The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light, has now sold out virtually all of its third printing. When I wrote the book a year and a half ago with Jacoba Charles as coauthor, I had no idea it would sell so well. Aside from a very few copies at Point Reyes Books, Toby’s Feed Barn, and Tomales Regional History Center, it’s no longer available in West Marin.

The History Center published it, and on Sunday Lynn and I drove to Tomales to drop off the last few copies still on hand. It would have been an easy jaunt were it not for all the bicyclists on Highway 1. Riding four abreast on a two-lane state highway would seem to be the height of either ignorance or arrogance, but at least on this trip we didn’t see any spandex-covered legs sticking out of the ditch.

While in Tomales, Lynn and I stopped at Mostly Natives Nursery to check out the posies, and Lynn found a giant verbena to add to the foliage on our deck. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Mostly Natives is a great little nursery right beside Highway 1 downtown. And as it happens, it’s also the setting of one of my favorite stories in The Light on the Coast.

In a March 3, 2005, news article headlined “Wild turkey blacks out Tomales,” Point Reyes Light reporter Peter Jamison wrote: “A surprisingly resilient wild turkey downed power lines in Tomales last week, causing a four-hour blackout. The turkey, by all indications, is still alive and at large.

“Tomales residents Margaret Graham and Walter Earle, owners of Mostly  Natives, were drinking tea and reading the paper shortly before 6:45 a.m. last Friday in their home when they were startled by a loud explosion and brilliant flash of light from outside their window.

“Running outside, they discovered three downed power lines and a dazed-looking turkey walking in circles on Highway 1. The couple watched as the turkey ambled into the field across the road from their house, disappearing into the brush.

“‘He could have had a heart attack later on in that field,’ Graham said. ‘But I don’t know. There were some feathers in the road, but they didn’t look burnt.'”

“Earle immediately reported the downed power lines to the Tomales firehouse. ‘Some turkey just took out the power lines,’ he recalled saying. Fire Captain Tom Nunes told The Light that he assumed at the time that Earle was referring to a drunk driver rather than a bird.

“Arriving on the scene, Nunes and a crew of volunteer firefighters were baffled to find a mysterious scattering of feathers, but no turkey. After a search of the area yielded no dead or dying birds, Nunes could only confirm that the turkey had somehow survived a head-on collision with a 12,000-volt power line.

“‘You’d think where the power line broke there’d be a fried bird or something,” Nunes said, ‘but we couldn’t find remnants or anything.’

“The jolt of electricity administered to other birds — such as turkey vultures — that more commonly touch live power lines is so strong that the birds typically burst into flames, Nunes said. Typically this occurs when a vulture sitting on a line starts to take off, and its long wings touch two lines simultaneously. In one such accident in the summer of 1998, a flaming buzzard fell to the ground and ignited a 2.5-acre grass fire along Old Rancheria Road in Nicasio.

“Some 825 households and businesses in Tomales initially lost power when the blackout began at 6:45 a.m. Of these, 622 had their power back on by 8 a.m. All customers had their lights back on by 10:15 a.m., spokesman Lloyd Coker of PG&E said.

“Coker noted that he’s never heard of a bird surviving a brush with power lines, and he could recall only one instance when a wild turkey had flown into a power line, which happened about eight years ago in Sebastopol.

“‘I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a common occurrence,’ he added. The scarcity of such incidents is no surprise since wild turkeys can fly only short distances when they fly at all. ‘They don’t fly all that well, so we’ve had no [previous] cases of turkeys hitting the power lines,’ Nunes said.

“At the site of last week’s mishap, however, a steep hillside serves as a launching pad for the birds, which — frantically flapping their wings — can travel to the field across the road.

“Graham said she and her husband had often witnessed the birds in their short bursts of flight across the highway….”

This excerpt from Jamison’s news story is one example of why I as editor of The Light appreciated his craftsmanship. Nor was I the only editor who did. After he left The Light, Jamison went on to write for SF Weekly, The Tampa Bay Times, and now The Los Angeles Times, where he is the metro reporter.

Meanwhile, back in Tomales, nurseryman Walter Earle today shared his amused memories of that winter day 10 years ago when a wild turkey blacked out the town. In particular, he remembered firefighters preparing for a medical emergency when they thought the “turkey” he was talking about was a drunk driver.

Bolinas Museum Saturday opened an engaging exhibition of architecture, photography, painting, and sculpture. The featured artists who all have connections to West Marin included: David Korty, Ruby Neri, William Ransom, Noam Rappaport, Oona Ratcliff, Ivory Serra, Shelter Serra, and Ole Schell. The exhibition will last for two months.

Among the displays in the museum’s photography gallery are portraits shot around the world by Dana Gluckstein.

In her exhibit titled Dignity: Tribes in Transition, the focus, to quote the museum, is on cultures on the cusp of modernization.





Ovazemba Teenage Girls, Namibia, 2007.







Woman with Pipe.









A youth and his brother in Kenya.









