Dave Mitchell


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A Cal Fire helicopter on Thursday crosses Inverness Ridge to drop water on a containment line for the Woodward Fire in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Smoke from back-burns rises through the forest.

The Woodward Fire, which was started by a lightning strike Aug. 18, was 85 percent contained by this evening after having grown to more than 4,800 acres. Part of the containment has included setting back-burns along Limantour Road. Full containment is expected by Tuesday.

Smoke from the fire has at times made the air in much of West Marin unhealthy, and smoke from hot spots may last for months, the Park Service has warned.

Vidas Negras Importan

The Black Lives Matter movement is sometimes getting overshadowed by the chaos at just a very few of the hundreds of protests around the country. In these isolated cases, looters and vandals have taken advantage of there being crowds in downtown areas. On at least one occasion, however, a covert white supremacist damaged property during a protest to discredit the protesters. Despite all this, only 7 percent of all the protests nationwide have had such problems, The Washington Post reported this past week.

 In an effort to refocus public attention on what the movement is really all about — stopping the unwarranted killing of Black people by overly aggressive police officers in several cities — I came up with a sign in Spanish. Its intent is to show that criticism of the killings transcends the Black and Anglo Saxon communities.

Maddy Sobel, who often sell jams and jellies in front of the Point Reyes Station post office, is also an artist, and she illustrated one of my signs. Her thought is that if I make some copies of her illustration, she can give them to kids to color with crayons. Sounds good to me. I gave another copy to Toby’s Coffee Bar, and you can see it displayed there without illustration.

Bumping elbows but not shaking handsFrom left: Phil Jennings, yours truly, and Gordon Jones

Before the pandemic and sheltering in place, I went to the No Name Bar in Sausalito to listen to live jazz every Friday night. Sunday afternoon, two friends from the No Name dropped by for an outdoor visit. I gave them both copies of the sign, and Jones was so enthusiastic he said he may have it imprinted on t-shirts.

My own family’s efforts to get justice for Blacks date from before the Civil War. My great-grandfather Luke Parsons was a member of John Brown’s Army but did not take part in the debacle at Harper’s Ferry. Instead he went on to command a Union Army company of Native Americans fighting in the Oklahoma Territory.

My late father was a Republican who supported the NAACP.  I formally joined the movement in the spring of 1968 while I was teaching high school in Leesburg, Florida. At the time, Willis V. McCall was the sheriff of Lake County, Florida, where Leesburg is located. He had come to be called the worst sheriff in the US and in private bragged he’d “killed more n-ggers” than any other man.

When McCall came up for reelection in 1968, a well-regarded Leesburg police officer ran against him, and I signed up to canvass voters in Black neighborhoods for the challenger. Unfortunately, McCall again won but was defeated four years later after yet another cruelty: a mentally impaired Black man was kicked to death in the Lake County jail.

Civil rights activist Julian Bond (center) in 1970 with members of an Upper Iowa University group, the Brotherhood, who had invited him to speak on campus. While he was studying at Morehouse College in the early 1960s, Bond had established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a.k.a. SNCC (pronounced “Snick”).

In the fall of 1968 I began teaching English and journalism at Upper Iowa University and the next semester became a faculty advisor to the new Black student union. As the group explained in a flyer: “The Brotherhood was founded and chartered in February 1969. It is an organized group open to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of Black culture…

“Under the able leadership of our past president, Rick Weber, and the helpful assistance of our advisors, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. [Robert] Schenck, the Brotherhood has enriched campus life by promoting various social functions, such as the annual Black Night.” Besides that variety show, the Brotherhood has sponsored “an inter-racial forum, and a play, A Raisin in the Sun. Our biggest accomplishment was, of course, acquisition of a Black Cultural House.”

Half a century later, I still recall advising the Brotherhood as one of my most informative experiences.

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I turned 76 today, and my portrait is now hanging in a place of honor — just outside the restroom door in Sausalito’s No Name Bar. The drawing was done without my knowledge by a prolific artist, Georgina Stout, apparently while I was sitting on the back patio where folks go to smoke, but what a kick.

The Michael Aragon Quartet performing at the No Name.

Drummer Michael Aragon, the bandleader, has had the Friday Night gig at the bar for 36 years. Sax player Rob Roth has played with him for 25 of them. Keyboardist KC Filson and bass player Pierre Archain have been with him for the past 10. Alas, Michael, 75, will retire after this coming Friday’s performance.

