A view of the coast range from the deck of my friend Karen Ward’s weekend home at Sea Ranch. In yet another reflection of the recession, Karen has reluctantly put the home up for sale.

Last weekend I enjoyed a clear day as a houseguest at Sea Ranch two hours north of here. When I went to take a shower, however, things became foggy. I found the shower stall stocked with skin-conditioning soap etc. but nothing I recognized as meant for shampooing hair.

I called through the door to Karen, asking if I could borrow some shampoo to wash my hair, and she directed me to a bottle of Neutrogena. The label on the bottle, however, said it contained a “body enhancing shampoo,” which sounded like a body wash that builds pecs and tightens abs. If it doesn’t contain steroids, I wondered, why don’t more men use it?

But then I remembered a New England Journal of Medicine report that washing with lavender soap may cause boys to develop breasts. What if this “body enhancing shampoo” was for women and likewise mimicked hormones? I never did learn the answer, and I still don’t know why Karen sounded exasperated when I asked if it had been safe for me to wash my hair with her Neutrogena?


The view of the Pacific from Karen’s living room and deck. Her home is near Sea Ranch’s Shell Beach (there must be a dozen strands around here called Shell Beach), and at night I could hear seals barking outside my window.

Karen’s three-bedroom, two-bath home has been listed for $799,000 by Coldwell Banker agent Lynda O’Brien, 707 884-3591. I’m telling you this as a favor to Karen, but because I’ve been promised another stay at the home sometime in the future, I’m less interested than she is in seeing it sell.

“So many daily newspapers are losing money that a bunch of them are planning another round of newsroom layoffs this year,” my friend Dave LaFontaine told me over the holidays. “That’s no bullsh-t.”

“Why is that noble sh-t?” I demanded. Dave, who’s an Internet media consultant from Los Angeles, calmly replied that several big papers are resigned to sacrificing quality in order to survive. “Do you really think their planning to sacrifice quality is noble?” I asked. Dave said he personally believed it was no bull, and we changed subjects.

I later suggested to Dave that some metropolitan papers’ financial troubles can be blamed on their too eagerly buying up other newspapers during the past 20 years. “The chains thought the good times would never end,” I said, “so they became spendthrifts.”

Having said that, I immediately wondered why we call people who recklessly spend money “spendthrifts.” You’d think we’d call them “extravagant spenders.” When I looked up the origin of the word, however, I discovered that “thrift” is being used in an obsolete sense which meant “accumulated wealth.” The word “spendthrift,” it would therefore appear, reveals something about the way the English-speaking world views wealth. For instance, we’re not much into potlatches.

We can, in fact, learn a considerable amount about different cultures from their vocabulary. For example, in Pashto, Afghanistan’s most-common language, the word for “cousin” is the same as the word for “enemy.” Doesn’t that tell us something about the turmoil there?

Similarly revealing is the German word “Scham,” for depending on the context, it can mean either “vulva” or “shame.” This may suggest it was more than coincidental that Freud grew up speaking German. And God with us, my friends, the correct response to “Gott mit uns” is not, “Yes, we’ve got mittens.”

For the most part, however, German is Greek to me. Or as they say in German, “Ich verstehe nur Bahnof,” which literally means, “I understand only train station.”

current_issueAs long as we’re on the subject of words, Amy Tsaykel of The West Marin Review has asked me to mention a fundraiser in Point Reyes Station for the journal. From 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, in a private home, she writes, an “‘elder statesman of the Beat Generation,’ novelist, and prolific writer Herb Gold will read from his latest work, a memoir entitled Still Alive: A Temporary Condition.

“In the words of the man himself, the book is about ‘love and memory, why both are blessings and sorrows and a form of immortality.’ Our special guest welcomes questions and conversation following his reading. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.”

One of the original Beats, Gold (born in 1924) was attending college in New York when he first met two other luminaries of the Beat Generation, novelist Jack Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg. Kerouac unfortunately was anti-Semitic, and Gold later said, “I crossed the street to avoid him.” Gold and Ginsberg, however, became fast friends.

41t3ppqyhkl_ss500_1Following a divorce that left Gold a single parent with two daughters to support, he became what he called “a writing factory,” often contributing to Playboy and other men’s magazines.

Playboy — where young men of my generation were most likely to first encounter Gold — paid handsomely. “With a feature inside the magazine,” he now notes, “you could buy a VW, and with a lead feature you could buy a VW convertible.”

Tickets for the afternoon with Gold cost $30 for individuals, $50 per couple. One VIP ticket is available at $250, including: event admission, dinner for two at Café Reyes, one night’s stay at Olema Cottages, Point Reyes Vineyard wine, an autographed copy of Still Alive, and the West Marin Review Vol. 2 when it is published. Tickets are available online at West Marin Review and Point Reyes Books.


Nick’s Cove restaurant and cottages, which Croatian immigrants Nick and Frances Kojich originally opened on the east shore of Tomales Bay in 1931, reopened last week after being closed seven years for remodeling.

This past Sunday, owners Pat Kuleto and Mark Franz held a benefit party for the Tomales Volunteer Fire Department and invited the West Marin community to be the resort’s guests. For me, it was a pleasant reminder of how many oysters I can eat when I’m not paying for them.

The restaurant, bar, and cottages had gone unused for seven years because of an exhausting permit process. The five-year process ran up the cost of refurbishing Nick’s Cove from an initial estimate of $3.5 million to an eventual total of $14 million, investors Pam Klarkowski née West and her husband Rick Klarkowski told me during the party.

When I had a moment to chat with Pat Kuleto, I commented that given all his permit hassles, I suspected there must have been four or five time times when he wished he’d never bought Nick’s Cove from Ruth Gibson (at a cost of $2 million back in 2000). “More like 400 or 500 times,” Pat responded. The restaurateur said that during his career (of more than 35 years) he has designed 190 restaurants. (Among them is San Francisco’s “beloved” Fog City Diner, which opened in 1985, the Nick’s Cove website notes.)


Pat Kuleto with his girlfriend Sarah Livermore, a singer who performed at Sunday’s party.