A series of brief rainstorms hit West Marin last week but didn’t end the West Coast drought. On Tuesday hail fell at Mitchell cabin, causing no problems. In contrast, massive hail, some of it reaching the size of baseballs or larger, fell Wednesday and Thursday on parts of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Texas, the National Weather Service reported. _________________________________________________________________

The Mount Vision Fire 20 years ago destroyed 45 homes in the Inverness/Inverness Park area. These homes on Drakes View Drive in Inverness Park were in shambles after winds blew the wildfire down the ridge into Paradise Ranch Estates subdivision. (Point Reyes Light photo by David Rolland)

By Anne Sands, West Marin Community Disaster Council Coordinator

This year in October it will be the 20th anniversary of the devastating Mount Vision fire, also known as the Inverness Ridge fire. Recent earthquakes, like the one last August in Napa, remind us that disasters can happen any time of the year.

A major earthquake can hit anywhere around the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, the great circle of tectonic activity created by the Pacific plate rubbing against its neighboring plates. And we in Marin are right on that Ring of Fire.

Get prepared before a disaster and learn what to do after. What about that disaster preparedness class you have been meaning to take? One of the best things we can do as responsible members of our communities is to increase the number of us who have learned basic disaster preparedness and response skills.

These skills include emergency first aid, basic fire suppression, communications, team building, and search and rescue. Immediately after a widespread disaster it will be impossible for our firefighters, EMTs and other qualified medical people to take care of everyone who needs immediate help. We must be prepared to extend the capacity of our local emergency responders by becoming trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members.

The fire departments of West Marin will offer a two-day CERT course on Saturday, May 16, and Saturday, May 30, at  5600 Nicasio Valley Rd. (the Marin County Corporation Yard) from 8:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m. Many Marin residents have taken these classes and are already involved in local disaster preparedness.

You can join your neighbors and friends to make our communities more self reliant and able to cope with disasters. There are no pre-qualifications for this training, and you do not have to be in “great shape.” In a widespread emergency there are many ways to contribute your newly learned skills.

For 18 hours and $45, you can learn how to prepare yourself, your family, and your community to respond effectively. CERT class graduates receive a certificate and an Emergency Response daypack. Scholarships are available, and the classes are free to high school students

Pre-registration is required at www.readymarin.org or call Maggie Lang at 415 485-3409.

Get Prepared! Join CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team.

Caltrans plans to hold a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. this Thursday, March 9, at West Marin School to discuss replacing the Green Bridge which carries Highway 1 over Papermill Creek in Point Reyes Station.

You’re familiar with Caltrans’ bridge work, I’m sure. Its star-crossed replacement of the eastern span of the Oakland Bay Bridge has become an endless story in the Bay Area news media.

Caltrans, which wants to spend $5.8 million replacing this bridge, says it has come up with four designs for a new one. The public will have a chance Thursday to comment on them.

In the mid-1800s, Olema was a far busier place than Point Reyes Station, and a ferry carried travelers going back and forth between the two towns. In 1875, the County of Marin built the first bridge in this location. Its modern replacement was obviously built in 1929.

This 100-foot-long span on Highway 1 carries approximately 3,000 vehicles per day, 4 percent of them trucks, Caltrans reports.  The 10,000-foot-long Bay Bridge on Interstate 80 in comparison carries about 240,000 vehicles per day between Oakland and San Francisco.

Caltrans questions whether the 24-foot-wide Green Bridge is earthquake safe, saying its structure is okay, but its “deck geometry” is “basically intolerable.”

— 1959 photo by D.M. Gunn, courtesy of Dewey Livingston

The old Tocaloma Bridge was built in 1927 to carry Sir Francis Drake traffic over Papermill Creek in the town of Tocaloma, which lies 1.8 miles east of Highway 1 at Olema. The bridge was designed by J.C. Oglesby.

Oglesby also designed the matching Alexander Avenue bridge still in use in Larkspur. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Oglesby’s old Tocaloma Bridge as it looks today.

The new Tocaloma Bridge carrying Sir Francis Drake traffic over Papermill Creek is immediately upstream from the old bridge. The state built the new bridge in 1962 at a cost of $210,000.

San Antonio Creek forms the boundary between Marin and Sonoma Counties, as seen from the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road while heading west.

The San Antonio Creek Bridge along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road straddles the Marin-Sonoma county line just east of Union School.

The 102-foot-long bridge over San Antonio Creek was built in 1919 and replaced in 1962.

The continuous-concrete-slab construction of the 1919 bridge still looks solid. However, the bridge’s width and deteriorating pavement brought about its being replaced with the wider, better-paved bridge beside it.

When I set off to shoot these photos, I was well aware that West Marin’s abandoned bridges are in scenic locales, but this view from the old San Antonio Creek Bridge was, nonetheless, a pleasant surprise.

If Caltrans has its way, the Green Bridge will likewise be abandoned in the near future. Will it then become an historic relic like these? Or will it be cut up and sold as scrap iron?

#ShutdownCanada, Friday’s nationwide protest in Canada calling on the government to investigate the murders and disappearances of indigenous women, was a bit of a disappointment, failing to garner as much public participation as expected.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States, last year reported that First Nation women in Canada are being murdered and disappeared at four times the rate of white women.

Although more than 7,000 people had said they would take part in demonstrations planned in Calgary, Espanola, Edmonton, Fredericton, Halifax, Hamilton, Kamloops, Lethbridge, London, Moncton, Montreal, Niagara, Oshawa, Ottawa, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg, according to Ontario’s Two Row Times, fewer than 700 showed up, Warrior Publications reported.

