Dave Mitchell


Lynn and I took Amtrak halfway across the country and back three weeks ago on a frustrating trip that went nowhere but cost a fortune to get there.

Here’s what happened. I am a member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, which this year held its annual conference in Columbia, Missouri. The conferences move around. Next year’s will be in Australia. Last year’s was in Durango, Colorado.

Lynn’s and my conference fees came to $1,250, but we considered it money well spent. Last year’s conference was the first we had attended, and both of us were impressed by the community-newspaper editors from around the world whom we met.

Organized discussions ranged from newspaper ethics to how to cover major disasters. Moreover, the group presented me with its Eugene Cervi Award for my years as an editor, and I returned to West Marin just glowing.

This year’s conference was scheduled for June 24 to 28 in Columbia. Lynn and I decided to travel by Amtrak as we had last year, for we had thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We would take the train to Ottumwa, Iowa, rent a car, and drive the rest of the way to Columbia, so we reserved a sleeper compartment for $1,329 roundtrip.

However, as I’ve noted here before, a year ago I came down with temporal arteritis (an inflammation of the artery in one’s temples that feeds blood to the eye). Left untreated temporal arteritis can cause blindness, so the doctor put me on a 10-month regimen of Prednisone (a steroid). As the months went by, he had me slowly taper off on the dosage until it got down to nothing just before we left for Columbia.

There are numerous problems with Prednisone, however, and in my case one side effect was being constantly weary. Another was frequently losing my sense of balance. Falling down on stairs became commonplace but caused no serious injuries. However, a fall while weed-whacking on Memorial Day and another fall at the end of May bruised my ribcage to where it became painful to walk.

Nonetheless, Lynn and I were determined to travel to Missouri for the newspaper conference. We already had a roundtrip ticket to Ottumwa on Amtrak, and we reserved a car from Enterprise in Ottumwa for $175 per day.

And so it was that on June 22 we drove to the Amtrak station in Emeryville where our train was more than an hour behind schedule, but Amtrak is notoriously late much of the time, so we thought nothing of the delay. Because Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks it travels on, its trains have to give way to any freight trains that come along.

Our engineer was trying to make up time, we were told, but the train was about four hours behind schedule by the time we reached Colorado. And in Colorado things really slowed down. Track maintenance caused more than a few delays, and when we finally reached Nebraska, these delays seemed nonstop.

Part of the problem resulted from a rainstorm in Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. In some places the tracks were flooded, and in others, springs gurgled up between the rails.

The view along the tracks in Nevada sometimes seemed a pretty good symbol of our Amtrak trip. (Photos by Lynn Axelrod)

We crept through western Nebraska, getting a good chance to inspect everyone’s back yard. They’re much tidier in Nebraska than in Utah, Nevada, and California where abandoned car parts and dilapidated buildings dominate the scenery in a some places.

I slept most of the way but got up three times a day for meals. After a couple of days, however, the lurching of the train was aggravating the pain in my ribs. Getting to the dining car or the restrooms required walking down narrow corridors in several cars, and despite trying to be careful, I was occasionally thrown against the walls of the corridor.

So I downed a bunch of Ibuprofen. Bad idea. With nothing such as yogurt available to buffer the painkiller, I was sick as a dog by the time we reached Ottumwa. That convinced us to spend the night in a hotel before traveling on. We rented a room near the train station for $90 per night, and I climbed into bed. Lynn meanwhile headed out to pick up the Enterprise rental car we had reserved. The agency, however, told her that because of the rainstorm, no vehicles were available or would be for several days .

Hertz was out of cars too, but Lynn finally found a family business that had a car for rent at $220 a week, and she took it. By the next morning, however, I was ready to go home. My stomach was still queasy, and my walking was reduced to shuffling because of my balance problem.

Amtrak told us the next train west would be that evening, and the only compartment available was a “family room,” which provided more space for stretching out but cost an additional $822. We bought a ticket and returned to the hotel to sleep all day for an additional $90.

Glenwood Springs along the Colorado River was one of the more attractive towns where the train stopped.

When we arrived at the Ottumwa train station that evening, Lynn and I encountered a new set of problems. Our train couldn’t get to Ottumwa because of the bad weather, so we would be put on a bus for a four-hour ride to Omaha where we would catch the train which would arrive from Chicago by a circuitous route. We had become resigned to our fate and agreed to the arrangement.

The bus was full of Amtrak passengers, and when we all got to Omaha about 11:30 p.m., we learned our train wouldn’t arrive until the next morning. Lynn and I were irritated. Several passengers who were heading to the airport in Denver were angry about missing their flights. Much of the throng spent the night in the train station. Lynn and I rented a hotel room nearby for $188.

The next morning Lynn and I arrived at the Amtrak station early only to have our train show up an hour and a half late. Our family room was relatively comfortable for resting. That was good because we kept falling further and further behind schedule. The delays were felt even in the dining car which began running out of various foods.