With 34 government agencies and citizen groups each wanting its own concerns addressed in the permit process, remodeling Nick’s Cove was “three times harder” than even the most difficult of his other restaurants, Pat said. In a sarcastic commentary, the Nick’s Cove menu this week facetiously included red-legged frogs on its list of appetizers. The frogs, which are a “threatened” species because non-native bullfrogs here eat them, supposedly were served with plenty of red tape and cost $2 million apiece.

It’s worth noting that the same county, regional, and state bureaucracies, as well as citizen groups, have managed to intimidate potential buyers from trying to restore the historic Marshall Tavern south of Nick’s Cove. Very few people can afford the red tape Pat encountered.

I asked Pam how many investors Nick’s Cove has. She didn’t know but said there were definitely more than 20. “Even a winery wanted to invest,” she said. “We’re not expecting to make our money back the first year,” her husband added.


Little Rock cottage on pilings over Tomales Bay rents for $975 a night on weekends in August.

Nor is the restaurant alone expected to repay investors. If all goes as planned, more than a third of Nick’s Cove’s income will come from overnight guests staying on both sides of Highway 1. The lodgings include four waterfront cottages, and July and August are high season. On weekends during July, the two-suite cottages rent for $680 per night while the two smaller cottages go for $595. In August, the weekend rates will be $850 per night for the smaller cottages and $975 for the two-suite cottages. On the other hand, the mid-week rate in July for the smaller cottages is a mere $440 per night.

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The bar at Nick’s Cove

Prices in the restaurant at Nick’s Cove range from $7 for a mixed-lettuce salad, to $12 for a gourmet hamburger, to $16 for fish and chips, to $24 for a grilled pork chop with peach chutney, to $32 for a 16-ounce, rib-eye steak.

visionaries_collage.jpgNick’s Cove executive chef Mark Franz (on right with his partner Pat Kuleto), has been on the “culinary scene” for 26 years, notes the resort’s website.

In 1997, Mark opened San Francisco’s Farallon restaurant, which was designed by Pat. Mark’s “coastal cuisine” at Farallon has received acclaim in Bon Appetít, Food & Wine, and similar magazines.

Several hundred guests showed up for Sunday’s party at Nick’s Cove, a lively event with a band and dancing in an outdoor dining area. Singing with the band was Pat’s girlfriend Sara Livermore. Chef Alex Klarkowski (below at right) and his older brother Ben barbecued oysters beside the bay all afternoon. Tomales firefighters, who parked two firetrucks outside the front door, sold raffle tickets while Marshall activist Donna Sheehan worked the crowd, trying to get people to complain to Caltrans about the lack of mowing this year along Highway 1.


Standing at the end of Nick’s Cove’s long dock and looking back at the restaurant and cottages, I remembered happy times when I used to keep a boat in Inverness and would periodically sail to Nick’s Cove for a meal, sometimes sailing home after dark. Thanks to Pat, Mark, and innumerable investors, a new generation of sailors can enjoy the same wonderful outing.

Too many rainbows? The first week of April, it rained at my cabin virtually every day or night. A factoid reflected in this photo from my deck is that the sky is always darkest outside the arc of a rainbow. The reason is a bit complex, but if you want a good explanation, check the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research website: http://www.eo.ucar.edu/rainbows/

Rain having fallen almost every day or night since April began, the grass in my pasture is high, and neighbor Toby Giacomini’s stockpond is full. Water districts like late rains so their reservoirs are full going into the dry months.

All the same, I’m already ready for May. So are half the people in West Marin. The other half (apart from ranchers and water district operators) are a contrary lot; more than a few of them are here because they’re not wanted someplace else — or because they are.

mikedn_1_1.jpgIn any case, the minute someone mentions being tired of rain, someone else pops up with with Al Jolson’s (at left) 1947 lyrics: “Though April showers may come your way,/ They bring the flowers that bloom in May./ So if it’s raining, have no regrets/ Because it isn’t raining rain you know. It’s raining violets….”

On the other hand, April showers may cause some of us, who in school had to plow through the field of English literature, to instead recall the grim opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Wasteland:

“April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.”

In the late 1960s, I taught English Literature, World Literature, and Journalism at Upper Iowa College. I liked teaching the poetry of Eliot (below right), but I prefer listening to Chaucer’s, the masterpiece of which is The Canterbury Tales written in Middle English during the late 1300s.


So I was a bit surprised when almost 40 years after I left teaching for newspapering, it suddenly dawned on me last week that the opening lines of The Wasteland satirize the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales:

“Whan that aprill with his shoures soote/ The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,/ And bathed every veyne in swich licour/ Of which vertu engendred is the flour….”

In Modern English, that would be something along the lines of: “When April with its showers sweet has pierced to the root the drought of March and bathed every vein the moisture whose essence begets the flower….”

200px-geoffrey_chaucer_-_illustration_from_cassells_history_of_england_-_century_edition_-_published_circa_1902_1_1.jpgWith all this going on and the “smale foweles maken melody,” wrote Chaucer (right), “thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.”

Eliot naturally saw April more darkly and went on in The Wasteland to ask, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish?”

Personally, I am not one of those folk longing to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury or anywhere else (too much walking); my view of April is certainly less gloomy than Eliot’s; so I was almost taken in by Jolson’s advice:

“When you see clouds upon the hills,/ You soon will see crowds of daffodils./ So keep on looking for a bluebird/ And listening for his song/ Whenever April showers come along.”


As it happens, I planted daffodils along my driveway last October. Five weeks ago, Dee Goodman, formerly a Point Reyes Station innkeeper and now living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, arrived for a visit. On her first day back in town (above), the daffodils I’d planted came into bloom.

Dee, however, observed that if West Marin residents were to follow Jolson’s advice and search the hills for daffodils following April’s showers, they’d miss them by at least month. “A better flower for April would be the Forget-Me-Not,” Dee suggested, having just noticed them in profusion along Nicasio Valley Road north of Moon Hill.

Eliot, no doubt, would have agreed.


