History


My life companion Lynn Axelrod and I have just returned from Durango, Colorado, where we attended an annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at Fort Lewis College.

Two posts will deal with our adventures. The second will concern transportation, ranging from driving “the highway to hell” (in the words of the Durango Herald) to travel by old-fashioned steam engine and modern Amtrak. Because this first post deals with my receiving a journalism award, I’ve let Lynn prepare it.

Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, opened in 1891 as a boarding school for Native American Indians and remained so until the 1930s when it became a two-year college. In 1956, it was relocated from the town of Hesperus to its present location 18 miles to the east and became a four-year college. Under federal law, Indian students attend it tuition free. (Photo by Tim Waltner, member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and publisher of the Freeman Courier in South Dakota)

By Lynn Axelrod

The highest international award in the English-speaking world for editing a weekly newspaper went to Dave Mitchell of Point Reyes Station last week.

Mitchell, 70, who retired in November 2005, edited and published The Point Reyes Light for 27 years. On June 28, Mitchell received the award in Durango, Colorado, during the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE).

Editors from throughout the United States and Canada, as well as from England, Scotland, and Australia, were on hand.

Mitchell’s “Eugene Cervi Award” is named after the late editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver, where some Colorado politicians once called the liberal newspaperman “the most dangerous man in Denver.”

Eugene Cervi (at left)

After he died in 1970, “the New York Times described Cervi as ‘one of the most outspoken voices in American journalism,’” ISWNE executive director Chad Stebbins has written.

The Eugene Cervi award recognizes “a newspaper editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that ‘good journalism begets good government.’

“The award is presented not for a single brave accomplishment, however deserving, but for a career of outstanding public service through community journalism and for adhering to the highest standards of the craft with the deep reverence for the English language that was the hallmark of Gene Cervi’s writing.

“The award also recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of local affairs.”

Chad Stebbins (left), executive director of ISWNE, and Mitchell standing with the Eugene Cervi Award, which is represented by a street-vendor “Newsman.”

Although the four-day conference was held in Colorado this year, ISWNE’s annual conferences are often held abroad: Calgary, Alberta, 1994; London, Edinburgh, Cardiff & Dublin, 1995; Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1999; Victoria, British Columbia, 2000; Galway, Ireland, 2003; Edmonton & Fort McMurray, Alberta, 2005; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, 2009; Coventry, England, 2011. In 2016, the group will head to Australia.

In 1979 when Mitchell and his former wife Cathy published The Light, the newspaper received the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service. It was only the fourth year since the prizes were established in 1917 that any Pulitzer had gone to a weekly newspaper.

The prize was for an investigation and editorial crusade warning about violence and other illegal activities by the Synanon cult. Synanon, which officially dissolved in 1991, was headquartered on Tomales Bay in Marshall during much of the 1970s.

Mitchell’s new book, The Light on the Coast, which was coauthored by Jacoba Charles, includes key articles and opinion pieces about Synanon. Using news stories published when events occurred, The Light on the Coast tells the history of West Marin since the paper’s founding in 1948. At ISWNE’s request, Mitchell gave an hour-long talk on Synanon and other stories from the book. The Light’s reports on five waves of ethnic immigration to West Marin beginning in the 1850s were a major part of his talk.

Fort Lewis College, which is named after Lt. Col William Lewis, a hero of the Union Army in the Civil War, is in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado at 6,872 feet in elevation. It borders wildlands, and a small herd of mule deer graze the campus undisturbed.

Nominating Mitchell for the award were San Francisco Chronicle reporter and columnist Carl Nolte, retired Santa Fe Reporter editor and publisher Richard McCord, and California Newspaper Publishers Association executive director Thomas Newton.

Newton praised Mitchell for trying to make The Light the “New York Times of West Marin” and for his “swashbuckling journalism for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner, including trips to El Salvador and Guatemala to cover the upheaval and insurrection of the time [1982-83].”

Commenting on Mitchell’s Pulitzer-winning reporting Nolte wrote, “Synanon was very tough. Big city papers went after the organization but were scared off by threats of lawsuits…. But nobody and no lawsuit could stop The Light.”

He added, “Don’t think The Light is a one-trick pony…. Mitchell has taken on the Park Service, which runs the [Point Reyes] National Seashore with an iron hand…. He has also followed the immigration patterns on the land, from the now nearly vanished Miwok Indians to newer people…”

Richard McCord (seen introducing Mitchell at ISWNE’s awards banquet) is best known nationally for his 1996 book The Chain Gang, which exposed the Gannett newspaper chain’s illegal efforts to drive competitors out of business.

In his letter of nomination, McCord focused on The Light’s Synanon exposé: “Despite warnings that he might… be in physical danger, Dave Mitchell continued writing about Synanon in stories and editorials.”

During the awards dinner, Mitchell told the crowd he had “thought he was fading away like the old soldiers cited by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to Congress,” ISWNE’s June 29 newsletter reported. “To me this is like winning a second Pulitzer. It had been so many years since I had put on a tie, I couldn’t remember how to tie it.”

The advent of email roughly 20 years ago created a new phenomenon in humor: jokes that quickly get forwarded and re-forwarded to an ever-expanding crowd of Internet users worldwide.

A Canadian cousin and her husband, both of whom shall remain nameless so they keep me on their email list, send me one or two jokes almost every day. Believing that clever humor — including blonde jokes and the like — should be shared, I’ve decided to pass along a few.

Turkey in the straw outside Mitchell cabin last week.

• An old man lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his tomato garden, but it was difficult work as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament. Dear Vincent, 
I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here, my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me.
 — Love, Dad

A few days later he received a letter from his son. Dear Dad,
 Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where I buried the bodies.
 — Love, Vinnie

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son. Dear Dad,
 Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances. — Love you, Vinnie

• A sign in the bank lobby reads: “Please note that this bank is installing new drive-through ATM machines enabling customers to withdraw cash without leaving their vehicles. Customers using this new facility are requested to use the procedures outlined below when accessing their accounts. After months of careful research, male and female procedures have been developed. Please follow the appropriate steps for your gender.”

