away, and the flock of wild turkeys that hangs out on this hill doesn’t seem especially worried. However, 10 years ago when this photo was taken, the turkeys seemed much plumper. Must be the drought.

Last week, the fruit on our persimmon tree was starting to get ripe. What could be more cheerful looking?

The setting sun seen through smoke over Inverness Ridge last Friday.

The cheery scenes of fall began darkening last Thursday when the “Camp Fire” 185 miles east of here in Butte County began filling West Marin skies with smoke day after day. As of this writing [updated 8:53 p.m. Nov. 25], the fire had destroyed the town of Paradise and was already the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

It is known to have killed at least 85 people with more than 1,275 others still missing. It blackened more than 2,500 square miles before it was fully contained around 7 a.m. Sunday. The Camp Fire razed nearly 14,000 homes.

As welcome as the smoke, a roof rat this evening crawled out from under a planter barrel on our deck to poach birdseed.

An egret walking past our kitchen door a couple of weeks ago. In the past, egrets have shown up around Mitchell cabin infrequently. This bird, however, has shown up several times of recent and twice perched on our deck railings.

 A blacktail buck. My neighbor Dan Huntsman seemed to look this buck in the eye when he photographed it standing between our homes in the sun.

The same buck a few days later resting in the shade on the far side of our house.

This bobcat near my driveway was photographed late last month by my neighbor Dan Huntsman.

There’s more to the animal life around Mitchell cabin than wildlife. Here student riders with Point Reyes Arabian Adventures circle on a nearby hill.

Twice this week raccoons again ate kibble on our deck with a skunk, and as in the past, they audaciously sniffed — and even pawed — its rear end but didn’t get sprayed.

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.

Point Reyes Station’s polling place on Tuesday was, as usual, in the Public Safety Building shared by the county fire department and the sheriff’s office.

Tuesday was D-Day for America’s Democrats, who managed to establish a beachhead by taking back control of the House of Representatives. However, the war is not yet over. The Republicans still are in control of the Senate. Il Duce and friends must still be contained.

Toby’s Feed Barn set up a giant-screen television Tuesday evening so the community could watch the election results come in. Booths sold Mexican and Thai food just outside the door. And as the crowd began to gather, singer Tim Weed performed a few songs to help keep spirits high.

Corpses found in Point Reyes Station after the battle.

Measure I, which authorized Shoreline School District to issue up to $19.5 million in bonds, received 64 percent of the vote. It needed 55 percent to win.

Shoreline School District’s trustee election was won by incumbent Tim Kehoe and archeologist Heidi Koenig.

Measure W, which will increase by 4 percent the transient occupancy tax at rental lodgings in West Marin County, needed a two-thirds majority to win and picked up 72 percent. Half of the tax revenue will be allocated for fire and emergency services, and half will be allocated for housing for the local workforce, seniors, and people with disabilities in West Marin.

North Marin Water District board of directors winners: Rick Fraites and Jim Grossi.

Marin Municipal Water District board of directors winners: Jack Gibson and Cynthia Koehler.

Stinson Beach Fire Protection District board of directors winners: Marcus White and Will Mitchell.

Marin County’s new district attorney will be Lori Frugoli, who outpolled Anna Pletcher by 4.05 percent.

A turkey buzzard soared overhead this afternoon looking for election carnage.

Statewide, Democrat Gavin Newsom easily won the governor’s race. Democrat Eleni Kounalakis is our new lieutenant governor. Democrat Xavier Becerra was elected state attorney general. Marshall Tuck appears to have squeezed past Tony Thurmond for superintendent of education with a 0.7 percent majority; the office is nonpartisan, but both happen to be Democrats.

Legislature. The incumbents who represent West Marin, both Democrats, won: State Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Marc Levine.

Congress: Here too our incumbents, both Democrats, were easily reelected, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Jared Huffman. 

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David Briggs (center) serves a sausage to Donna Larkin while behind him Jim Fox doles out pancakes to Nadine Booras.

Point Reyes Disaster Council’s 32nd annual pancake breakfast was held Sunday morning in the Point Reyes Station firehouse. The event is a fundraiser for the Disaster Council, which is made up of resident volunteers, and works as a civilian adjunct to the county fire department. Frying the pancakes, along with eggs and sausages, were members of the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department.