One of the odder events in this long-running saga called Nature’s Two Acres occurred Saturday night. (The two acres, of course, is my pasture surrounding this cabin in the hills above Point Reyes Station.)

It all began when Dee Goodman, who is visiting from Mexico, and I went out on my deck at twilight Saturday to enjoy the view. For a while, we sat on patio chairs drinking coffee, but as the evening grew chilly, we went back inside.

While outside, I had set a nearly full mug of coffee on the deck, and probably because Dee and I were talking when we went indoors, I forgot to take the mug with me.

As it happens, I drink my coffee with a fair amount of those sweet, flavored (hazelnut, vanilla nut, or crème brulée) creamers made by Nestle. I am not alone in enjoying coffee thus diluted nor — as I’ve now discovered — is my species.

Later last Saturday I was working at my computer when around midnight I went downstairs for a bite, and to my surprise, a possum was on my deck lapping up my forgotten coffee. Before long, he had emptied the mug. I wasn’t worried and laughed to myself that if a possum could digest roadkill, it could digest a mug of coffee.

Still writing in my loft at 2 a.m., I went back down to the kitchen, and as I headed toward the refrigerator, I immediately spotted the possum. It had returned and was now outside my kitchen door.

It’s fairly common to see a possum scurry when scared, but I can’t say that I’d ever seen a perky possum before. One mug of coffee, and this little guy was wired.


The possum was pacing back and forth outside my door, climbing on and off the railing, and occasionally poking around my covered firewood (above). Again amused, I decided to give the perky possum a slice of bread. The possum started when he heard me unlatch the kitchen door, but rather than scurrying off, he made a dash toward the opening.

From what I’ve observed, possums don’t see diddly squat at night (although they’re supposed to) and depend almost entirely on smells to guide them. I’m not at all sure this possum even saw me, but he sure smelled food in my kitchen. I had to bean him with a piece of bread to keep him from running into the cabin.

As he ate it, I tossed out a few more pieces and he spent the next 10 minutes running around the deck, sniffing for crusts.


The moral to all this, I suppose, is that if your neighborhood marsupial is too prone to playing possum, just serve him a cup of coffee.

SparselySageAndTimely.com previously quoted Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens as saying, the “common opossum” is not native to California but rather the Deep South and was introduced into the San Jose area around 1900 “for meat, delicious with sweet potatoes.” By 1931, possums had spread as far south as the Mexican border but did not reach Point Reyes until 1968.

Luckily for possums, the Point Reyes National Seashore hasn’t any plans to exterminate the hundreds, if not thousands, of them in the park although like the white deer they’re not native.

When the National Seashore opened in 1965, possums were just arriving in the park while the non-native white (fallow) and spotted (axis) deer had been living on Point Reyes for 20 years. But unlike the white deer, the public hasn’t shown particular interest in possums, and the National Seashore administration in its perverse fashion targets its eradication programs on non-natives that appeal to members of the public.

Why? It’s simply a matter of Calvanism reminiscent of the Puritans’ ban on bear baiting (siccing dogs on a chained bear). The Puritans weren’t particularly upset by cruelty but didn’t like to have the public enjoying itself so much.

Writer John Grissim (left), formerly of West Marin, with the late pornographic filmmaker and theater owner Artie Mitchell (no relation) 22 years ago. The occasion was a gala party for the opening of The Grafenberg Spot. Grissim wrote the screenplay.

For eight years, The Point Reyes Light carried a column called West Marin Diary by John Grissim, who wrote from a wine-barrel studio above Stinson Beach, where he was a volunteer firefighter for 12 years, 2.5 years of that as head of the fire department’s ambulance corps. As a columnist, his topics ranged from running on the beach to watching Behind the Green Door star Marilyn Chambers use an Uzi to shred paper targets in Nevada.

John eventually married therapist Susan Robinson, and the couple lived in Point Reyes Station along the levee road in one of those houses where every time Papermill Creek flooded, they needed a rowboat to reach their front steps. Luckily, the main part of their house was on the second floor and didn’t get wet.

In 2000, John and Susan moved to Sequim near Port Angeles on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. After much shopping, they bought a manufactured home, and John — as is his wont — turned the search into yet another book: The Complete Buyer’s Guide to Manufactured Homes and Land – How to Find a Reputable Dealer and Negotiate a Fair Price on the Best-kept Secret in American Housing. The book has turned out to be a best seller and John is in demand on the speakers’ circuit.

In previous incarnations, John wrote eight books on topics as varied as surfing and billiards, was an editor of Rolling Stone magazine, and wrote articles for publications as diverse as Playboy, Smithsonian, Sports Afield, Surfer, and National Fisherman. In his younger days, he was a communications officer on a Navy fleet oiler and later was on the dive team that discovered the $20 million Spanish treasure galleon Concepcion off of the Dominican Republic.

200px-10504755110907657454.jpgHe also snorted cocaine with gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, the basis for the character Duke in Doonesbury. Seen here in a Wikipedia photo by Allen G. Arpadi, Thompson had gained widespread literary recognition in 1971 with his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

In a facetious column for the old San Francisco Examiner, Thompson in 1986 described a party in Burbank’s Sheraton-Premier Hotel where “a man named Grissim tried to jump off a fifth floor balcony with a bottle of gin, but he was restrained by police, then forced under a cold shower in the hospitality lounge. His friends and associates laughed as he was taken away in a neck hold.”

John answered in his own column that while he was complimented at rating a mention from (now deceased) Hunter Thompson, “I rarely drink gin, and there are no balconies at the Sheraton-Premier.” As for the neck hold, “that lithe arm around my neck belonged to my dear friend Seka, the ash-blonde superstar who at that moment was whispering to me some small confidence. All I remember is the heat of her breath in my ear as [the then-porno actress] confessed she too was into TM — tan maintenance.”

For seven years, John was executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. For two more years, he published a lively quarterly titled Marine Watch. And in 1985, he wrote the screenplay for Jim and Artie Mitchells’ pornographic comedy The Grafenberg Spot.

100_3740.jpgIn March 1985, the film premiered at “a gala opening party,” in the words of the invitations we in the press received.