At the No Name. (From left): my wife Lynn, poet Paul LeClerc of Sausalito, and Inverness architect Jon Fernandez wait for the music to start.

Jon Fernandez and I, sometimes accompanied by Lynn, drive from Point Reyes Station to Sausalito and back every Friday for the music, as regular readers of this blog know. Last night, Aragon ushered in my birthday an hour early by having the band perform Happy Birthday to You.

That was almost as much of an honor as having my picture hanging opposite the restroom door. Lynn says that’s actually a good location. There’s only one restroom for customers, so lines can be long, and people will have plenty of time to look over the portrait, she says. I fear, however, that anyone recognizing me from the picture will immediately be reminded of having a full bladder.

By the way, writer Paul Liberatore had an excellent piece about Aragon in Friday’s Marin Independent Journal (click here). Among jazz aficionados, his drumming is legendary.

I’ve noticed that when friends my age get together, the conversation often becomes an organ recital: “I’m seeing the doctor Monday about problems with my eye….” Or, “My foot’s been bothering me, so I’ll probably have to have it examined….” Or, “I hear aging also affects our memories, but I can’t remember how.”

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PG&E vs. LSD. Overheard outside the Point Reyes Station post office during the blackout a week ago, one Sonoma County evacuee grimly commenting to another: “Reality is like acid! It’s intense!”

At Mitchell cabin, thankfully, the absurdity was far more gentle. In time, we got used to leaving a candle burning in the bathroom all evening. (For safety, we placed it in a corner of the acrylic shower stall.) We briefly stopped using the woodstove because of a red-flag alert and couldn’t use our large, electric space heater. I therefore had to turn our propane furnace on for the first time in 15 years.

All that, just because of earlier wildfires elsewhere, which the President says are all state government’s fault.

President Trump expressed his contempt for California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a tweet, “Get your act together, Governor.” The President claims that California’s failure to “rake” its forests has been causing its wildfires, and now says he’s going to withhold emergency wildfire aid from the state.

The President holds Russian President Vladimir Putin in higher regard, calling him “smart,” and saying that Putin “has done an amazing job.” So four months ago he offered Russia aid in its battle against wildfires in Siberia. Putin hasn’t yet decided whether the aid is needed. No wonder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month observed, “All roads seem to lead to Putin with the President.

Lynn with our cornucopia. The decoration is a harvest-season tradition in Mitchell cabin. Having worked for several days on the Point Reyes Disaster Council’s response to the blackout, she’s now hoping to get some rest and forget about the disaster in Washington.

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On a normal evening, this is how Mitchell cabin’s sitting area, dining area, and kitchen look. A journalism student once described the scene as a collection of “mismatched furniture.”

But for three evenings this week, here is how it looked as seen from the other end of the room (thanks to an oil lamp and 11 candles) as a result of PG&E’s turning off power to West Marin, along with many other communities. It was a precaution against high winds that might knock down power lines and spark wildfires in this dry weather.

Although most of West Marin was spared unusually high winds, the blackout cost Mitchell cabin not only its lights but also its water pressure. During the blackout, water coming from our faucets was barely more than a trickle. The cabin’s elevation is close to that of the North Marin Water District tanks on Tank Road in Point Reyes Station. As a result, gravity alone doesn’t provide much of a flow in our household water system, so we rely on an electric pressure pump to have strong streams of water in faucets, hoses, and in the shower.

Nor were showers much of an option during the blackout for any townsperson with an electric hot water heater. With the power back, I finally got to take a shower this morning. If the blackout had gone on for too many more days, Point Reyes Station might have developed a stinky population.

As I write at 6 p.m. Wednesday, power is still off in parts of Dillon Beach, Fairfax, Kentfield, Marshall, Mill Valley, Muir Beach, San Anselmo, Sausalito, Stinson Beach, and Tomales, the Marin Sheriff’s Office has reported. Better wear a face mask when you visit folks there.

But even before the blackout began life here was seeming strange. I looked up from my living-room chair a few evenings ago and was startled to see this damsel outside peering in the window.

Once I thought about it, however, the explanation was obvious. I was seeing a reflection from part of a plant holder hanging inside near the window.

Canada geese heading west to Drakes Estero for the night one evening last week. I get to see them most evenings if I listen for their honking around sunset.

Memories of spring: a kestrel on the railing of our deck.

Dealing with the blackout has been tiring, so I’ll stop here and take a snooze. Goodnight. I’ll sleep tight. And I won’t have any bedbugs bite; after all, Mitchell cabin is not a Trump hotel.