Amtrak serves good fare, but at the end of the trip all it could offer for our last meal was a bowl of rice with three spoonfuls of beef stew on top. The good part was that we were always seated with other passengers who inevitably were intelligent, friendly people.

Twelve hours behind schedule our train finally rolled into Emeryville, and just over an hour later we rolled back into Point Reyes Station. Unfortunately when we began unpacking, we discovered we’d left a $500 camera and a $40 pocket knife on the train. Lynn called Amtrak, but no one had turned them in. At least no one broke into our house while we were gone, we told each other, but then we discovered our stapler was missing. I just about became unstuck.

Our trip to the Midwest had cost more than $4,400, but I wouldn’t have minded had we actually reached the ISWNE conference. From what I’ve now read in ISWNE’s report on the event, those who did make it had a very good time and learned a lot.

 

 

As a result of a brief marriage to a Guatemalan in 2003, I have three stepdaughters, and because their birth father is a US citizen, they have dual US-Guatemalan citizenship.

I met their mother in 1982 while I was reporting for the old, Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner during a 2.5-year sabbatical from editing The Point Reyes Light. The Examiner had sent me to Central America to cover uprisings in Guatemala and El Salvador, and in Guatemala she was my part-time translator.

As I write, my middle stepdaughter Kristeli Zappa was supposed to be flying back to New York City after visiting for a week; however, United Airlines is now reporting online that the flight is being delayed for maintenance. Kristeli is in her senior year at New York University, and, boy, has she led an interesting life for someone in only her mid-20s.

Growing up she attended schools in: Guatemala; France; and the United States, including time at Tomales and San Marin high schools and a year of grade school in Minnesota. She worked for a spell in Barcelona and spent her first year and a half of college at a university in Taiwan. While there, she rowed on one of the school’s dragon boat teams.

Kristeli (center), Lynn and I last Wednesday enjoyed a late-evening dinner outdoors under heat lamps at Calzone’s Italian bistro in North Beach. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Kristeli and her younger sister Shaili resemble each other so closely that several times during her visit I called her by her sister’s name. So it was probably fitting that we took Kristeli on several of the same outings we took Shaili on when she visited in August: watching Beach Blanket Babylon, dropping by Calzone’s for dinner while in North Beach, listening to jazz at the No Name bar in Sausalito, and having dinner with Anastacio and Sue Gonzalez in Point Reyes Station.

When Shaili was here three months ago, the Gonzalezes went with us to Café Reyes for pizza. This time Anastacio cooked us a yellowfin tuna he had caught in the Sea of Cortez and brought back on ice. It was the best fish I’ve eaten in years.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station filled the main hall and adjoining former church Thursday afternoon. The event drew so many people they ate all the pumpkin pie. That hadn’t happened in years, if ever, one of the regular volunteers told us. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

The turkey dinner is always free although donations are welcome, and it’s always well prepared. There is even a vegetarian plate for non-turkey eaters. For many of us diners, however, the best part of the dinner is the opportunity it provides to catch up with old acquaintances we seldom see. That’s one way we keep our sense of community alive.

A week of rainy days interspersed with sunny ones has been helping the grass turn green in the horse pasture next to Mitchell cabin. The stockpond is far from overflowing, but the water level is rising. [Update: At the end of 4 inches of rain Tuesday night-Wednesday morning, Dec. 2 & 3, the pond was overflowing.]

Even dramatically low Nicasio Reservoir, which belongs to Marin Municipal Water District, appears to be slowly recovering from the drought. The rest of the district’s reservoirs were already in pretty good shape. If all MMWD reservoirs are counted together — Alpine, Bon Tempe, Kent, Lagunitas, Nicasio, Phoenix, and Soulajule —  “current storage is 94.42 percent of average storage for this date,” the district reported on Nov. 23.

When Lynn and I went to the No Name bar in Sausalito to hear jazz, as we often do on Friday nights, we, of course, took along Kristeli. What was unusual about the evening was that drummer Michael Aragon, whose quartet has played at the No Name virtually every Friday night for 31 years, wasn’t on hand.

Instead we heard Sausalito bluesman Eugene Huggins’ band which plays at the No Name regularly but not on Fridays. Besides wailing on a variety of harmonicas, Huggins sang an engaging selection of blues and blues-rock. Although Huggins is well regarded, none of us had heard him before, and we were all impressed.

And then it was time for Kristeli to fly home. Lynn and I drove her to the Larkspur ferry terminal, so friends of hers in San Francisco could pick her up at the Ferry Building, show her around, and ultimately drive her to the airport.

For me her visit had been quite an experience. Kristeli had lived in Mitchell cabin for only a few months during my brief marriage to her mother 11 years ago, and I hadn’t seen her since although we periodically correspond by email. Yet by the end of her visit, Lynn and I were genuinely sad to see her go. I don’t know if Lynn and I, Kristeli and her sisters, together fit the formal definition of an “extended family,” but it sure feels like one.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I turned 71 Sunday, which was probably a good decision, but I threw out my back earlier in the week, which definitely was not a good move. You never realize how much use you have for something until you throw it out.

