Archive for February, 2007

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With my neighbor’s housecat keeping them company, eight blacktail deer spent Wednesday afternoon grazing and chewing their cud in the fields around my cabin.

Housecats don’t bother blacktails, unlike the coyote that crawled through my fence in January and caused the deer to immediately scatter.

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A blacktail doe watches a housecat on a woodpile washing itself.


Before we go any further with this, however, let’s get our terms straight, for the word “deer” is constantly evolving. Our word “deer” comes from the Old English word “deor,” which referred to animals in general, of course, including deer. In Middle English, the language of Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the word was spelled “der,” and The American Heritage Dictionary notes it could refer to all manner of creatures, including “a fish, an ant, or a fox.”

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Even in the plays of Shakespeare (1564-1616), who wrote in Modern English (albeit of the Elizabethan variety), the meaning of the word remains uncertain. In King Lear, Act III, scene iv, the Earl of Gloucester’s much-abused son Tom ‘o Bedlam (disguised as Edgar) laments, “Mice and rats, and such small deer,/ Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.”

What does all this mean? “Deer is a commonly cited example of a semantic process called specialization, by which the range of meaning of a word is narrowed or restricted [over time],” the dictionary explains.

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Male North American blacktail, white tail, and mule deer are ‘bucks’ while male European red deer are ‘stags.’

Had Shakespeare lived 10 million years earlier, however, Edgar’s lament might have made more sense. As Bruce Morris writes for Bay Nature, “All three major deer species native to North America (blacktail, whitetail, and mule) trace their ancestry back to a primordial, rabbit-size Odocoileus, which had fangs and no antlers and lived around the Arctic Circle some 10 million years ago.”

Based on DNA tests, Morris adds, “researchers theorized that whitetails (Odocoileus viginianus) emerged as a separate species on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago.

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A blacktail buck, characteristically stretching his neck low to the ground, sniffs for a doe in estrus.

“They apparently expanded their range down the East Coast and then westward across the continent until reaching the Pacific Ocean in what is now California some 1.5 million years ago. Moving north up the coast, they evolved into blacktails….

“Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the subspecies of blacktails native to the Bay Area…. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, there are now approximately 560,000 deer in all California, about 320,000 of which are Columbian blacktails….”

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A seemingly perplexed fawn watches as the doe runs away from the buck, who licks his nose in to help pick up her scent.

Morris reports that “blacktails have a typical lifespan in the wild of seven to 10 years, but they can survive in suburban habitat for as long as 17 to 20 years if unmolested….

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The breeding season is in November, notes Mary Ann Thomas writing about West Coast blacktails from Southern Arkansas University. Gestation lasts about 200 days with typically two fawns born. The fawns’ camouflage spots begin to fade after a month.

“Suburban deer have minuscule home ranges, measuring three or four blocks for females,” Morris notes in Bay Nature, “whereas wild deer inhabit territories that extend for several miles.”

While mountain lions, and occasionally bobcats and coyotes, prey on deer, the biggest threat to West Marin’s blacktails are motor vehicles. In fact, being struck by automobiles is the biggest killer of deer nationwide: more than one million a year.

Connecticut alone reported that between 1995 and 2000, the number of deer struck by cars in that state tripled while the number struck by airplanes nationwide has averaged almost one a week for the past 10 years. Or so says Benner’s Gardens, which makes deer-fencing systems.

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A young buck on his hind legs nibbles on my honeysuckle while his mother watches.


Here’s a final bit of deer nomenclature for those still puzzled by the Golden Hind. The Encyclopedia Americana notes, “The male deer is usually called buck, but the male red deer of Europe is a stag, or when mature a hart. The female is called a hind or doe.”

“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea,” as Walter Winchell led off his World War II radio broadcasts. “Let’s go to press…”

Topping the news… A film is due out shortly titled The Penultimate Truth about Philip K. Dick, the late science-fiction writer who once lived in Point Reyes Station. You can see a trailer for the film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_VgXuYvzfU.

philipdick.jpgThe stories of Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) inspired the movies Bladerunner, Total Recall, and Minority Report, among others. “Philip K. Dick was known as the most brilliant sci-fi writer on earth,” the trailer to Penultimate Truth proclaims. Although a drug addict, paranoid, and (as he sometimes thought) possibly schizophrenic, Dick wrote 50 books and many more short stories.