Male Procedure:

1. Drive up to the cash machine.

2. Put down your car window.

3. Insert card into machine and enter PIN.

4. Enter amount of cash required and withdraw.

5. Retrieve card, cash and receipt.

6. Put window up.

7. Drive off.

Female Procedure:

1. Drive up to cash machine.

2. Reverse and back up the required amount to align car window with the machine.

3. Set parking brake; put the window down.

4. Find handbag, remove all contents onto passenger seat to locate card.

5. Tell person on cell phone you will call them back and hang up.

6. Attempt to insert card into machine.

7. Open car door to allow easier access to machine due to excessive distance from car.

8. Insert card.

9. Re-insert card the right way.

10. Dig through handbag to find diary with your PIN written on the inside back page.

11. Enter PIN.

12. Press cancel and re-enter correct PIN.

13. Enter amount of cash required.

14. Check makeup in rear view mirror.

15. Retrieve cash and receipt.

16. Empty handbag again to locate wallet and place cash inside.

17. Write debit amount in check register and place receipt in back of checkbook.

18. Re-check makeup.

19. Drive forward two feet.

20. Reverse back to cash machine.

21. Retrieve card.

22. Re-empty handbag, locate card holder, and place card into the slot provided.

23. Give dirty look to irate male driver waiting behind you.

24. Restart stalled engine and drive off.

25. Re-dial person on cell phone.

26. Drive for two to three miles; release parking brake.

• Two Virginia hillbillies walked into a restaurant. While having a bite to eat, they talked about their moonshine operation. Suddenly, a woman who was eating a sandwich at a nearby table began to cough. After a minute or so, it became apparent that she was in real distress.

One of the hillbillies looked at her and said, “Kin ya swallar?” The woman shook her head no. Then he asked, “Kin ya breathe?” The woman began to turn blue and shook her head no.

The hillbilly walked over to the woman, lifted up her dress, yanked down her drawers, and quickly gave her right butt cheek a lick with his tongue. The woman was so shocked that she had a violent spasm, and the obstruction flew out of her mouth. Once she started to breathe again, the hillbilly walked slowly back to his table as his partner said, “Ya know, I’d heerd of that there ‘Hind Lick Maneuver,’ but I ain’t niver seed nobody do it!”

• A blonde was on holiday and driving through Darwin (Australia). She desperately wanted to take home a pair of genuine crocodile shoes but was unwilling to pay the high prices the local vendors were asking.

After becoming frustrated with the no-haggle-on-prices attitude of one of the shopkeepers, the blonde shouted, “Well then, maybe I’ll just go out and catch my own crocodile, so I can get a pair of shoes for free.” The shopkeeper said with a sly, knowing smile, ”Little lady, just go and give it a try!” The blonde headed out toward the river, determined to catch a crocodile.

Later in the day as the shopkeeper was driving home, he pulled over to the side of the river bank where he spotted the same young blonde woman standing waist deep in the murky water, a shotgun in her hand. Just then, he spotted a huge, 3-meter croc swimming rapidly toward her. With lightning speed, she took aim, killed the creature, and hauled it onto the slimy banks of the river.

Lying nearby were seven more of the dead creatures, all on their backs. The shopkeeper stood on the bank, watching in silent amazement. The blonde struggled and flipped the croc onto its back. Rolling her eyes heavenward in exasperation, she screamed, “What the hell? This one’s barefoot too!”

• The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it’s safe to cross the street. I was crossing with a co-worker of mine. She asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. Appalled, she responded, “What on earth are blind people doing driving?”

No joke, something similar actually happened to the late Ralph Craib, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter who nominated The Point Reyes Light for its Pulitzer Prize. Ralph came home from World War II legally — but not totally — blind, and his family got a Disabled Veteran license plate for their car.

The plate permitted them to park in handicap spaces, but one day a San Francisco policeman upon seeing Ralph get into the car accused him of parking in a blue zone without having a handicap placard. Ralph pointed out the car’s Disabled Veteran license plate and noted he was legally blind.

If you’re legally blind, the cop demanded, what are you doing driving a car? With great patience, Ralph explained that the license plate allowed his wife to drop him off and meet him close to his destinations.

Nancy Hemmingway and her husband Bruce Mitchell during a retirement party in her honor Saturday.

Inverness resident Nancy Hemmingway, who retired at the end of last month after 42 years as the town librarian, received a series of emotional tributes, some of them downright tearful, during a gala Saturday in Point Reyes Station’s Dance Palace.

A series of speakers commented on how well Nancy got along with library patrons and with colleagues in the Marin County Free Library System. Her concern for children drew particular praise.


So many people showed up to honor Nancy that the Dance Palace was almost as packed as it is each November for the Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

“Nancy Hemmingway has been the Inverness librarian longer than the Inverness library has been at its current location,” The Point Reyes Light reported on March 20.

“She’s devoted more than half her life to this community, in more ways than one,” The Light quoted Bonny White, the library’s West Marin branch manager, as saying. “Nancy is irreplaceable. She’s one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met in my life, either in library service or out of it. We have been so lucky.”

An ad hoc group calling themselves the West Marin Library Singers serenaded Nancy with “I’ve Been Working in the Library” sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Branch manager Bonny White (center) emceed the celebration.

Dance Palace Community Center founders (from left): Kate Adams, Carol Friedman, Michael Jayson, and Nancy Hemmingway in 1971. The photo appears in my new book, The Light on the Coast, courtesy of the Friedman-Jayson family collection. Saturday’s event ended, appropriately enough, with everyone being invited to dance. ____________________________________________________________________

Learn to Help! Have fun! Get dirty!

By West Marin Disaster Council Coordinator Anne Sands

What would you do in a disaster if no help were available?

Following a disaster event, such as a wildland fire, flood, tsunami or earthquake, West Marin’s first responders — firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement — expect to be overwhelmed. We need to be prepared to take care of ourselves for at least three days and maybe longer.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training is a national program that teaches you how to take care of yourself and help your community until first responders are able to assist.

Practicing extricating a victim from a damaged building during CERT training last January in Nicasio.

This 18-hour training, a two-day class taught on Saturdays by our local firefighters, teaches preparedness and survival skills that you can use to help you, your family, and your community survive after a disaster. Completion of the training qualifies you to be a volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)  member and makes you an official Disaster Service Worker (covered by worker’s compensation).

How you participate is completely up to you and your level of comfort. No special skills or experience are needed in order to be a CERT member. Don’t let age stop you. We’ve trained participants from teenagers to over-70 year olds. The important thing you bring to the class is a commitment to be ready for the next disaster.

Practicing transporting a victim during the training in Nicasio.

What will you learn?

• CERTs are trained to work in teams, organize a command post, set up a triage area, and perform basic first aid, such as identifying symptoms of shock, splinting limbs, and stopping bleeding.

• CERTs learn about when and how, to extinguish a small fire using a fire extinguisher.