 

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Holding my step-granddaughter Cristina in Toby’s Coffee Bar. Last week was the first time we’d met, and we quickly hit it off.

My nuclear family (back row): Kristeli Zappa, Shaili Zappa, and Anika Pinelo with her two daughters, Lucia and Cristina; (front row): my wife Lynn and me. The young ladies all showed up last week for an end-of-summer visit.

Despite five marriages, I’ve never sired any children of my own; however, my fourth wife, a Guatemalan named Ana Carolina Monterroso, arrived with three daughters in tow. Although our marriage ended after a few months, I have remained close with those three stepdaughters. At least one of them visits me almost every year.

Kristeli, 30, Shaili, 26, and Anika, 32, all have dual US-Guatemalan citizenship since their natural father is an American. Shaili works for a finance company in Mexico City. Kristeli lives in New York, where she’s a clinical social worker providing mental-health therapy. Anika lives in Minnesota and before becoming a mother worked for a manufacturer that periodically sent her to South America to sell tanks. Those tanks, by the way, were not military but rather industrial vats.

My step-granddaughters, Cristina (four months) and Lucia (two years) turned out to be delightful young ladies.

I still have many of my childhood storybooks, and while she was here, Anika accepted them as gifts for her daughters. Although she can read only a few words, Lucia (at left) has already developed a fascination with books.

All three stepdaughters have led adventurous lives. Kristeli studied in France and then Taiwan before getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in New York. Shaili studied for several months in Kenya before graduating from the University of Minnesota. Anika, who also graduated from the University of Minnesota, took up skydiving before giving birth to two children.

At the kitchen door after dark.

Also getting together here last week were two other families; a mother raccoon and a mother skunk, both showed up with their kits. The skunks muscled in on the raccoons’ clumps of kibble, but they didn’t spray, and neither creature seemed afraid of the other.

Shaili leaned out a window to photograph them although she naturally worried about getting sprayed. She wasn’t, and the whole end-of-summer visit had a most pleasant air to it.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Separated mother and kit find each other after a day apart.

Two or three families of raccoons show up on our deck each evening, hoping we’ll reward them with some kibble, which we usually do. The families range in size, and the kit seen here with its mother is one of four siblings.

Last Sunday around 6:30 a.m., Lynn heard a kit’s usual gurgling calls sounding more like screeches. This was a bit past the time raccoons begin heading to their dens unless they’re still searching for a last bit of food. Lynn watched the kit for a while as it circled Mitchell cabin, calling for its mother and sniffing the deck where the family had been the night before. The call became increasingly shrill and prolonged as early morning turned into bright day. At some point, Lynn took pity on the kit and set out water and sliced grapes. The kit soon popped out from its temporary shelter in the dark under our lower deck and gobbled up the grapes. Then came more circling and calls until the tired youngster went silent under the lower deck for more than an hour.

Around sunset Sunday, Lynn noticed the kit was on the upper deck peering out between the rail posts. Shortly thereafter, the mother showed up. After they thoroughly sniffed each other to confirm identities, the kit became increasingly excited, even crawling under the mother and trying to suckle. She not only nursed it but gave her little one a good overall licking as it stretched out underneath her. The kit’s suckling may have been as much for emotional reattachment as milk, for it’s probably close to fully weaned.

Blue Fish Cove Resort at Clear Lake consists of a cluster of cottages on the shore of the lake. I first discovered this well-worn gem of a resort back in the 1990s while researching an article for The Coastal Traveler, which was then a supplement of The Point Reyes Light. What I found were unpretentious rooms looking out into glorious scenery, so when Lynn and I a few weeks ago started discussing our taking a short trip, Blue Fish Cove immediately came to mind.

Our cottage came with a cozy deck where I could escape the 100-degree weather thanks to cooling breezes off the water.

The view from our deck as well as from the decks of several other cottages was so beguiling we briefly discussed staying an extra day. We didn’t, but Blue Fish Cove is only a 2+ hour drive from Point Reyes Station, so we’ll probably go back again before long.

In its joy at having its mother back, a kit nuzzles her, and she returns the affection.

Wednesday night after we had returned to Mitchell cabin, Lynn anxiously watched to see if the traumatized kit and its mother were still together. Yes, they were! In fact all four tiny kits were on hand. It was the perfect ending to our trip.