Just standing up is now a pain, and walking is even worse.

Doug Hill, president of the Berkeley City Commons Club, relays a member’s question to me at the end of my talk. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

As it happens, Morton McDonald, who has a home at Duck Cove in Inverness, had invited me to tell the Berkeley City Commons Club what I knew about Synanon from the cult’s days in West Marin. I had agreed to go last Friday but had to strut and fret my hour upon the stage from an overstuffed chair.

I’ve tried to portray my injury as caused by rugged work, telling friends I threw out my back while working with a chainsaw. “What were you cutting?” they ask. “Daisies,” I sheepishly reply. They’re inevitably startled. “No one throws out his back cutting daisies,” they say, “and no one cuts daisies with a chainsaw.”

It’s a long story. Former Point Reyes Light reporter Janine Warner and her husband Dave LaFontaine drove up from Los Angeles for my birthday and are staying for five days. My stepdaughter Kristeli, who is in her last year at New York University, will fly in Tuesday and stay for five days over Thanksgiving.

Vegetation was hanging over the railing along the outdoor steps, and I wanted everyone to be safe when they used the stairs. When I cut four or five dead fronds off a palm and three dead branches off a couple of pines, the chainsaw went right through them. But when I bent over to cut some woody branches from dead sections of two daisy bushes, a muscle spasm locked onto my back with all four feet.

Heating pads, back braces, and a ball-bearing-filled massage machine are helping, and I’ll no doubt recover in a week or two although post-traumatic-stress disorder could be a lingering problem.

I sign a copy of The Light on the Coast for Morton McDonald. The book includes a section on the paper’s investigation of Synanon, an investigation that led to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

In the “best of times” category, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported by The Point Reyes Light, which I wrote with Jacoba Charles as coauthor, is now in its third printing. The Tomales Regional History Center is the publisher, and the book can be ordered online using the History Center link in the righthand column.

Two blacktails butting heads outside my kitchen window last week. I’d think a deer could easily get an eye poked out that way, but I’ve never seen a buck with an eye patch.

When I was a lad in the 1940s, the fictional character who fascinated me was not Superman, Roy Rogers, or the Lone Ranger. It was Mowgli. Of course it’s easy to romanticize living naked with a pack of wolves, but one of Mowgli’s adventures in particular remains part of my life.

Mind you I’m not talking about the Mowgli of Walt Disney’s animated movie The Jungle Book. That trivialized portrayal of the youth would not come along for another 20 years. I’m talking about Mowgli, the hero of nine Rudyard Kipling short stories. My mother read me at least three of the stories from Kipling’s 1893 collection, The Jungle Book, and I was more intrigued by what Mowgli got to see than by what he actually did.

Kipling (1865-1936), a British short-story writer who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, made a name for himself in two disparate genres: 1) children’s stories; and 2) stories and poems about British imperialism in India. The Jungle Book, naturally, is set in an Indian jungle.

Mowgli growing up with wolves. (Illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg)

Mowgli is the boy who grows up in the jungle with a pack of wolves after his parents lose him during a tiger attack. A mother wolf with cubs decides to raise the child as a man cub, and because he is hairless, she names him “Mowgli,” which apparently is wolfspeak for “Frog.”

Mowgli’s greatest accomplishment is to kill a malicious tiger, Shere Khan. With help from two wolves, he causes water buffalo at two ends of a ravine to stampede down it. Shere Khan gets caught in the middle and is trampled.

Monkeys in the abandoned city of Cold Lairs sit around its crumbling palace.

For me, the highpoint of the stories occurred when a pack of monkeys kidnapped Mowgli and took him to the Cold Lairs, an abandoned city complete with a palace half overgrown with jungle. Mowgli escaped when Kaa, the python, hypnotized the monkeys with a writhing “hunger dance,” but that wasn’t what intrigued me.

What I, as a young boy, found hardest to imagine was a jungle so aggressively overgrowing grand buildings from past cultures that the buildings ultimately disappear. When my mother assured me that large structures really can get lost in tropical forests, I began to fantasize about finding one.

A Burmese family’s home faces the railroad tracks while out in back tropical foliage has begun to swallow a deteriorating British-colonial building. (Seen from a train approaching Rangoon, 1986.)

It was only when I finally made it to such places as Guatemala, Thailand, and Burma in the 1980s that I saw for myself how readily jungle vines, bushes, and even trees can take root on abandoned edifices such as temples, palaces, and government buildings.

Vines and other foliage taking over an abandoned commercial building in downtown Rangoon create a romantic sadness. It may be exotic, but it’s hard not to feel sentimental when seeing former grandeur being consumed by opportunistic plants.

I’ve carried my fascination with intrusive jungle life with me for many years. The area around my desk in the old Point Reyes Light newsroom in the Creamery Building was filled with laurentii and dieffenbachia while pots of philodendrons and spider plants hung from the rafters.

