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The closure of the Station House Café scheduled for the end of this month will be the closing of not only a restaurant but also of the meeting ground for many West Marin residents. Last week, I republished Jack Mason’s column set in 1966 when he owned the restaurant while also contributing to The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was then called.

Pat Healy once told me that before she added the “Station House Café, Wine-Bar” sign, the only identification on the building was the word “HAMBURGER.”

Mason eventually sold the restaurant to Claudia Woodward, who in 1974 sold it to Pat Healy, a former nightclub singer who had moved to Point Reyes Station in 1972. The café quickly became popular, and in 1980, California Living (a magazine that came with the Sunday San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle) noted the Station House is “the heart of the West Marin community, and an institution known as Table 6 is the heart of the Station House.” I remember that table well.

The piece written by George Nevin added that Table 6 “is actually two burlap-and-acrylic tables pushed together between the piano and the reach-in refrigerator. Here of a morning can be found the damndest bunch of regulars to be seen anywhere.

Table 6 with Nevin’s article lacquered onto it moved, along with the rest of the restaurant, from the building where Osteria Stellina is today to its present location in 1988-89.

“It’s the same crew, day after day, fog or shine, six days a week,” wrote Nevin. “It would be seven days, but the Station House is closed Tuesdays. Regulars include the following: Dave Mitchell, who copped both a Pulitzer Prize and Publisher of the Year award last year for his Synanon coverage; Art Disterheft, West Marin’s beloved sheriff’s lieutenant, who is a prizewinning cook, holds a law degree, and is building his own house out of salvaged lumber; Allan Ruder, the town pharmacist who peddles T-shirts that say, ‘I Get My Drugs at West Marin Pharmacy’; Art Rogers, the town’s photographer laureate, who somehow has become an artistic success that reaches far beyond this cow town; Elizabeth Whitney, who once challenged publisher Mitchell with a rival weekly, The Tomales Bay Times, and who is likely to fly off to the ends of the earth in search of a good solar eclipse (she just got back from an eclipse trip to Kenya).

“That’s not all Table 6 has to offer. There are many others of perhaps less renown but no less important to the town: the hippie mechanic who has visions of opening a Mercedes dealership in Point Reyes and easing into semi-retirement; the man with a PhD in psychology who now pounds nails for a living; a fellow who drives possibly the most beat-up Volkswagen in West Marin, who lives in what appears to be genteel poverty but who, they say, has storage bins of exotica like antiques and espresso machines throughout the Bay Area; the skilled workers in stained glass, cabinetry, and windows.

Table 6 regulars, café staff, and friends on a Monday morning in April 1980. The Point Reyes Light last week published this Art Rogers photo in announcing the upcoming closure. Pat Healy is third from the left. This is the same photo that California Living had published with Nevin’s article 40 years earlier.

“The conversation of a morning covers an astounding range, from financial matters to science, politics, religion, computers, military matters, education and law. There’s nothing they won’t touch, nothing sacred, hardly anything so esoteric that someone doesn’t have some intimate knowledge of it. And when breakfast is over, they scatter to their jobs making useful things, creating, contributing to what photographer Rogers calls the Point Reyes Nation.”

In 2005, Healy sold the restaurant to its manager, Sheryl Cahill, but retained ownership of the building. Healy died on  Dec 8 at the age of 92 and left the building to her stepsister, Melinda Benedict, and two stepchildren, Kirsten and John Hural. The new owners now want to raise the rent from $100,000 per year to $252,000 per year. Cahill says that’s more than the restaurant can afford, which is why it will close. However, she hopes to reopen somewhere in the area. Anyone who knows a suitable building ought to contact her. The Station House has long had good food and drinks, as well as having good music in the bar on Sunday evenings, but its role as a community meeting place is just as important.

 

News that the Station House Café in Point Reyes Station will close at the end of this month has shocked many of us in West Marin and has generated newspaper and TV attention throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Owner Sheryl Cahill says the new owner of the restaurant building wants to up the rent to approximately $700 per day, which she can’t afford. She hopes she can eventually reopen somewhere else.

