Point Reyes National Seashore


During the 15 years Don Neubacher was superintendent of the Point Reyes National Seashore, he behaved deceptively on a number of occasions. Nonetheless, in 2010, he was made superintendent of Yosemite National Park.

It was a dramatic — albeit absurd — promotion. After he’d been on the job in Yosemite for six years, the Park Service in response to employee complaints conducted an investigation last August and concluded that Neubacher had created a work environment that was “toxic” for many staffers.

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National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher (left) at a 2004 town meeting in Point Reyes Station.

Besides the August investigation, 18 Yosemite Park employees a week ago informed the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the House of Representatives that Neubacher had bullied, intimidated, and humiliated staff who complained of misconduct by him and other Park Service personnel.

“In Yosemite Park today, dozens of people, the majority of whom are women, are being bullied, belittled, disenfranchised and marginalized,” Yosemite fire chief Kelly Martin told the committee in written testimony concerning several parks.

During last week’s hearing, committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) quoted an Interior Department investigator at Yosemite as reporting, “The number of employees interviewed about the horrific working conditions leads us to believe that the environment is toxic, hostile, repressive, and harassing.”

The congressman added, “It is our understanding that of the 21 people the investigators interviewed, every single one of them, with one exception, described Yosemite as a hostile work environment as a result of the behavior and conduct of the park superintendent.” The one person who did not agree, Congressman Chaffetz wryly noted, was Supt. Neubacher.

Making matters worse, committee members said, was the fact that Neubacher’s wife Patty has been deputy director of the Park Service’s Pacific West Region, which oversees Yosemite.

But the jig is up, and last Thursday Supt. Neubacher acknowledged in an email to park employees that regional administrators had decided Yosemite needs new leadership. He had been offered an advisory job in Denver but had decided to retire from the Park Service effective Nov. 1. On Sunday, Patty Neubacher announced that she too was retiring as of Nov. 1.

Supt. Neubacher didn’t acknowledge actually doing anything wrong at Yosemite, only that he might have been insensitive. Writing to park staff he claimed, “Until recently I wasn’t aware of these concerns and am deeply saddened by this….”

“It was never my intention in any way to offend any employee.… If I did offend any of you at any time, I want to sincerely apologize.”

He didn’t intend to harass and belittle staff, female staff in particular? It was all a misunderstanding? Just how sincere is this apology?

Don Neubacher addresses addresses the West Marin citizens about the pepper spray incident in 2004. The crowd of townspeople who heard Don Neubacher (upper right) prevaricate about his own actions after the pepper spray incident in 2004.

That kind of dissembling was on display all too often during Neubacher’s 15 years on Point Reyes. Many examples could be recounted. Here are just a couple: In July 2004, an emotionally out-of-control Point Reyes National Seashore ranger accompanied by a second ranger aggressively pepper-sprayed a teenage brother and sister while in Point Reyes Station. The attack was so savage that in order to spray directly onto the eyeballs of the girl, who was crouched on the pavement in handcuffs, the ranger held her eyelids apart.

The siblings’ only crime was to show up to ask why two friends of theirs had been taken into custody by rangers outside the park. The friends, by the way, were never charged with any misdeed.

The pepper-spraying created a public outcry, and a town meeting was held in Point Reyes Station so people could question park officials about it. To mollify the crowd, Neubacher told them he had asked the Park Service to conduct an internal investigation into the rangers’ behavior. And to allay any suspicion that an internal investigation might be biased, Neubacher added, he’d asked the Marin County District Attorney’s Office to conduct a “parallel” investigation.

The next day after the now-calmed crowd had gone home, a perplexed assistant DA remonstrated that the park superintendent had done no such thing. Neubacher hadn’t asked the DA’s Office to investigate the rangers; he had asked it to prosecute the brother and sister. Many townspeople who had been taken in by Neubacher’s fabrication were furious. In any case, the DA refused to prosecute the teenagers, and in September 2005 the Park Service paid them $50,000 to settle claims growing out of the incident.

In 2007, Neubacher began pushing a proposal to shut down Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Regardless of what you thought of the idea, there was no denying that Neubacher outright lied to the Marin County Board of Supervisors in arguing for it.

When the supervisors held a hearing to express support for the oyster company, Supt. Neubacher showed up to claim the oyster operation was bothering harbor seals. Neubacher had previously asked the US Marine Mammal Commission to look into this allegation, but earlier that same day, commission staff had faxed him that so far there had been no decision to do so.

Nonetheless, Neubacher told county supervisors, “The Marine Mammal Commission wrote us a letter this morning. They’re going to take it up on a national level.”

When an investigator from the Inspector General’s Office of the Interior Department later asked the park superintendent about his deception, “Neubacher conceded that it might have been a little bit misleading for him to say that the Marine Mammal Commission was taking up the issue and had written the National Park Service a letter,” the investigator reported.

What will Neubacher do now? Given his repeated fabrications while administering the Point Reyes National Seashore and his misogynistic style of management while administering Yosemite National Park, there may be a job waiting for him out there — working for Donald Trump.

The California Highway Patrol in this area needs to do better enforcing the law and obeying the law. The officers seem to be performing as expected for the most part but not always. Here are three quick examples of problems:

• A fair number of motorcycles being ridden up the coast are so loud they disturb people and wildlife all along the way. As the National Park Service explains, “Some motorcyclists choose to use modified pipes, which have the effect of increasing noise. As a result, motorcycles can often be heard far into the backcountry.”

Modifying tailpipes to increase a motorcycle’s noise is illegal, but the CHP shows very little interest in enforcing the law despite the magnitude of the problem. The American Motorcycle Association itself warns, “The AMA believes that few other factors contribute more to misunderstanding and prejudice against the motorcycling community than excessively loud motorcycles.