• CERTs learn light search and rescue (SAR) techniques to find victims and safely transport them to the triage area.

• CERTs record activities and information to accurately report to the first responders when they arrive.

This isn’t just a lecture class. There are plenty of hand-on experiences and disaster simulations to practice your newly learned disaster preparedness skills.

Congratulations to the 23 graduates of the West Marin CERT class held in January. They are: Lynn Axelrod, Troy Clemons, Diane Doubleday, Walter Earle, Russ Faure-Brac, Gail Fechter, Jerry Feichert, Margaret Graham, Ann Griffin, Graham Hawkes, Oliver Hawkes, Peter Herbert, Don Holmlund, Shirley Holmlund, Paula Linton, Stella Petrakis-Rinne, Risto Rinne, Alison Romano, Anne Sands, Julie Siegel, Jacquie Waterman, Maureen Williams, and Luisa Young.

The next CERT class in West Marin will be Saturdays May 17 and 31 at the Marin County Corporation Yard in Nicasio. Learn more about CERT and register for this or another CERT class at www.readymarin.org or call 415 485-3409. The class costs $45, but scholarships are available.

It’s fun! It’s challenging! It’s worth it! ___________________________________________________________________

And now for the odd news…

A “Blue Monday” for all concerned.

• As you may recall, shortly after takeoff, a JetBlue airliner struck a bird last March 28 and was forced to make an emergency landing. No one was injured except the bird, which ended up stuck in the nose of the plane. These things happen.

What was odd about this collision was the New York Daily News description of the mishap: “Flight 671 departing from Westchester County Airport for West Palm Beach smashed into the nose of the Airbus A320 at about 9:30 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said.” A bird with a flight number? Now that is weird.

• Apparently fewer Americans are turned off by other people’s smoking than we are sometimes led to believe. The Huffington Post three weeks ago summarized an industry survey of what people in 24 of this country’s large cities look for when they browse online for porn. As might be expected, videos featuring Asian, black, and lesbian actresses are popular throughout the US. In Anchorage, Alaska, however, the most popular videos of all feature actresses who are smoking. Folks in Jacksonville, Florida, likewise consider smoking women hot. Sounds like the Surgeon General’s warnings may not be doing the trick.

Americans’ right to publish free from government interference is contained in the Constitution’s First Amendment, which was adopted in 1791. In the past 50 years, all manner of publications have relied on it in major court cases, ranging from the New York Times — which has used it as a defense against claims of libel — to Hustler magazine — which has used it as a defense against charges of obscenity.

But what did the founding fathers have in mind back in 1791 when they made freedom of the press a centerpiece of the First Amendment? They certainly were not thinking of radio or television. Neither had been invented yet.

Nor were they thinking of big daily newspapers, such as The Times. They didn’t exist either. There was no way to produce large-circulation newspapers back when presses were hand-powered. Mass-circulation newspapers weren’t possible before the first half of the 19th Century when — in the wake of the Industrial Revolution — steam-powered and then rotary presses appeared.

Nor was Congress thinking about men’s magazines, such as Hustler. There’d be no reason to before cameras were invented, and the earliest form of photography, daguerreotype, debuted in 1839.

The “press” America’s founding fathers sought to protect in 1791 consisted of weekly newspapers, often with circulations under 500 because that was the most that could be produced in a week’s time. These tiny papers were considered so crucial to America’s emerging democracy that nine of the original 13 states independently passed freedom of the press laws before Congress passed the First Amendment.

A dramatic example of the value that American colonists placed on their outspoken, highly partisan little newspapers occurred in 1765 when the British Stamp Act imposed a tax on newspapers and business documents, thereby shutting down many colonial newspapers. The public was furious. John Holt, the owner of New York’s Weekly Gazette and Post-Boy, found a warning letter thrown through the door of his print shop. “We are encouraged to hope you will not be deterred from continuing your useful Paper by groundless Fear of the detestable Stamp-Act,” the letter said.

“However, should you at this critical Time shut up the Press and basely desert us, depend on it, your House, Person and Effects will be in imminent Danger. We shall therefore expect your Paper on Thursday as usual.” Needless to say, Holt continued publishing.

It’s worth noting that despite today’s widespread calumny that “newspapers are dying,” most are not, and weeklies in particular are holding up well. Because thousands of US communities are too small to get regular coverage of local news from television and daily newspapers, weekly newspapers have a total nationwide circulation far larger than many people realize.

There are approximately 1,400 daily newspapers in the US. Together they have a total circulation of about 42 million. In contrast, there are well over 6,000 community newspapers, mostly weeklies, and they have a total circulation of roughly 65 million. All this according to the National Newspaper Association (NNA).

Unlike daily newspapers, weekly newspapers are not discarded after a day. Most weeklies sit around the house for several days with various household members picking them up multiple times. As a result, weekly newspapers are read by an average of 2.3 people per household, and they typically spend 38.95 minutes a week with each copy, meaning that 150 million people read a community newspaper almost 40 minutes a week, NNA reports.

Local news is the most-frequently read topic, and 73 percent of community-newspaper readers report reading all or most of each issue.

To be certain there are an increasing number of web-news sites, many of them maintained by newspapers, but their readers average only 4.4 minutes per visit, according to NNA. It’s also worth noting that 30 percent of adults who live where community newspapers circulate have no Internet access at home.

At 4 p.m. this Sunday, April 27, I’ll have more to say about the weekly press at Book Passage in Corte Madera.

I’ll also read from my new book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

As the cover notes, the book is “the history of West Marin’s Lively Little Towns and their Pulitzer Prize-Winning Weekly Newspaper.”

It consists of news reports published at the time events were occurring plus a background narrative.

The Book Passage store where I’ll be speaking is located at 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard just north of Century Cinema theaters.

Wives Kill Most Spouses In Chicago, read a perplexing banner in the Sept. 8, 1977, Florida Times-Union. (Compared with cities nationwide, Chicago’s wives are the most likely to kill their husbands? Or is it that wives tend to hold off killing their husbands until they get to Chicago?) It was another meandering headline. As we all know, the press is full of them albeit not always quite that dramatic. Here are a few other confusions from years gone by.

First some background for those of you too young to remember: The first swimming pool at the White House was built by FDR in 1932. He used it regularly, as did Presidents Truman and Kennedy. In 1969, however, President Nixon had the pool floored over to create a press-briefing room but left it structurally intact. In 1975, President Ford replaced it with an outdoor pool designed for diving. Now that you know all that, perhaps you can make sense of this Sept. 12, 1974, headline from The Argus of Rock Island, Illinois: New ambassador to Japan joins Ford in missing swimming pool.