Unist’ot’en camp (Warrior publications photo)

Also joining the demonstrations were several groups trying to stop environmental damage. One of them, Unist’ot’en Camp, describes itself as a “resistance community in Northern British Columbia, whose purpose is to protect sovereign Wet’siwet’en territory from several proposed pipelines.”

The Unist’ot’en clan says, “Wet’suwet’en territory, which extends from Burns Lake to the Coastal Mountains, is sovereign territory which has never been ceded to the colonial Canadian state; the Wet’suwet’en are not under treaty with the Canadian government.”

Since July of 2010, the Wet’suwet’en have established a camp in the pathway of the Pacific Trails Pipeline.

On Friday, protesters also blocked a main entrance to the Port of Vancouver. In Winnipeg, a number of protesters blocked a road. In Regina, a small group blocked a railway line. And in Montreal, protesters temporarily blocked a major intersection and then briefly occupied a branch of the Bank of Canada.

Despite police limiting the protesters’ movements, #ShutdownCanada did cause some disruption in Regina, noted Daniel Johnson, who took part in demonstrations there. “But it was not the success it could have been.” ________________________________________________________________

No St. Valentine’s event, of course, is likely to ever get as much public attention as the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago.

This was during Prohibition, and in a fight over territory, Al Capone’s South Side Italian Gang  captured five members of Bugs Maron’s North Side Irish Gang, as well as two of its accomplices.

The seven were lined up against a wall inside a garage and executed with Tommy guns. (See photo at left.) One member of the North Side Gang, Frank Gusenberg, lived for three hours after the shootings. Although he received 17 gunshot wounds, he refused to tell police who the gunmen were. ____________________________________________________________

Canada on Valentine Eve Friday was lucky to escape its own massacre, which had been planned for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Before the carnage could occur, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took a 23-year-old woman from Illinois, Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, and a 20-year-old man from Halifax, Randall Steven Shepherd, into custody on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

The woman subsequently told authorities about plans to attack a mall. Two other men, 17 and 20, have also been taken into custody, and a fifth person, a 19-year-old man, committed suicide when police surrounded his home.

Police said the plotters were not involved with Islamic terrorism and merely wanted to kill as many people as possible before taking their own lives. Luckily the Mounties received a tip and found that on social media, the group had revealed an obsession with mass killings. ________________________________________________________

Tony’s Seafood Restaurant.

Also on Valentine Eve, the band Rusty String Express packed Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in Marshall. “The musicians play a mix of jazz, Celtic, and other styles — some traditional and covers,” said West Marin musician Ingrid Noyes.

“But they also write a lot of their own material. They give it all their own unique spin, and they have a unique sound with that mix of instruments.”

The restaurant offered plenty of meal specials, and barbecued oysters were served for only $2 apiece, which is the best restaurant price I’ve seen in West Marin in a very long time.

A Buckeye butterfly on Saturday paused for a rest on bamboo that grows in a half wine barrel on Mitchell cabin’s lower deck. Other parts of West Marin matters were less tranquil on Saturday. In Point Reyes Station, so many tourists crowded into town that a couple of restaurants ran out of food. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

No Name bar

The Michael Aragon Quartet on Valentine Eve played what I call “modern jazz” (think John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley) in Sausalito’s No Name bar, as it does every Friday evening. From left: Rob Roth on sax, KC Filson on keyboard, Pierre Archain on bass, and Michael Aragon on drums.

There’s no cover charge; the music is inevitably great; and at times virtually every seat in the bar is taken. When that happens, some customers inevitably retire to a covered garden in the rear to talk, smoke, meet people, or play chess.

She’s appreciated.

One of the attractions of the No Name on Friday nights is its unceasingly cheerful waitress, Sarah Burke. Just placing drink orders with her is part of the fun. I’m hardly the only person to notice this, and as a way of saying thanks, her regular customers signed a Valentine’s card, which she received Friday, along with a potted red rose.

Hunters-gatherers: Two migrating robins forage outside Mitchell cabin last Wednesday.

There are more robins in West Marin than usual this winter. Wildcare, the wildlife-rescue group in San Rafael, reported last week, “It’s songbird migration time…. In the past few weeks, we have admitted 11 thrushes and six robins with head trauma from hitting windows.”

In order to feed these patients, the Birdroom at Wildcare “needs earthworms (good from your compost) and frozen berries (wild blueberries, the small ones, are best).” The group can be reached at 415 453-1000.

The middle of February is always a busy time in the United States and Canada, and this year it will be especially busy in Canada. Indigenous activists have announced plans for a one-day, coast-to-coast version of the Occupy movement. More about that in a moment.

Both countries will celebrate Valentine’s Day this Saturday, Feb. 14. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday will be Thursday, Feb. 12, and President George Washington’s birthday will be Feb. 22. In accordance with Congress’ Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971, California and most other states will celebrate the two presidents’ birthdays together as Presidents’ Day this coming Monday, Feb. 16.

Beyond that, however, things fall apart; the center cannot hold, for the holiday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday although in some years it falls on Lincoln’s. In addition, some states honor different presidents with different holidays.