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A Buddhist monk in Mandalay, Burma, admires a classic car back in 1986 when there were no new cars on the road. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

As a journalist I’ve always enjoyed photographing unexpected scenes. Here are a few I’ve found in the past 45 years.

A tired maid in Paris heads to work to prepare her employers’ dinner oblivious of the carefree billboard that merrily offers: “My blouse for a beer.” (circa. 1977)

“I clothed her for nine months. Now it’s Cleyeux.” The French company sells clothing for infants. (Paris, circa. 1978)

Enjoying themselves? Salvadoran soldiers in 1982 guard a Coca Cola bottling plant in San Salvador against leftist guerrillas. Ironically the Coca Cola sign looming in the background is headed “Disfrute,” which translates as “Enjoyment.”

Another ironic sign: The “Modern Pharmacy” in rural Guatemala, 1982.

When a high-speed highway from Guatemala City to Antigua was built in the 1970s-80s, Guatemala’s strongman, General Lucas Garcia, saw it as a chance for political propaganda. The sign says “One More Work of the Government of General Lucas.” However many local workers, like this pedestrian, couldn’t afford to drive it.

How a Third World country dealt with refugees. After America’s Southeast Asian wars ended in 1975 and the communist Pathet Lao took full control of Laos, at least 375,000 Laotians (more than a tenth of the country’s population) fled into neighboring Thailand. The Thais working with the UN lined up third countries — including the United States — to provide new homes for 250,000 of them. About 50,000 surreptitiously settled in Thailand, and another 3,000 returned to Laos. The Thai government housed the rest in a variety of camps. This refugee woman is sewing in a camp along the Mekong River, 1986. Many refugee men farmed small plots within the camp.

A Laotian refugee girl keeps an eye out for her mother, who has gone to the camp’s well.

Three other refugee children were clearly having a good time. 

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Shoreline along Cannery Row in Monterey with a memorial to author John Steinbeck, who gave the area a special allure with his romanticized novel Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday.

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married April 27 at Civic Center. The following month, we drove 80 miles up the coast to Gualala, where we went canoeing on the Gualala River, for the first half of our honeymoon. This past week we drove (actually Lynn did the driving) 160 miles down the coast to Monterey for the second half of our honeymoon.

The second photo down shows the living room in our suite, the Borogrove, with its view of Monterey Bay.

We stayed at an inn with a storybook quality, The Jabberwock, which is located in a mansion built in 1911. I’m sure many of you remember The Jabberwocky. It’s a nonsense poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The Jabberwocky begins: 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.
 
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”
 
However, the young man armed with a vorpal sword  is able to slay the beast, and his father is ecstatic:
 
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?/ Come to my arms, my beamish boy!/ O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”/ He chortled in his joy.
 
 
Complementing our joy: we found red and white wine, sherry, and hors d’oeuvres set out each evening in the inn’s enclosed sun porch. We also found a bottle of champagne, a decanter of brandy, and a plate of chocolate-fudge-coated strawberries in our room when we arrived.
 
 
Part of the Monterey County shoreline is within Asilomar State Park, and Lynn and I enjoyed several strolls along the water.
 
 
Flocks of pelicans could be seen frequently as they glided above the shore break.
 
 
Since I wasn’t smoking in the inn, these walks also provided opportunities to enjoy my pipe.
 
 
An official sign in a public restroom in Asilomar State Park. I wonder how many dogs can read it.
 
 
A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was one of the highlights of our trip. Probably the aquarium’s most popular exhibit is a tank of sea otters swimming casually around, typically on their backs.
 
 
Another particularly popular exhibit is a tank of puffins that paddle about seemingly oblivious of the crowds watching them.
 
 
A sea turtle swam above us.
 
 
As we wandered from one exhibit to another, schools of fish would sometimes give us the eye.
 
 
We saw exotic jellyfish and ….
 
 
…some of their luminescent cousins.
 
 
Throughout our stay in Monterey, we enjoyed sunny days, even when a few light sprinkles fell. What rain we had fell at night. At left a jet flies under a dramatic rainbow, which we could see from the inn for almost 40 minutes Wednesday late in the afternoon. From our perspective, we’d found the pot of gold.
 
 

It’s been a mixed week.

Last evening I was amazed to look out a bedroom window and see a red ball shining in the eastern sky. Lynn and I realized that the Lake County fire was the explanation. News reports said smoke from that fire was blowing south into the San Francisco Bay Area. As of this writing, the Pawnee Fire in Lake County has burned 14,150 acres and is only 73 percent contained.