 
Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and Marin Fire Capt. Mark Burbank used the occasion to exchange ideas.
 
 
Most guests ate inside where firetrucks normally reside, but the spillover dined on the firehouse driveway.
 
 
Many merchants and several individuals contributed the prizes for a fundraising raffle. Other donations were sold through a silent auction.
 
 
Selling raffle tickets along with breakfasts were Disaster Council coordinator Lynn Axelrod Mitchell (left) and Inverness Disaster Council coordinator Jairemarie Pomo. Working at the table at other times were Eileen Connery, Marty Frankel, Deb Quinn, and Vicki Leeds.
 
 
Sunday afternoon a Día de los Muertos procession was assembled at Gallery Route One and then proceeded up the main street.
 
 
Parading in the Aztec Dancer tradition, adults moved to the beat of a youth on a drum.
 
 
Debbie Daly on accordion and Tim Weed on banjo led a demonic-looking musical group as it proceeded up the street.
 
 
Whether one watched from the sidewalk or from overhead, the procession created a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.
 
 
Día de los Muertos festivities finished up in Toby’s Feed Barn where Ernesto Sanchez had erected an altar for commemorating friends and relatives no longer with us. Most of the celebrants’ face painting occurred in Sanchez’s art studio.
 
Nor were those the only public celebrations Sunday in this rural town of 850 residents. Papermill Creek Children’s Corner coincidentally held its annual Harvest Fest in the Dance Palace community center, where the preschool meets daily.

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Sorting through pumpkins. On Wednesday, Lynn and I headed over to Nicasio’s enormous pumpkin patch and bought a medium-sized squash for our harvest-season horn of plenty. 

Each year we celebrate the harvest with an old-fashioned cornucopia in our front room.

This fall we’ve become used to seeing what I once would have considered an odd event, a skunk eating with a family of raccoons. Like dogs, raccoons confirm each other’s identity by sniffing rear ends, and they don’t hesitate to sniff a skunk’s backside. This skunk raises its tail as if it’s going to spray, but it never does. The raccoons and skunk sometimes shoulder each other as they compete for kibble on our deck. At first, I would occasionally hear faint growls during these matchups, but no more.

When I started photographing them Friday night, the camera’s flashes immediately caught the raccoons’ attention. The skunk, on the other hand, didn’t even look up.

Bobcats are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around dusk and dawn. In recent months, we’ve repeatedly seen them around Mitchell cabin. This one was sitting in a spot of sunlight outside our kitchen window this past week. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Male bobcats do not help raise their young, which are born blind. The kits stay with their mothers more than half a year. Adults are said to roam up to seven miles per night. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Two or more blacktail deer show up daily. Judging from the fur on this buck’s rump, he’s probably been chewing on an itchy spot.

For Lynn and me, this fall is off to a good start. May you too enjoy the autumn.

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Lynn Axelrod Mitchell holds a glass of tea at the No Name in Sausalito.

The latest Marin Poetry Center Anthology (Volume XXI  2018) includes a poem by my wife, Lynn Axelrod Mitchell. Titled Our year in four, it draws upon the nature around our home. I like the poem enough to share it, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too:

I
Bird-call makes us break
our solitude and sleep
to slip within this risen day.
The water bowl’s resurgent lake
clear enough for sparrow-sip
this warming day.
Bird-track stars in snow crystals
deliver us this glistening day.
Prints recede as skimming seeds
hail this breath of day.

II
Emerge from where we go,
hopeless captives
who fail at hobbling dreams
that make us quake at what we keep
from what we may release
like birdsong calling in the day.
Gaping redwings, shoulders back,
slingshot notes around the meadow,
our neighborly divide their forum.
Swainsons’ swirling flutes
swizzle ‘cross the treetops.
We cast our husks of tribute
—sunflower, millet, suet—
to charm the scrubland gods:
While time is light as breath is air,
send them here, these newborn days.