“All motorcycles are manufactured to meet federally mandated sound-control standards. Unfortunately, a small number of riders who install unmuffled aftermarket exhaust systems perpetuate a public myth that all motorcycles are loud.”

• A driver in Point Reyes Station was cited for tailgating, I was pleased to read in the local press a couple of months back. We need more such enforcement throughout West Marin. “Most rear end accidents are caused by tailgating,” warns Cal-Driver-Ed.com. “To avoid this, use the ‘three-second rule.’ When the vehicle ahead of you passes a certain point, such as a sign, count ‘one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three. This takes about three seconds. If you pass the same point before you finish counting, you are following too closely.

“Sometimes you will need more than a ‘three-second’ cushion. Give yourself a ‘four-second-or-more cushion’ when… crowded by a tailgater. Allow extra room between your car and the car ahead. Then, if you need to slow down you can do so gradually. You will be able to avoid braking suddenly — and being hit from behind by the tailgater.” I would add that slowing down also makes sense at night when you’re more likely to encounter wildlife on the road.

Tailgating is a recipe for road rage particularly in West Marin. Here drivers can go for several miles (particularly at night) before finding a safe place to pull off the road and let tailgaters pass.

• If a film company plans to shoot on or adjacent to a county road in Marin County, it must first get a permit from the county Public Works Department. Among the provisions of the permit are that: 1) The film company must hire off-duty California Highway Patrol officers to direct traffic since the county doesn’t want nonprofessionals doing it. 2) If filming stops traffic, the road must be reopened every three minutes to let vehicles through.

For the motoring public, these instructions are clear and explicit, but as an article by Beau Evans in the Feb. 26 Point Reyes Light reported, the Highway Patrol doesn’t feel bound by county regulations.

On Feb. 11, officers from the Sonoma County district of the California Highway Patrol handcuffed a 78-year-old driver on the Tomales-Petaluma Road when she became upset that officers were allowing a film company, Bandito Brothers, to overstay its time blocking the road. The lack of proper enforcement caused her to miss a doctor’s appointment.

When she tried to get some help from an officer, he instead tried to bully her, “aggressively” ordering her to get back in her car, she later wrote Marin County Adult Protective Services. She got back in her car but got out again 10 minutes later to ask how much longer the holdup would be, according to the summary in The Light. “Then [the officer] got very angry,” she noted.

With the driver upset at being forced to miss a doctor’s appointment, officers decided she was “irrational” and placed her in handcuffs “for her own safety.” Or so the CHP reported.

You’ve probably noticed that bullying members of the public has become a standard police practice all around the country these days. Officers use shows of anger to establish their authority when there’s no need to do so. It doesn’t earn them any respect, and it can create problems. The elderly driver received a cut hand and bruised wrists from the handcuffs. The CHP tried to dismiss her injuries as no more than reopening old wounds, claiming that handcuffs won’t cut anyone. But as the driver noted, our skin gets thinner as we age. I can vouch for that myself.

So why would the Highway Patrol be so indifferent to the needs of the public and so solicitous of the needs of the film company shooting a Kia commercial? Even though officers are on hand to ensure traffic safety, state government is not paying for their overtime. The film company is, and this too often results in CHP officers acting as if their role is to control the public for the benefit of the film crew, not the other way around.

The Marin Public Works Department has previously reminded the Marin County Area CHP that it is bound by the three-minute limit. However, the CHP officers in Tomales that day were from Sonoma County, and the spokesman there said his office wasn’t aware of Marin’s three-minute regulation.

The Light also quoted a state CHP Film Media spokesman as saying that despite the regulation, officers have “discretion” to ignore time limits on county roads. The spokesman acknowledged, however, that there’s nothing in writing that gives them the discretion to help film companies at the expense of the motoring public.

With officers acting as if they’re on the payroll of the film companies, could there possibly be a conflict of interest?

I suggest you mark on your summer calendar four first-rate shows featuring people I know and admire. The venues will take you from Olema (or SFO) to Nicasio to Marshall to Cazadero.

Cow Crossing — Spaletta Ranch. (Photo © Art Rogers)

Point Reyes Station photographer Art Rogers held a well-attended opening reception Saturday in the Red Barn at Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters for an exhibition titled West Marin Views.

“For more than 150 years, photographic images have told the story of the American West and an era when life was simpler,” Art wrote in announcing the show. “They highlighted the beauty and tranquility of the western frontier and captured the intimate relationship of humanity with the land and animals. But it is not just a cultural memory, it is our American identity.

“I have lived and worked in West Marin as town photographer for over 43 years. These photographs are selections from this retrospect…of places that are beautiful, tranquil, dynamic, and that connect you to humanity, the land, and animals.”

Photographer Art Rogers with Stinson Beach gallery owner Claudia Chapline.

Since 1975, Art has provided The Point Reyes Light with weekly Point Reyes Family Album portraits of families, children and babies, large groups, rural scenes, and landscapes of West Marin. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Marin Arts Council, as well as the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

His background includes stints as a baby photographer, a photojournalist and as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute and Indian Valley College. His photographs are included among the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the International Center of Photography, New York; the Center for Creative Photography Archive, Tucson; Le Musée de l’Elysee, Switzerland; and the de Young Museum, San Francisco.

He has produced a series titled Yesterday and Today, in which the same subjects have been photographed in the same place after a time span of as much as 30 years. His portraits have documented the agricultural community on the North Coast for more than 35 years.

Art’s exhibit in the park can be seen — by appointment only — through Aug. 5. People wishing to make an appointment need to contact Annalisa Price at 663-1200 (email bookstore@ptreyes.org) or Carola DeRooy at 464-5125 (email carola_derooy@nps.gov).