In Massachusetts and Virgina, only Washington’s birthday will be celebrated Monday. Massachusetts, however, will celebrate a second Presidents’ Day on May 29, honoring Presidents John F. Kennedy, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and the lackluster Calvin Coolidge. Why those guys? They were all born in Massachusetts.

In Washington and Alabama, Washington’s and President Thomas Jefferson’s birthdays will be celebrated next week on Presidents’ Day but not Lincoln’s birthday. Arkansas on Monday will officially celebrate the birthdays of both Washington and Daisy Batson Gates (1914-99), an NAACP leader during the struggle for integration.

The Big News this coming weekend, however, will concern neither Presidents’ Day nor Valentine’s Day.

Nor will it occur in the United States.

Just across the border, thousands of First Nation people plan to economically disrupt Canada for a day.

Canada geese over Point Reyes Station bring to mind two impending events: Valentine’s Day and #ShutDownCanada.

#ShutDownCanada, as it’s called, is a collection of nationwide protests being organized via Facebook, the Two Row Times of Hagersville, Ontario, reported on Jan. 21. The group is asking for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway on February 13th,” the First Nation publication noted.

“Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women….

“Plans to demonstrate outside city halls, shut down highways, occupy high traffic areas and more have been organized by groups in Calgary, Espanola, Edmonton, Fredericton, Halifax, Hamilton, Kamloops, Lethbridge, London, Moncton, Montreal, Niagara, Oshawa, Ottawa, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.”

#ShutDownCanada intends to draw attention to both the “missing and murdered indigenous women” and to several “man-made environmental disasters [including] existing and operational fracking wells, open-pit mining projects, the Site C Dam construction [a hydroelectric dam planned in northeastern British Columbia], and the widespread devastation that tar sands and related pipeline projects brings to all life forms, ecosystems, families and communities.”

Drawing particular ire is the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative. Percentage-wise, four times as many First Nation females as white females are being murdered or disappearing in Canada. So says a recent report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States.

In December, however, Harper (at right in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation photo) shrugged off complaints that his government was not looking into the disproportionate number of attacks on indigenous women. “It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest,” he acknowledged.

“Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this…. I would rather spend my time focusing on what actions we can take to improve these situations, prevent these situations than have more multimillion dollar inquiries.”

Further offending many First Nation people were comments by Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt. When 16-year-old Rinelle Harper, who had been physically and sexually attacked, called for a national inquiry into the violence against indigenous females, he responded: “Listen, Rinelle, I have a lot of sympathy for your situation… and I guess that victims… have different views and we respect them.”

The First Nation reaction was immediate. Referring to the girl’s traumatic ordeal as a “situation” epitomized the insensitivity of the Harper government to indigenous people, one critic wrote.

Beyond fuming at the conservative government’s lack of concern about attacks on indigenous women, many First Nation people also accuse Harper of corruption, saying his government plans to take over more aboriginal land for development of natural resources in violation of a Canadian Supreme Court ruling.

In 1990, Mohawks in Quebec faced provincial and federal troops for six months in a standoff that resulted from a dispute over land ownership. Friday’s conflict will probably be more peaceable. An Eastern Door editorial by editor and publisher Steve Bonspiel, whom I wrote about last week, advised his Mohawk readers: “A unified approach without violence but with plenty of information to inform others is a sound one.”

The Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was observed Saturday evening in downtown Point Reyes Station. It’s a day set aside each year for special remembrances of friends and relatives who have died.

Meanwhile up the bay, Tomales Regional History Center on Sunday opened a well-attended exhibition, “The Region’s Lost Buildings: Their Stories and their Legacies.” More about that in a moment.

A Día de los Muertos altar in the Dance Palace held dozens of photographs of deceased family members and mementos of their lives.

Saturday’s celebration began with a procession from Gallery Route One to the Dance Palace. These young ladies wore angel costumes and looked very sweet while some celebrants wore Halloween costumes which were downright ghoulish.

Aña Maria Ramirez, the de facto matriarch of the Latino community around Point Reyes Station, spoke in English and Spanish about Dia de los Muertos. The event was organized by Point Reyes Station artist Ernesto Sanchez, who also created the altar. The Dance Palace sponsored the event with financial support from Marin Community Foundation.

A variety of excellent Mexican food drew a long line to the serving table.

Local singer Tim Weed and his partner Debbie Daly (in white) led some impromptu singing in the Dance Palace.

For many in attendance, including Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe and her son Joshua, it was a family event.

Elvira de Santiago of Marshall paints the face of Ocean Ely, two and a half, of Point Reyes Station.

Carrie Chase and Diego Chavarria, 10, of Point Reyes Station showed up in elegant costumes. Here Diego waits to have his face painted.

And while all this was going on, photographer Eden Trenor (left) of Petaluma and formerly of Point Reyes Station, was having an opening in the Dance Palace lobby for an exhibit of her works. With her is Dan Harrison, a printmaker who owns a gallery in Olema.

This photograph of ponds is part of Trenor’s show, which is called “For the Yes of It.” _______________________________________________________________

“The Region’s Lost Buildings: Their Stories and their Legacies,” which opened at the Tomales Regional History Center Sunday, is also a photographic exhibit for the most part, but the photos are far older.

Curating the exhibition was Ginny Magan of Tomales, and she did an excellent job, both in her choice of pictures to display and in her captions for them.