It was a media event I wouldn’t have missed.

Searchlights lit the sky in front of the O’Farrell Theater while guests inside, such as the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (seen at right during the gala), the old San Francisco Examiner’s columnist Warren Hinkle, and writer Hunter Thompson mingled with porno stars Annette Haven and Juliet (Aunt Peg) Anderson, as well as the men and women of San Francisco’s liberal establishment.

This debut of Grissim’s film parodying the G-spot was meant to be the ultimate in porno chic. The Mitchell brothers served champagne, cracked crab, calamari cocktails, and endless mixed drinks.


Examiner columnist Warren Hinkle at the gala for The Grafenberg Spot. The G-spot is named after German gynaecologist Ernst Gräfenberg, who in 1950 claimed to have discovered it.

Of course, things went downhill from there. In a move to rein in his brother Artie, who had become addicted to cocaine and was drinking heavily, Jim in 1991 went to Artie’s house one night armed with a rifle (supposedly for his own protection) to have a talk. Instead he ended up shooting his brother. A jury convicted Jim of voluntary manslaughter, but he served only a three-year sentence in San Quentin after San Francisco’s Mayor Frank Jordan, Sheriff Michael Hennessey, and former Police Chief Richard Hongisto all urged leniency for the prominent pornographer.

Artie, sadly, is dead, but as John Grissim wrote me this week, “The G-spot lives.” His comment came in response to a March 17 Economist article on President Bush’s week-long tour of Latin America:

“Mr. Bush and Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [seen below in a UN photo], agreed to promote ethanol production and use across the region, and to cooperate on research. By fixing purity standards, they hope to make ethanol a globally tradable commodity. But Mr. Bush refused to talk about the high tariff that protects American corn farmers, whose ethanol is more costly and carbon-emitting to produce than Brazil’s.


“There was no visible progress on the Doha round of world trade talks [aimed at lowering trade barriers between countries of different wealth], though the American trade representative, Susan Schwab, spent an extra day in São Paulo to talk to Brazilian officials and industrialists. And Lula, somewhat mystifyingly, insisted that ‘we’re going firmly toward finding the so-called G-spot for making a deal.'”

The Brazilian president’s startling comment prompted Janine Warner, a former reporter at The Light, to write from Los Angeles, “To see the term G-spot used in the vernacular like that shows how far that concept has come.” To which she added, “No, I didn’t mean a pun there, really.”


Life in the wild includes a fair amount of suffering, as this raccoon with a third its tail missing bears evidence.

A couple of raccoons cut across my upper deck almost night every night an hour or two apart. In fact, a fair number of nocturnal creatures take shortcuts across my deck to avoid having to go around my cabin, and I’ve also spotted a roof rat, numerous possums, and from time to time a family of foxes.

During the day, my deck gets an entirely different crowd of visitors — mostly birds on my upper deck, lizards and frogs on my lower deck.

Not surprisingly, I’ve come to recognize which raccoon is which and tell one crow from another. So a week ago I noticed when my 8:30 p.m. raccoon failed to show up for three nights. When it finally reappeared the fourth night, the raccoon seemed more skittish than usual as it passed by.

100_3520.jpgI threw several crackers on my deck, and the raccoon returned so I could give it a closer look.

What I saw was grim. At first glance, it appeared to have lost its left eye; the socket was filled with mucous.

I snapped a photo of it to study the injury further, hoping to determine if the raccoon had been in a fight.

From all appearances, it had not, for only tissue at the front corner of the eye was torn. There were no other injuries. I kept watching for the raccoon the next few nights, and Mac Guru Keith Mathews of Point Reyes Station happened to be visiting when it showed up the second night and by then was already starting to recover.

100_3618.jpgKeith’s guess was that the raccoon had poked herself in the eye — possibly while nosing around in a hole. Made sense to me although I wouldn’t rule out a fight. I’ve seen raccoons fight, and they are ferocious in battle.

About the time the 8:30 p.m. raccoon’s eye seemed to be almost back to normal (at left), former Point Reyes Station innkeeper Dee Goodman, who is visiting from Mexico, noticed something odd about the 10:30 p.m. raccoon. Its tail looked unusually short.

I agreed and snapped another photo. Horrified, I realized the 10:30 p.m. raccoon had lost a third of its tail. This time a fight definitely seemed the most probable cause.

Losing a third of its tail would be, of course, a painful injury, but naturalist Jules Evans of Point Reyes Station on Sunday told Dee the loss should not be a permanent problem for the raccoon. Still, I pitied both animals, and poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s description of “nature red in tooth and claw” kept coming to mind this week.


Having two injured raccoons around my cabin naturally made me wonder if they had gotten into a scrap with each other. At 1 a.m. this Thursday, however, both showed up on my deck together. While they growled at each other over crackers a few times, in general they tolerated each other, and neither appeared to fear a serious attack.

When it comes to birds, on the other hand, the casualties I see are less likely to result from the “law of the jungle” than the spread of civilization. Like most West Marin residents, I periodically flinch upon hearing a bird slam into a windowpane. Luckily at my cabin, birds usually survive their collisions unless they’ve taken off in desperation (e.g. to avoid a pouncing cat). Rather than breaking their necks by flying into the glass head-on, birds generally glance off my windows— perhaps stunned but at least able to fly.

Perhaps the oddest case of this I’ve ever seen involved a mourning dove, which glanced off an upstairs window and flew away.


What makes this incident particularly odd is that the bird left on the window not only a print of its body, wings, and head, the print included its eyeball and the ring around it. More amazing yet, the image reveals the dark feathers and light feathers on the dove’s upper wing, as well as a bit of its eyeball’s color.

So far, I have been unable to find any scientist who can explain the image on my window. The smudge is not mere dust because it could not be hosed off. If any of you know the answer, please send a comment. I’d be fascinated to learn the explanation.