As it happened, the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) in 2004 named The Light first in Public Service statewide for a series of stories about a Guatemalan immigrant who was attacked in Bolinas and nearly died. His personal tragedy was a catastrophe for his family. His wife was very ill, and he had been supporting her and the rest of his family, who were living in rural poverty in a remote area of Guatemala.

Light reporter Ana Carolina Monterroso and photographer Anika Zappa covered the story from Guatemala while Victoria Schlesinger was the key reporter in West Marin. Victoria represented the newspaper at the awards ceremony aboard the Queen Mary, and CNPA wanted a photo of Light staff to project on a screen while she received the Public Service plaque. The newsroom’s jungle was the perfect backdrop to symbolize the back country of Guatemala, so Victoria and I (above) posed amid the foliage. ________________________________________________________________

My love of the jungle is most evident these days inside Mitchell cabin. Here and there spider plants cascade down from the loft into the living room and dining room below.

Screened from the dining room by a floor-to-ceiling tower of spider-plants, Lynn prepares dinner in our kitchen.

 

 

 

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If you don’t look where you’re going in the dining room, it’s easy to find greenery in your face.

Lynn and I have pretty much learned to avoid becoming entangled, but guests are forever brushing spider plants out of their hair.

 

 

 

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Having spider plants hanging into the living room from the floor above often results in our peering through a bit of jungle while carrying on a conversation.

What’s more, it only takes a little jungle to make everything seem more exotic. I may have moved into the village, but deep inside me the romanticism of Mowgli in the Cold Lairs palace lives on.

 

 

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With airlines becoming increasingly unpleasant — airport security treating passengers as suspected terrorists, flight attendants abusing fliers, and seats too close together to sit comfortably — there are better ways to travel.

Three weeks ago when Lynn and I traveled to Durango, Colorado, we saw no need to let an airline ruin an otherwise happy trip, so we didn’t. It was a good decision.

On the first part of our journey, we rode Amtrak from Emeryville to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Our roomette gave us space to stretch our legs and to sleep lying down. Unlike airlines that travel at roughly 30,000 feet, trains travel at ground level, and the scenery we passed through, such as this stretch of Utah desert, was spectacular.

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From Grand Junction, we drove almost 150 miles to Durango.

South of Ouray, Colorado, Highway 550 crosses Red Mountain Pass, and last year USA Today described that section of highway as one of the “world’s 12 most dangerous roads.”

As The Durango Herald reported while we were in town, it shares that distinction with the “Highway of Death in Iraq” and “Death Road” in Bolivia.

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“Red Mountain Pass, per mile, has the highest avalanche hazard on the North American Continent,” The Durango Herald added. “The narrow, two-lane road winds through the mountains like a drunk crazily stumbling, and there’s no guardrail to protect cars attempting hairpin turns from hurtling into the jagged ravines that lie, stunning and ominous, hundreds of feet below.”

While Amtrak locomotives, of course, burn diesel fuel, steam locomotives still burn coal. The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE), whose conference Lynn and I were attending, took an excursion on the 132-year-old Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Silverton to Durango. I had as much fun as a kid with a Lionel Train set.

While trains in general are rich in history, steam engines are especially rich in nostalgia — even for the trainmen. Our engineer, Mike Nichols (seen releasing extra water for making steam), has been on the run for 43 years.

The route of the Durango and Silverton Railroad provided spectacular scenery of its own. Some passenger cars on the train have traditional, enclosed seating while some are open-air for enhanced sightseeing.

You may recall Arlo Guthrie’s hit, The City of New Orleans, in which: “The conductor sings his song again: the passengers will please refrain….” The line may be an allusion to a ribald ditty that folk legend Oscar Brand popularized with a 1956 recording. Sung to the tune of Dvorak’s Humoresque, it begins: “Passengers will please refrain/ from flushing toilets while the train/ is in the station, Darling I love you….”

Toilets on trains traditionally dumped their sewage on the tracks, which was unpleasant for track workers and for anyone below a bridge the train was crossing. At the insistence of Congress, Amtrak between 1991 and 1996 installed holding tanks for sewage in all cars with restrooms. Likewise, the Durango and Silverton Railroad’s toilets no longer empty onto the tracks although its restroom sinks still do. ___________________________________________________________________

Like all the Amtrak crew members we encountered, Nathan, the attendant for our two-level passenger car, was friendly as well as efficient.

Not only did he maintain the car throughout its trip from Emeryville to its ultimate destination, Chicago, he converted our roomette seats to beds at night and back to seats in the morning.

He also provided passengers in his car with free coffee, juice, and snacks.

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A view of Utah from a window in the dining car.

Passengers in sleeper cars pay nothing extra for their meals, and Amtrak does not skimp on its fare. Steak and seafood were among the dinner entrées.

Travelers typically are seated with other travelers at tables in the dining car, and all the strangers Lynn and I ate with turned out to be pleasant, friendly folks. Train travelers, we soon realized, more easily socialize with each other than air travelers do.