And I may never learn what The Bellingham (Washington) Herald meant by its Feb. 15, 1977, headline: State diner featured cat, American food.

These goofups from the 1970s were compiled for a 1980 Columbia Journalism Review book titled: SQUAD HELPS DOG BITE VICTIM and other flubs from the nation’s press. Such “flubs,” of course, continue to this day — even in this age of Internet media.

Here is the headline for a basketball story that was posted online Saturday:

Sometimes the mistakes are malapropisms (a word that sounds similar to the one that is intended). For example, The New York Times on Feb. 7, 1977, published the headline: 14 Are Indicted On Obscure-Film Charge. At least there was nothing Obscene in the headline.

Likewise, when The Alabama (Montgomery) Journal on April 23, 1976, ran a story about an induction, the headline was: 4 Indicted Into Military Hall of Honor.

Here’s an excerpt from a story that ran in The Scranton Tribune on Jan. 14, 1975: The breaking down of most prejudices and discriminations has lifted women from mental work to important management and top professional positions. My guess is that an overworked typesetter disliked her menial job and was bitter about top management.

Of course, some malapropisms in print are really typos. The Arkansas Gazette back on April 11, 1975, announced: Libertarians To Protest All Texas. They’d never do that today.

A mere three weeks ago, the headline below ran in The West Marin Citizen:

The fact that three young ladies worked up a sweat while supporting Future Farmers of America would seem to be a testimony to their diligence. Moreover, “sweetheart” when spoken with a backwoods drawl might be pronounced “sweatheart.” ________________________________________________________________

And then there are those times when incompatible headlines end up together.

Monday having been St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll close with this example from the March 17, 1977, Odessa (Texas) American.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________

During an open house and reunion Saturday, a happy throng of Point Reyes Light readers, staff, and columnists joined with former staff and correspondents to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the newspaper’s first issue.

The reunion drew staff and contributors who had worked at the paper at different times during the past 44 years. A number of former staff traveled hundreds of miles to attend. A couple of them arrived from out of state.

From left: Laura Lee Miller, David Rolland (who drove up from San Diego), Cat Cowles, Wendi Kallins, Janine Warner (who drove up from Los Angeles), Elisabeth Ptak (back to camera), Gayanne Enquist, Art Rogers (talking with Elisabeth), Keith Ervin (who drove down from Seattle), B.G. Buttemiller, and (in blue shirt with back to camera) Víctor Reyes. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine) ______________________________________________________________

The party was also a celebration of the Tomales Regional History Center’s publishing The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

Stuart Chapman of Bolinas, a former member of the staff, shot this photo, which he titled “Dave, Proud Father” because I authored the book.

My co-author was Jacoba Charles. Jacoba reported for The Light under its previous ownership and is a member of the paper’s board of directors under its present ownership, Marin Media Institute.

The colored Post-its, by the way, mark selections that I, along with others, would be reading to attendees. ____________________________________________________________

From left: Co-author Jacoba Charles, photographer Art Rogers, scientist Corey Goodman, photographer David Briggs, editorial consultant on the book and former member of The Light’s ad department Lynn Axelrod, and Spanish-language columnist Víctor Reyes. (Except where noted otherwise, the photos in this posting were shot by former Light reporter Janine Warner)

Michael Gahagan (left), who drove down from the Sierra Nevada town of Columbia to attend, published The Light from 1970 to 1975. Here he reminisces with historian Dewey Livingston of Inverness. Dewey for many years provided a weekly historical feature titled “West Marin’s Past.”

During the Gahagan years, Lee Sims (left) was the newspaper’s main typographer. This was back in the days before offset printing, and each page that went on the press had to be composed in lead.

In a piece written for The Light’s 30th anniversary in 1978 and reprinted in The Light on the Coast, Michael Gahagan’s former wife Annabelle comments, “Poor Lee, he had the disadvantage of being a friend of ours. One can always depend on friends — and we did lean on him! He was always underpaid and overworked. (Weren’t we all?)”

Catching up on old times are (in foreground from left): former news editor David Rolland, who drove to the reunion from San Diego, former typesetter Cat Cowles of Inverness, and former reporter Joel Reese, who flew in from Chicago. Standing behind them are current reporter Christopher Peak (left) and Matt Gallagher, who filled in as managing editor from February through July 2011. _____________________________________________________________

Samantha Kimmey (on the left) has been a reporter at The Light for the past year. With her is Tess Elliott of Inverness, who has been The Light’s editor for the past eight years   ____________________________________________________________

Gayanne Enquist was office manager during much of the 27 years I owned The Light. She was there when I arrived in July 1975, and she was there when I left in November 2005. (I was away reporting for the old San Francisco Examiner between September 1981 and the end of 1983.)

Former reporter Michelle Ling trades stories with Don Schinske, who was business manager during the 1990s and was co-publisher from 1995 to 1998. At left is her father, Dr. Walter Ling who teaches at UCLA. With his wife, May, Dr. Ling drove to Point Reyes Station for the celebration. In the background, Mary Papale listens intently to Laura Rogers.

Ingrid Noyes of Marshall (left) tells a story to my co-author, Jacoba Charles, outside The Light office.

Former staff recall the days of yore. From left: artist Laura Lee Miller, news editor David Rolland, typesetter Cat Cowles, reporter Janine Warner, and San Geronimo Valley correspondent Wendi Kallins. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

Sarah Rohrs was a reporter at The Light in the late 1980s. When several of us took turns reading aloud selections from The Light on the Coast, I read Sarah’s wonderfully droll account of a county fireman in Hicks Valley having to get a cow down out of a tree. (Photo by Joe Gramer)

Larken Bradley (left), who formerly wrote obituaries for The Light, chats with librarian Kerry Livingston, wife of Dewey.

Photographer Janine Dunn née Collins in 1995 traveled with news editor David Rolland to Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino and to war-torn Croatia in doing research for The Light’s series on the five waves of historic immigration to West Marin. Here she chats with the paper’s current photographer David Briggs (center) and her husband John Dunn.

Former Light graphic artist Kathleen O’Neill (left) discusses newspapering in West Marin with present business manager Diana Cameron. _____________________________________________________________

Former Light reporter Marian Schinske (right) and I wax nostalgic while photographic contributor Ilka Hartmann (left), looks on and Heather Mack (center), a graduate student in Journalism at UC Berkeley, takes notes. ____________________________________________________________

Former news editor Jim Kravets (left) jokes with photographer Art Rogers.