I happened to photograph three Brewer’s blackbirds last Sept. 20, the day Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez drew applause at the UN by comparing President Bush’s supposed sulphuric stench to the devil’s and the day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Bush clashed in the General Assembly over Iran’s nuclear program. Chavez’s sarcastic comments were, in fact, mild given that the Bush Administration had taken part in a 2002 coup that tossed Chavez out of office — only to have Venezuela’s poor take to the streets and reinstall him two days later. The widespread applause Chavez and Amadinejad received in the UN General Assembly made this picture seem symbolic: Chavez (at left) eats the lunch of a frustrated President Bush (center) while Ahmadinejad ominously looks on.

Now that the Park Service has bought the farm, and rancher Rich Giacomini’s cows no longer give Point Reyes Station its traditional redolence, perhaps it’s time for a new town mascot to replace the Holstein.

Having often sat on the bench in front of the Bovine while eating a sweet roll, I would vote for the Point Reyes Station’s ubiquitous blackbird. Not only do Brewer’s blackbirds strut about the sidewalk in front of the bakery looking for crumbs, hundreds of them often flock across the street in the Bank of Petaluma’s pine trees, where their chirping creates a din that’s audible a block away.


Although set off by several white feathers, the red on a Tricolored blackbird’s wing is far less noticeable than on a Red-winged blackbird’s. Tricolors are often found in the company of Brewer’s and Red-winged blackbirds.

On Point Reyes Station’s main street, the blackbirds’ best show occurs in Spring when they brood in the trees and hedges around the bank and neighboring market. The typical drama consists of Palace Market customers parking their cars and walking through the store’s parking lot, only to suddenly flinch and look around in bewilderment after an unobserved blackbird pecks them on the head as it flies by.

Indeed, Brewer’s blackbirds seem fearless during the brooding season. I once saw a blackbird peck a housecat on the head along Mesa Road behind the bank. When a second blackbird pecked it, the cat ran across the bank’s parking lot and ducked under a car.

I was impressed that two birds could have a cat on the run, but the show was just getting underway. There was no stopping one particularly aggressive blackbird that landed under one side of the car, causing — to my amazement — the cat to dash out from under the opposite side.

Blackbirds are members of the Icteridae family, and “the big flocks of Icterids in West Marin,” Point Reyes Station ornithologist Rich Stallcup told me this week, “are made up mostly of Red-winged blackbirds — invariably with a sprinkling of Brewer’s and Tricolors.


A mix of Brewer’s and Red-winged blackbirds on my railing.

The flocks that gather on powerlines along the levee road around sunset each evening, are Red-winged blackbirds, Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evans pointed out Wednesday when we ran into each other at the post office.

100_1408.jpgBlackbirds typically head to their roosting site “from 30 minutes before sunset to 15 minutes after sunset,” researcher Gordon Boudreau of Santa Rita Technology in Menlo Park reported to the Third Vertebrate Pest Conference 40 years ago at the University of Nebraska.

Boudreau added that although the bulk of a Red-winged flock has reached the roost site by 15 minutes after sunset, “stragglers continue to arrive for an additional 15 minutes…. All but the late stragglers habitually ‘pre-roost’ on elevated perches nearby for varying lengths of time before moving into the night roosts.


“These pre-roosts may be atop their roost vegetation; it may be in trees or on powerlines a quarter to a half mile away…. Late-arriving stragglers fly directly to the night roost.”

Why do blackbirds chatter so much when they flock together? Both Stallcup and Evans attributed the noise to their being “gregarious.” Said Stallcup, “They chatter incessantly as do all animal groups that can.”

Evans added that even small shorebirds continually chatter when in flocks although usually too softly for us to hear.


The Brewer’s blackbird (seen here) is named after 19th century ornithologist Thomas Mayo Brewer of Boston. Brewer’s blackbirds (Euphagus cynanocephalus) are protected under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but their survival, Wikipedia notes, is of the “least concern” among protected birds.

In fact, most ornithologists don’t consider the Brewer’s blackbird a “migratory species” at all. The birds do, however, move from place to place seeking abundant sources of food, which for them is mostly insects, spiders, and (particularly in Fall and Winter) seeds.

“During the day,” Boudreau reported, “wintering blackbirds alternately feed and then loaf, depending on the availability of food. Feeding in open fields is usually [done] in leapfrog fashion, in which all move in one direction, the rear birds rising and landing ahead of [those in front].

“If undisturbed, this feeding pattern continues until the end of the field is reached whereupon the flock may move to another spot in the field or fly to a different area.”


Ornithologist Rich Stallcup of Point Reyes Station on Wednesday noted that “at least some of the birds” in this field uphill from my cabin are Tricolored blackbirds.” (At upper right, for example.) Tricolors are nearly “endemic” in California although their worldwide population is small, Stallcup added.

While blackbirds benefit agriculture by eating enormous amounts of caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and other destructive insects, they can also consume large amounts of grain and seed. And when in season, fruit and nuts are also part of their diets.

At the third Vertebrate Pest Conference held back in 1967, researcher Boudreau revealed he had found a way for farmers and ranchers to avoid losing grain, seed, and nuts to Red-winged blackbirds. After experimenting with scarecrows, explosions, shotguns etc., he concluded the only control that works is “biosonic.”

The trick is to tape record the alarm call of each kind of blackbird, which is quite “species specific,” Boudreau reported. These alarm sounds are then “amplified and projected at the birds through loudspeakers. The method is highly effective if the proper sounds are used….

“[An alarm call] indicates the presence of a predator and is usually well developed in gregarious species.” Blackbirds tend, Boudreau had observed, “to avoid areas where these sounds are present.”

Interesting aside: By 1979, twelve years after Boudreau presented his findings, Lee Martin of BlueBird Enterprises in Fresno told a subsequent University of Nebraska conference that by then biosonic controls were in use internationally to keep gulls away from major airports. He suggested they also be used to keep migrating birds from resting at industrial-waste ponds where they frequently ingest lethal amounts of waste materials.

I’ve yet to hear any biosonic blasts of bird alarms in West Marin, which suggests the local blackbird population isn’t too serious a problem for all the ranches, airports, and industry here. Just for housecats and springtime shoppers at the Palace Market.