Amtrak’s lounge car was great  for sightseeing, snacking, and socializing. Some passengers brought their computers there to work in pleasant surroundings.

Riding Amtrak provides a tour of numerous towns that remain part of the Old West. This is Truckee near Donner Pass over the Sierra Nevada.

Winnemuccca, Nevada.

Amtrak does not own the tracks it travels on, and our train rode on Union Pacific rails the entire way. Union Pacific freight trains have priority, and Amtrak trains have to sit on a siding or stay in a station whenever a freight comes along. As a result, Amtrak is almost never on schedule.

We spent an unscheduled 90 minutes in Winnemucca while waiting for the Union Pacific’s relief engineer and conductor to show up. The delay was no problem for Lynn and me. It just brought to mind the old Hank Snow song I’ve Been Everywhere, which begins with a trip to Winnemucca.

Airplane contrails high in the sky over the Utah desert. Eighty million years ago, the USGS website says, most of this area was covered by a warm, shallow, inland sea.

Seen from our Amtrak window, the Colorado River flows past Utah’s dramatic rock formations.

Ouray, Colorado

After enjoying a family get-together with my cousin Leck Mitchell and his wife Pat in Grand Junction, we embarked the next day on a mostly relaxed drive to Durango. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in the old mining town of Ouray. The city of only 1,000 residents is full of historic buildings and offers a variety of places to eat. __________________________________________________________________

South of Ouray, however, our drive over Red Mountain Pass became a challenge.

“Although the speed limit is 15 mph for much of Red Mountain Pass,” The Durango Herald noted, “more than 300 accidents took place there between 1995 and 2010.

“The majority occurred in dry conditions and involved only one vehicle. Eight accidents killed nine people, including five highway workers.”

The newspaper quoted Nancy Shanks, the local Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman, as saying, “It’s so scary it forces people to focus and slow down.”

Another reason there aren’t even more wrecks, a shopkeeper in Silverton theorized, is that there’s no cellphone reception going over the pass, so drivers don’t get distracted by texting as they skirt the precipices. ___________________________________________________________________

With no guardrails and — in many places — no shoulder between the asphalt and the edge of a cliff, the pass must be impassable for drivers bothered by vertigo.

Heidi Pankow, public relations manager for the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, told The Herald, “People stop in and ask, ‘Why are there no guardrails?’ We explain there’s no room because plows have to push the snow off the edge in winter. It’s definitely a topic that comes up a lot.”

The road is also known as the Million Dollar highway. However, “the origin of the ‘Million Dollar’ name is clouded in myth,” Road Trip USA has noted. “Some say it was first used after an early traveler, complaining of the vertigo-inducing steepness of the route, said, ‘I wouldn’t go that way again if you paid me a million dollars.’

“Others claim that it derives simply from the actual cost of paving the route in the 1930s. But the favorite explanation is also the most likely: when the highway was first constructed, the builders used gravel discarded by nearby gold and silver mines, only to find out later that this dirt was actually rich in ore and worth an estimated ‘million dollars.’”

Lynn prepares to board the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Silverton during the ISWNE excursion.

Silverton was born as a silver- and gold-mining town in 1874, and at one time Blair Street (pictured) was lined with 40 saloons and brothels that served the miners. Most of the old buildings are still standing, and the downtown area is now a National Historic Landmark District. With an elevation of 9,308 feet, the town has a summer population of around 600 but far less in winter.

The town’s 139-year-old newspaper, The Silverton Standard, is now a nonprofit owned by the San Juan Historical Society, which took it over five years ago when The Standard was about to go out of business. The paper is now marginally in the black, its editor, Mark Esper, told ISWNE members when we met with him in the old county courthouse.

In keeping with Silverton’s rakish past, the town council is now considering modifying its zoning to allow a retail marijuana shop just east of downtown, The Standard reported while we were in town. Current zoning would already allow a marijuana-growing facility in the area, the paper noted.

ISWNE members gaze at the scenery as the narrow-gauge railroad crosses the San Juan Mountains en route to Durango.

Train conductors warn passengers not to stick their heads or arms out the window during the ride. The train passes so close to rocks and trees a passenger could easily bang into them.

Like the “Highway to Hell,” the train route in places winds along the edge of cliffs. The precipices, however, seem far less daunting when riding on a train than when driving above them in a car.

Air travel too, of course, includes a lot of looking down from high places, and that makes some people even more queasy. All in all, Lynn and I found traveling by train and car far preferable to flying, and the scenery was immensely better.

As last week’s posting noted, our destination was an annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, which this year was in Durango. I was there to give a talk and receive ISWNE’s Eugene Cervi Award, and these were the highlights of our trip. But getting there, around, and back was great fun too.

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.

On Saturday I became a septuagenarian, having been born near the midpoint of U.S. fighting in World War II. There was no special celebration for my 70th, but Lynn and I nonetheless had a good time.

Lynn stands in the garden area at the entrance to Heidrun Meadery’s tasting room.

