“The language of the news, like Latin or C++ [a programming language], has no native speakers,” columnist Lauren Collins writes in the Nov. 4 New Yorker.

Nonetheless, she adds, reporters are “sufficiently well versed in it” that British journalist Robert Hutton has written a guide to “the strange language of news.” It’s titled Romps, Tots and Boffins. A boffin, Collins explains, is British newspaper jargon for an egghead.

In the United States, such journalese typically appears in headlines when there is a lot of information to convey but little space to do it. Additionally, as Collins writes, US newspapers use words that rarely appear in the British press, such as coed (a female student at a coeducational college) and to mull (to consider).

At The Point Reyes Light, we used both “eye”and “mull” as shorthand for “consider.”

When I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, we had our own headline vocabulary, most of which we borrowed from newspapers elsewhere. When the word dispute didn’t fit, we’d write flap. When meeting, discussion, or conference was too long, we’d write confab. (It’s a legitimate variation of confabulation.)

Most other headline words had more obvious meanings: supe for a member of the Board of Supervisors; nix for reject; prexy for president (of an organization but not of the country); and probe for an investigation as well as to investigate.

In a Light headline, a cop would nab the suspect when there was no room for a deputy to arrest him. It was also common in Light heads, so to speak, for someone to either slate or set an event rather than schedule it.

And although the ampersand (&) had just about disappeared from formal writing, we at The Light often used it in headlines. After all, an & is neither informal nor slang. In fact, it once was the 27th letter of our alphabet. It originated around 100 AD in Roman handwriting and started showing up in written English during the 1830s.

Often misunderstood is the practice of spelling night as nite and light as lite or through as thru and though as tho. Many folks assume these nonstandard spellings are creations of Madison Avenue, but they were primarily popularized by the Chicago Tribune.

Joseph Medill, the paper’s publisher in the second half of the 19th century, became swept up in a small movement that wanted English spelling reformed to make it simpler.

His grandson, publisher Robert McCormick (left), was so enthusiastic that from 1934 to 1975 he had the Tribune use simplified spellings in an attempt to get them into general use.

Many readers were agast.

Prior to that, a few luminaries such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie had also become advocates for simplified spelling.

President Theodore Roosevelt for several months in 1906 required the government printing office to use reformed spelling.

He rescinded his order, however, following protests from Congress and the public.

Recently while paging through a 1957 issue of The Baywood Press, as The Light was called for its first 18 years, I was surprised to find drought spelled as drouth, which was the way the Chicago Tribune was spelling the word at the time. But not all the Tribune’s spelling reforms were widely accepted. One failure was frate, which many readers didn’t recognize as freight.

Of course, the Tribune for more than a century was weird in many ways. For years it called itself “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” although its motto was “An American Newspaper for Americans.” Traditionally a mouthpiece for ultra-conservative politics, the Tribune under Medill regularly editorialized against Roman Catholics and the Irish.

In his 1947 history of Tribune publishers, An American Dynasty, author John Tebble writes, “Joseph Medill did not let his educational lacks restrain him from taking a bold position on scientific matters.

“At one time or another he rode a half-dozen scientific or pseudo-scientific hobbies, such as simplified spelling, the sunspot theory and the blue-glass theory [a belief that people are healthier and crops grow better under blue glass]….

“Medill (right) attributed all natural phenomena to sunspots until one day he heard of the existence of microbes and immediately adopted this new explanation.

“Soon after, an unfortunate reporter writing according to Tribune policy asserted that the plague in Egypt was caused by sunspots. Medill went through the copy, crossed out the word ‘sunspots’ wherever it occurred and substituted ‘microbes.’”

Altho the Tribune in the last six years, has changed ownership, filed for bankruptcy, and is now only a fantom of the operation it once was, its influence on spelling can still be seen in newspaper headlines, as well as neon signs. And as ur now seeing on the Internet, social media are taking yet another toll on common English spelling.

This is a story that meanders from Montmartre, the nightclub district in Paris, to Storyville, the historic red-light district of New Orleans, to San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin.

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) is, of course, famous for his post-impressionistic paintings of nightclubs and prostitutes (right) in Montmartre.

You may recall he broke his left leg when he was 12 and his right leg when he was 14. Neither healed correctly, resulting in his never growing beyond 4.5 feet tall.

Although he was mocked and bullied because of his stature, he was a sociable man, especially when drinking, and was well liked by his prostitute models.