“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea,” as Walter Winchell led off his World War II radio broadcasts. “Let’s go to press…”

Topping the news… A film is due out shortly titled The Penultimate Truth about Philip K. Dick, the late science-fiction writer who once lived in Point Reyes Station. You can see a trailer for the film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_VgXuYvzfU.

philipdick.jpgThe stories of Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) inspired the movies Bladerunner, Total Recall, and Minority Report, among others. “Philip K. Dick was known as the most brilliant sci-fi writer on earth,” the trailer to Penultimate Truth proclaims. Although a drug addict, paranoid, and (as he sometimes thought) possibly schizophrenic, Dick wrote 50 books and many more short stories.

As for his paranoia, Dick suspected the KGB and or the FBI was out to get him. In the movie’s trailer he tells an interviewer, “Anyone who grew up within the Berkeley counterculture [as he partly did] became a marked man. My house was broken into. My files were blown open. My papers were stolen.” The author admits to not being certain the federal government was responsible but notes his lawyers believed that’s what happened. Dick, however, later wondered if he had done the deed himself and just forgotten about it.

As for his drug addiction (especially amphetamine use during all-night writing): Point Reyes Station innkeeper and jewelry maker Anne Dick, to whom he was married from 1959 to 1964, acknowledges in the movie’s trailer, “Towards the end of our marriage, he was taking tons of stuff.”

Ironically, as Wikipedia notes, during Philip K. Dick’s life, he was “highly regarded in France, [but he] received little public recognition in America until after his death.”

Walking onto the silver screen… The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 23 published a lengthy account of the life of Planetwalker John Francis, 60, of Point Reyes Station.

100_1151_1.jpgMost of us in West Marin know Dr. Francis’ story: how he stopped talking from 1973 to 1990 and refused to ride in motorized vehicles from 1972 to 1994. His self-published book Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time tells the story, and a feature-length film based on the book is now “in the works,” Times reporter John Glionna notes.

Overheard… An item by Point Reyes Light obituary writer Larken Bradley was picked up by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik for her Feb. 13 “Public Eavesdropping” list: “I’ve had enough hippie guys. I need more superficial, materialistic guys.” (Forty-ish woman to another, overheard at Tabla Café in Larkspur.)

I forget, therefore, I did… A writer friend in Los Angeles this week called me with an item of his own. Having overheard a passing guest at a party ask, “Did I finish that joint?” he quipped that merely asking the question provided the answer. Sort of like Decartes’ “Cognito ergo sum” taken to a higher level: “No memeni ergo feci.”

Rumblings south of the border…
Accompanying me on a weeklong trip to Mexico earlier this month was a retired Economics professor from the University of Hawaii, Mac Williams. Mac and I attended high school and Stanford University together, and in 1963, we spent two and a half months driving all over Europe in a VW bug I bought in Brussels.

100_3378_1.jpgMac went on to get his doctorate from the University of Chicago where he studied under famed monetary theorist Milton Friedman.

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mac as always was a great traveling companion — even though I’d never before heard anyone who could match the decibel level of his snoring.

He and I shared a second-floor hotel room hotel overlooking a narrow street in San Miguel’s historic downtown. After returning to the hotel following a night on the town, Mac would go to sleep with his iPod playing music in his ears as his snoring gradually built to the level of our old rooting section in Stanford stadium.

To my astonishment, it was virtually impossible to waken him once he had fallen asleep. Our hotel room shared a common wall with a bar, which had a live band that on weekends played till 4 a.m. The music was loud enough in our room to sometimes disrupt conversations, but once Mac was asleep, he didn’t hear it.

As it happened, immediately across our narrow street was San Miguel’s main cathedral, and its bells chimed loudly and at length every 15 minutes day and night, but that didn’t wake him either.

Only once did a disturbance break his slumbers — although it was subsequently repeated almost every night. The Jardin, San Miguel’s central square, was less than a block from our hotel, and the roads around the square were closed to traffic during the day. However, a second-story roof of the towering cathedral was under repair, and workers were allowed to drive into the square at night to haul away debris.

100_3346_1.jpgDuring the day, workers (such as those seen here at right) would pile broken bricks and cement blocks at the edge of one nearby roof of the cathedral. At 3:30 a.m., other workers would show up and from the second floor start dropping the discarded masonry into a steel dumptruck parked below our hotel window. The impact of each chunk sounded like an explosion and actually awakened Mac the night it all began. He rushed to the window to see if our hotel were under attack. When he saw it wasn’t, Mac went back to sleep, and the clamor never bothered him again.

The cacophony reached its peak the night we had a lightning storm. The band was rocking, the cathedral bells were chiming, workers were hurling cement blocks from the church roof into their dumptruck outside our window, thunder claps rattled windows, but at least in our room, Mac’s snoring was loudest of all.

I couldn’t shout at Mac to awaken him because others in the hotel would probably think there was a fight going on, so I tried barking and growling in his ear, hoping that anyone who heard me would think there was a street dog outside; however, that didn’t work either.

But, as I said, Mac and I are good friends, so I was able to laugh as the pandemonium built to a roar each night — although I did tend to sleep late each morning.


Former West Marin resident Dee Goodman now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which was founded by the Spanish in 1542.

This past week, an old friend, Mac Williams, and I traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and ended up spending several days with a former West Marin resident now living there, Dolores (Dee) Goodman. Dee lives in one of the many colonias (small, semi-rural communities) that surround downtown and are part of the Allende municipality of 139,000 people.

For years, Dee lived in Nicasio and later operated Casa Mexicana bed-and-breakfast inn in Point Reyes Station. Her late husband John spent most of his career working for Marin County Mental Health but after his retirement was in continual demand as a stand-up bass player in San Francisco jazz bands. He was also one of the musicians to regularly play with guitarist Bart Hopkin at the Station House Café. If you ever saw him perform there, you’ll remember him even if you didn’t know his name; for when he was paired with Bart in the Station House, John, a tall black man, played the not-so-common pizzicato (plucked) cello, which was strung like a bass.