For years while I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, I ate breakfast there almost daily and often used my mealtime to also pick up news tips, so I’m particularly chagrined by the upcoming closure. In fact, the newspaper and the restaurant have been associated in various ways for more than 50 years, beginning when the paper was published by Don DeWolfe and called The Baywood Press. Back then, the restaurant, which was located where Osteria Stellina is today, was operated by historian Jack Mason of Inverness, a retired Oakland Tribune editor.

Mason, who bought the restaurant in 1966, also wrote Funny Old World for DeWolfe’s paper, and years later in the same column, he described what the restaurant and DeWolfe were like back then. The column was reprinted in our 2013 book, The Light on the Coast. In case you missed it, here it is again:

By Jack Mason

“I’ve got an idea,” Don DeWolfe said.

I laid his medium-rare hamburger on the counter in front of him. “If so, it’s the first time,” I said, in the kidding tone one uses with an old friend, even if he is the local editor.

He didn’t bother to parry the thrust, but handed me a mustard container he had been fiddling with. “This one’s empty,” he said.

I gave him another from under the counter.

“What’s your idea?” I said. My interest was only lukewarm. Certainly I was not flattered that he would ask me for my opinion. Editors do that — ask everybody in the place what they think, then do their own thing regardless. It’s the way Great Battles have been fought and lost since the dawn of time.

He squeezed some of the brown stuff onto his hamburger patty, then pressed down hard on the bun as if afraid the meat might get away. Those were quarter-pound hamburgers I served at the Station House in 1966 — and the buns all had sesame seeds on top.

Jack Mason as owner of the Station House Café in 1967.

“The coffee will be ready in a minute,” I said. “We had a couple of customers in here awhile back, and they drank it like it was going out of style.”

“You mean you have other customers?” Don exclaimed. He dug into his burger, reaching for a napkin. “This napkin holder is empty,” he said.

I pushed one towards him from further down the counter, just as the phone rang. “Probably Willi Reinhardt,” I said. “The toilets are plugged up. That ought to take care of your crack about other customers!”

But it was Bob Vilas at the bank. “Jack,” he said, “these checks you wrote Farmer Brothers and Schwartz’ Meat Company last week. What do you expect me to do with them?”

In red-faced confusion, I told Bob it was good of him to call, and said I would be right over to take care of it, as soon as I got rid of my customer.

“You have a customer?”

“Yeah, Don DeWolfe.”

Standing beside his printing press, DeWolfe in 1967 looks over his recently renamed newspaper. Back then the newspaper was produced in the building where Rob Janes Tax Service, Coastal Marin Real Estate, and Epicenter clothing boutique are today.

“Well, tell Don for me, will you, that I think his new idea is great!”

I was really taken aback. “You mean he’s tried the idea out on you? What is it?”

“You don’t know?” Bob cried. “I thought everybody on the street was in on it.”

I hung up, stung, and stood there for a moment letting my anger cool. Here I’d been writing a column for DeWolfe — free. Writing editorials in my spare time, absolutely free of charge! And I’m the last one on the street to know about this great, world-shaking idea of his!

“What is it — I mean, your idea?” I demanded.

He was wiping his hands on four paper napkins at once. Finally he rolled them up into one big ball and dropped them in the green hamburger basket.

“Oh,” he said. “The idea.”

“Yeah, you’ve told everybody else. How about telling old Jack?”

He worked his way off the stool, and pulled some small change out of his pocket — and I mean small. “How much is a hamburger?”

“Did you have cheese on it?”

“No, I can’t eat cheese.”

“Fifty cents. And don’t bother to leave a tip.” I dropped his five dimes and three pennies in the cash drawer. The spring was broken, so we always left the drawer open.

“My idea,” he said, “is to change the name of the paper.”

I felt let down. “What’s wrong with The Baywood Press. It’s been called that for 16 years. It has tradition behind it. People are used to it. Why change it?”

“I thought Point Reyes Light would tie in better with the area,” he said. He inspected me momentarily for my reaction. “I’ll think it over,” I said.

He had to bring all his weight to bear against the door before he could let himself out — the pneumatic catch was stuck. Then he stood there a moment screwing his mouth into an odd shape.

“This is the only hamburger joint I was ever in,” he said, “that didn’t have toothpicks by the cash register.”

The name Baywood Press was changed to Point Reyes Light with the issue of September 8, 1966.