Ranch Dogs at Sunset, Tomales, 2006

Those who don’t want to go to the trouble of getting reservations for Art’s exhibit at park headquarters can drop by the San Francisco International Airport museum where he has a separate exhibit titled The Rustic Landscape showing until the end of August. The museum is in Terminal 3, Level 2. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Art by the Bay Weekend Gallery is featuring works by Chuck Eckart of Point Reyes Station on weekends through July 27.

Also on display will be art by Nancy Stein, Jude Vasconcellos and Denis Bold.

Lynn and I were there when the exhibition was unveiled Saturday. The opening reception, however, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 22.

The gallery, which is located across Highway 1 from Tony’s Seafood restaurant is open from noon to 5 p.m Saturdays and Sundays.

This abstract painting is from Chuck’s Ground Cover series, which is rarely shown in West Marin.

“The Ground Cover paintings are abstractions and inventions taken from the natural environment surrounding Point Reyes and Alice’s garden,” according to a gallery announcement. (Chuck’s wife is named Alice.)

San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker has written that “Eckart (left) locates, or brings into being a focal plane where we can dwell on the pleasure of seeing paint regain the materiality it sacrifices to subject matter in most figuration.

“On the same plane we experience what anyone who knows painting will recognize as real expertise.”

Chuck himself adds, “Seeing paint, especially very thick, heavy paint being moved around by various tools I find very attractive to the eye.

“As the layers build up, the richer the visual experience becomes.

“It is my chief aim to attract the eye of the viewer and hold it as long as possible.  It gets the viewer to see how the picture is made.

“Very seldom does this happen when viewing realist art.”

In addition, Chuck will exhibit a hand-produced book, Midnight Ride, which consists of 30 etchings that were created as Christmas cards during the past 50 years.

This etching is titled Artist’s Reflection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apparition, one of Nancy Stein’s pastels, is also on display at Art By The Bay Weekend Gallery. ____________________________________________________________________________________

Oil Slick Sky by photographer Jude Vasconcellos is part of the exhibit at Art By The Bay Weekend Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nicasio artist Thomas Wood will hold an opening reception from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 28, and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 29, for an exhibition titled The Cliffs of Point Reyes. A closing reception will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 5. His studio, Thomas Wood Fine Art, is located on Nicasio Square.

Cliffs at Drakes Bay

“To me,” writes Thomas, “the most striking features of the Point Reyes Peninsula are the cliffs above the shoreline of Drakes Bay, where the grassy pastoral hills terminate in sheer facades, their siltstone-sandstone geology revealed by the eternally sculpting wind and weather.

“In this series, I explore the cliffs’ shapes, textures, colors, lights and shadows, from different viewpoints, as they stand sentinel over the beach and surf.

“The work was largely completed on location. I like to paint directly from nature because, if successful, I achieve a freshness and immediacy obtained no other way.” ____________________________________________________________________________________

“Shakespeare in Cazadero? Mooo!” jokes Cazsonoma Inn owner Richard Mitchell (above), mimicking radio’s old commercial for Berkeley Farms milk. “No one believed there’d be ‘farms in Berkeley’ either.” The inn’s pond and waterfall can be seen out the window.

The stately old redwoods around Cazsonoma Inn will be hosts this summer to the Bard’s great comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“With Stanford cheerleaders and Berkeley scholars chasing each other over the streams and through the woods, into romantic bliss we go,” Richard writes.

“And no one knows the way like lovable, ‘puckish’ Kate Kennedy. Kate has been directing Shakespeare in and out of Sonoma’s vineyards for 35 years, and has assembled the Avalon Players, a talented troop of local actors to relive the ‘dream’ performed 400 years ago.

“Lush sets by Ross Heil, wacky costumes by FIDM’s Renée Brimm Mitchell, produced by Pezzo Unico Productions with Castles and Concerts, featuring ‘the magic flute’ of Matt Eakle, and sponsored by Boheme Wines, Flowers Winery, Paul Mathew Vineyards, Wild Hog Vineyards, “Estero Gold” cheese, Santa Fe Sausage Company, and River Road Olive Oil. The entire illusion portends to be a night to remember.”

The audience will move between the sculpture garden in front of the inn and the waterfall beside it for different acts.

Tickets and reservations at CazSonoma Inn are available at 707 632-5255 for June 25, 26, and 27 performances (5:30 p.m. sharp). A Saturday, June 28, matinee is already sold out. Along with the performances, the $75 tickets include hors d’oeuvres and wine before the show plus a four-course dinner afterward.

The April 12, 1956, edition of Point Reyes Station’s Baywood Press reported: “Mrs. Joe Curtiss’ television set caught fire last week, and the wall behind the set began burning.

“Before the fire department could answer the call, Margie picked up the set, threw it out the window, and proceeded to extinguish the blaze.”

That was the entire report, but Margie must have been a hardy soul because that early TV would have been big and heavy as well as hot.

The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was called for its first 18 years, began publication on March 1, 1948.

The newspaper’s coverage of the past 65 years of West Marin news, big and small, is the focus of a book its publisher, the Tomales Regional History Center, has just released.

The book’s cover at left.

I’m particularly interested in the book, The Light on the Coast, because I, along with Jacoba Charles, authored it.

The graphic artist was Dewey Livingston, formerly production manager at The Light. He is now the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History and is an historian for the National Park Service.

The Light is in its 10th ownership, Marin Media Institute, and the evolution of the newspaper itself is part of the story. As editor and publisher for 27 years, I was responsible for the chapters covering the first eight ownerships. Jacoba, who is on The Light’s board of directors and formerly was a reporter for the paper, was responsible for the most recent two.