As for his paranoia, Dick suspected the KGB and or the FBI was out to get him. In the movie’s trailer he tells an interviewer, “Anyone who grew up within the Berkeley counterculture [as he partly did] became a marked man. My house was broken into. My files were blown open. My papers were stolen.” The author admits to not being certain the federal government was responsible but notes his lawyers believed that’s what happened. Dick, however, later wondered if he had done the deed himself and just forgotten about it.

As for his drug addiction (especially amphetamine use during all-night writing): Point Reyes Station innkeeper and jewelry maker Anne Dick, to whom he was married from 1959 to 1964, acknowledges in the movie’s trailer, “Towards the end of our marriage, he was taking tons of stuff.”

Ironically, as Wikipedia notes, during Philip K. Dick’s life, he was “highly regarded in France, [but he] received little public recognition in America until after his death.”

Walking onto the silver screen… The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 23 published a lengthy account of the life of Planetwalker John Francis, 60, of Point Reyes Station.

100_1151_1.jpgMost of us in West Marin know Dr. Francis’ story: how he stopped talking from 1973 to 1990 and refused to ride in motorized vehicles from 1972 to 1994. His self-published book Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time tells the story, and a feature-length film based on the book is now “in the works,” Times reporter John Glionna notes.

Overheard… An item by Point Reyes Light obituary writer Larken Bradley was picked up by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik for her Feb. 13 “Public Eavesdropping” list: “I’ve had enough hippie guys. I need more superficial, materialistic guys.” (Forty-ish woman to another, overheard at Tabla Café in Larkspur.)

I forget, therefore, I did… A writer friend in Los Angeles this week called me with an item of his own. Having overheard a passing guest at a party ask, “Did I finish that joint?” he quipped that merely asking the question provided the answer. Sort of like Decartes’ “Cognito ergo sum” taken to a higher level: “No memeni ergo feci.”

Rumblings south of the border…
Accompanying me on a weeklong trip to Mexico earlier this month was a retired Economics professor from the University of Hawaii, Mac Williams. Mac and I attended high school and Stanford University together, and in 1963, we spent two and a half months driving all over Europe in a VW bug I bought in Brussels.

100_3378_1.jpgMac went on to get his doctorate from the University of Chicago where he studied under famed monetary theorist Milton Friedman.

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mac as always was a great traveling companion — even though I’d never before heard anyone who could match the decibel level of his snoring.

He and I shared a second-floor hotel room hotel overlooking a narrow street in San Miguel’s historic downtown. After returning to the hotel following a night on the town, Mac would go to sleep with his iPod playing music in his ears as his snoring gradually built to the level of our old rooting section in Stanford stadium.

To my astonishment, it was virtually impossible to waken him once he had fallen asleep. Our hotel room shared a common wall with a bar, which had a live band that on weekends played till 4 a.m. The music was loud enough in our room to sometimes disrupt conversations, but once Mac was asleep, he didn’t hear it.

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As it happened, immediately across our narrow street was San Miguel’s main cathedral, and its bells chimed loudly and at length every 15 minutes day and night, but that didn’t wake him either.

Only once did a disturbance break his slumbers — although it was subsequently repeated almost every night. The Jardin, San Miguel’s central square, was less than a block from our hotel, and the roads around the square were closed to traffic during the day. However, a second-story roof of the towering cathedral was under repair, and workers were allowed to drive into the square at night to haul away debris.

100_3346_1.jpgDuring the day, workers (such as those seen here at right) would pile broken bricks and cement blocks at the edge of one nearby roof of the cathedral. At 3:30 a.m., other workers would show up and from the second floor start dropping the discarded masonry into a steel dumptruck parked below our hotel window. The impact of each chunk sounded like an explosion and actually awakened Mac the night it all began. He rushed to the window to see if our hotel were under attack. When he saw it wasn’t, Mac went back to sleep, and the clamor never bothered him again.

The cacophony reached its peak the night we had a lightning storm. The band was rocking, the cathedral bells were chiming, workers were hurling cement blocks from the church roof into their dumptruck outside our window, thunder claps rattled windows, but at least in our room, Mac’s snoring was loudest of all.

I couldn’t shout at Mac to awaken him because others in the hotel would probably think there was a fight going on, so I tried barking and growling in his ear, hoping that anyone who heard me would think there was a street dog outside; however, that didn’t work either.

But, as I said, Mac and I are good friends, so I was able to laugh as the pandemonium built to a roar each night — although I did tend to sleep late each morning.