— March 2, 1978

The next posting on SparselySageAndTimely.com will reminisce about the restaurant in more recent times.

Well, hello there. In West Marin, the past couple of weeks have been full of surprises, such as this inquisitive gopher snake which greeted me as I headed down the driveway Thursday.

It was a good-sized snake, more than four feet long. The snake eyed me as I leaned over it but made no attempt to slither off.

Smoke from a fire at the old Foresters Hall in Point Reyes Station drifted over the town on Friday, April 24. The blaze damaged the northeastern exterior of the landmark, including a porch and staircase. Water damage to two apartments forced the tenants to move out. (Marin County Fire provided this photo)

The Foresters of America, a benevolent group, opened a chapter, Court No. 219, in Point Reyes Station in 1905. Its members began designing the hall in 1916. When I arrived in West Marin 45 years ago, the building was called the Sandcastle Gallery, which Jeanne Booras and her husband Bill operated. Kathryn de Laszlo and Stephen Marshall of Petaluma now own the building. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. (Sheriff’s artistic photo)

Another surprise. Sheriff’s deputies in Bolinas on Sunday, April 27, arrested a bicyclist allegedly toting bags of methamphetamine and armed with a loaded revolver, as well as multiple knives, on charges he had just stabbed a friend during an argument. The suspect, Derek James, 39, of Bolinas was jailed with bail set at $50,000.

Last week, Marin County eased the coronavirus lockdown enough at golf courses to allow residents here to play but with groups limited to two people. No doubt many golfers were happy, but evidence for the Marin Independent Journal’s headline was hard to spot in its photo of golfer Nate Siedman from Bolinas.

A small bone surprised us by showing up beside our birdbath Wednesday, and I’m fairly sure a raven brought it there for rinsing. From appearances, it is a chicken bone probably found in someone’s garbage.

For a few years now, ravens have occasionally used our birdbath for preparing dinner. Here a raven brings a mouse’s head to the birdbath for washing.

Obviously feeling at home, raccoons often take naps on our deck at night, which makes us feel — surprise — like housemates.

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.

Newspapers are publishing poetry these days as an antidote to the gloom of isolation. More people are writing it too. Maybe face coverings, so obviously concealing a lot of who we are, have led to this increased self-expression. My wife Lynn tells me that the writing of poetry was on the rise before sheltering-in-place was imposed. She herself returned to it some years ago after decades of a prose-filled professional life. Recently an Irish literary journal published the following poem of hers. 

How Much

Low stream flows, deceptively gentle
incubate fish eggs, keep them safe,
while storms would sweep them away
toward predators downstream.

Birthing salmon and steelhead, fins flinch,
shudder in waters too calm for swimming
to tributaries, their birth canals.

In the main stem, they dig up
each other’s eggs, lay their own. Animals
fond of ikura, meaning salmon eggs
and also how much, quickly feast.

Sword of storm, sword of calm hangs above.
How often we celebrate, scoop caviar,
lives swallowed like casual swords
cutting through first life.

Custom of delicate spoons, as if fearing
fragility of wealth, prone to slip away
overnight, glistening pearly ounces, as if
taking less dignifies the taking, as if

life’s thrashings disappear beneath
gleaming dishes of roe, as if
too much would reveal our gaze
deciding who survives cycles,
dying, regenerating.

Fish ache to fly upstream like birds
swim through clouds like blooms
welcome the sun, as fawns bond
in faint cries to their does.
Doe and fawn graze, lie on grass,
each blade holding its own weight.
                                                Lynn Axelrod

With friends and relatives sheltering in place because of coronavirus, many are trying to brighten the gloom by forwarding humor. In that spirit, I’ll pass along a couple of recent examples.

And these sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services:

• The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

• Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

• The sermon this morning: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon tonight: ‘Searching for Jesus.’

• Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

• Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.

• Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

• For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

• Next Thursday there will be try-outs for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

• Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

• A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.

• At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.

• Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

• Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

• The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

• Pot-luck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.

• The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

• This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

• The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

• Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM.  Please use the back door.

• The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

• Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

And this one just about sums them all up…

• The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: ‘I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours.’

This posting was written in 2011, and year in and year out since then, it has continued to draw surprisingly steady readership. With Easter Sunday coming up this weekend, I thought it might be fun to post it again.

Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, making this an appropriate time to ask: do you know where the word comes from? Easter is never mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Easter as we know it originated in the pagan world.

This story begins with Gregory the Great (above), who was pope from 590 to 604. At the time, England was populated by pagan Anglo-Saxons, and this prompted Pope Gregory to send a mission to England to convert them to Catholicism.

The conversions would be easier, Pope Gregory wrote Archbishop Mellitus, if those being converted were allowed to retain their pagan traditions. They would simply be told that their rituals, in fact, honored the Christian God.

Missionaries should accommodate the Anglo-Saxons in this way, as the pope put it, “to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God.”

Among the “gratifications” permitted were Easter festivities, which had been a pagan celebration of spring. Because the actual date of Jesus’ death is unknown, the missionaries could tell the Anglo-Saxons that their spring celebration should go on as always but to understand it was really all about Jesus’ resurrection.

This redirecting of traditions was so successful that the church then used it to convert pagans in the Netherlands and Germany.

.

The Venerable Bede is responsible for our knowing the origin of the word Easter.

A Christian scholar, the Venerable Bede (672-735), a century later wrote that Easter took its name from Eostre, also known as Eastre. Eostre  was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe.

Similarly, some of the Teutonic names for the goddess of dawn and fertility (above) were Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, and Eastur. These names were derived from an old Germanic word for spring, “eastre.”

Since ancient times, spring has been seen as a time of fertility, so it was not surprising that among the pagan symbols of the season were rabbits (because large litters are born in early spring) and decorated eggs (because wild birds lay eggs in spring).

Bizarrely, these pagan symbols became so intertwined that Easter Bunnies ended up distributing Easter Eggs.

And so it was that in this roundabout way Pope Gregory I unintentionally helped bring about a goofy bunny’s becoming associated with….

the resurrection of Jesus, who is seen appearing to Mary Magdalene as she weeps outside his tomb.


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Pandemic humor forwarded to me by retired Sheriff’s Sgt. Weldon Travis, who patrolled West Marin for many years. 

What to do when we’re all supposed to stay home and away from each other during the coronavirus pandemic? The result, as has been reported in the press, is too often loneliness and boredom. I certainly miss Friday evenings listening to jazz at Sausalito’s No Name Bar, and I miss late mornings reading my San Francisco Chronicle over a cup of mocha outside Toby’s Coffee Bar. Much of my current social life evolved at those two locations.

While sheltered in place, I’ve tried to compensate for the loss of the No Name by starting to drink two or three rum-and-pineapple-juice cocktails every evening. I now read that I’m part of a trend. Newsweek reports that in one week after stay-at-home regulations began, sales of hard liquor were 75 percent higher than they were a year earlier. “Beer is the next most popular drink, with purchases up by 66 percent, then wine up 42 percent,” the magazine added.

Going to pot. Since shelter-in-place orders took effect, I haven’t had too many random conversations with townspeople, but I have learned that at least some folks are enduring the isolation by smoking more marijuana than usual. An Inverness Park friend a few days ago told me that while pedaling her bicycle into Point Reyes Station that morning, she’d noticed the smell of pot coming from a surprising number of car windows as they passed her on the road. Nor is this phenomenon limited to West Marin. A headline in The Independent Journal of March 22 confirmed, “Marin pot sales surge amid coronavirus lockdown.”

As soon as the countywide stay-at-home order was announced, the San Rafael-based marijuana-delivery company Nice Guys Delivery started getting 60 orders per hour, The IJ reported. Only essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores are being allowed to remain open during the countywide lockdown. As for Nice Guys, The IJ quoted Danielle O’Leary, the city’s economic development director, as explaining, “San Rafael has deemed cannabis delivery services an ‘essential business,’ and is allowing the companies to continue operating during the lockdown.” That is heady news.

 

A NASA model of Voyager 2, which is a small-bodied spacecraft with a large, central dish and many arms and antennas extending from it.

Scatological science: On Saturday, the Australian news service Happy Mag carried a startling headline: “Uranus has started leaking gas, NASA scientists confirm.” The news service noted, “NASA scientists looking back through decades-old data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft have discovered a mysterious gas escaping from Uranus. The data showed some mysterious force sucking the atmosphere straight out of the planet and into space.”