The American photographer E.J. Bellocq (1873-1949) was a contemporary of Toulouse Lautrec, and by chance his growth too had been stunted.

Bellocq earned his living as a commercial photographer but is famous today for his photographs of prostitutes in Storyville.

He was a shy man, but the women considered him a likeable gentleman and quite willingly posed for him.

Prostitute, Storyville, New Orleans (right), c. 1912, by E.J. Bellocq

Only a few of Bellocq’s negatives survive. Long after his death, the photographer Lee Friedlander managed to buy and salvage them and finally made the Storyville photos public in a show and in book form in the 1970s.

A few years later, in August 1980, I had a couple of hours to kill in San Francisco on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I had just left brunch on Broadway with a friend, and as I drove away, I noticed a streetwalker making eye contact with a pedestrian. My camera was in the car, and I got a sudden inspiration: why not do a series on the streetwalkers of 1980 at work in San Francisco?

In the future, I reasoned, such a collection might have some of the historic interest of Toulouse Lautrec’s painted women in Paris or Bellocq’s prostitutes in Storyville. So I drove a few blocks and soon found myself in the Tenderloin — that rough neighborhood southwest of Union Square and north of Market Street.

Having stopped for a sign, I watched a white prostitute (at left) across the street pick up an Asian man and lead him around the corner to a shabby hotel on Eddy Street.

Eddy is a one-way street, and there was a parking space on the left curb almost opposite the hotel entrance. I parked, turned off the motor, and put a telephoto lens on the camera. I looked at my watch; it was 3:05 p.m.

After adjusting my sideview mirror so I could see back up the sidewalk and my rearview mirror so I could see up the street behind me, I lit my pipe and put a coat over my camera. Then I sat back to watch.

Almost immediately, I spotted a very drunk couple sitting on a doorstep with their feet on the sidewalk. Although they were less than 20 feet away, they were oblivious of me. The woman’s face was puffy — apparently from drink and physical abuse. The man had numerous scars on his face. A front tooth was missing.

For awhile, the couple cooed and flirted with each other. Then they argued. Twice the man shoved his companion back against a wall, but they remained seated, and she didn’t appear to get hurt. Soon they were cooing again. Then arguing. Then more cooing. Occasionally, each would take a drink from a bottle, but mostly they just smoked cigarettes.

Suddenly, a wisp of smoke made me notice that one of the woman’s green tennis shoes was beginning to smolder from a cigarette burn. Soon she noticed too and slapped at the ember a couple of times while remaining seated.

The man, however, did not see the persistent little burn and kept up his alternately aggressive and affectionate ramblings. Within moments, the woman had forgotten about her still-smoldering shoe and resumed her part in the arguing and cooing. Periodically, she noticed the ever-growing column of smoke and took a few more slaps at her shoe — the man still not noticing and she still sitting down. Nor did he notice when she finally pulled the shoe off and set it on the sidewalk, where it continued to smolder.

Up Eddy Street came another woman, also about 30 and apparently a resident of the neighborhood. She was pushing a baby cart, but when she saw the smoking shoe, she stopped and stomped on it a couple of times. At this point, the man finally noticed the shoe was off and made a clumsy attempt to put it back on his companion’s foot, still not noticing the smoke.

This bizarre drama was interrupted, however, by the jolt of a 40ish black man bouncing off the back of my car and landing on his backside in the street. He was drunk, and so was his assailant who had just knocked him into a traffic lane, a white man in his late 20s with his shirt off. The white reminded me of photos I’d seen of weightlifters in prison — pale skin over huge muscles. For some reason, he was furious with the black.

Two car lengths behind me, a long, brown sedan pulled abruptly into a vacant parking space. While I watched in my rearview mirror, a black man in expensive cowboy garb, dark glasses, and a white hat jumped out of the car. The white man wheeled around, and the black cowboy quickly held up the palms of his hands to him.

Somehow, the new arrival managed to calm the angry white and then curtly ordered the terrified man in the street to get up and into the sedan. The black men did not appear to know each other. It was a brother helping a brother get away from trouble — and done with great diplomatic skill, given the fury of the white man.

A century ago, she could have been a model  for a Henri de Toulouse Lautrec painting or an E.J. Bellocq portrait instead of a subject for a photojournalist on the street.