The narrow-gauge railroad depot in Marshalls, as Marshall used to be called. The Shields store to the right of the depot still survives and now belongs to Hog Island Oyster Company. “This image of Marshall’s depot shows a style typical of small, early train stations across the country, with its board-and-batten siding and deep eaves,” its caption notes.

The Bayview Hotel, which once stood in this spot on the shore of Tomales Bay, was built by the Marshall brothers in 1870 and was frequented by fishermen and hunters.

When it burned in 1896, the Marshall brothers had the North Coast Hotel (above) constructed on the site. “As the photo shows,” the History Center points out, “the building was a few feet from the railroad tracks.

“The hotel was knocked into the bay by the 1906 earthquake, but pulled out and repaired by the owners, Mr. and Mrs. John Shields.

“Except for its use as military housing during the Second World War, the building remained a hotel under several proprietors until it caught fire in 1971. The 25 guests, all the employees, and owner Tom Quinn and his family got out safely, but the hotel — with only its brick chimney standing — was a complete loss.”

“The depot at Tomales was unusual,” according to the History Center’s caption. “Because of its low-pitched roof, it resembles something built a century later. All Tomales railroad buildings were painted a brick red.

The aptly named hamlet of Hamlet, another stop on the North Shore Railway line, was a village from 1870 to 1987, when the National Park Service bought it.

“Hamlet’s namesake was John Hamlet, a dairyman from Tennessee who purchased the site with gold coin in 1870. He left little but his name. The next owner, Warren Dutton, developed Hamlet as a railroad stop that the Marin Journal described as ‘one of the most inviting places on the bay for aquatic sports.’

“To most of today’s locals, the name Hamlet is connected with the Jensen family, who purchased the land in 1907, and developed and inhabited the village over 80 years and four generations. By 1930, the Jensens were establishing Hamlet’s well-known connection with oyster farming.

The Tragedy of Hamlet.

“In 1971, third-generation matriarch Virginia Jensen was left a widow with five children. She — and eventually they — carried on, though maintaining the oyster farm, its retail components, and the property’s buildings was clearly a struggle.

“A 1982 storm all but obliterated the oyster beds. ‘I never planted [oysters] after that; that was my last tally-ho,’ remembered Mrs. Jensen. In 1987, she sold the site to the Park Service, which then looked the other way as vandals and the elements savaged it. In 2003, the Park Service demolished the last of the buildings.

Highway 1 is the main street of Tomales where it’s known as Maine Street.

“Trotting down Maine Street toward First c. 1890. Originally the Union Hotel occupied this site; after it burned this group of small buildings housed a saloon — one of six or eight in the town — a billiard room and Sing Lee Washing and Ironing. Today the Piezzi Building is at this corner.”

“On a windy day in May 1920, the Plank Hotel caught fire. Despite the best efforts of townspeople at least 16 buildings burned to the ground — two dwellings and most of the town’s commercial center south of First Street.”

“The William Tell was established as a hotel and saloon in 1877. The original building burned in the 1920 fire but was rebuilt within the year. This photo was taken in the mid-1950s.

“The Fallon Creamery, built near the end of the 19th century, used state-of-the-art, steam-operated machinery. The creamery exhibited a 500-pound wheel of cheese at the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in San Francisco.” ________________________________________________________________

By the end of the weekend I was again thanking my lucky stars to be living in West Marin. Everybody had been on their good behavior — even the cops.

When a sheriff’s deputy needed to use his patrol car to create a buffer for the Día de los Muertos procession marching down Point Reyes Station’s main street, I walked over and with feigned indignation exclaimed, “They’re all jaywalking.” The deputy replied with a laugh, “They are all jaywalking. And everyone is going to get a ticket.” And soon he drove off.

What a contrast with police in Saint George, Utah. At least according to the Daily Kos website, police last week raided a Halloween party at a family fun center simply because the event included dancing.

One can only imagine how St. George’s police would have reacted to the Aztec Dancers (left) in Point Reyes Station.

They weren’t just dancing, they were dancing on the main street.

Two major events drew crowds to Nicasio last weekend. One was in the center of town Saturday, the other on the edge of town Sunday, and that was in addition to the usual throng who showed up for Rancho Nicasio’s weekend music.

On Saturday, the Nicasio Historical Society held a grand opening for its new headquarters and museum on Nicasio Square. Out of necessity, most of the celebration took place in the Druids Hall next door. The museum itself is so small it would have been overwhelmed if 20 people had tried to squeeze inside.

In the Druids Hall, Elaine Doss, president of Nicasio Historical Society, urges a crowd of talkative history buffs to take their seats so the presentations can resume. The Historical Society was founded 10 years ago.

I wasn’t surprised that there was a fair amount of public interest in the opening, which included refreshments, music, art, and history talks by Dewey Livingston and Betty Goerke. The interest, however, proved to be so great that even Druids Hall was close to being overwhelmed.

Entertaining guests outdoors was piano man Petaluma Pete.

The town and especially its square are favorite locales  for en plein air painters, and several Nicasio paintings were on display inside the Druids Hall.

‘Summer Morning in Nicasio’ by MaryMcCaffrey.