 

Not wanting any wildfires here, I’d hired some guys to mow the fields around Mitchell cabin and neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman’s home. All went well except for this one patch in the middle of a field that wasn’t cut all the way down. Much of the land was mowed using a tractor, but when the tractor operator got to this spot, he suddenly came under attack from a colony of yellow jackets which had a hive in the ground. I could have had the hive destroyed but opted not to since yellow jackets can be beneficial: they dine on flies and spiders.

This gopher snake showed up at the edge of the garden the same weekend two months ago when Lynn and I were married. I decided that was a good omen since we were overrun with gophers.

Today, Lynn spotted this four-foot-long gopher snake on our front steps. To give you a sense of scale, the railroad ties that make up the steps are three feet long. This snake’s tail winds through the grass up to the step and back down where it disappears on the left side of the photo. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

I was impressed by the snake’s girth and snapped this photo of it.

There are numerous variations in the coloring of gopher snakes, but most retain a rattlesnake-like hide. In fact, when gopher snakes feel threatened, they try to imitate rattlesnakes, hissing, coiling up, and shaking their rattleless tails. A week ago I was driving home up Campolindo Road when I spotted a gopher snake that looked like this one, lying across the narrow roadway. Not wanting anyone to drive over it, I stopped, got out, and walked over to the snake, which did not move. I then leaned over and grabbed the snake right behind its head. The snake hissed and tried to turn its head but couldn’t, and I carried it into the grass and let it go.

Garter snakes could be found around here fairly often 25 years ago, but the only ones I’ve seen recently were along the levee road. When I moved one of those out of the roadway a while back, I got a dose of the stench garter snakes spray when they feel under attack.

A rubber boa with a tick on its eye. These seldom-seen snakes (they hunt in the evening or at night) can also emit a stinky spray when frightened. Mice and voles are among their main prey.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood, as was reported here awhile back. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A mother raccoon and her four kits receive a few handfuls of dog kibble when they show up in the evening. The kits are usually weaned by the the time they are four months old but often stay with their mothers for up to nine months.

A blacktail doe with two offspring are also staying together. Here the family rests contentedly after crossing the barbed-wire border between fields without getting separated. Under the current Administration, human refugees apparently deserve less.

 

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married on April 26. The first installment of our honeymoon began June 5 when we headed up the coast to enjoy a few days in Gualala, Mendocino County. The second installment will come later this summer when we’ll probably head down the coast to Monterey County.

Gualala makes for a romantic getaway, and we’d previously vacationed there a couple of times. The downtown sits beside an ocean bluff at the foot of forested hills. Every year ocean waves restore a sandbar that closes the mouth of the Gualala River. This creates a lagoon that lasts until the next rains swell the river enough that it can burst through the sandbar.

The Gualala River is a large part of what keeps bringing us back. (Lynn took this photo of me during a 2012 trip.) Adventure Rents, which operates from a clearing on the bank just downstream from the Gualala Bridge, offers kayaks as well as canoes; we always rent a canoe. The river’s current is fairly weak at this time of year, making it easy to spend an afternoon paddling upstream. Because of wind off the ocean, paddling downstream into the lagoon and back would have been far more laborious.

A bald eagle regularly perched in a dead tree near our inn. We were told it had a mate, but we never saw it.

A covey of mostly very young quail greeted us when we returned to Point Reyes Station after being away four days. In fact, young animals of other species had also begun hanging out around Mitchell cabin.

A blacktail fawn stays alert in this unfamiliar world.

A couple of small jackrabbits were among the other youngsters. Rabbits are weaned when they’re a month old or less. They then start grazing away from the nest but return to sleep. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

A rapid rabbit: While I was watching this adult rabbit last week, it started and bounded off downhill as fast as it could go. When I looked uphill to see what had alarmed the rabbit, I saw ….

a male bobcat. He was acting pretty much like a male dog: peeing on posts to mark territory and rolling on the ground on his back with his feet in the air. He didn’t chase the rabbit.

A raccoon with four small kits now show up on our deck every evening, and we usually give them handfuls of dog kibble. Unfortunately, a skunk recently figured out the routine and has begun arriving around the time the raccoons are done eating. Neither animal alarms the other. This mother raccoon sometimes takes a nap while the skunk eats. On other nights, they eat side by side. It’s really too bad that humans don’t have the gentility of raccoons and skunks.

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