Dee, his widow, is now living with a working-class family in a colonia that at first glance might strike West Marin residents as a rural slum. The streets are unpaved and littered with trash. Despite high walls, which hide the residents’ small homes and gardens, families keep dogs on the roof to ward off burglars.

But outward appearances can be deceiving, and Dee has managed to find a bit of paradise where I never would have expected it. Here is her story:

By Dolores Lara Goodman

My husband John died of lung cancer in December 2000, and my loss was enormous. He was the love of my life. We had been together only 10 years, but those were worth a lifetime. He felt the same way about us.

I hadn’t readjusted well to the change and drifted emotionally, feeling lonely among my friends and family. After a year or so, I moved from Point Reyes Station to Petaluma to help my stepfather care for my mother during her terminal illness. My brother Dan lived with me in a manufactured home I had purchased in the same park as Mom and Bill.

With no children of my own, I had given some thought to long-term planning. Assisted-living residences were popping up all over, and they seemed a likely option for me. I calculated what assets I would have and what my fixed income would be and what type of place I would be able to afford so that I wouldn’t become a burden to my family. I was still relatively young, 60, so I wasn’t making any firm plans.

In December 2004, my friend Lana and I took what was supposed to be a two-week vacation to Puerto Vallarta; however, I had a feeling that I would not be returning to the US with Lana. I had, for some time, wanted to stay in Mexico for an extended time. (Two of my grandparents were born in Mexico but were forced to flee to Texas during the 1910 revolution, and I was brought up in Daly City.)

As it happened, I ended up in San Miguel de Allende, which is roughly in the geographical center of Mexico, about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City. San Miguel is a destination for many US and Canadian retirees; our dollars go twice as far here, and we can live more comfortably on our retirement income.

Imaginative, 60-year-old mural in one of San Miguel de Allende’s art schools.

Gringos have been coming to San Miguel for about 50 years. It started with a group who formed an art colony, and San Miguel now has numerous art schools, galleries etc. The gringo community does a lot for the locals: establishing libraries, scholarships and other helpful projects. And because they help with public matters, along with providing jobs and advancement opportunities, the expatriates are well received by the locals.

100_33672.jpgThe Spanish-colonial downtown — with its park-like square, majestic cathedral, and narrow, cobbled streets — bustles with good restaurants, theatre, music festivals, and barely marked hotel entrances that open into courtyard gardens.

At an elevation of 6,000 feet, San Miguel de Allende has a desert landscape. During winter, middays are warm, and nights are cold. I like the climate.

When I first moved to San Miguel de Allende, I rented in the Los Frailes community at the edge of town. A woman in her 30s named Alicia Gonzalez was the housekeeper at the apartment, and a couple of times I drove her to her home in the Colonia Palmita de Landeta.

The first few times, I met her children in front of their house where they huddled shyly, laughing. They were very curious about me, this Señora Dolores from California. Around the third time I took Alicia to her house, her husband Antonio had just arrived home from work and told Alicia to invite me in. I was led to a front bedroom of their very modest house and was invited to sit on one of the beds.

The visit is still clear in my memory. I remember thinking, “What a beautiful family!” At the time, all five of the family’s children were living at home. (The oldest, Valentina, now 19, has since gone to live nearby with her husband Manuel and his family.)


Dining outdoors under a tarpaulin (from left): Ernesto, Claudia, Marco, Manuel, and Valentina. She and Manuel, who assembles furniture for a living, are expecting their first child in June.

I subsequently moved from Los Frailes to Calle Recreo in the central part of the San Miguel near Parque Juarez. Alicia and Valentina helped me pack and move. Valentina would spend some nights with me at Recreo, especially when I was sick with a cold or something. And they would all worry about my wellbeing, comfort, and safety.

Unfortunately, the Recreo apartment was intolerably hot, so I moved to a two-bedroom apartment on Calle Agua in the Colonia Atascadero closer to their house. The whole family helped me pack, move, and unpack, the five kids and Mom trekking up and down the path to move my stuff.

If they had their way, I would have just sat back and watched the move go on. After all, I am grande now — that’s when you’re older — like into your sixties (I’m now 66).

100_3371_11.jpgI did a bit of packing but not much moving. Picture the little one, Rosario, five years old, (seen here a year later with her mother Alicia) insisting she be allowed to help carry stuff to the car. Ernesto was eight; Marco, 10; Claudia, 12; and Valentina, 18.

Even before that move, Valentina began to tell her mother and me that I should move in with them, that they could make me a room. The seed was planted, and I didn’t even consider saying no when the Gonzalezes in 2005 invited me to live with them.

In October 2005, I bought a terreno (lot) next to the family for $10,000. In February 2006, I moved into my almost-completed casita, which was built by Antonio, an accomplished maestro albanil (construction worker), and a crew of four. Antonio is incredibly creative and meticulous, and I enjoyed seeing the building materials used here: basically brick, stone, rebar, and concrete. I was able to suggest what I would like to have done and then see it accomplished.

I had initially planned to have a large living area, one bedroom, and bathroom in my casita, but I convinced Alicia and Antonio to accept half the living-room space to make a bedroom for themselves. They had always had their bed in a common part of their house — in the kitchen or living area. We put up a wall to split my living room into their bedroom and a sitting room for me.


Surrounded by building materials for the completion of their dwellings, Dee dines on the Gonzalezes’ patio with Rosario, Antonio, and Alicia.

Antonio opened up a door in the wall of their house to my casita at their kitchen. I don’t have a kitchen – it’s our kitchen. Alicia is a marvelous cook and for me, eating with the family is better than going to my favorite Mexican restaurant every day.

I participate in the preparation of meals as much as I can and as much as they’ll let me. I’m learning more as time goes by. I also help with the marketing. We go to the plazita market every Saturday, and while Alicia shops for veggies, I shop for fruit: mangos, guayavas, dried Jamaica blossoms etc. I love it! It’s our tradition on shopping days to buy fresh carnitas, bolillos, tortillas, and salsa to eat when we get home.

The daily giving is as important as the receiving. I think the key is being able to share and actually being a member of the family unit — watching the kids get off to school and waiting for them to come home. It’s something I missed out on, not having had children, and it’s a blessing to have been given the opportunity now that I’m grande.