John Hulls of Point Reyes Station and Cynthia Clark of Novato have in the past worked with The Light in various capacities. In 1984, Cynthia set up the first computer system for the newsroom and ad department.

From left: Stuart Chapman of Bolinas, who formerly worked in The Light’s ad department, swaps stories with journalist Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles and Light columnist Víctor Reyes.

Historian Dewey Livingston (left), a former production manager at The Light, poses with former news editor David Rolland while former business manager Bert Crews of Tomales mugs in the background.

In preparing to shoot one of his signature group portraits, Art Rogers directs members of the crowd where to stand. With the throng crowded into the newspaper office, getting everyone in the right place to be seen was such a complicated operation that some of the photographer’s subjects began photographing him. _____________________________________________________________

In shooting a series of three-dimensional photos, Art had to use a tall tripod and balance precariously on a window ledge and ladder.               _____________________________________________________________

Art’s wife, Laura, who didn’t have to work nearly as hard, pages through a copy of The Light on the Coast. _______________________________________________________________

The party was in part a book-signing, and I signed copies off and on all afternoon. ______________________________________________________

Light editor Tess Elliott reads Wilma Van Peer’s 1998 account of working for the paper’s founders, Dave and Wilma Rogers half a century earlier. The newspaper was called The Baywood Press when it began publishing in 1948. The paper’s fourth publisher, Don DeWolfe, changed the name to Point Reyes Light in 1966.

Originally the readings were scheduled to be held in the newspaper office, but so much socializing was going on they had to be delayed until the party moved around the corner to Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant where the banquet room had been reserved.

Among those reading besides Tess were Dewey Livingston, David Rolland, Matt Gallagher, and I. Anyone wishing to watch me read former publisher (1957 to 1970) Don DeWolfe’s account of his initiation to running the paper can click here.

It was a grand party, and I want to thank present Light staff, who made arrangements for the party, and former staff, some of whom traveled significant distances to attend the reunion.

Two other book readings are also scheduled. At 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Point Reyes Presbyterian Church, Point Reyes Books will sponsor readings from The Light on the Coast and from Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls, Susanna Solomon’s book of short stories inspired by Sheriff’s Calls in The Light.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, April 27, in its Corte Madera store, Book Passage will sponsor readings from The Light on the Coast. Refreshments will be served.

Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History held a well-attended opening reception Sunday for Picturing the Point Reyes Peninsula, “an exhibit of historical photographs of people, places, and events in Olema, Point Reyes Station and Inverness from 1869 to 1960.”

The exhibit provides fascinating glimpses into life at the foot of Tomales Bay and on Point Reyes a century ago. The photos are mostly from the museum’s own collection although a few are from the archives of the Park Service and other institutions.

The images on display were originally assembled by Carola DeRooy for a 2008 book titled Point Reyes Peninsula.

The book’s coauthor was Dewey Livingston, historian for the Jack Mason Museum. His role was to provide the book’s text, he told me during the reception.

Captions for photos in the exhibition were mostly taken directly from the book.

As it happens, I have long been curious about a mysterious line of rocks on Pierce Point (aka Toms Point),  so I was pleased to see it getting attention in the exhibition.

“Today, hikers encounter this 820-foot-long row of granite stones (at right) about 1.5 miles along the Tomales Point Trail,” notes the photo’s caption.

“The boulders are aligned to Mount St. Helena in the east and run to the cliff edge, pointing toward the Farallon Islands in the west.

“They are named the Spirit Jumping-Off Rocks by the Coast Miwok tribe who believe when a person dies, their spirit walks west.

“The rock line is man-made and appears on an 1862 Coast Survey map. However, who built the wall, for what purpose and when, still remains uncertain.” ________________________________________________________________________

Mexican Land Grantee — “In 1836,” according to the caption, “Rafael Garcia (right) received Rancho Tomales y Baulenes, some 9,468 acres from the slopes of Tamalpais to Tomales Bay, as a reward for halting Native American rebellions at the mission [San Rafael Arcángel].

“The first Mexican land grantee on Point Reyes, Garcia moved to Olema, where he built a well-appointed adobe house for his large family.

“This sketch of the widely know patriarch Don Rafael was drawn by a Russian naturalist, I.G. Voznesenskii, on a visit to the rancho in 1845.” (Marin History Museum photo)

Olema was in its heyday during the 1860s and 1870s. Back then it had two hotels, a general store, six bars, bi-weekly stagecoach service to San Rafael, and weekly steamer service to San Francisco via Tomales Bay. __________________________________________________________________________

“Olema’s fine schoolhouse, with meeting hall upstairs, was named Garcia School after the original resident of the area. The schoolhouse, located on the lane to the Shafter Ranch, burned and was replaced in a different location in 1915.”

“The arrival of the North Pacific Coast Railroad in 1875 signaled the end of Olema’s growth and heyday. The narrow-gauge rail line originated in Sausalito (where ferries connected to San Francisco) and headed north via San Anselmo, San Geronimo Valley, and Tomales Bay,” the photo’s caption explained.

“The destination was the rich redwood timber of the Russian River area. Bypassing Olema through a trick of geography, the tracks met at the head of Tomales Bay at a wide, flat pasture two miles from town.”

Point Reyes Station had not existed before the railroad erected a depot in the pasture, but the town that quickly sprung up around the depot soon overshadowed Olema commercially. (Seen above) a train crosses an S-shaped trestle over Papermill Creek as it enters Point Reyes Station from the east.

“Train passengers could be met by a stage at Point Reyes Station and transported to the numerous attractions of the area. Here a group of women and their male companion have chosen bicycles as their mode of exploring Point Reyes.”

“Real estate agents attracted potential buyers to Inverness beginning in 1889 with camping trips and promises of a grand hotel.

“City people enjoyed setting up their tents on potential building lots, and a few actually bought; but Inverness was slow to take off. By the 1920s, it had established its reputation as a cozy summer resort, scattered with quaint cabins but sans first-class hotel.

However, “not all Inverness families were summer residents from the cities.

“True locals included those who provided services, [such as] carpenters, plumbers, stonemasons, shopkeepers, and the Hom family, operators of the local laundry.

“The Homs raised a large family in Inverness, and many of the kids ended up going to a university or into successful trades.”