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Former West Marin resident Dee Goodman now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, which was founded by the Spanish in 1542.

This past week, an old friend, Mac Williams, and I traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and ended up spending several days with a former West Marin resident now living there, Dolores (Dee) Goodman. Dee lives in one of the many colonias (small, semi-rural communities) that surround downtown and are part of the Allende municipality of 139,000 people.

For years, Dee lived in Nicasio and later operated Casa Mexicana bed-and-breakfast inn in Point Reyes Station. Her late husband John spent most of his career working for Marin County Mental Health but after his retirement was in continual demand as a stand-up bass player in San Francisco jazz bands. He was also one of the musicians to regularly play with guitarist Bart Hopkin at the Station House Café. If you ever saw him perform there, you’ll remember him even if you didn’t know his name; for when he was paired with Bart in the Station House, John, a tall black man, played the not-so-common pizzicato (plucked) cello, which was strung like a bass.

Dee, his widow, is now living with a working-class family in a colonia that at first glance might strike West Marin residents as a rural slum. The streets are unpaved and littered with trash. Despite high walls, which hide the residents’ small homes and gardens, families keep dogs on the roof to ward off burglars.

But outward appearances can be deceiving, and Dee has managed to find a bit of paradise where I never would have expected it. Here is her story:

By Dolores Lara Goodman

My husband John died of lung cancer in December 2000, and my loss was enormous. He was the love of my life. We had been together only 10 years, but those were worth a lifetime. He felt the same way about us.

I hadn’t readjusted well to the change and drifted emotionally, feeling lonely among my friends and family. After a year or so, I moved from Point Reyes Station to Petaluma to help my stepfather care for my mother during her terminal illness. My brother Dan lived with me in a manufactured home I had purchased in the same park as Mom and Bill.

With no children of my own, I had given some thought to long-term planning. Assisted-living residences were popping up all over, and they seemed a likely option for me. I calculated what assets I would have and what my fixed income would be and what type of place I would be able to afford so that I wouldn’t become a burden to my family. I was still relatively young, 60, so I wasn’t making any firm plans.

In December 2004, my friend Lana and I took what was supposed to be a two-week vacation to Puerto Vallarta; however, I had a feeling that I would not be returning to the US with Lana. I had, for some time, wanted to stay in Mexico for an extended time. (Two of my grandparents were born in Mexico but were forced to flee to Texas during the 1910 revolution, and I was brought up in Daly City.)

As it happened, I ended up in San Miguel de Allende, which is roughly in the geographical center of Mexico, about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City. San Miguel is a destination for many US and Canadian retirees; our dollars go twice as far here, and we can live more comfortably on our retirement income.

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Imaginative, 60-year-old mural in one of San Miguel de Allende’s art schools.

Gringos have been coming to San Miguel for about 50 years. It started with a group who formed an art colony, and San Miguel now has numerous art schools, galleries etc. The gringo community does a lot for the locals: establishing libraries, scholarships and other helpful projects. And because they help with public matters, along with providing jobs and advancement opportunities, the expatriates are well received by the locals.

100_33672.jpgThe Spanish-colonial downtown — with its park-like square, majestic cathedral, and narrow, cobbled streets — bustles with good restaurants, theatre, music festivals, and barely marked hotel entrances that open into courtyard gardens.

At an elevation of 6,000 feet, San Miguel de Allende has a desert landscape. During winter, middays are warm, and nights are cold. I like the climate.

When I first moved to San Miguel de Allende, I rented in the Los Frailes community at the edge of town. A woman in her 30s named Alicia Gonzalez was the housekeeper at the apartment, and a couple of times I drove her to her home in the Colonia Palmita de Landeta.

The first few times, I met her children in front of their house where they huddled shyly, laughing. They were very curious about me, this Señora Dolores from California. Around the third time I took Alicia to her house, her husband Antonio had just arrived home from work and told Alicia to invite me in. I was led to a front bedroom of their very modest house and was invited to sit on one of the beds.

The visit is still clear in my memory. I remember thinking, “What a beautiful family!” At the time, all five of the family’s children were living at home. (The oldest, Valentina, now 19, has since gone to live nearby with her husband Manuel and his family.)

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Dining outdoors under a tarpaulin (from left): Ernesto, Claudia, Marco, Manuel, and Valentina. She and Manuel, who assembles furniture for a living, are expecting their first child in June.