Detail from ‘Gallagher Ranch’ by Tom Wood. The artist happens to be one of the museum’s neighbors. ________________________________________________________________

Among the most fascinating displays at the museum opening was an exhibit of Miwok Indian history. Artifacts suggest that a Miwok village referred to as Echatamal had existed in the Rancheria Road area as far back 1400.

Between 1783 and 1817, however, the Spanish Mission system took 1,700 Miwok from their homes throughout Marin County to work for Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Only 485 of them survived, according to the exhibit.

Many of the survivors were then moved to Mission San Rafael.

When the Mexican government ended the mission system in 1834, Governor José Figueroa decreed that each head of family and male Indian receive somewhere between two and 29 acres, as well as some of the mission’s livestock.

Five Coast Miwok received a total of approximately 80,000 acres in Nicasio but by 1870 had lost ownership of the land to white settlers. A few Miwok families continued living on the land, but a number of others moved to Marshall.

The only Indian who was able to actually buy traditional Miwok land was chief José Calistro (above), who in 1872 bought 24.53 acres surrounding his village at Nicasio for $980 in gold coin. However, chief Calistro died five years later, and in 1887, his son sold the land to his lawyer for $5. ________________________________________________________________

Much of what is known about the final days of the Miwok in Nicasio comes from the late Mary Copa.

Mary Copa’s mother, Jauna Bautista, is seen here with her grandchildren, Joseph Monzaga, Julia Frease, and Edward Monzaga.

Nicasio, by the way, takes its name from a Miwok from the area. He was given the name Nicasio in 1808 when at the age of 20 he was part of a group of Indians baptized en masse at Mission Dolores.

The name originates with a 12th century Sicilian knight who fought in the crusades. _______________________________________________________________

The next day, Sunday, was a fundraiser for Marin Agricultural Land Trust. The crowd who showed up for MALT Day at Nicasio Valley Farms Pumpkin Patch was even bigger than the previous day’s.

Along with pumpkin picking and perusing the wares of the adjoining Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, people could get information about MALT, which was founded as a nonprofit alliance of environmentalists and conservation-minded ranchers.

Using grants, donations, and bond money, MALT buys agriculture-conservation easements from ranchers. The easements guarantee their land will be kept in agriculture in perpetuity, thus remaining open space without any commercial development or subdividing.

Squealing all the way, youngsters enthusiastically went down a giant slide during MALT Day.

It wouldn’t be a community celebration in West Marin without a 4-H bake sale.

Kids got a chance to ride a mechanical bull a la ‘Urban Cowboy’ — but at a slower speed and with a softer landing should anyone get bucked off.

One way to keep the children entertained was to take them on train rides. _______________________________________________________________

As many girls as boys overcame any fear of heights and clambered up the face of a MALT Day monolith.

Using handholds children got their exercise climbing and then used their safety lines to rappel back to the bottom.




It wouldn’t be a harvest festival without a hayride, and for many youngsters this was their first.

Nicasio is in the geographic center of Marin County, and for that reason some landowners once proposed that Civic Center be built here; however, it was deemed too remote for East Marin residents. As a result, the town today has a population of only 96. At least according to the 2010 census. Yet it sure knows how to host a lot of fun. ________________________________________________________________


Little did I realize four years ago when I wrote a posting about Scotland’s ill-fated attempt to establish a colony in Panama that I was telling the backstory to last month’s referendum on Scottish independence.

On Sept. 19, Scots voted 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent to remain in Great Britain and not become an independent country. Given most coverage in the US press, readers could have easily missed the fact that Scotland had previously been independent, but when a nationwide get-rich-quick scheme went awry, it lost its independence.

I’m going to let a Scottish journalist, whom I met this summer, describe the significance of the vote against independence. First, however, here’s an excerpt from my Sept. 14, 2010, posting that gave the backstory.

Scotland was an independent kingdom from 843 when it was unified until 1707 when it became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain. As an independent country, Scotland during the 1600s had imperialistic ambitions in the Americas. It tried unsuccessfully to establish colonies in Nova Scotia, East New Jersey, and South Carolina, but the worst disaster occurred in Central America.

In the late 1690s, the Scots attempted to establish the colony of New Caledonia on the Isthmus of Panama. A series of crop failures had caused Scotland to look for an overseas source of income. Enter financier William Paterson with a scheme for establishing a colony at Darien in Panama. It would be a way to facilitate trade with the Far East and with European colonies on the west coast of the Americas.

The site of the Darien colony is shown just to the left of the word “Darien” in the “Gulf of Darien” on the right side of this map from 1699.

Despite no one really knowing how all this could be done, the Company of Scotland was chartered in 1695 to raise money to finance the scheme. The company’s first expedition to Panama in 1698, however, ended in disaster. About 1,200 colonists sailed for Panama, but because of disease and starvation, only about 300 survived. Of the five ships that had made the crossing, only one was able to return to Scotland the following year.

Unfortunately, a second expedition had unwittingly set sail before the remnants of the first arrived home. The second group tried to rebuild what the first group had abandoned, as well as complete a fort for defense against the Spanish. And the Spanish did indeed attack. The Scots were briefly able to hold them off but were ultimately forced to surrender. By then, most of the colonists who had joined the expedition had died of dysentery or other diseases. Only a few hundred (out of about 1,300) made it back to Scotland.