One of the Hom girls changed her name to Tong and became a “fan dancer” in San Francisco, Meg Linden from the museum told me Sunday. _________________________________________________________________________

Shipwreck — “Heavy fogs, dangerous surf, and the jutting and rocky Point Reyes headland itself posed hazards for the coastal sea captain during the 19th century.

“Dozens of ships went aground at Point Reyes, often in a dramatic fashion, while few lives were lost.

“The coastal steamer Samoa went aground at Ten Mile Beach in 1913, prompting a dramatic rescue by men at the nearby Life-Saving Station.

“The wreck drew curious visitors for many days until the ship broke up; the bow of the ship made an interesting landmark for many years before disappearing into the sand.” _________________________________________________________________________

“The US Coast Guard superseded the Life-Saving Service in 1915, and in 1927, an entirely new Point Reyes Lifeboat Station was built at a sheltered spot in Drakes Bay. The handsome boathouse-and-barracks building was constructed on pilings and features a marine railway from which heavier, motor-driven lifeboats could be launched.” (Point Reyes National Seashore Archives photo)

“This aerial view shows the entire Point Reyes Lifeboat Station, now a National Historic Landmark, and the neighboring commercial fish docks. At the bottom is the boathouse and in the trees near the center are the officer-in-charge’s house and auxiliary buildings.

“A radio tower, surrounded by a circular fence, is at the far left, and the barge in the foreground is the Navy paint-test barge, on which marine paints were tested.” _________________________________________________________________________

Point Reyes Lighthouse — “The handsome yet functional light tower was constructed of iron plats bolted and riveted together, all secured into the solid rock-and-concrete foundation 273 feet above the crashing surf.

“Inside the delicate-looking lantern room, an intricately assembled Fresnel lens was mounted on a meticulously balanced circular track.

“The entire First-Order lens and lamp assembly turned at a carefully geared pace to produce a flash every five seconds.

“Famed pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge took this photo of the newly constructed lighthouse in 1870 or 1871.”

Before the advent of refrigerated cargo, fresh milk from Point Reyes could spoil if it were shipped to San Francisco. Instead, the cream was skimmed off and churned into butter, which could be shipped without refrigeration.

“‘Modern technology‘ of the late 1880s brought the DeLaval separator, which skimmed cream instantly. Ranchers fed the skim milk to pigs, which provided a supplemental income.

“This photograph shows the Claussen dairy at E Ranch [on Point Reyes], where Henry Claussen (right) and his butter maker John Paulino show off the separator [and] the steam engine. The large churn is out of the picture on the right.”

“Point Reyes Station’s first school was built in 1879 on the hill above town. Named after the pioneer owner of the property on which the town school stood, the Black School District’s classroom soon overflowed as the town grew. This class included the children of dairy ranchers, rail workers, and merchants.”

“A fine new school, also called Black School, was built in 1905 on a flat lot in town. The impressive architecture illustrated the town’s prospects at the time.

“The 1906 earthquake damaged the schoolhouse but not until the 1950s was the venerable institution replaced by the modern West Marin Elementary School, located opposite the pioneer schoolhouse up the hill.”

This building, which no longer exists, was located on the site of the today’s firehouse. _____________________________________________________________________

“Bear Valley ranch owner Gene Compton, owner of a San Francisco cafeteria chain, opened his central pasture to the public for a fully accredited western-style rodeo in 1946-1948.

“Local cowboys joined professional circuit riders to the benefit of local charities.

“The new local newspaper, Baywood Press, covered the event,” the photo caption notes.

The Baywood Press, which was founded on March 1, 1948, changed its name to Point Reyes Light in 1966.

The photos here are only a sampling of what the exhibition contains, and the exhibit itself is basically a sampling of the many historic photos in Point Reyes Peninsula. The 128-page book is available from Arcadia Publishing for $21.99.

Approximately 15 inches of badly needed rain fell in drought-stricken West Marin during the past week, with much of it falling last weekend.

Although the rain flooded numerous roadways, including sections of Highway 1, roughly 50 people showed up at Tomales Regional History Center Sunday to hear Jacoba Charles and me read a few selections from our book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

In December, the History Center published the book, which draws upon news coverage in The Light to tell the post-World War II “history of West Marin’s lively little towns and their Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper.”

Jacoba and I looked through more than 3,300 back issues in choosing representative selections of writing, photography, and political cartoons to include in the book. We then wrote background narratives for many of the news stories.

The crowd filled the History Center’s conference room, where awards and other mementos from the newspaper’s past were on display. After our readings, Jacoba and I signed copies of the book while directors of the History Center served refreshments. (Photos by Lynn Axelrod)

Jacoba started the readings with Wilma Van Peer’s 1998 account of working for the paper’s founders, Dave and Wilma Rogers, half a century earlier. Mrs. Van Peer described Dave as a “little man” with a “nose for news” who liked to “tease” people.

The Light, which was called The Baywood Press for its first 18 years, has had 10 sets of owners in the past 65 years. I published the paper for 27 of those years and wrote the chapters covering news from the first eight ownerships.

Jacoba reported for The Light during its previous ownership and is on the paper’s board of directors under today’s owner, Marin Media Institute. She compiled the chapters dealing with news coverage under the last two sets of publishers.

I unexpectedly found myself getting choked up while reading aloud an item from a June 22, 1950, column of social news:

“Mr. and Mrs. Anton Kooy and sons Peter, 13 years, and Walter, 11 years, have arrived at Blake’s Landing ranch from Amsterdam, Holland. They have come to join their friends Herbert Angress and Bill Straus, and Anton is going into business with Bill and Herbert. The Kooys will live at the Clark home, which the Harold Johnstones now occupy, near Marshall.

“During the last war, Mr. and Mrs. Kooy took Herbert Angress in to stay with them, thus saving his life from the Nazis. The two boys will be attending the Tomales schools — Peter being of high school age.”

While reading this short item to the crowd, I was once again struck by the horrendous danger in which Herb Angress had found himself and by the Kooy family’s heroism in putting themselves at risk to shelter him. Then — five years after World War II ended — they followed him to West Marin.

What choked me up was the sudden realization that when this potentially tragic drama came to a happy ending in Marshall, it made West Marin seem like part of a wartime miracle.

Jacoba reads the late historian Jack Mason’s account of former publisher Don DeWolfe changing the paper’s name from Baywood Press to Point Reyes Light in 1966. Full of wry humor, the story is set in the Station House Café, which Mason operated for awhile after he retired from an editor’s post at The Oakland Tribune.

Víctor Reyes, who writes a Spanish-language column for The Light, filled in for Dewey Livingston during the readings.