I subsequently moved from Los Frailes to Calle Recreo in the central part of the San Miguel near Parque Juarez. Alicia and Valentina helped me pack and move. Valentina would spend some nights with me at Recreo, especially when I was sick with a cold or something. And they would all worry about my wellbeing, comfort, and safety.

Unfortunately, the Recreo apartment was intolerably hot, so I moved to a two-bedroom apartment on Calle Agua in the Colonia Atascadero closer to their house. The whole family helped me pack, move, and unpack, the five kids and Mom trekking up and down the path to move my stuff.

If they had their way, I would have just sat back and watched the move go on. After all, I am grande now — that’s when you’re older — like into your sixties (I’m now 66).

100_3371_11.jpgI did a bit of packing but not much moving. Picture the little one, Rosario, five years old, (seen here a year later with her mother Alicia) insisting she be allowed to help carry stuff to the car. Ernesto was eight; Marco, 10; Claudia, 12; and Valentina, 18.

Even before that move, Valentina began to tell her mother and me that I should move in with them, that they could make me a room. The seed was planted, and I didn’t even consider saying no when the Gonzalezes in 2005 invited me to live with them.

In October 2005, I bought a terreno (lot) next to the family for $10,000. In February 2006, I moved into my almost-completed casita, which was built by Antonio, an accomplished maestro albanil (construction worker), and a crew of four. Antonio is incredibly creative and meticulous, and I enjoyed seeing the building materials used here: basically brick, stone, rebar, and concrete. I was able to suggest what I would like to have done and then see it accomplished.

I had initially planned to have a large living area, one bedroom, and bathroom in my casita, but I convinced Alicia and Antonio to accept half the living-room space to make a bedroom for themselves. They had always had their bed in a common part of their house — in the kitchen or living area. We put up a wall to split my living room into their bedroom and a sitting room for me.

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Surrounded by building materials for the completion of their dwellings, Dee dines on the Gonzalezes’ patio with Rosario, Antonio, and Alicia.

Antonio opened up a door in the wall of their house to my casita at their kitchen. I don’t have a kitchen – it’s our kitchen. Alicia is a marvelous cook and for me, eating with the family is better than going to my favorite Mexican restaurant every day.

I participate in the preparation of meals as much as I can and as much as they’ll let me. I’m learning more as time goes by. I also help with the marketing. We go to the plazita market every Saturday, and while Alicia shops for veggies, I shop for fruit: mangos, guayavas, dried Jamaica blossoms etc. I love it! It’s our tradition on shopping days to buy fresh carnitas, bolillos, tortillas, and salsa to eat when we get home.

The daily giving is as important as the receiving. I think the key is being able to share and actually being a member of the family unit — watching the kids get off to school and waiting for them to come home. It’s something I missed out on, not having had children, and it’s a blessing to have been given the opportunity now that I’m grande.

I’m referred to by the family as Tia (Aunt) Lolita and am usually addressed as “Tia.” The parents have given me a grandmother’s authority over the children and have instilled in them a kind respect for me. I love feeling a grandmotherly cariño (affection) for the kids.

Rosario and Ernesto, the youngest two, and I are particularly attached. Mi sombra (shadow), Ernesto, doesn’t let me leave the house alone. When I leave the house to walk Omar, my dog, Ernesto always accompanies me.

100_3377_11.jpgI think the kids were initially told by Mom and Dad to accompany me whenever I went out, and Ernesto (at right with his brother Marco) has taken charge. He says he’ll protect me from aggressive dogs and picks up rocks to throw in the event we run into any, which does happen. He’s my little angel.

I’m glad I said “yes” when the Gonzalez family invited me to live them. We’re a great match. All of us can’t believe our good fortune. I was able to make the move and provide my own space, but had I not been able to do that, had I been totally without financial means, they would have gladly made room for me in their home, and we would all be just as happy, I’m sure.

That’s the way it’s done in the Mexican culture and many other cultures of the world. Older folks don’t have to move someplace with strangers their own age and be cared for by other strangers. There is always room for them in a family member’s home and daily life… until their dying day. I’m still young enough to foresee more changes in my life, and this may not be my “journey’s end.” But it just may be, and that’s great.

After three decades of generally good relations between West Marin residents and the Point Reyes National Seashore, how did we end up with a park administration better suited to an autocracy than a democracy? Why does the general public now have only a perfunctory say when major park policies are set?