I’m referred to by the family as Tia (Aunt) Lolita and am usually addressed as “Tia.” The parents have given me a grandmother’s authority over the children and have instilled in them a kind respect for me. I love feeling a grandmotherly cariño (affection) for the kids.

Rosario and Ernesto, the youngest two, and I are particularly attached. Mi sombra (shadow), Ernesto, doesn’t let me leave the house alone. When I leave the house to walk Omar, my dog, Ernesto always accompanies me.

100_3377_11.jpgI think the kids were initially told by Mom and Dad to accompany me whenever I went out, and Ernesto (at right with his brother Marco) has taken charge. He says he’ll protect me from aggressive dogs and picks up rocks to throw in the event we run into any, which does happen. He’s my little angel.

I’m glad I said “yes” when the Gonzalez family invited me to live them. We’re a great match. All of us can’t believe our good fortune. I was able to make the move and provide my own space, but had I not been able to do that, had I been totally without financial means, they would have gladly made room for me in their home, and we would all be just as happy, I’m sure.

That’s the way it’s done in the Mexican culture and many other cultures of the world. Older folks don’t have to move someplace with strangers their own age and be cared for by other strangers. There is always room for them in a family member’s home and daily life… until their dying day. I’m still young enough to foresee more changes in my life, and this may not be my “journey’s end.” But it just may be, and that’s great.


Nan McEvoy’s olive groves on Red Hill. (Photo by Jim Kravets)

It took 3.5 years of permit hassles, but Marin County supervisors Tuesday finally told Nan McEvoy she can erect a 149-foot-high wind turbine at her olive-oil-producing ranch along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road.

County planning commissioners had previously rejected the windmill proposal in a 6-to-1 vote. The supervisors, in contrast, unanimously approved it in a modified form.

McEvoy has had to contend with a chorus of neighbors who didn’t like the proposed location (so she moved it) and the proposed height (so she repeatedly lowered it, from 246 feet to 210 to 189 to 149). Ironically, they simultaneously warned about windmills killing raptors. That has been a problem with small wind turbines. The blades spin so fast the birds don’t always see them. A longer blade, which requires a taller tower, spins much slower, making it easy for to birds to see it. Unfortunately, the neighbors didn’t want to see it themselves, and McEvoy agreed to monitor for three years the windmill’s effects on birds.

McEvoy plans to use the 660-killowatt wind turbine to power its oil-pressing plant. [Update, Marin Planning Commission Chairman Wade Holland of Inverness this week said the “sad” fact is that the turbine’s output was ultimately reduced to 250 killowatts. Please see his comment.]

As it happened, one of the times I interviewed McEvoy was back in 1996 just before the County of Marin issued a permit for the plant.

Former Point Reyes Light editor Jim Kravets and his wife Kristan at McEvoy’s Victorian house and its pond during a harvest party. The pagoda at right (with a palm tree behind it) is part of the ranch’s dining room. For her to create this estate in agricultural zoning, the County of Marin required McEvoy to come up with a viable farm operation. She ended up pioneering olive-oil production in the county, exactly the type of result for which the zoning was enacted.

McEvoy, who formerly chaired the board of The San Francisco Chronicle Publishing Company, had bought the 552-acre ranch in 1990 with plans to make it into a country estate.

“I bought this place because I thought it was very pretty,” she told me during an interview at a long table in her immense kitchen, which stands alone as a single building. “The county would not help me [get permits to improve the buildings] unless there was an agricultural purpose. It was then I came up with olives.”

Her parents had raised cows, she said, “and I knew I didn’t want cows. I thought of fruit trees, and from there almost immediately of olives. I had in my head always that an olive tree is a very handsome thing. They have very few pests; they’re very good for cooking; they’re useful.”

“I had been to Italy for cooking classes, and I didn’t think there was much good olive oil around [here].” Having read a cookbook called The Feast of the Olive, McEvoy contacted the author, Maggie Klein, who turned out to live in Oakland.

Klein said that much of the book’s technical information about olive-oil production came from an Italian named Maurizio Castelli, and she arranged for McEvoy (accompanied by an interpreter) to meet him.

ek_1.jpgBefore flying to Italy, however, McEvoy sent Castelli water and soil samples from her ranch, along with weather records, and “he decided, yes, we could do it,” she said.

With a stone wheel of the olive press in the background, ranch consultant Maurizio Castelli shows me his magician’s skills, appearing to hold two cups of olive oil in his hand while balancing a wine glass on one finger. (Photo by Jim Kravets)

The UC Extension Service and others were initially skeptical, fearing the ranch would prove to be too cool, foggy, and windy, but McEvoy demonstrated that not only would olive trees grow well on her Red Hill property, they could produce award-winning olive oil.

By now she has 18,000 olive trees growing on her hills. McEvoy’s success has encouraged other owners of West Marin agricultural land to plant olive trees, and they too use her press.

For several years, I have attended harvest parties at the ranch, hosted by her and (in recent years) her son Nion, chairman and CEO of Chronicle books. The guests have typically been a mix of politicos, ranchers, and members of the press. To say McEvoy has always been “well connected” would be an understatement. Many years ago, it was not uncommon to see her on the arm of Adlai Stevenson.

At a harvest party five or six years ago, I found myself seated next to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who two weeks go became the first woman (not to mention the first Californian and the first Italian-American) Speaker of the House of Representatives. Our conversation alternated between her impressions of Congress, which were pretty dreary at the time, and her husband’s reminiscences of spending time as a youth on Steve and Sharon Doughty’s ranch in Point Reyes Station. Family members then owned the ranch.

McEvoy not so long ago was a director of the American Farmland Trust, a nationwide nonprofit which tries to keep agricultural land in agriculture despite the financial pressures on ranchers and farmers. As most environmentalists here realize, reining in the conversion of agricultural land to residential and commercial development also preserves open space.

The hassles McEvoy just endured to get permission to use alternative energy are symptomatic of the obstacles society puts in the way of all agriculture — even organic, sustainable agriculture.

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