The Voyager spacecraft is still sending signals back to NASA 42 years after it was launched. From examining old data, it has now been determined that while traveling past Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 passed through a “plasmoid,” a glob of ionized gases pulled from the planet’s atmosphere.

NASA’s enhanced photo of Uranus showing where atmosphere was pulled off.

“Did you hear Uranus is leaking gas?” I asked a friend. “I guess I’d better cork it,” he laughed. Not surprisingly, the easy play on words has been widely recognized. “Uranus, No Joke, Is Leaking Gas,” headlined Popular Mechanics last Saturday. “Bursts of atmospheric material,” that is “globs of gas,” in the magazine’s words, “are flung away from a planet by its magnetic field.”

Apparently Earth isn’t the only planet on which things are falling apart.

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Sheltering in place to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, as we have been instructed, clearly is keeping local customers away from a number of West Marin businesses, creating financial calamities for some of them, as The Point Reyes Light reported Thursday.  And it’s creating a dilemma for homeless residents. Where can someone without a shelter go to shelter? We retired folks probably have it easiest. I simply pull up the covers, turn on the electric blanket, and lay my head on the pillow.

(Updates: On Saturday, March 21, so many folks from out of town wanted to get out in nature that they clogged roads to and from the coast, prompting the Sheriff’s Department to warn that “the visitors created traffic congestion which interferes with first responders’ ability to handle emergencies. In addition, state and county park parking lots and bathrooms are closed due to the shelter-in-place order, adding to further congestion and creating problems with sanitation.”

Sheriff’s Department photo of traffic heading into Dillon Beach.

On Sunday, the Park Service responded by closing Limantour access road, Drakes Beach, Drakes Estero, and Mount Vision Road gates. Also closed were visitors centers at Bear Valley, Drakes Beach, and the lighthouse. “Limited access will be allowed to Palomarin Trailhead area beyond Commonweal entrance, Pierce Point Road, Lighthouse and Chimney Rock parking lots,” the Park Service noted.)

President Trump on Sunday, March 22.

President Trump on Thursday raged against the major news media’s coverage of coronavirus and the White House’s response to it, lambasting NBC reporter Peter Alexander for asking him: “What do you say to Americans who are scared?” The president responded, “I say that you are a terrible reporter.  That’s what I say.” He went on to also claim The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post “are very dishonest….

“It amazes me when I read the things that I read,” Trump said. “It amazes me when I read The Wall Street Journal, which is so negative, and The New York Times — I barely read it. We don’t distribute it in the White House, and the same with The Washington Post.” In short, he writes off the three most respected newspapers in his country. No wonder he’s such an ignoramus.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy later commented, “This is unbelievably dangerous. The press has done nothing but convey the gravity of the crisis, and by discrediting the media, Trump empowers the hoax purveyors and conspiracy theorists who tell people there’s nothing to worry about.”

Three bald eagles sharing a nest and together incubating the eggs. (Steward of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge photo)

Elsewhere in the press, Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke has penned a tongue-in-cheek denunciation of a “pervy bird threesome….  A trio of Illinois bald eagles — two male and one female — have formed a wholly indecent three-person couple… Thanks to nearby cameras — presumably installed by avian pornographers — the uninhibited bird pervs have shoved their nontraditional lifestyle in the faces of wholesome people across America and around the world….

“It’s unnatural, and the fact that this three-way eagle fornication party is happening in nature — thus interfering with my ability to call it unnatural — makes it even more unnatural…. To preserve the values that made America great and to protect the proud infallible institution of marriage, I demand the Illinois Department of Natural Resources intervene and break up this so-called marriage.”

Marijuana buds.

One news story circulating internationally in the English-language press concerns an eight-year-old Canadian boy who won a $200 gift basket of marijuana-laced chocolates at a raffle during a youth hockey tournament in British Columbia. According to a New Zealand news service, Newshub, “Each team is usually responsible for putting a gift basket or prize together with a minimum value of $50.”

The boy’s father gave him $10 to spend on raffle tickets, and the kid put a ticket on what he thought were conventional chocolate candies. As his grandfather, Keith Redl, later recalled, “My grandson thought he had won a great prize. ‘Dad, I won chocolate!'” Redl  recounted. “No son,” the boy’s father said. “There’s bad drugs in the chocolate.” This prompted the boy’s grandfather to muse, “How do you explain that to a kid?”