The economic effect of these failures devastated Scotland. Citizens from all levels of Scottish society had invested in the Darien scheme, and estimates of their combined losses range from a fifth to nearly a half of all the wealth of Scotland at that time. Many Scots were left indebted and impoverished.

Desperate to recover — in large part by sharing in England’s international trade — the Scots agreed to the 1707 Acts of Union, which created Great Britain as a political union of England and Scotland.

The Scottish contingent at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) annual conference, which was held in Durango, Colorado, last June. From left: Julian Calvert, senior lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, having previously edited newspapers in England and Scotland; Scott Reid, group production journalist for the daily Glasgow Herald and the weekly Sunday Herald, both national Scottish papers; Roisin McGroarty, editor of the weekly Irvine Times on the west cost of Scotland and publisher of a quarterly magazine, the Stewarton Advertiser. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

While in Durango, I had the honor of receiving ISWNE’s Eugene Cervi award for career achievement and also gave a talk based my new book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light. Lynn and I met scores of editors from throughout the English-speaking world.

Among the foreign journalists we met was Scott Reid of Scotland (above center). Interestingly, he works for a pair of sister newspapers that took opposing positions in their endorsements regarding Scottish independence. In the wake of the referendum’s defeat, Reid has given his fellow ISWNE members a copy of his observations to share.

This little country cannot be taken for granted

By Scott Reid
For more than two years, those of us working in Scottish journalism have been privileged to have a front row seat as history was made in our country.

The nation faced a simple question – Should Scotland be an independent country? The answer wasn’t so simple. And the tale of how Scotland, a nation of five million people, at one point looked on the verge of making a decision that would send shockwaves around the world will be talked about for decades to come.

To say the Scottish people were transfixed by the prospect of independence from the outset would be to lie, frankly.

Scott Reid, who wrote these observations, (right).

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which has campaigned for independence for Scotland from the U.K. for many decades, won a landslide majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011 because it had governed well for the previous term, rather than due to any great interest in this particular policy.

An agreement with Westminster was made for a referendum to be held. And most people, while appreciating the historic nature of this, got on with their lives.

In the months leading up to the vote, the atmosphere changed. In May, a paper I work for, the Sunday Herald, backed a Yes vote. This was no overnight switch – the tone of the paper had been moving in that direction for some time. The response was incredible. Sales rocketed and continued to fly as the weeks went on. In one recent week after the referendum sales of the paper year-on-year actually doubled to 49,291.

After two television debates between Alex Salmond of the SNP and former U.K. chancellor Alistair Darling of the No camp – one which was broadcast around the world and even picked up by C-Span – huge viewing figures showed that the public was now on-board with this process.

“I firmly believe that distance adds enchantment to the bagpipes” — William Butler Yeats’ jest, not Scott Reid’s

After the second debate, won by Salmond, the No campaign had a wobbly period. The polls narrowed. There was something in the air. I increasingly wondered if change was afoot.

Then a poll showed Yes ahead. 51% to 49%. And all hell broke loose. The markets shook, there was talk of both the U.K. Prime Minister and the U.K. leader of the opposition having to resign if they lost the vote, the issue dominated the front pages of papers in Scotland and throughout the U.K., and clearly had an impact beyond.

In response, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the opposition charged up to Scotland to try to retrieve the situation and offer Scots more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Throughout the final weeks, our papers were dominated by the referendum. On a daily basis The Herald contained 10 full broadsheet pages on the topic, featuring news, columnists, and occasionally four pages full of letters. The Sunday Herald, which had declared its position early doors, was also dominated by the topic.

Counter to its Sunday sister paper, The Herald decided to back the No side a few days before the vote after Westminster leaders promised extra powers for the Scottish Parliament. However, it warned that if much enhanced extra powers for the Scottish Parliament promised were not delivered then another referendum should follow suit, and the No side would deserve to lose.

It was an articulate case and one that even met with approval from many of those on the Yes side. Both papers have different editors and were given free reign by their owners to come to their own conclusions.

After such a build-up, referendum results day itself was a bit of an anti-climax. Soon after polls closed at 10 p.m. it became brutally clear this wasn’t going to be a nail biter. The head of polling company YouGov pointed to new figures suggesting No would win and said he was 99% certain the survey was accurate. As much as there were doubts over the polls for much of the campaign, for someone to put his neck on the line that far told its own story.

Then from the minute the first result came in and Clackmannanshire was the centre of the world’s attention, it was obvious. That area was designated by many as a guaranteed Yes vote – it went the other way.

Scott Reid (right) believes the referendum was good for Scotland. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

We set to work putting out several editions throughout the night, culminating in an 8 a.m. special edition, our work being rewarded by huge sales increases throughout that week well ahead of the Scottish market.

In the end, the result came in as 55% No, 45% Yes. So was there any point? Well, yes. It opened up a debate about who we are and what kind of country we want. It engaged almost the entire population in politics.

It proved that, when people know every single vote counts and it’s an issue they really care about, they will come out in numbers. It allowed voting for 16 year olds and 17 year olds, which proved to be such a success I suspect it will be carried over to regular Scottish Parliament elections.

And it has worked in Scotland’s interests, as it has made it clear that this little country in the north of the U.K. cannot be taken for granted.