The book’s designer, Dewey Livingston, lives in Inverness where he is the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. He had been scheduled to take part in the readings but had to bow out at the last minute. Second Valley Creek behind his house was flooding and undercutting his bedroom, forcing Dewey to stay home and deal with the rising water.

The Light on the Coast reprints the paper’s entire series on the five waves of ethnic immigration to West Marin during the past 160 years. To research the series, the newspaper sent reporters abroad four times in nine years — to Croatia, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores, and the Jalostotitlán region of Mexico.

Víctor, who was one of the reporters on the immigration stories from Mexico, described Jalostotitlán and two neighboring towns. Most of West Marin’s Mexican-immigrant families hail from that area.

He stressed how traditional and conservative people are in Jalos (the city’s nickname) although it is only a 90-minute drive from Guadalajara. The priest virtually runs the city, Víctor said.

West Marin’s non-Latino residents that are familiar with large Mexican municipalities, such as Mexico City, may think they understand the culture of Mexican-immigrant residents here, Víctor said, but Jalos is a world apart, and the difference can sometimes lead to confusion.

Two more readings and book signings are scheduled in West Marin. From 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 1, there will be a reading, a public open house, and a reunion of former Light staff in the newspaper’s new office behind the Inverness Post Office.

Point Reyes Books will sponsor a third reading and book signing at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Point Reyes Station’s Presbyterian Church.

Anne R. Dick, 87, of Point Reyes Station is extraordinary in many ways. Already this year she has published one book of poetry, Friends & Family/Point Reyes Poems.

And that’s after publishing three first-rate volumes of poetry last year: Iliad Poems, Penelope of the Mind, and Space and Love.

The octogenarian author, meanwhile, is quick to credit her editor, Barbara Brauer of San Geronimo, with helping her “focus, clarify, and organize the poems.”

Currently in progress are two novels, the working title of one being Anne and the Twentieth Century or Gullible’s Travels, an Autobiography.

In addition, Anne has written two well-received books of nonfiction, Search for Philip K. Dick: 1928-1982 (published in 2009) and The Letters of My Grandfather Moses Perry Johnson: Written 1910-1928 (published in 2012).

Anne’s grandfather, she notes on the book cover, was “a successful St. Louis businessman [who in 1910] left his family behind to make a new life with a red-headed ‘Gibson Girl’ chanteuse in the Far West.” Johnson worked in a Washington lumber camp, was a paymaster of the Panama Pacific Exposition, and for awhile lived “in the far reaches of Yosemite.”

Anne and Philip K. Dick in Point Reyes Station in 1958. They married the following year.

Far better known, of course, is the subject of her other nonfiction book, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Anne, who was the third of his five wives, was married to him from 1959 to 1968.

Philip’s books received widespread recognition and won more than a dozen national and international literary awards for science fiction. Time magazine in 2005 ranked Philip’s novel Ubik one of the hundred greatest since 1923.

Hollywood turned 10 of his novels into movies, but paid him pittances. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford. The film grossed $28 million, but Philip (right) received a mere $1,250, the online magazine Wired reported awhile back.

In Search for Philip K. Dick, Anne writes that he told a neighbor his inability to contribute financially to their marriage ultimately caused him to resent her.

Philip was “a charming man and quite shy,” Anne told me Saturday. “He would listen too… He really was very brilliant.” However, Philip also experienced episodes of “paranoia,” she said. And he could be manipulative and controlling, she writes in her biography of him.

In An Odd Conversation with God from Penelope of the Mind, Anne remembers Philip as “that terrible, beloved, wonderful man whom I hated passionately and was mourning for every night in my bed (my empty bed).”

In 1974, six years after their divorce, Philip received sodium pentothal during a tooth extraction and subsequently was given Darvon.

Afterward he experienced weeks of hallucinations. The experience appears to have informed some of his later science fiction writing.

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________Anne

Anne acknowledges there are autobiographical echoes in many of her poems, and Families from Penelope of the Mind hints at what life was like with Philip:

Safety-danger, love-hate, loyalty-treachery

chains of commitment and rejection

power, power, power

Slavery

the bondage of guilt

MONEY, not enough, too much

envy

greed

conflict

I only love you if you’re useful to me

if you don’t disturb me too much

if you become the person I want you to be

Earning a living was less of a frustration for Anne. While she and Philip were married, she started a successful jewelry-making business, appropriately named Anne R. Dick Jewelry. She ran the business in Point Reyes Station for 47 years before selling it in 2007. By then, however, she was also an innkeeper operating Seven Grey Foxes B&B at her home on Mesa Road.

While her writing is sometimes personal, Anne doesn’t hesitate to laugh at herself. Here’s a short poem from Penelope of the Mind. It’s titled Ageism or I Thought I Looked Great That Day:

I dress young, look good

blonde hair, good features, good skin

a trace of lipstick

a little eye shadow, mascara

 

I was walking down Cypress Road

when a man in a big shiny car

slowed down and drove alongside me

with a wink and a smirk

he crooked his index finger

can I give you a ride?


I walked over to his car window

to say no thanks, I prefer to walk

he blanched when I got close

and said, I’m sorry madam

and sped away

My personal favorite among Anne’s new books is Iliad Poems, perhaps because I’ve been fascinated by Greek and Roman mythology ever since I was a boy.

In Anne’s case, she was still young when her father died and she moved with her mother to St. Louis where other family members lived.

“I was sort of a latch-key little girl,” she told me. And much of her time alone was spent reading Bullfinch’s Mythology and similar works, a practice she continued as she grew older.

Anne’s knowledge of Greek, Roman, and even Norse mythology is impressive, and by drawing on it, she is able to describe the universal nature of her own experiences while remaining succinct.

You can see a bit of this in her poem My Personal Chaos.

A reminder before we begin: the original Iliad by Homer (who lived around 800 BC) is, of course, a long poem telling the story of the Trojan War. Back then, the Greeks thought of Eros as the god of love and of Dionysus as both the god of wine and of ecstasy, including frenzied rituals.

To Escape the strong forces of Fate

I crammed my being

into a small corner of my psyche

 

One day something burst

and let me out

 

Everything changed—

The earth all around laughed

the mountain and its wild creatures joined in

“ha ha ha!”