The Dawson Creek Minor Hockey Association later said the donated gift basket was intended for an adult winner, and the cannabis was never exposed to children. Commented the disgruntled grandfather, “I was a policeman for 32 years, and you … try to protect people from [this] stuff…. There is no place for drugs at a child’s hockey tournament.”

Filmmakers Steven Spielberg (left) and George Lucas on the set of Star Wars in 1977.

Still more unlikely news. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s daughter Mikaela has announced she’s started producing her own sex videos to run on the internet’s PornHub. “I got really tired of not being able to capitalize on my body, and frankly, I got really tired of being told to hate my body,” she explained in an interview with The U.S. Sun, a tabloid based in the British Isles.  “And I also just got tired of working day to day in a way that wasn’t satisfying my soul.”

Mikaela Spielberg.

Mikaela said her parents don’t mind her new porn career and that she’s limiting herself to masturbation videos because she doesn’t want to be unfaithful to her fiancé Chuck Pankow.

That may sound a tad conservative to be coming from a porno actress, but she did acknowledge that her long-term goal is to become a stripper.

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.

Many of the blacktail deer around Mitchell cabin appear to have large sores on the inside of a back leg. If they were indeed sores, that would be worrisome. What is going on? Do their knees bump against each other when they run? As it turns out, all’s well. It’s just a matter of deer being able to do things we humans would never try.

In this photo of deer-turkey Siamese twins I posted a few weeks back, the spot on the deer’s left hind leg looks downright bloody. But as I have now read on a whitetail hunting website, what we’re seeing is not a sore but a tuft of hair whose purpose is to catch urine for the deer’s “tarsal gland”:

“Each hair is associated with an enlarged sebaceous or ‘fat’ gland that secretes an oily material that coats the hair. When a [squatting] deer ‘rub-urinates’ — allowing urine to soak the tarsal gland —  the oily secretions absorb certain compounds in the urine. Studies have shown a diverse population of different species of bacteria living in the tuft of hair that makes up the tarsal gland. These bacteria interact with the compounds from urine in a way that creates the characteristic color and odor.

“Does, bucks and even fawns rub-urinate year-round, but bucks do it more often in the breeding season, which is why the stain and odor of a buck’s tarsal gland is more prominent during the rut. Changes in the composition of a buck’s urine also likely contribute. Older, more dominant bucks tend to rub-urinate more frequently, so the stained area is larger. In some cases, the stain extends down the inside of each leg.

“The exact mix of bacteria is unique from deer to deer, which may give each deer a unique scent that other deer can recognize. This scent is likely deposited in scrapes when a deer rub-urinates and urine flows over the tarsal gland onto the ground. It is likely tarsal-gland scent carries information about the dominance status, sex, health condition and possibly other characteristics of the deer it came from.”

A tarsal gland on a whitetail deer.

Turning to other oddities, I’ve had two recently at the Safeway in San Anselmo’s Red Hill Shopping Center. The first occurred around the beginning of the year on a day I was driving my backup car, a 28-year-old Nissan, to give it some exercise. I parked in Safeway’s lot, but when I later tried to drive away, the battery was dead. A neighboring driver let me attach jumper cables to his battery, but it did no good. I thanked the man and went looking for a phone to call AAA.

I don’t own a cellphone, and there was no payphone to be found. Luckily a friendly woman in a real estate office let me use their phone, and I called AAA but got a dispatcher in God knows what part of the world. After I explained I needed a tow operator to get my car started, I told her it was a white, 1992 Nissan with its hood open, parked in front of the Red Hill Safeway in San Anselmo.

“Is Safeway a store?” the dispatcher wanted to know. “Yes,” I told her. “It’s a supermarket.”

“What state is San Anselmo in?” I told her “California.”

“What’s the street address….?” The dispatcher went on and on like this as the woman in the real estate office rolled her eyes. Finally the dispatcher told me a tow truck would come by in 45 minutes to an hour and a half.  I groaned, thanked the woman in the real estate office, and the tow truck was there in 10 minutes. The call took almost that long.