As my eye followed the sedan driving away, I saw the customer walk out of the hotel across the street. A moment or so behind him came the prostitute (above). For a few seconds, she stood in the doorway surveying the street as I clicked off a couple of photos. When she headed off up Eddy Street, I checked my watch; it was 3:20 pm. What a range of Tenderloin reality I’d seen in 15 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



When a Guatemalan court on May 10 found former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity while head of state, I like many indigenous Guatemalans was pleased. Officials in that Central American country had for decades committed atrocities with impunity.

The case has special interest for me because my stepdaughters are from Guatemala and because 30 years ago I reported on and photographed some of the Guatemalan civil war for the old San Francisco Examiner.

General Efrain Ríos Montt, who became president of Guatemala in a March 1982 coup, was kicked out of office in an August 1983 coup. (AP photo by Moises Castillo)

Unfortunately, the good news was not to last. Impunity again raised its ugly head. On Monday, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction because of a dispute over which lower court judges should have heard the case. Now the trial will have to return to where it stood on April 19 — once the dispute over the judges is resolved.

General Ríos Montt had been clearly elected president in 1974, but blatant election fraud prevented him from taking office. Quixotically, he then fled to California and joined the Eureka-based Gospel Outreach fundamentalist movement.

After returning to Guatemala, Ríos Montt, along with two other military men seized power in a mostly bloodless coup in 1982 and formed a three-man junta. Less than three months after the coup, however, Ríos Mott dissolved the junta and became dictator.

Helping orchestrate the coup, according to the US liberal group Democratic Underground, were “gringo evangelical cronies [who were] co-founders of the Church of the Word, a Guatemala-based offshoot of Gospel Outreach.”

(Gringo, by the way, is slang but not derogatory. In Spain, the word has been around for more than two centuries. Initially, it was simply a way of referring to people from other places whose speech was difficult to understand. Gringo, in fact, is a variant of griego meaning “Greek,” as in it’s Greek to me.)

Estancia de la Virgen — A refugee stands in front of his former home, which was destroyed by the Guatemalan Army on March 31, 1982.

Well before Ríos Montt took power, the army had begun massacring indigenous villagers lest leftist guerrillas get food or recruits from them. A story I wrote for The Examiner made public for the first time that Guatemalan soldiers had massacred 180 residents of two Indian villages, Trinitaria and El Quetzal, near the Mexican border in February 1982.

In the destruction of Estancia de la Virgen, which occurred after Ríos Montt had taken power, the army ordered all the villagers to relocate to the less-remote village of San Antonio las Trojes where it could keep an eye on them.

Soldiers use the belfry of the San Antonio las Trojes cathedral as a guard tower.

The army had attacked the village of 1,800 previously, killing many residents including children who were beheaded with machetes. This time all but eight men fled, and soldiers shot them to death.

“The men had stayed in their houses, believing God would protect them,” a guide named Miguel told me. There was no road to Estancia de la Virgen, and getting there required hiring three refugees from the village to guide my translator and me through the steep terrain.

A soldier in San Antonio las Trojes assembles men from Estancia de la Virgen in order to count them and give out instructions. Barely visible at upper left is a nun who had shown up to distribute food to the refugees.

The refugees from Estancia de la Virgen were bewildered as to why their village had been destroyed. “We are all farmers,” one Indian said. “There are no guerrillas.”

Another said, “We hope this shadow will go from our village because we are innocent.”

A mother and daughter from Estancia de la Virgen in one of the tents distributed to refugees.

After taking a photo of this mother and daughter, I bought a dozen eggs for them at a tienda in San Antonio las Trojes, but when I went to deliver them, she cried out and ran away — apparently not realizing why I had returned.

Nor were refugees from Estancia de la Virgen the only survivors of massacres I interviewed. On April 26, 1982, I traveled to the village of Chipiacul where Guatemalan soldiers had killed 20 residents the previous night. The victims had ranged in age from 13 to 80.

Many of them were shot to death in the village’s small, cement-block meeting hall. The soldiers then used the books from the village’s one-shelf library to build a funeral pyre in an unsuccessful attempt to dispose of the bodies. The survivors I talked with were still in shock and were mystified as to why Chipiacul had been targeted.

The Guatemalan civil war was fought off and on from 1960 to 1996 and cost roughly 200,000 lives, most of them civilian. What was the fighting all about?

After decades of repressive governments, Guatemala enjoyed its “Ten Years of Spring” from 1944 to 1954 under liberal leadership. But agrarian reforms in the early 1950s outraged the United Fruit Company, and it prevailed upon the Eisenhower Administration to intervene. The result was a June 1954 military coup carried out by a group of CIA-trained Guatemalan exiles and billed as stopping Communism from establishing a beachhead in Central America.