Nowhere is the effect of the ongoing drought more dramatic than at Nicasio Reservoir, which is currently only half full. According to Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) which owns the reservoir, West Marin is in its ninth drought since 1975. At least as measured on Mount Tamalpais.

MMWD, however, is not yet hurting for water. Its seven reservoirs together are still 92 percent full thanks to late-spring rains.

Nicasio Reservoir is so low because the district is steadily drawing on it to supply the San Geronimo Valley treatment plant while leaving as much water as possible in its other reservoirs, which are slower to fill. These include Lagunitas, Phoenix, Alpine, Bon Tempe, Kent, and Soulajule.

Today’s Nicasio Valley Road can be seen to the left of the low-lying old Nicasio Valley Road. This photo of Nicasio Reservoir was taken in 2009 when the water level was also dropping.

Nicasio Reservoir was created by the erection of Seeger Dam in 1961. The new reservoir flooded a number of longtime ranches and inundated the north end of Nicasio Valley Road, which had to be relocated to higher ground (as seen at left).

When the water level dropped this year, thousands of freshwater clams were left stranded and easy prey for various creatures.

Among the creatures currently scavenging on the reservoir’s increasingly exposed bottom are daily flocks of Canada geese.

The old Nicasio Valley Road and its bridge often remain submerged for several years at a time. These days they are high and dry, far from the water’s edge.

Even the centerline on the usually flooded old road is visible in many places now that the water level has dropped.

January, 2010

Creation of the reservoir in 1961 also necessitated relocating a large section of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, a project that cost more than acquiring land and building a dam.

A relic of a mishap that occurred during the construction of today’s roadway can still be found half-hidden in fennel and Andean grass on the south side of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road between Platform Bridge and Seeger Dam.

It’s easy to overlook this rusted steel bar sticking out of a basalt roadcut about 50 yards downhill from Laurel Canyon Road, but according to oldtimers there is a curious history behind it.

As part of blasting through the rock 55 years ago, the road builders one day were drilling a hole for some explosives when their drill shaft broke. Removing it would have required considerable work, so they merely cut off the top and left the bent shaft sticking up beside the road where it can still be seen.

I first heard this account from an oldtimer I knew decades ago, and today I asked Pete Maendle of Inverness Park if it was accurate. Pete is the senior road maintenance supervisor in West Marin for the country Department of Public Works, and he said he had heard the same thing from oldtimers in his department.

So see if you can spot the broken drill shaft the next time you drive slowly by. It’s easy to miss because of all the vegetation around it, but it’s a relic of an historical mishap.

This week’s posting looks at some of the signs of life I’ve photographed over the years. Why signs? My premise is that what gets displayed in public is a good indication of the social-cultural concerns of a certain time and place.

Left Bank, Paris, 1985

The now-defunct newspaper France Soir once had one of the largest circulations in Europe, approximately 1.5 million. Parisians are known for their sophistication, so the gaudiness of the newspaper’s self-promotion seemed a bit gauche: “the BIG BINGO! with France Soir, 250,000,000 to Win.”

Paris, 1985

This scene also stuck me as a bit incongruous. A houseworker wearily lugs home food for dinner while a semi-topless girl on a billboard behind her flirtatiously laughs, “My shirt for a beer.”

A city cemetery in northeastern Iowa, 1969

A sudden, unexplained shudder or shivering, according to some superstition, can be caused by someone walking over your future grave. Nonetheless, I figured it was highly unlikely my ghost-like shadow was giving some far-off person a creepy feeling so I took my time to compose an image.

San Salvador, 1982

With FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) guerrillas mounting an insurrection, armed soldiers and bodyguards were seen throughout El Salvador’s capital during the weeks before the 1982 general election. The political billboard these men are passing says: “All for the Homeland, Defending Justice, Together the People and the Armed Forces.”

Note the Lions Club sign at the right.

San Agustín, El Salvador, 1982.

Control over San Agustín in eastern El Salvador went back and forth between the government and leftist guerrillas for months. On this wall pockmarked with bullet holes, guerrilla graffiti warned, “Death to the Ears,” the ears being townspeople who were government informants.

San Salvador, 1982

Coming upon a patrol of Salvadoran soldiers in pursuit of a guerrilla sniper outside a Coca-Cola bottling plant, I couldn’t help but remember the 1971 Coca-Cola commercial: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” Fat chance.

Alas, even though the insurrection has ended, El Salvador is still wracked with criminal violence.

San Salvador, 1982

This election center had been under fire from guerrillas earlier in the day, and the office was under heavily armed protection. With a national election only weeks away, the official slogan was: “Your vote: the solution.”

The election resulted in a rightwing demagogue, Roberto D’Aubuisson of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA party), becoming head of the Constituent Assembly (the national legislature). More significantly, days of political negotiations ultimately led to a moderate, US-educated economist, Alvaro Magaña, becoming head of state.

As time has passed, the former guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have gained legitimacy as a political party, and on March 12, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, FMLN’s candidate, won the presidential election in a runoff.

Before I sign off, I should note there are many collections of public-sign photography — each different because of time and place and because of each photographer’s unique framing of the world he sees. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of Neon Nevada by newsman Peter Laufer and his wife Sheila Swan Laufer. It’s fascinating in style and concept (and available online).

« Previous PageNext Page »