We started out the day at Heidrun Meadery, which two years ago opened across Highway 1 from Campolindo Road, where Mitchell cabin is located.

Despite its being so close, Lynn and I had not previously visited the meadery. Most of the time, guests need to make reservations for mead tastings, but on Saturday the meadery held a “holiday open house.” Another is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Heidrun owner Gordon Hull tells guests about the different varieties of mead he produces.

Mead is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey and water. In various parts of Europe, it has been popular for centuries. Heidrun’s meads are bubbly, having been made with the same method used to make champagne. Despite the honey content, Heidrun meads tend to be more dry than sweet.

Inside Heidrun’s tasting room.

The meadery was founded in Arcata, Humboldt County, in 1997 and moved to Point Reyes Station in 2011.

Avery Giacomini describes how one cheese differs from another.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese gave out samples of Point Reyes Original Blue cheese and Point Reyes Toma cheese during the mead tasting.

Cheese company owner Bob Giacomini grew up on his father’s dairy ranch in Point Reyes Station. In 1959, he purchased pasture land three miles north of town and went into the milk business on his own. In August 2000, the farm produced its first rounds of blue cheese, describing it as “California’s only classic-style blue cheese.”

The cheese, which is not as sharp as some blue cheeses, was immediately popular. In 2011, Point Reyes Original Blue won the gold medal for Outstanding Cheese/Dairy Product from the National Association for Specialty Food Trade. This year, Point Reyes Bay Blue won the gold medal for Best New Product while Point Reyes Toma was named the Outstanding Cheese/Dairy Product.

As it happened, musician Ingrid Noyes of Marshall (in the center talking with me) invited a number of other musicians over to play Saturday. Her friend, Víctor Reyes (upper left), who writes a Spanish-language column for The Point Reyes Light, is also a longtime friend of mine, and he made sure Lynn and I were included. (I brought my harmonica.)

Cake on a stick.

By chance, Saturday was the birthday for three of us at the party, and Lynn brought a chocolate-fudge cake. The cake contained so much fudge that I was able to pick up my piece with the long birthday candle stuck in it. So that was the way I ate it, calling it “cake on a stick.”

Shaili (at center) in Kenya.

I received birthday greetings from several friends and relatives, but by far the most distant greeting came from my stepdaughter Shaili, who is in Kenya taking part in a study-abroad program of the University of Minnesota.

Although our voices faded in and out, Shaili, Lynn, and I were able to chat by cellphone. Other than getting help from tech support in India, neither Lynn nor I had previously talked on the phone with anyone so far away. The time in Kenya is 11 hours ahead of the time in Point Reyes Station.

Shaili is working at an education center for Maasai girls, who too often are forced into marriage before getting schooling. Lynn and I are extremely proud of her, and I couldn’t hope for a better 70th-birthday present than hearing her good wishes from rural Africa.

I was raised by Christian Science parents in Berkeley and attended Berkeley High School, but in the middle of my junior year I abruptly transferred to a boarding school in St. Louis. The story of how that came about illustrates what a teenager is capable of doing out of fear.

As a 16 year old, I often chafed at parental restrictions on my driving and staying out late, but at Berkeley High, I earned good grades in most subjects. Advanced Latin, however, proved to be a step too far. One afternoon in the fall of 1959, I went directly home after school in order to spend extra time studying for a Latin test only to realize the battle was lost. Given my grades so far, it was impossible for me to pass advanced Latin.

It was a frightening thought. I had never received less than a C in any class, and that alone had brought down my parents’ wrath. I had been grounded and had my allowance cut for a month. What might happen when I brought home an F was too awful to imagine.

It was obvious I couldn’t still be living at home when report cards came out. But what to do? Suddenly I remembered a Christian Science high school my parents had mentioned in glowing terms. It was called Principia and was safely located 1,800 miles away in St. Louis. I feared the school might be overly religious, but anything was better than facing my parents with an F in Latin.

I got up from my desk and went looking for my mother, who was in the kitchen cooking dinner. “I want to go to Principia,” I announced. My mother was startled, but given the pressures of trying to raise a headstrong teenager, she didn’t oppose my request. Instead, she took it up with my father, and a week before Berkeley High mailed home my grades for the fall semester, I boarded a train for Missouri, having no idea what I would find.

At Principia, where football players were generally smaller than at Berkeley High, I was big enough to play offensive tackle. I’m No. 74 in the middle of the back row. Because Principia’s sports program was far more modest than Berkeley High’s, I was able to letter in both football and track during my three semesters in St. Louis.

Principia Upper School had a newly opened, suburban campus on Clayton Valley Road, and the place had the pleasant charm of brick buildings and expansive lawns. Its religious atmosphere was about the same as in my home back in Berkeley.

A few days after I had been assigned a room and roommate, I got a call from my much-distressed parents. They had received my report card from Berkeley High and discovered I’d flunked Latin. How could I have done so badly when I’d been assuring them I was doing okay in Latin? “I’m as surprised as you,” I replied with feigned concern. “I must have blown the final exam. Everything seemed fine before then.”