Guatemala has never fully recovered. Indeed, at the very time the Guatemalan army under General Ríos Montt was massacring more than 1,700 Ixil Mayans, the White House endorsed him. “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” said President Reagan in December 1982. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

Were he alive today, I’m sure Ronald Reagan would be pleased that Ríos Montt for the moment at least is still enjoying impunity.

Ever since the April 15 explosion of two bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon, Lynn and I have found ourselves continually reading and watching the news. I’ve even awakened in the middle of the night to check the latest developments. And like the crowd in Watertown, Massachusetts, I rejoiced when the second suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was apprehended there Friday evening.

Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan, the supposed mastermind of the terrorist plot, died following a gunfight with police early that day. The cause of his death, however, is still uncertain. Was it the result of a gunshot or gunshots? Was he fatally wounded by a blast from one of the explosives the pair were throwing at police? Or did Dzhokhar fatally injure his older brother by driving over him while trying to escape?

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 19 and 26, among the spectators at the footrace as they waited to set off their bombs.

Nor were the three people killed and more than 250 people injured in the bombing the brothers’ only victims. In trying to flee the area, the brothers fatally shot a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and shot a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority policeman, leaving him critically wounded.

Much has been said in the news media about the brothers being ethnic Chechens. However, the two were brought up in the United States. Dzhokar is a US citizen. Russia, as it turned out, had in 2011 asked the FBI to investigate Tamerlan before letting him into the country, but the bureau turned up nothing incriminating at that time.

Getting even more attention in the news media is the fact that the Tsarnaev family is Muslim. An uncle, as well as people who knew the brothers and their mother, have reported Tamerlan and his mother during the past three to five years had pushed each other into becoming Islamic fundamentalists.

The mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, initiated the conversion, she has said, out of concern that Tamerlan was smoking pot, drinking, and partying. He, in turn, began pressing her to adopt an ultra-conservative form of Islamic fundamentalism. In an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph, the mother said, “Tamerlan said to me, ‘You know mama, you are pushing me toward the truth, but I would like you to wear a hijab. A woman in Islam should be concealed.’”

“After that, relatives from Russia, communicating by Skype, were shocked to see her wearing a veil,” The Daily Telegraph reported. She also “started to refuse to see boys who had gone through puberty, as she had consulted a religious figure and he had told her it was sacrilegious,” writer Alyssa Lindley Kilzer reported in The Daily Beast.

As it happened the writer had been receiving facial treatments from Zubeidat, but she had stopped after the mother evolved into a religious zealot. Zubeidat had begun claiming the 9/11 attack was actually the work of the US government to make Muslims look bad, Kilzer wrote. Her sons knew all about this from the Internet, the mother had said.

How does all this reflect on Islam? First, members of Tamerlan’s mosque described him as a disruptive zealot with an anger problem, so he certainly didn’t fit in the mainstream.

Second, his fanaticism doesn’t sound any different from that of Christian fanatics who attack abortion clinics and staff. In the past 20 years, eight abortion-clinic staff have been murdered; there have been attempts to murder 17 others; there have also been 153 physical attacks on staffers; and there have been three kidnappings. Yet no one claims that all this violence reflects badly on Christianity.

Less than a day after crowds in Watertown, Massachusetts, cheered law enforcement personnel who captured Dzohkar Tsarnaev, another crowd was running for cover after a man, a woman, a boy, and a dog were wounded by gunshots during a marijuana festival in Denver.

And how did the shootings reflect on Colorado’s recent legalization of recreational pot? Despite conservative attempts to make political hay from the crime, no link exists. It now turns out the shots were fired during a fight between rival gang members.

Nor was Saturday’s incident an indication that a marijuana celebration is more likely to experience gang violence than other public events. As The Denver Post later reported, “It was the second time in less than a year that gang gunfire pierced a large gathering. Denver police Officer Celena Hollis was killed last summer when Rollin Oliver, apparently fleeing a group of Crips, opened fire in a crowded jazz concert at City Park.”

The crime scene in Federal Way, a city of 90,000 people between Seattle and Tacoma.

Nor were those the last of the multiple shootings. The following day, Sunday, a man in the city of Federal Way, Dennis Clark, 23, became angry with his girlfriend and shot her to death at their apartment complex. When he was confronted by two men in a parking lot, he killed them too along with a third man. Police fatally shot Clark while he was attempting to shoot witnesses.