Flooding in Bolinas. The ferocious storms that periodically hit the coast have always received extensive coverage in The Light.

Highlights of the 354-page book include the evolution of West Marin agriculture; the effects of the arrival of the counterculture on local politics, law enforcement, and the arts; the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Examples of The Light’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of violence and other illegal activities by the Synanon cult are, of course, included in The Light on the Coast.

The newspaper’s complete series on the five historic waves of immigration to West Marin is also a central chapter.

The forefathers of many longtime families in West Marin arrived in immigrations from specific locales in: Ireland, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Croatia, and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores. Researching their journeys to West Marin, as well as the more-recent immigration from Mexico, involved sending Light reporters abroad four times between 1988 and 1997.

This illustration for Sheriff’s Calls by cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux’s was often used in Western Weekend editions. The final section of our book consists of some of the more unusual Sheriff’s Calls from the the past 38 years.

The Light on the Coast features, along with a variety of news and commentary, a sampling of cartoons, advertising, and photography (including 10 portraits by Art Rogers). My partner Lynn Axelrod and I reviewed almost 3,000 back issues of The Point Reyes Light/Baywood Press in compiling the book. Jacoba reviewed more than 400. After making our selections, she and I wrote background narratives for many of them.

Those who’ve read the book have had good things to say about this approach of presenting West Marin’s history through the pages of The Light. Commenting on the book, San Francisco Chronicle reporter and columnist Carl Nolte writes: “The Point Reyes Light is a great window into a fabulous small world.”

Dr. Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, is likewise enthusiastic: “Dave Mitchell and The Point Reyes Light are synonymous with top-shelf newspapering. Dave is one of the few small-town editors ever to win a Pulitzer Prize; his investigation of the Synanon cult is a textbook example of tenacious reporting. His witty and colorful anecdotes always make for good reading.”

The Light on the Coast is available at Point Reyes Books for $24.95 plus tax.

It can be ordered online from the Tomales Regional History Center bookstore for $29.95 including tax and shipping.

West Marin is finding ways to deal with the federal shutdown as conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives hold the national budget hostage to their goal of eliminating the country’s new affordable-healthcare program.

With the Point Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Muir Woods National Monument temporarily closed, some residents and visitors are paying more attention to the coastal art scene.

At least on the first weekend of the closure, some pieces of national parkland were less closed than others. In the town of Stinson Beach, sybarites continued to use the federal beach but were barred from its parking lot. At Pierce Point, some park visitors simply ignored the “closed” sign in the parking lot. “This was all they put up in the way of a ‘barricade,'” wrote Sarah Paris of San Francisco, who took the photo. She added there were “lots of people parked there and quite a few on the trail.”

Meanwhile, other visitors upon learning they couldn’t explore the Point Reyes Lighthouse decided to explore Point Reyes Station instead. What they found were two art galleries showing a variety of first-rate exhibitions.

Point Reyes Station artist Sue Gonzalez (left) is showing her highly regarded paintings of Tomales Bay at Toby’s Feed Barn Gallery. This painting titled Evening Fog is priced at $4,800.

The exhibition at Toby’s will run throughout October, and Sue will hold an opening reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. The gallery is open until 5 p.m. seven days a week.

Sue at work in the studio of her Point Reyes Station home. She attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a major in painting. She also studied with prominent Beat artist Wally Hedrick at Indian Valley College and with Ted Greer, who in 1981 made a video of Hedrick.

A visitor to Toby’s Gallery is intrigued by Sue’s painting titled Tomales Bay.

Ripples on the surface of the bay are almost always prominent in Sue’s paintings, but that doesn’t make her art redundant. The movement of the water and the play of light upon it are a large part of her paintings’ appeal. Sue is seen here with her painting titled Reflections 2.

A visitor from Australia admires Sue’s painting titled Teachers Beach.

Besides being a painter, Sue is a “reading-intervention” instructor at West Marin School.

The elementary school includes students with a wide range of abilities in English, especially because many of its students come from Spanish-speaking homes — although Sue herself does not despite her last name being Gonzalez.

That’s the surname of her husband Anastacio Gonzalez, who’s known in West Marin for his jars of Anastacio’s Famous BBQ Oyster Sauce.

Here Sue stirs a brush in the paint on her palette while working in her studio.

Also exhibiting his art this month at Toby’s Gallery is printmaker Tom Killion of Inverness Park. Tom works in Japanese-style woodcut and lino-style prints.

Nicasio by Tom Killion.

Vicente Canyon, Big Sur by Tom Killion. Actually it should be Dr. Tom Killion since he holds a PhD in history.

The opening reception for Tom’s exhibit will also be from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12.

As it happens, just a block away, Gallery Route One also has some fascinating exhibits at the moment. One that I found particularly engaging was a display of works by members of the gallery’s Latino Photography Project.

In the GRO project, professional photographers coach Latinos as they document the immigrant experience, and 10 up-and-coming photographers are represented in the show. This photo by Juanita Romo is titled Mi Primera Comunión.

The Abundance by Rubén Rubledo shows workers with a barge of oyster bags.

Gathering the Harvest by Rubén Rubledo.

The present exhibitions at Gallery Route One also include humorous paintings by Andrew Romanoff of Inverness, grandnephew of the last tsar of Russia, and mixed-media art by Madeline Nieto Hope, who has a wide variety of interests. She holds a Master of Arts degree from UC Berkeley and is the county’s “West Marin education coordinator” for its solid-waste-reduction program.

The exhibits at Gallery Route One will remain up through Sunday, Oct. 20. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Tuesday.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness, a True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by journalist Tom Kizzia is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Extraordinarily well researched and very well written, the non-fiction story at times also bears an uncanny resemblance to recent events in West Marin.