My parents started scolding, but I interrupted to say I was being called away to Sunday dinner. Reluctantly, they said goodbye and hung up. In fact, there was nothing going on — other than my jubilation at being beyond their reach.

I sometimes practiced high jump barefoot. At Berkeley High, good jumpers were able to clear six feet. My best jump at Principia was five feet, six inches, but when I made it, that was enough to win the event, which was the last of the day in a track meet with John Burroughs Academy. When the high jumping finally got underway late that afternoon, each school’s total points happened to be the same, so my not-so-high jump won the meet for Principia.

Berkeley High had taught most courses a bit earlier than Principia did, so I frequently was already familiar with subjects when they came up in class. Nor did Prin offer any Latin. As a result, I was one of the top three students in my graduating class.

All this helped get me into Stanford University where circumstances eventually forced me to again take Latin. This time, however, my grades were three A’s and two B’s. Ironically, it was my best subject as an undergraduate. How could that be?

First, thanks to my classes at Berkeley High, I was already familiar with basic Latin. Second, the night before each final, I sat down with a Latin-English dictionary and practiced translating passages from Caesar’s Gallic Wars, The Aeneid, etc. The passages were typically ones the professor had emphasized in class, and I figured some of them were likely to be on the exam. That quickly turned out to be true. Three times I managed, with the help of a dictionary, to translate every passage on a final exam just before I took it. My flight from Latin was over.

This is the 300th posting on SparselySageAndTimely.com, and my friend Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles has urged me to write something commemorating the occasion.

The first posting went online back on Nov. 28, 2006, and at least one per week has followed ever since.

Usually it’s been fun although on a few slow weeks I’ve felt like The Desperate Man (at right), a self-portrait by Gustave Corbet (1819-1877).

As was explained in the first posting, keeping a log on the web (i.e. a blog) is a bit like keeping a log on a ship. It includes both a journal of one’s trip through life and reports on significant events along the way. How a web log came to be called a blog, by the way, reflects the whimsy that has long characterized those who gambol on the World Wide Web of the Internet.

A blogger named Jorn Barger coined the term in a Dec. 17, 1997, entry on his site, jokingly turning “web log” into “we blog.” And who is Jorn Barger? Wikipedia reports he is editor of “Robot Wisdom,” has taught at Northwestern, and once lived at The Farm (Stephen Gaskin’s commune in Tennessee).

Some weeks my topics were obvious: major storms, the November 2007 oil spill along the coast, community celebrations, and the deaths of prominent people. Some postings, such as those recounting West Marin history, required a bit of research.

West Marin’s animal life, both wild and domestic, has been a constant of this blog. Here two horses in a field next to mine enjoyed a sunny day last weekend.

Naturally, so to speak, some wildlife adventures chronicled here probably aren’t as fascinating to all readers as they are to me. This past week I’ve been delighted that a new possum (seen here) has begun visiting my cabin in the evening. It’s younger than the one that had been coming around, and both are more skittish than the possum a couple of years ago that would let me pet her as she snacked on peanuts.

Regular readers know I am particularly intrigued when seemingly unrelated events turn out to be connected. My favorite such posting told how a grim, 1909 Hungarian play called Lliom led to the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, which in 1963 led to Gerry and the Pacemakers’ rhythmic recording of You’ll Never Walk Alone, with that rendition then becoming a worldwide professional soccer anthem.

Readers too seem to like following these connections.

My April 19 posting What does the Easter Bunny have to do with Jesus’ resurrection? drew readers by the hundreds.

The posting told how Gregory the Great (at right), who was pope from 590 to 604, unintentionally brought about the Easter Bunny’s becoming associated with Jesus’ resurrection.

Some 877 people dropped by here this past Easter — 308 on Easter Day alone — to read the story. I was struck by the fact that 270 of those visitors found their way here via Google.

While we’re on the topic of Google, are any of you old enough to remember the 1923 hit tune Barney Google? “Barney Google, with his googley eyes./ Barney Google had a wife three times his size./ She sued Barney for divorce/ Now he’s living with his horse.

“Barney Google, with his googley eyes./ Barney Google, with his googley eyes./ Barney Google, has a girl that loves the guys./ Only friends can get a squeeze./ That girl has no enemies./ Barney Google, with his googley eyes.”

Nor should we forget the comic strip Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, which is still going strong after 92 years.

Doesn’t all this make you wonder about the origin of the corporate name Google? In fact, it comes from a misspelling of “googol,” which refers to the number one followed by 100 zeros. Nonetheless, the verb “to google” (use the Google search engine) is now included in major dictionaries. But I digress….

This being spring (witness the iris on my deck), I’ll end with a poem composed for this commemorative posting.

With thanks to T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Matthew Arnold, William Butler Yeats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Frost for their contributions:

West of Eden

The hollow men/ Headpiece filled with straw./ Starving hysterical naked,/ dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.