Then came Monday’s news from Canada where police arrested two men who allegedly planned to bomb a passenger train line between Toronto and the US.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the American CIA had worked together for a year to foil the terrorist plot. Canada’s Global Post reported, “Police said that the two men arrested, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were receiving support from ‘al Qaeda elements in Iran.’”

But don’t make too much of the Iran connection either. Al Qaeda is a Sunni terrorist group and has not been linked to the government of Iran, most of whose citizens belong to the rival Shiite sect of Islam.

The crime scene in Belgorod, southwestern Russia.

Also on Monday, a man in the Russian city of Belgorod randomly opened fire at people on the street and in a store, apparently outraged that his car had been scratched. Six people died, including a 14-year-old girl. The man, who is approximately 30 years old, fled in his scratched car, which he later abandoned.

“The attack comes some six months after a Moscow lawyer shot dead six people in the Russian capital in what was believed to have been his violent response to the end of a romance,” the Russian press reported.

The crime scene in the Serbian village of Velika Ivanca, which consists of only 12 houses. The village is 25 miles from Belgrade, the capital.

The use of guns and explosives to commit random violence is obviously a worldwide problem. In the early hours of April 9, a former soldier, Ljubisa Bogdanovic, went on a killing spree in Velika Ivanca, shooting to death 13 people, including members of his own family, and critically wounding two others plus himself. He has now died.

Bogdanovic, 60, was a veteran of Serbia’s war in Croatia 20 years ago, and some Serbs have suggested he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Serbian cabinet is now reviewing the tragedy, and officials have said the shootings show that the government must pay more attention to gun control.

In the midst of all this, the US Senate voted not to require background checks for those purchasing guns. One can only wish US lawmakers were as enlightened as officials in Serbia, who last week even managed to normalize relations with their long-standing nemesis Kosovo.

Looking for a respite from a week of violent news, Lynn and our resident raccoon turned their attention to the comics.

Tomales Regional History Center on Sunday held an opening reception for an engaging exhibition titled “Tomales Neighbors: Informal Portraits by Steve Quirt, Ella Jorgensen, and Others.” The people I spoke with at the opening likewise found the photos fascinating.

Frances Fairbanks and cat, circa 1920. Frances was the granddaughter of pioneer William Fairbanks, who settled in Tomales in 1864. She was also a niece of Ella Jorgensen. Photo by Ella Jorgensen ___________________________________________________

Using a box camera, Ella Frisbee Jorgensen around 1900 began shooting photos of townspeople, including Tomales pioneers who by then were already elderly. “In her pantry-turned darkroom, she developed and printed countless photographs,” the spring issue of the Tomales Regional History Center Bulletin notes.

“Photographer Ella Jorgensen spent nearly 50 years chronicling life in the village; much of what we know of early 20th century Tomales is because of Ella’s work.” Jorgensen died in 1945.

Steve Quirt using his iPhone is now shooting similar photos of current townspeople. “Steve’s portraits inevitably recall — not so much in style as in spirit — the casually shot but thoughtfully posed portraits by Ella Jorgensen,” observes the Bulletin.

At the bootery — Carrie Jensen, Jorgen Jensen, Sille Jensen, and Walter Jensen (left to right). Carrie Jensen was a native of Copenhagen who arrived in Tomales in 1857. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

Bakers — Charles and Vesta Stone. Photo by Ella Jorgensen. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Zilla Ables Dickinson. Photo by Ella Jorgensen

Zilla Ables Dickinson was postmaster in the Tomales Post Office for 35 years. After Zilla and her husband Leon were married in 1886, they bought the general store in Tomales (now Diekmann’s). In 1936, their son Bray took over the business.


A. Bray Dickinson. Photographer unknown

Bray Dickinson took over his mother’s position as postmaster in Tomales after she died. He is now best known for his book on the North Pacific Coast Railway, Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods.      _________________________________________________________

Today’s postmaster, Julie Martinoni (right), and Liz Cunninghame of Clark Summit Ranch open a shipment of baby chicks in the Tomales Post Office. Photo by Steve Quirt _______________________________________________________________

Annette Winn Wilson. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

Ranchers Loren (left) and Al Poncia. Photo by Steve Quirt _______________________________________________________________

Bea (McCulla) and V.L. Phillips. Photographer unknown















Dan Erickson accompanied by his lambs on John Street. Photo by Lisbeth Koelker





























Edith Bonini, former owner-operator of the William Tell bar. Photographer unknown ________________________________________________________