Remember Marcus Wesson (in Fresno Police photo at right)? He lived halftime on a tugboat moored offshore at Marshall where he headed a cult-like family of 10 women and children, most of whom were kept below deck.

Although Wesson presented himself as a pious man, he was in periodic conflicts with the law and his neighbors. He also fathered two of his own grandchildren.

Things came to ahead in 2004 when Wesson shot to death nine family members — eight of them children — while in Fresno. A year later, he was found guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder and 14 counts of molestation and rape. He was sentenced to be executed but remains on death row.

I couldn’t help but think of Wesson when I read in Kizzia’s book about Papa Pilgrim, the head of a somewhat-similar family cult.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is set in the small Alaskan town of McCarthy, which like West Marin is mostly surrounded by federal parkland. Where the Point Reyes National Seashore is trying to stop historic oyster growing within the park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is seen trying to stop inholders from reopening historic mining roads within the park to reach their property.

Of course, that’s only part of the story. Also having significance in the course of events are: the family of former Texas Governor John Connally; President Kennedy’s assassination; All-American offensive tackle I.B. Hale; the FBI; former Interior Secretary James Watt; the Pacific Legal Foundation; “the rural meth belt of the Palmer-Wasilla valley”; and Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska, and vice presidential candidate.

McCarthy in 1983 shortly after creation of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The largest in the country, the park is bigger than Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey combined. (Photo from Pilgrim’s Wilderness)

Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and offspring arrived in McCarthy in 2002, looking like an Amish family and speaking in Biblical phrases. The few residents of McCarthy assumed the family was eccentric but pious. When the Pilgrims bought the old Mother Lode copper mine site in the backcountry, however, other people realized that maintaining access to it would be difficult because of Alaskan weather and the mountainous terrain.

But the Pilgrims insisted they were prepared for the challenge and won a measure of acceptance with public performances of folk songs and “hillbilly” hymns.

No one knew Papa’s real name was Bob Hale and that he had been briefly married to John Connally’s 16-year-old daughter, whom he either shot to death or drove to committing suicide. After he passed a lie-detector test, he was not prosecuted.

Bob Hale — later called Papa Pilgrim — in New Mexico during the 1990s. (Photo from Pilgrim’s Wilderness)

At 33, Hale found another 16-year-old bride and took her to a cabin in New Mexico’s wilderness where they began producing children, none of whom was taught to read or write.

Hale, who resumed drinking heavily, proved to be a brutal father. He regularly beat his wife and children, and they were often seen with welts and bruises. These would be explained away as accidents. When Hale’s oldest daughter, Elishaba, turned 18, he demanded she become his sexual partner. Only after he’d spent two decades in this family cult did one son come to wonder whether they’d all been “brainwashed” into accepting Papa’s cruelty.

Nor could Hale be trusted. In New Mexico, he often had family members cut neighbors’ fences in order to give his family’s sheep and goats more room to graze. When the neighbors complained, he could be threatening on some occasions and charming — but deceitful — on others. Eventually Hale and his wife Rose decided to start over in Alaska and began using the name Pilgrim.

Initially, the story revolves around the Pilgrims’ very public battle with the Park Service over Papa’s reopening an access road through the park.

Other McCarthy residents were also upset with rangers’ blocking another road into town, and thanks to widespread coverage in the press, the Pilgrims’ struggle for access to their home became a cause célèbre.

The struggle was joined by property-rights groups, who also provided the family with legal representation.

In the end, however, Papa Pilgrim’s dishonesty, brutality, and sexual abuse of Elishaba become the issue. These are grim matters, but the denouement is inspiring.

Nor is the book an attack on puritanical Christianity. In contrast to the evil hidden behind Papa Pilgrim’s histrionic piety, the author describes a truly pious family whose compassion helps save the day.

I should stress that all the above is merely a sketch of a few incidents in the book. Thanks to exhaustive research, the author is able to make sense out of the many unlikely events that accompanied an egomaniacal patriarch’s arriving in McCarthy with a cult-like family in tow — and then settling far from civilization in the mountains.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is a captivating story, made all the more intriguing by being a factual account of life on Alaska’s still-surviving frontier. The book should have particular appeal to West Marin readers who will find in it echoes of their own recent history. (Crown Publishers, 310 pages, $25)

Western Weekend, West Marin’s annual salute to its agricultural heritage, was held Saturday and Sunday in Point Reyes Station with a parade and 4-H animal competition.

Pete Tomasetti and his wife riding a 1941 Farmall Tractor followed by a 1938 Allis Chalmers tractor driven by Ben Wright together took first place in the parade’s Farm Vehicle category. _____________________________________________________________

The Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club’s animal show in Toby’s Feed Barn Saturday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Hugo Stedwell Hill of Inverness holds an American blue rabbit, which is a heritage breed.

Dorothy Drady of Nicasio, who was watching over the exhibit, gave this account of the rabbit’s evolution:

The American blue was originally bred in Pasadena in 1917 and became the most popular breed in the country because of demand for its fur and meat.

By the 1970s and 80s, the breed was almost extinct. In the 1990s, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy placed the American blue rabbit on its “endangered” list. Nonetheless, there are now fewer than 500 worldwide.

The animal show was smaller than in previous years because some 4-H members who usually take part will instead compete in the Tri-Valley 4-H Fair Sunday, June 9, from 9 a.m. to noon. It will be held at the Pomi Ranch on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road near Union School.