 

My brain squirmed and squealed

twisted and turned

The childhood wound

I had brooded about so long

turned out to be a mirage

 

Now I gyrate in the whirlwinds of Eros

dance to the dissonances of Dionysus

While we talked Saturday, I noted that dancing comes up several times in her poetry and asked if she likes to dance. In 1947, Anne replied, she was a student at Washington University when she paid a brief visit to the University of Wisconsin, observed modern dance, and was captivated by it. She briefly considered becoming a professional dancer, but “it didn’t seem practical.”

Instead she took up horseback riding which, she remarked, is similar to dancing: “It uses the total body.” As a result of her fondness for horses, she coached horse-vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) for 10 years in Point Reyes Station.

Looking in on Anne Dick reading in the social area of her B&B.

Anne, who has written two science fiction novels herself, posited that in her riding she “was actually communicating with an alien” — and then laughingly added — “if you consider a horse an alien.”

Those wishing to order copies of Anne Dick’s books can contact the publisher, Point Reyes Cypress Press, at Box 459, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956. Or <www.pointreyescypresspress.com>.

Before Kent Reservoir was created in 1953-54, Lagunitas Creek was broad “like the Russian River” as it flowed past his present home, Tocaloma resident Pat Martin, 67, told me this week.

“It was all natural flow,” he said. During the 1940s and early 1950s, runs of coho salmon passing through Tocaloma were “incredible,” Martin remarked. No one disputes this. “Thousands” of coho salmon used to migrate up the creek annually, naturalists have likewise reported. In the years since then, however, the number of local coho dropped so precipitously the species is now listed as endangered.

A coho salmon swims upstream through shallow water on its way to spawn. (Bay Nature photo)

The fry of coho salmon are born in freshwater creeks. After a year or two, the salmon in their smolt stage swim downstream to the ocean where as adults they live for one to three years. Then guided by the smell of water from the creeks where they were born, the adult salmon head back upstream to their birthplaces to spawn and die.

Pat Martin  lives on Platform Bridge Road at a ranch that once belonged to his late stepfather, Louis Zanardi. Although some people blame the development of homes and dairy ranches in West Marin for at one time putting coho salmon on the verge of extinction, Martin says baloney. From what he has seen, the damage was almost entirely the result of building Peters Dam and then Seeger Dam.

In 1953-54, Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) created Kent Reservoir by erecting Peters Dam on Lagunitas Creek. The district didn’t release water from the reservoir in the summer, Martin said, and once that began, “I could step across the creek.”

Unable to get up Lagunitas Creek to spawn until heavy rains each year, fish would get stuck in pools around Point Reyes Station’s Coast Guard housing complex. There many of them would fall prey to seals, as well as river otters and lamprey eels, Martin added, and “kids in town would snag them.”

Years ago the late game warden Al Giddings of Woodacre likewise told me about the snagging, which involves dragging a fishing line with no bait on the hook against fish in shallow water. It’s illegal in California.

In addition, without enough water in Lagunitas Creek to migrate up it for months at a time, the salmon — which by then had been living in saltwater for a year or more — sometimes developed “fin rot” from remaining too long in freshwater pools, Martin remembered.

Platform Bridge is just downstream from Nicasio Reservoir’s Seeger Dam, and earlier this month, an artist painted pictures of migrating salmon on the bridge railing. Seeger Dam, which MMWD built 53 years ago, has eliminated salmon runs in Nicasio Creek, a tributary of Lagunitas Creek.

As part of building Peters Dam, logs were left in creek channels. In addition, the Park Service planted willows along the banks of Lagunitas Creek downstream from Jewell. All this has provided shade for fry but can also create pools that lock in fish, making them easy prey for raccoons, Martin said.

For months each year following the construction of Peters Dam 60 years ago, there wasn’t enough water in the creek to sustain much wildlife other than crawfish and bullhead catfish, he said. Brine shrimp, which had been a major part of the frys’ diet, largely disappeared, and mayfly larvae became a primary source of food.

Lagunitas Creek. Its main tributaries include Larsen Creek, Devils Gulch Creek, San Geronimo Creek, and — downstream from Tocaloma — Nicasio Creek. (Marin Municipal Water District photo)

But all is not lost. For the past five years, coho salmon had been making a comeback in Lagunitas Creek. Even some chinook salmon have been showing up. River otters have followed the fish as far upstream as Tocaloma. “There never was an otter in this [stretch of] creek when I was growing up,” Martin noted.

What’s making the difference? To get a permit for raising the height of Peters Dam in 1982, MMWD was temporarily ordered to release enough water from it year round to meet the needs of fish in Lagunitas Creek. That order became permanent in 1995.

Before 1982, there were fears that Lagunitas Creek was on the verge of losing all its coho. However, as MMWD’s fishery program manager Greg Andrew reported in June, last winter the coho spawning run “approached our long-term average of about 500 adults.”

A century ago, tourists from San Francisco often took the narrow-gauge train from Sausalito to Tocaloma to fish where salmon were abundant. Here a fisherman casts his line into Lagunitas Creek just downhill from the majestic Bertrand House hotel. (Copied from historic photo in the Olema Farmhouse restaurant.)

By 1889, Tocaloma “had one of the finest hotels in Marin County, the Bertrand House,” the late historian Jack Mason wrote in Point Reyes the Solemn Land. “When fire razed this establishment in 1917, it was replaced by Caesar Ronchi’s tavern.”

Mason added that “Caesar was a portly Italian tenor whose connection with the world of grand opera was as nebulous as his reputed alliance with San Francisco’s prohibition gangland.”

The late Don McIsaac, who lived across the creek from the tavern, once told me Caesar, who had somehow gotten in trouble with other bootleggers, had to leave San Francisco for his own safety. McIsaac recalled hearing Caesar’s operatic voice periodically reverberating through the canyon.

With salmon numbers improving now that MMWD is releasing enough water into Lagunitas Creek, everything had been looking good, Martin remarked. And along with the increased flows from Peters Dam, some small dams at the Inkwells and upstream have been removed.

And then came this year’s drought. At the moment, Marin County is on its way to experiencing its driest year on record, and this is taking a toll on coho in Lagunitas Creek.

Adult salmon swimming up Lagunitas Creek often use the little “side creeks” along the way for spawning grounds, and at the moment, many of these side creeks are dry. Female salmon create hollows in the gravel creekbed called redds, which is where spawning occurs and eggs are buried. Counts of redds in Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries this year have found far fewer than had been found for several years.

Some naturalists are again worrying the salmon may still be in an “extinction vortex,” to use their obscure jargon.

Martin is more straightforward. The coho salmon population, he said with a frown, is “still not stable.”

« Previous PageNext Page »