Lois Parks and Smokey. Photographer unknown _______________________________________________________________

Three girls on Main Street, May 1917. Mercie Wilson at far right with two unidentified girls. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

George Dillon (left) and Thomas Ables. Photo by Ella Jorgensen

Dillon, a native of Ireland, crossed the Great Plains in 1856. In the 1860s, he bought a 644-acre ranch at the mouth of Tomales Bay and “threw his beach open to his friends,” according to the late historian Jack Mason. “In 1888, as near as can be determined, [he] built an 11-bedroom hotel.” The building “is still there,” Mason wrote in Earthquake Bay (published 1976). When Dillon in his later years sold the property in 1903, he stipulated that the area would forever be called Dillon Beach.

Thomas Ables (standing with Dillon) was a bank cashier who went on to become the Marin County Superintendent of Schools. _______________________________________________________________

Norman Meyers (left) and Fred Jorgensen. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

Hazel Guldager (Martinelli). Photo by Ella Jorgensen ____________________________________________________________

When the History Center’s curator, Ginny MacKenzie Magan, wrote an announcement of last Sunday’s opening for The West Marin Citizen, she noted it would be a 50-photo exhibition of Tomales neighbors over the past 150 years.

“These people, along with many others, have contributed some subtle essence of their character to the town,” she explained. “For over a century and a half, a few hundred at a time, neighbors have participated in this mysterious alchemy, contributing their intellects and their emotions, their talents and their eccentricities, coloring this place and adding to the ever-changing essence that is this small assortment of humanity….

“The exhibit celebrates these neighbors — those among us today, those we remember, and those we never knew.”

The Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History in Inverness on Sunday held a grand opening for a new exhibition, “Hometown: Growing Up in Point Reyes Station.” The exhibition consists of fascinating photographs from the Codoni family, whose patriarch Quinto Codoni immigrated to West Marin from Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino 140 years ago.

Clara and Quinto Codoni on D Ranch. The driftwood porpoise (in background at left) had Coca Cola caps for eyes and bailing rope for whiskers.

Quinto Codoni (1855-1940), part of a wave of immigration to West Marin from Ticino, was 18 years old when he joined his brother Joe in Tocaloma.

“This was 1873,” the late Jack Mason wrote in the Winter, 1980, issue of The Point Reyes Historian. “There was no train. The little schooners then in use were equipped to carry butter, not hogs.

“It was young Quinto’s job, on behalf of Charles Howard’s tenant ranchers [on Point Reyes], to get their pigs to the nearest scow for San Francisco [which landed in Drakes Estero]. On foot this took up to three days.

“Once at the Ferry Building, the hogs were put aboard wagons and taken to a slaughterhouse on Sansome Street. A commission merchant paid them later in gold.

“Thus Quinto got his Big Chance in America.”

Lucy Codoni (at right) was a daughter of Quinto and Clara.


Lucy Codoni’s granddaughter Sharen Hicks Schrock of Petaluma (center) loaned albums of family photos to the Jack Mason Museum, so they could be copied and exhibited. Enjoying the grand opening with museum curator Dewey Livingston (left) and their mother are Marley, 11, and Jaden, 14, two great-great granddaughters of Quinto Codoni.

“The Codonis’ cabin at Drakes Beach was the site of relaxation and entertainments for two or three generations,” according to the exhibit. “Quinto and his friends built the cabin, located at the entrance to Drakes Estero, and hosted family and friends alike. At least once, waves damaged or destroyed the place, but it was faithfully repaired. It was eventually reestablished farther inland, the site today marked by a cypress tree and ranch road near the Drake Monument at Drakes Estero.”

At right: Quinto, which means fifth-born in Italian.

“When a railroad, the North Pacific Coast, began serving the Point Reyes-Tomales Bay community in 1875, Quinto availed himself of it, [and] had a hogpen at trackside to which he now brought hogs as well as calves by wagon….

“By the age of 55, he was the chief hog and cattle buyer on the Point,” wrote Mason.

“Moustachioed and personable, Quinto was a force to contend with in town as well as country.”

The Codoni home on B Street in Point Reyes Station, Mason added, “was one of the town’s nicest. [It] had a marble fireplace and electricity. Quinto’s Delco plant furnished lights not only for his own house, but for Lucy Silverfoot’s around the corner, Dr. Cavanaugh’s on B Street, and two other houses Codoni owned.”