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4-H Club members taking part in the animal show included, front row from left: Ashley Winkelmann, Nicole Casartelli, Ellie Rose Jackson, Phoebe Blantz, Rachel Stevenson, Eva Taylor, Katie Stevenson. Onstage from left: Ruby Clarke, Willow Wallof, Brinlee Stevens, Nina von Raesfeld, Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club president Audrey von Raesfeld (with clipboard), Olivia Blantz,  Camille Taylor, Caroline von Raesfeld, Marlowe Ural, Gabriel Ural, Stran Stevens, and Max Muncy. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) _____________________________________________________________

4-H member Olivia Blantz won a top poultry award for her Mille Fleurs type hen of the Belgian d’Uccle Bantam breed.

Mille Fleurs, which is French for 1,000 flowers, refers to the many white spots of feathers.

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

 

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Point Reyes Station’s main street was lined with almost 2,000 parade watchers by starting time at noon Sunday. For the hundreds of children on hand, it was a grand party. _____________________________________________________________

Elise Haley Clark sang the National Anthem acapella just before the parade began. Despite her youth, she sang with poise and drew warm applause from the crowd. _____________________________________________________________

The Marin County Sheriff’s Posse had one of three color guards in the parade, along with the Coast Guard and the National Park Service. ____________________________________________________________

A procession of county and Inverness fire engines followed the color guards at the start of Sunday’s parade. _____________________________________________________________

Western Weekend Queen Sara Tanner, 16, a sophomore at Tomales High, earned her crown by selling the most Western Weekend raffle tickets. ____________________________________________________________

Western Weekend Princess Camille Loring of Marshall, is a senior at Tomales High. She was the runnerup in ticket sales. _____________________________________________________________

The entry from “Return to the Forbidden Planet, Shakespeare’s Forgotten Rock ‘N Roll Musical,” took first place in the parade’s Adult Music category. Singer Phillip Percy Williams (standing with microphone) wowed the crowd with his cover of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap’s song “Young Girl.” The musical is scheduled from June 20 to 30 in Tamalpais High’s Caldwell Theater. _____________________________________________________________

The Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Western Weekend Parade was Jim Patterson, who is retired after having been principal at different times of West Marin School and Tomales High. ____________________________________________________________

Papermill Creek Children’s Corner marched and rode down the parade route to publicize the preschool’s upcoming summer camp. ___________________________________________________________

Main Street Moms, who each year have a political entry in the parade, this year called on California Governor Jerry Brown to join the fight against fracking. Fracking, which uses water under pressure to force petroleum and natural gas from underground rock formations, has been blamed for polluting groundwater. _____________________________________________________________

The Nave Patrola, which spoofs the Italian army in World War I, as always was a hit of the Western Weekend Parade. This year the bumbling marchers took second place in the Adult Drill category. _____________________________________________________________

Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, which is fighting a court battle to renew its permit to operate in the Point Reyes National Seashore, entered a large float that carried company workers followed by a band. As the National Academy of Sciences and others have shown, the Park Service has repeatedly faked scientific data in trying to make a case for evicting the more than 80-year-old company.

A man at center in the foreground holds up “Want a Sign?” — inviting parade watchers to join the entry and carry a “Save Our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm” sign. _____________________________________________________________

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Having supported the oyster company’s cause for several years, I decided I ought to carry a sign.

All went well as we marched semi-rhythmically down the main street to the beat of the band. When we reached the finish of the parade, however, I personally had a bit of excitement.

I was handing my sign to someone sitting on the lowboy behind Lunny’s stopped truck when the truck slowly started up and one of the trailer’s wheels rolled onto the outside edge of my right shoe.

Lowboys are designed to carry heavy equipment, so the weight was substantial. For a couple of moments, I couldn’t move my shoe, but although the wheel was pinching my foot, I didn’t feel any great pain. As it turned out, I had somehow managed to squeeze my toes to the other side of my shoe.

The truck continued to slowly roll forward and soon freed my foot. Nancy Lunny, wife of oyster farm operator Kevin Lunny, saw what had happened and hurried over. “Are you all right?” she asked anxiously. In fact, I was exhilarated from having survived the close call unscathed and told her with a laugh, “I’m perfectly okay.”  ____________________________________________________________

A the conclusion of the parade, the Marin County Farm Bureau put on a well-attended barbecue outside of Toby’s Feed Barn. The Doc Kraft Band (under the blue canopy at right) performed country rock ‘n roll music.

Later that afternoon while thinking back to the parade, it occurred to me that my experience with the trailer wheel  just might be a metaphor for the oyster company’s fight for survival. The Lunnys may be getting squeezed, but they’re not going to be crushed.

 

 

She’ll be missed. Thursday was the last day of February, which also meant it was Kathy Runnion’s last day working in the Point Reyes Station Post Office. With the Postal Service eliminating employees, closing post offices, and stopping Saturday deliveries to save money, Kathy accepted an early retirement offer.

Kathy on Thursday said her goodbyes while serving refreshments in the post office’s lobby. One of the reasons for doing so was to assure postal customers she was in good spirits and hadn’t “gone postal,” she joked. With her are Oscar Gamez from Toby’s Feed Barn (at left) and David Briggs from The Point Reyes Light (at center).

Kathy, who lives in Inverness Park, worked 24 years for the Postal Service — 14 years as a clerk in the Point Reyes Station Post Office, four in the Bolinas Post Office, and one in the Inverness Post Office plus five years as a rural carrier in Glen Ellen.

It’s not that Kathy had been angling for early retirement. Seated at a Toby’s Feed Barn table near the post office, Kathy (at right) in November 2011 distributed American Postal Workers Union literature. The flyers urged the public to back a congressional measure, House Bill 1351, so that the Postal Service would be saved rather than savaged.