Frankly, the answer is politics, both Republican and Democratic.

Back in the 1970s, when the former program for managing the exotic-deer herds through culling was established, the public debated the alternatives, experts of various points of view spoke, and a consensus was reached to maintain the herds at 350 each. And where did all this happen? In public sessions of the Citizens Advisory Commission to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Recognizing that the National Seashore and GGNRA were established to serve an urban population, Congress provided for local governments around the Bay Area to nominate most members of the commission, who then were appointed by the US Secretary of the Interior.

The commission required Congressional reauthorization every few years, and for almost three decades, Congress approved it. However, in 2002, its term expired, and with Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, the commission was allowed to die.

160px-gale_norton.jpg“This time [then-Interior Secretary] Gale Norton (at right) and the Park Service said, ‘It’s been a very good commission for 29 years, but we don’t need it anymore,’” noted former Commissioner Amy Meyer in an interview I conducted for Marinwatch.

Meyer of San Francisco and Ed Wayburn spearheaded creation of the GGNRA during the Nixon Administration and served throughout the commission’s existence, along with Richard Bartke of El Cerrito, representative of the Association of Bay Area Governments.

“We had moved toward the sunset clause several times before,” Meyer noted. Each time the commission was about to expire, Congressman Phil Burton or his widow Sala, who replaced him in the House, would extend it for three to five years, she said. They “wanted to have an advisory commission.”

National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher, however, did not want one. As park spokesman John Dell’Osso acknowledged to me in 2004, the park administration had found the commission sometimes interfering with what park staff felt should be done. The Neubacher administration has further argued that local residents don’t speak for all Americans. It’s a specious argument since most park visitors are from the nine-county Bay Area and because people here are far more familiar with the park than people in other parts of the country, who typically know little or nothing about it.

lynnpic.jpgCongresswoman Lynn Woolsey (at right), who represents West Marin, did introduce legislation to resurrect the commission, and it was attached to a House bill being pushed by now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others to acquire land in San Mateo County for the GGNRA.

The bill passed in 2005, but when it did, the rider resurrecting the commission was gone. What happened?

mlkwilliams.jpgMeyer said she and other people went to Congresswomen Pelosi (at left) and Woolsey and asked that they drop the advisory-commission legislation.

They feared, Meyer explained, that the Bush Administration would pack the advisory commission with people who share his ideology.

“Having no advisory commission is better than having a bad one,” Meyer added. “Gale Norton [who resigned last March] was a terrible Secretary of the Interior. No one wants to bring the commission back until ‘W’ is out of office.

Throughout its existence, Meyer said, the advisory commission was seldom politicized. When it comes to advising the Park Service, she said, “there is nothing worse than a politicized commission in being able to [fairly sort through] public desires.”

Former Commissioner Meyer isn’t necessarily against Neubacher’s plan to eliminate non-indigenous deer, but she said that in deciding what to do about the deer, or a ranger’s 2004 pepper-spraying scandal, or other matters, the commissioners could have been — as they once were — a crucial interface between the public and the Park Service.

While the commission was only “advisory,” commissioners’ decisions carried weight. “The advice they could give the Park Service,” Meyer noted, “could modify a policy.”

The local citizens advisory commission to the national parks was not the only one that has not been reauthorized despite the fact that “to make a park responsible to the people is very important,” she added. “It’s happening all over…. We have an administration that doesn’t believe in participatory democracy.

“We’re all sitting here waiting for 2008 [to see] if we have the right president who is going to appoint the right Interior Secretary. The president could be a Republican,” Meyer stressed. “Even Nixon had two of the best in history.”

In short, thanks to the power struggle in Washington, residents of West Marin and the rest of the Bay Area must remain frustrated for two more years.

For now, there is no effective forum for influencing National Seashore policy:

• When rangers run amok (e.g. extensively pepper-spraying innocent people who not surprisingly sue the Park Service and collect $50,000).

• When the National Seashore decides there’s money to be saved by slaughtering majestic deer that have long been a part of Point Reyes and are beloved by much of the public. Ironically, settling with the pepper-spray victims cost the Park Service far more than a year’s culling once did.

• When environmentally responsible mariculture is treated like a pariah.

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Better days no doubt are coming to Point Reyes. In the meantime, here’s a Valentine’s Day heart from SparselySageAndTimely.com and a flock of Canada geese between my cabin and Inverness Ridge.