III
Indigo sky.
No shoes, no shirt.
No rules need apply.
Berries lie in beds we made,
testifying to our pride,
our lustful spring ambition.
Luscious unclaimed virgins
no one ate or tried
        jumped
—or were they pushed—
from overcrowded vines,
juices caking in the dust.
Laboring emmets carry off the spoils
clamber up the stalks;
roving antennae fondle aphid rears:
honeydew!—like cheap, sweet beer.
Crusading leagues of ladybugs
arrive to save the plants
from habituated ants
who fight to keep their hooch.
Skirmish on the ragged green,
lunges, bites, maneuvers.
Biology is destiny, we say—
irrelevant to the sun devouring the day.

IV
Bring the tools inside, lay them sharp,
always clean, at rest in the dark.
The turned earth settles cool above,
warming continents below.
Give us time to think goodbye
sit on cushioned chairs
puzzle birds their silent pluming flights
wonder how they are.
Which tilt was final; setting sun decisive?
We try to reason when they knew: ‘now’ not if.
Storing wood for the annual surrender
we stake the ground on tremors
unbuckling chasms, bargaining again
we’ll hear the faintest notes return
sometimes through a murmur—raucous, rising.
Earth heaves, shudders in its own oscillation.

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Shoreline along Cannery Row in Monterey with a memorial to author John Steinbeck, who gave the area a special allure with his romanticized novel Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday.

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married April 27 at Civic Center. The following month, we drove 80 miles up the coast to Gualala, where we went canoeing on the Gualala River, for the first half of our honeymoon. This past week we drove (actually Lynn did the driving) 160 miles down the coast to Monterey for the second half of our honeymoon.

The second photo down shows the living room in our suite, the Borogrove, with its view of Monterey Bay.

We stayed at an inn with a storybook quality, The Jabberwock, which is located in a mansion built in 1911. I’m sure many of you remember The Jabberwocky. It’s a nonsense poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The Jabberwocky begins: 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.
 
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”
 
However, the young man armed with a vorpal sword  is able to slay the beast, and his father is ecstatic:
 
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?/ Come to my arms, my beamish boy!/ O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”/ He chortled in his joy.
 
 
Complementing our joy: we found red and white wine, sherry, and hors d’oeuvres set out each evening in the inn’s enclosed sun porch. We also found a bottle of champagne, a decanter of brandy, and a plate of chocolate-fudge-coated strawberries in our room when we arrived.
 
 
Part of the Monterey County shoreline is within Asilomar State Park, and Lynn and I enjoyed several strolls along the water.
 
 
Flocks of pelicans could be seen frequently as they glided above the shore break.
 
 
Since I wasn’t smoking in the inn, these walks also provided opportunities to enjoy my pipe.
 
 
An official sign in a public restroom in Asilomar State Park. I wonder how many dogs can read it.
 
 
A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was one of the highlights of our trip. Probably the aquarium’s most popular exhibit is a tank of sea otters swimming casually around, typically on their backs.
 
 
Another particularly popular exhibit is a tank of puffins that paddle about seemingly oblivious of the crowds watching them.
 
 
A sea turtle swam above us.
 
 
As we wandered from one exhibit to another, schools of fish would sometimes give us the eye.
 
 
We saw exotic jellyfish and ….
 
 
…some of their luminescent cousins.
 
 
Throughout our stay in Monterey, we enjoyed sunny days, even when a few light sprinkles fell. What rain we had fell at night. At left a jet flies under a dramatic rainbow, which we could see from the inn for almost 40 minutes Wednesday late in the afternoon. From our perspective, we’d found the pot of gold.
 
 

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A chestnut-backed chickadee yesterday pauses in its meal of birdseed to take a drink from the soon-to-be scoured birdbath on our deck.

A Cooper’s hawk occasionally hunts the birds that drop by our deck. Surprisingly, these hawks prefer medium-sized birds, such as doves, to small birds such as chickadees.

Cooper’s hawks, which seem to enjoy strutting, are also fond of jays, quail, and chickens. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Back to the hunt — the Cooper’s hawk flies off over the garden nextdoor. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Five raccoons use the birdbath as a raccoon bath. Tonight they all tried to squeeze into the bowl at one time, but four turned out to be the limit.

Jack rabbits in the fields around Mitchell cabin seem to enjoy a tranquil life, but when something scares them, the rabbits become frantic in their flight. It’s a good thing they aren’t following the Congressional demolition derby in Washington or they’d never stop running, at least until hit by a GOP-led committee hellbent on their destination no matter how many stop signs they blow by along the way.

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