“The problem,” the APWU explained, “is that a bill passed in 2006 is pushing the Postal Service into bankruptcy. The law imposes a burden on the USPS that no other government agency or private company bears. It requires the Postal Service to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years — to ‘pre-fund’ healthcare benefits for future retirees… The $20 billion in postal losses you heard about doesn’t stem from the mail but rather from [the] congressional mandate.”

Unfortunately, Congress as usual wasn’t up to protecting the public interest once politics got involved.

Another lost cause. Kathy (right) in May 2008 joined other West Marin residents in trying to dissuade the Vedanta Society from letting the Point Reyes National Seashore use Vedanta property as a staging area for slaughtering a herd of fallow deer. Estol T. Carte (center), the Vedanta Society’s president, listened to the polite group of demonstrators but promised nothing and delivered just that.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, then-Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, then-Lt. Governor John Garamendi, famed zoologist Jane Goodall, and the senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, John Grandy, PhD, were likewise on record as opposing the impending slaughter, but the Park Service was out for blood.

Nearly all the fallow and axis deer in the park were gone within months despite recent assurances from the National Seashore that the killing would be carried out over 11 years, which would allow time to take another look at whether to get rid of all the exotic deer. It was one more frustrating flip-flop by the Park Service, which in 1974 had insisted the deer belonged in the National Seashore because they were “an important source of visitor enjoyment.”

Kathy feeding denizens of a Planned Feralhood enclosed shelter at a Nicasio barn.

Retiring from the Postal Service will not take Kathy out of the public eye, however. For 12 years she has headed Planned Feralhood, an organization that traps and spays or neuters feral cats.

More than 700 of them have been adopted for pets. Some of those which could not be domesticated were let loose but with feeding sites established so they don’t have to fight over scraps of food and garbage. Others are being cared for in Planned Feralhood shelters.

Planned Feralhood recently became a non-profit corporation after operating for years under the fiscal umbrella of other nonprofits. Donations can be sent to Box 502, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

Two gray foxes basking in the sun as seen from a rear window of the Point Reyes Station Post Office. The foxes are on the roof of a shed that’s part of Toby’s Feed Barn and adjoins the Building Supply Center’s lumberyard.

In December 2009, I was at home one morning when I got a call from Kathy at the post office. I’d probably like to get a photo of a pair of foxes sleeping just outside a post office window, she said. I grabbed my camera and rushed into town, managing to get there in time to record the scene.

Two days before she retired, I received a similar message from her: “I’ve got a downtown wildlife story for you that needs investigation.” Naturally, I asked what was up. Kathy said she had seen some kind of hawk — although not a red-tailed or a red-shouldered hawk — walking on the cement floor  just inside the Feed Barn next door.

People were at the coffee bar in the entranceway, but they didn’t seem to worry the hawk, which was surprising because hawks tend to avoid humans. Kathy added that all the small birds that used to nest among the rafters of the Feed Barn had disappeared.

I asked Feed Barn owner Chris Giacomini about this, and he confirmed the birds had disappeared, but he didn’t know about the hawk. It seems a hawk had discovered good hunting at Highway 1 and Second Street. All the pigeons that used to perch on top of the Grandi Building also disappeared for awhile, Kathy told me, but a few have returned.

With Kathy’s retirement from the post office, Point Reyes Station is losing not only a first-rate postal clerk but also a first-rate observer of the wildlife to be found in the town’s commercial strip.

I wouldn’t normally visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse on a Feb. 8, but Guido wanted to go there and look for whales. Dr. Guido Hennig, a German who lives in Switzerland, had flown to San Francisco, as he does every year, to attend the “Laser Applications in Microelectronic and Optoelectronic Manufacturing” conference at Mosconi Center.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 and was manned round the clock until 1975 when it was automated.

This year was the 18th annual laser-applications conference. Last year Guido chaired the whole shebang; this year he chaired part of it. Guido, who works for the Max Daetwyler Corporation, invented a technique for using lasers in “the patterning of micro cells on rolls in the printing industry.” (In the company’s words.)

Ever since we met in the Station House Café seven years ago, he always visits when he’s in town.

The view from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard looking down to Drakes Estero at Historic E Ranch, which is operated by the Nunes family.

Because Guido and I headed out to the lighthouse on a Friday and not the weekend, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard was mostly empty. The lack of traffic also meant we could drive all the way to the lighthouse parking lot and just walk the last quarter mile to the information station and overlook. On busy weekends, visitors have to park in bigger parking lots further away and take shuttlebuses to where we parked.

The Great Beach as seen while walking between the lighthouse and its parking lot.

We had no sooner gotten out of our car than we saw a ranger sticking up a sign that said the steps from the overlook down to the lighthouse were closed. “Due to high wind,” he explained.

Just how fierce the wind was quickly became obvious on our walk to the lighthouse overlook. It was so strong and cold it made the inside of my ears ache, but I’ve put up with worse and kept on walking.

A ranger returns from the Point Reyes Lighthouse after all the public has left and the stairs are closed.

Two hundred and sixty-nine stairs lead down to the lighthouse from the overlook. It’s not too bad going down, but the return is equivalent to climbing a 30-story staircase.

A ranger at the information office told me his gauge showed the wind speed at 51 mph. (That’s a strong gale on the Beaufort Scale.) The temperature was in the 40s, he said and estimated the wind-chill factor was down to freezing.

The ranger said the risk from high wind for someone on the staircase is that it can cause a person to trip and fall down the stairs. If the person were injured, a rescue wouldn’t be quick, he added, since it couldn’t be done by helicopter in a high wind. It would require getting the victim all the way to the top of the stairs and an ambulance all the way out to the Point.

Sea spray.

Incidental to the high wind were whitecaps that hid any whales that Guido might see. Nor were there many to be seen. Just an occasional juvenile, a ranger said.