Quinto Codoni on a wagon at Schooner Bay, an arm of Drakes Estero from which he shipped hogs to San Francisco.

“In 1910, Quinto sold the Tomales Bank and Trust Company a lot on A Street for its branch office, which opened in 1913,” Mason wrote. “Not surprisingly, Quinto became a director and vice-president. Bank patrons came to respect Mr. Codoni as a conservative in money matters; he had made his when it wasn’t easy to come by.”

“Around 1910,” according to Mason, Codoni  “went in with some Point Reyes ranchers to buy the schooner Point Reyes,” which “could accommodate a deckload of 200 hogs.”

Unloading hogs at Schooner Bay for shipment to San Francisco.

Mason noted that Codoni “and Tom Marshall owned a slaughterhouse on Paper Mill Creek which supplied Point Reyes Station with steaks and chops. Tom’s butchershop was on B Street.”

A caretaker’s cabin at the landing in Schooner Bay. High waves eventually destroyed it.

“Quinto Codoni acquired the old Shafter-Howard D Ranch dairy through foreclosure in 1927,” according to the exhibition. “This ranch is seen on the road down to Drakes Beach. He took to the ranch life (although he leased out the dairy operation) and decorated the ranch house yard with an outdoor kitchen, interesting sculpture, and a massive flagstaff, seen here during installation.

“Codoni’s daughter Alice married Petaluma dairyman Bill Hall, and they ran the dairy from 1936 until turning it over in the 1960s to their daughter, Vivian Horick.”

From the depot in Point Reyes Station, Clara and Quinto Codoni (at right) took the narrow-gauge railway north to the end of the line in Cazadero.

Ernie Grandi (1907-87) relaxes beside a rail car. A lifelong resident of Point Reyes Station, Ernest Grandi served in the Army during World War II and for 22 years worked as a carpenter here. He was also chief of the former Point Reyes Volunteer Fire Department and a member of several civic groups. Like Codoni, Grandi’s parents Agostino and Olympia were immigrants from Ticino. They spoke only Italian until he went to grammar school.

“Thrift and hard work got [West Marin's Ticinese] a large slice of the American pie,” Mason wrote, and in the case of Quinto Codoni earned him the historian’s sobriquet “Mr. Point Reyes Station.”

The winter solstice came and went. Civilization obviously didn’t collapse on Friday even though millions of people around the world had been counting on it.

Jungle has risen up to reclaim what it can from Mayan civilization, as I witnessed for myself at Tikal, Guatemala, back in 1983 (above). Despite the deterioration of their buildings, the ancient Mayans, as of Saturday morning, were once again renowned  for civil engineering rather than apocalyptic prognostication.

Superstitious people are easy targets for hoaxes. Witness the 39 Heavens Gate cultists who committed mass suicide in 1997. Their leader, Marshall Applewhite, had convinced them that by doing so they would get a ride in a supposed spaceship trailing the comet Hale-Bopp. Harder to explain are all the people worldwide who believed that civilization would collapse last Friday. Why? Because there were rumors that Mayans more than 1,000 years ago had predicted it.

Wait a minute! Mayan civilization itself collapsed before 900 AD. If the Mayans could look more than 1,200 years into the future, why couldn’t they have seen their own impending demise and avoided it? Significantly, today’s descendants of those ancient Mayans didn’t expect Armageddon last Friday — merely the start of a new era.

Fall’s finale — Sunset over Inverness Ridge.

Like a modern Mayan, I’m ready for the challenges of a new era. In these parts, that new era is called winter. The era began with heavy rain, strong wind, thunder, and lightning on Friday night. The house lights flickered but stayed on.

A curious blacktail doe at Mitchell cabin.

With the rains has come green grass, and an abundance of wildlife is showing up around the cabin. Along with wintering birds and a healthy supply deer, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, jackrabbits, tree frogs, and salamanders, there is evidence of a badger. It’s a zoo said a first-time visitor last week.

Keeping an eye on the does is a good-sized blacktail buck, who often drops by to graze before lying down to chew his cud.

A young raccoon watches me from a safe distance up a pine tree next to the cabin.

Social grooming — Youthful raccoons on my deck clean each other’s coat of insects, parasites, and anything grubby. This is done for not only hygiene and appearance but also as a way of bonding, of reinforcing relationships.

This was the advice our late President gave the public at Christmastime in 1950, but I don’t follow it. Sixty years ago, it may well have been just as thoughtful to give friends cigarettes at Christmas as to have fruitcakes mailed to them. But those were simpler times.