Who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs/ Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world./ Half a league, half a league,/ Half a league onward,/ All in the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred./ To die, to sleep.

Do not go gentle into that good night,/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light./ I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Mass communications began after a German goldsmith named Johnannes Gutenberg in 1439 borrowed money to produce souvenirs to sell at a religious festival only to have the festival postponed for a year.

Unable to repay his investors, Gutenberg (left) offered to share the proceeds of a “secret” with them and during the next 10 years devised a printing press that used movable type. The invention led to the printing of the Gutenberg Bible and eventually mass-produced books in general, as well as newspapers and magazines.

The first newspaper in the American colonies was Publick Occurrences, published in Boston in 1690. Its first and only issue was printed on a hand-powered press like Gutenberg’s. The newspaper, however, had not been officially authorized, and it was immediately shut down, its press run confiscated, and its publisher arrested.

The first paper to survive was The Boston Newsletter founded in 1704 by the postmaster. In the 1720s, two other newspapers were launched in New York.

By the start of the Revolutionary War, there were a couple of dozen newspapers in the colonies. By the end of the war, there were 43.

Virtually all were weeklies with circulations of roughly 500. Using Gutenberg technology, that was about all that a print shop could produce in a week. When the First Amendment guaranteed Freedom of the Press, newspapers such as these were what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

By the 1830s, improving technology allowed for creation of mass-circulation newspapers, and by the 1890s, two New York City papers, The New York Journal and The World, were each selling half a million copies per day. The day after the 1896 election of President William McKinley, each paper sold 1.5 million copies.

Then along came radio broadcasting, which began in Holland in 1919 and in the US in 1920. Suddenly newsmakers and entertainers could speak directly to audiences everywhere. Radio, of course, was only the beginning. From 1928 to 1931, the first television stations began broadcasting in different parts of the US.

Back when I was studying Mass Communications in college half a century ago, the news media consisted of magazines, newspapers, radio, and television.

The next medium to come along was, of course, the World Wide Web, which was launched in 1990. Soon organizations ranging from small businesses to the news media were creating websites to promote themselves. Meanwhile individuals such as I began putting blogs online. (The word blog, by the way, comes from web log in the sense of a ship’s log.)

In 2004, a new type of website devoted to “social networking” went online when Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. Facebook allows users to post vast amounts of text and photos online at no charge. The company makes its money selling advertising on the site.

It all sounded simple enough at first. Friends and relatives used the site to let each other see what they’d been doing and read what they’d been thinking about. But then some strange things started happening. For example:

Last August it came to light that a wife in Cleveland, Lynn France, had suspected her husband was having an affair with another woman, Amanda Weisal, so she logged onto Facebook and typed in Weisal’s name.

John France and Amanda Weisal France on the Today Show.

Not only did she find photos of her husband with Weisal, the pictures showed the two of them getting married. Lynn France then accused her husband of bigamy. John France, however, denied it, claiming his marriage to Lynn in Italy back in 2005 was invalid although he acknowledged fathering two children by her.

Now that’s social networking. Or how about this?

Last November, a 51-year-old Antioch man halted westbound traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge for an hour when he stopped in the slow lane and told officers via a cell phone that he was armed with guns and explosives.

Craig Carlos-Valentino (at right in CHP photo) also threatened to jump off the bridge. Eventually he surrendered to authorities. No explosives or guns were found in his car, and his 16-year-old daughter, who had also been in the car, was unharmed.

Carlos-Valentino is now in jail awaiting trial, but what in the world was going on? The suspect told officers he was upset that his wife was going to leave him. And why did he think that? She’d revealed it on Facebook.

Nor is the issue merely a matter of indiscreet postings. Much in the news this past three weeks has been the 1987 kidnapping of Carlina White. A woman posing as a nurse had stolen White, then a newborn, from a Harlem hospital.

The kidnapping suspect, Ann Pettway (at right in a North Carolina Department of Identification photo), had raised the girl as her own.

But Carlina White came to wonder if she were really the woman’s daughter and eventually found her actual parents via a missing-children’s website.

With all the publicity over the girl’s being reunited with her true family, Pettway disappeared for 10 days, but on Sunday, she turned herself in to Bridgeport, Connecticut, police. And how was that arranged?

Sunday happened to be police Lt. David Daniels’ birthday, and when he logged onto Facebook to see who had wished him a happy birthday, he found a message from Pettway saying to call her.

Communications have come a long way since Gutenberg, but so far I’ve declined friends’ and relatives’ invitations to stay in touch with them on Facebook. To me it just seems like a waste of time since I have no plans for bigamy, leaving a spouse, or surrendering to Connecticut police.

It’s not that I have no interest in self-promotion. While talking with my friend Lynn Axelrod Saturday evening, I began balancing a cup of coffee on my foot. To my disappointment, she failed to notice, so after 10 minutes I finally pointed out my balancing act.

Lynn quickly snapped a photo with her cell phone, and now the world can see that I too have a story to tell. It’s not, however, sordid enough for Facebook.

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