California gray whales winter in the shallow lagoons of Baja California where their calves are born. The southbound migration peaks here in mid-January. They migrate back to their feeding grounds in the waters of Alaska for the summer, with the northbound migration peaking here in mid-March.

When Guido and I returned to my car, I was amazed to see a raven briefly hovering in one place despite the strong gale. Ravens really are as agile in the air as they’re reputed to be.

Elephant seal colony at Drakes Bay.

With Guido unable to see any whales, a docent at the lighthouse overlook suggested we instead take a look at the elephant seal colony at nearby Chimney Rock. We did, and from an overlook there we could see pups, mothers, and bulls sunning themselves beside Drakes Bay.

Elephant seals spend 80 percent of their lives in the open ocean with 90 percent of that being spent underwater “eating, sleeping, digesting, and traveling,” according to the Park Service.

Elephant seals are big and heavy — a bull Northern elephant seal can get up to 16 feet long and weight 5,400 pounds — but it’s the bull’s elephantine proboscis that give them their name.

Point St. Joseph commercial fishing-boat dock as seen from the path between the Chimney Rock parking lot and the elephant seal overlook.

A short turnoff along the road to Chimney Rock took us to yet another overlook, this one for viewing a sea-lion colony.

The “colony,” however, turned out to include a few elephant seals (such as the bull at upper right) basking in the sun with their sea lion cousins.

Elephant seals were hunted almost to extinction during the 1800s, and there were none at Point Reyes for 150 years. In the early 1970s, they began showing up again, with the first breeding pair being found in 1981.

Since then the colony has grown rapidly, and today “the Point Reyes elephant seal population is between 1,500 and 2,000,” the Park Service says. This growth has, in turn, caused some elephant seals to fan out to other beaches in the area, the Park Service adds. Perhaps that explains why some of them now hang out on the sea lions’ beach.

South Beach.

On our way home, Guido wanted to stop at South Beach to shoot a few last photos, so we did. What the wind did to surf was impressive, but what it did on the beach was less so. The blowing sand was almost blinding, and the wind-chill factor felt even colder than at the lighthouse.

I finally retreated to my car and watched the scene through the windshield. Guido, however, decided to spend some time on the beach. He could handle the wind and sand, he said, because he was used to blizzards in Switzerland. It was a telling comparison. A windy, wintry day on Point Reyes is about as punishing as a blizzard in Switzerland. After Guido returned to the car, we drove straight back to Mitchell cabin, managing to get there before Lynn sent out a St. Bernard with a brandy barrel.

Back in 1975 when I first owned The Point Reyes Light, the paper was constantly getting mail addressed to Mike Gahagan, my predecessor, and even to Don DeWolfe, his predecessor. Why the mail was misdirected could easily be understood; mailing lists don’t get updated very often. More perplexing was the newspaper’s mail from the National Audubon Society, which was always addressed to Mrs. Gloria Eagan. I never met the woman nor knew who she was.

Something similar happened when I previously edited The Sebastopol Times. The paper was constantly receiving mail addressed to B.M. Angel, but I had no idea who the person was. Finally one day, I asked sports editor John Owens: “Have you ever heard of a B.M. Angel?” John thought it over for a moment and replied, “No, but I’ve heard of a tooth fairy.”

From Sparsely Sage and Timely 35 years ago: A young lady created something of a stir in Bolinas by walking her pig through downtown dog-like on a leash. It was a guaranteed double-take until the pig got loose and started down Wharf Road on the run.

It soon caught up with a car traveling slowly in the same direction, causing bystanders to fear the pig might run under the car’s wheels. Pedestrians began shouting, “Pig! Pig! Pig!” to alert the motorist, who unfortunately was a sheriff’s deputy in a patrolcar. Brakes were slammed on; the pig darted past; and everyone breathed a sigh of relief — especially the deputy.

As it happened, a sheriff’s dispatcher a couple of months later alerted deputies to be on the lookout for “a WMA [white-male adult]” brandishing a firearm on Highway 1. He was described as “wearing dark glasses and a t-shirt with a peace symbol on it.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought: “Young man, you’re a disgrace to the uniform.”

San Francisco for years has been home to numerous events, such as the Folsom Street Fair, where many of those in attendance are nude. However, some residents have begun complaining about too much public nudity year-round in the city, especially in the Castro District. The Board of Supervisors is now trying to devise an ordinance that would ban public nudity — except for special events.

However, crafting such an ordinance can be tricky. Are striptease theaters public places? Should police cite the parents of children who are naked in public places? What’s the cutoff age? Such questions are not as simplistic as they may seem.

If not carefully written, the result will be a law of unintended consequences. One marvelous example of this occurred in the city of Florence, Oregon, back in 1977 when the City Council decided to shield that city from indecorous sights. In doing so, the council passed an ordinance that made it illegal to have sex “while in view of a public or private place.”

City officials, however, soon realized they had banned absolutely all sex in Florence and decided not to enforce their new ordinance.

I’ll close with an apocryphal story from the world of theater. It seems there was an aspiring actor who had set his sights on Broadway but never made it through the casting calls. Finally after months of frustration, the would-be actor landed a bit part, playing a soldier in an off-Broadway production.

He had only one line: “Hark! I hear a cannon!” Nonetheless, he knew this could be the break that launched his show business career, so he practiced the line day after day, trying to decide just how it should be uttered: HARK, I hear a cannon! Hark, I HEAR a cannon! Hark, I hear A CANNON!

Finally it was the night of the dress rehearsal, and as he stepped onto the stage he was nervous as cat. Just as the time came for his big line, however, there was a loud explosion backstage, and the startled novice exclaimed, “What the hell was that?”

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