My partner Lynn Axelrod and I next to our Christmas tree.

We invited two people, including one visiting from overseas, to help trim our Christmas tree. The inter-nondenominational group included a non-practicing Jew, a non-practicing Muslim, a non-practicing Catholic, and a non-practicing Christian Scientist. Afterward we sat around the fire and sang Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Harry Belafonte songs. Plus a couple in Turkish with which I wasn’t familiar. In Mitchell cabin too, the yuletide is evolving.

What remains unchanged is the pleasure we get in extending Season’s Greeting to all of you. Merry Christmas! Heri za Kwanzaa! And a Happy New Year!

“What kind of a day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times….” — Walter Cronkite

The USS Arizona burning after Japanese torpedo bombers attacked the battleship on Dec. 7, 1941.

Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killed 2,402 people and wounded another 1,247, plunging the US into a war that ultimately cost America and its allies more than 61 million military and civilian lives. Axis countries lost more than 12 million lives.

My father used to tell me about from coming home from church in San Francisco that Sunday, Dec. 7, when a neighbor shouted out the window to him that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Friday was the 71st anniversary of the attack, and heavily attended memorial ceremonies were held from Pearl Harbor, to the Coast Guard Station in Alameda, to New York and Washington, DC.

Some West Marin’s responses to the attack were described in a Tomales Regional History Center bulletin earlier this year: Tomales High “student Kathie Nuckols (Lawson) clearly remembered the Monday morning of Dec. 8, 1941 — little more than 24 hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed. ‘Our principal called all the students… into the auditorium to hear President Roosevelt call our country to war. His voice came through a small radio, and we strained to hear his words, overwhelmed by the drama as only teenagers can be.’

“Blackout shades lowered in the auditorium, tanks passing the school on their way to occupy Dillon Beach, the imposed limits on travel because of gas rationing, especially affecting the sports programs…. These are some of the things students of the war years remembered. Yet these events were undoubtedly put into perspective by the biggest effect of all, the nine Tomales High students who did not come home from the war.”

The annual Christmas-tree lighting in Point Reyes Station drew a large crowd Friday evening. The tree is on the landscaped median between the Palace Market parking lot and the parking lot of Wells Fargo Bank, which handed out hot chocolate and sweets.

Phyllis Faber

Meanwhile at the Dance Palace community center, Marin Agricultural Land Trust held its annual dinner Friday. Now an octogenarian, Phyllis Faber, a biologist, and the late Ellen Straus, a rancher, founded MALT in 1984 to give permanent protection to family farms. It was a time when economic pressure to subdivide the coast was spurring ranchers to sell their land to developers. The farmland trust became the first of its kind in the nation.

A red-shouldered hawk is still able to hunt the pastures around Mitchell cabin thanks to a century and a half of ranching, which served to protect much of West Marin from over-development.

Bob Berner, who has been MALT’s executive director since its founding 28 years ago, will retire next month, and Friday he gave an emotional farewell to MALT supporters in the Dance Palace.

Under Berner’s leadership, MALT has bought agricultural easements from 69 ranchers, guaranteeing that at least half of all Marin County’s family farms will forever remain in agriculture.

A herd of blacktail deer take advantage of West Marin’s open land to graze near Mitchell cabin.

MALT’s new executive director as of Jan. 14 will be Jamison Watts, who happens to be a great, great grandson of naturalist John Muir’s sister, Margaret Muir Reid. Watts for the past six years has been the executive director of the Northern California Regional Land Trust (NCRLT).

Watts, who inherited the Muir family’s interest in conservation, earned a degree from UC Davis in Environmental Biology with an emphasis in Conservation Biology. He spent the next 12 years as a field and wildlife biologist, while simultaneously earning a master’s degree in Biological Sciences, before going to work for NCRLT in 2006.

Much of the Rich Readimix plant was under water when Papermill Creek overflowed its banks on New Year’s Eve 2005.

In sadder news this week, The West Marin Citizen reported that the Rich Readimix plant on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road is about to close after more than 60 years in operation.

Don and Doug Joslin created the cement plant during the 1950s, and it was so well known throughout West Marin that nearby Platform Bridge was commonly referred to as Joslin Bridge. After 35 years, the Joslins sold the plant to Rich Readimix, which also has a plant in Greenbrae. All the workers at the West Marin plant will now be transferred to Greenbrae.

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