More bizarre yet, while in the same store one day last week, I went into the men’s room and entered a stall only to have a metal panel that formed the main wall of the cubicle fall over on me. I was startled but not hurt, and I subsequently informed a store clerk that the men’s room needed attention.

The deer, at least, never have to worry about such mishaps.

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A coyote prowling, appropriately enough, near our coyote brush.

Coyotes were loudly howling Thursday night down at the foot of our cul de sac, creating the impression that something big was occurring. But as the Human-Wildlife Interactions journal explained in 2017, some mistakenly believe howling indicates that a group of coyotes has made a kill.

Coyotes howl for various reasons, and it is not likely because they have downed prey. Doing so would draw attention and might attract competing coyotes or other predators to their location, which is not something a hungry coyote would want to do. Coyotes howl and yip primarily to communicate with each other and establish territory. They may bark when they are defending a den or a kill. When coyotes are noisy, it often creates an exaggerated impression as to how many are on hand, largely because of the mixing of howls and yips.

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. Since then coyotes have put an end to well over half the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.

Three horses belonging to Point Reyes Arabian Adventures grazing outside our bedroom window last week.

By chance, I’ve recently listened several times to the Irish singer Van Morrison singing his 1989 composition Coney Island. It’s a pastoral song, which seems to contain an odd reference to cocaine: “Coney Island/ Coming down from Downpatrick/ Stopping off at St. John’s Point/ Out all day birdwatching/ And the crack was good.”

The reality, of course, is that he’s actually saying “craic,” which is a relatively new Irish word for fun or entertainment. It was borrowed in the last century from Ulster and Scotland, where it is pronounced crack.

Jackrabbit outside Mitchell cabin.

Coney Island in Van Morrison’s song does not refer to the amusement park in Brooklyn but to an island off County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. And here’s where the story gets interesting. By most accounts, Dutch settlers named Ireland’s Coney Island after the many rabbits found there, konijn being a Dutch word for rabbit.

In the late 1700s, a merchant ship, Arethusa, regularly sailed between Sligo and New York City. After seeing an abundance of rabbits on a New York island, Peter O’Connor, the ship’s captain, named the place Coney Island because it reminded him of the Coney Island in Sligo Bay. During the 1920s and 1930s, Coney Island, New York, became a peninsula when a creek separating it from the rest of the city was filled in.

Raccoons are nightly visitors at Mitchell cabin, and I’ve come to see at least two sides of their personalities. They’re cute and able to beg for handouts, but they get skittish if I’m too close, quickly backing away when I open a door. And that’s probably for the best. Over the years, West Marin’s raccoons have prompted numerous calls to the Sheriff’s Office from people who thought they heard a prowler on their porch or roof at night.

Skunks drop by Mitchell cabin most nights, aggressively competing with the raccoons for food. They don’t spray but forcefully shoulder aside raccoons, even though the latter are noticeably bigger. I’m fascinated by all this and find it shameful how misguided county policy towards the two species was six decades ago. In 1958, Marin County supervisors began offering $1 bounties for skunk and raccoon tails. Fortunately after three weeks, the board reversed itself and dropped the offer — not because it was cruel but because young hunters with small-bore rifles were shattering too many windows.

Despite appearances, this raccoon is not trying to look fierce. It’s merely chomping down hard on a piece of kibble.

If raccoons show up on our deck wanting to be fed and realize we don’t know they’re out there, some will make us see them through our living room windows by standing on their hind legs atop a small bench or the woodbox and staring in at us. If we still don’t see them, they often create a squeal by dragging the pads of their front paws down the glass.

Wild turkeys are native to Canada, Mexico, the American Midwest, and the East Coast but not West Marin although they are now found throughout this area. In the 1950s, the state Department of Fish and Game released some wild turkeys in Napa County because they were so popular with hunters. In 1988, Fish and Game biologists took a few birds from the Napa flock and released them on Loma Alta Ridge between Big Rock and Woodacre.

Few people hunt the turkeys these days, flocks have increased in number and size, and the turkeys have become rather bold. In 2001, two Tom turkeys went after a couple of school children riding scooters in Tomales. The children had to escape on foot, leaving their scooters behind. Now who’s doing the hunting?

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