Archive for January, 2008

Author and political activist Jack Herer showed up at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station Monday evening to publicize the “California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative 2008” signature drive.

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Herer signs a copy of one of his books, Grass, for Elizabeth Whitney of Inverness. Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park (at left) helped organize Monday’s meeting. Attendance was light, probably because in West Marin Herer was preaching to the choir.

Monday’s event began with a movie, Emperor of Hemp (narrated by actor Peter Coyote), about Herer’s 50-year campaign throughout the United States to legalize cannabis sativa, both the smokable and non-smokable varieties. In the film, Herer is seen evolving from a conservative military policeman in Korea after the war to an advocate for growing hemp for fiber, food, and fuel.

Herer loves to rant — although the effects of a stroke have slowed his speech in recent years — and is seen from New York to Oregon ranting against marijuana laws and haranguing enthusiastic crowds with, “Hemp will save the world.”

Appropriately, Herer says his interest in cannabis sativa occurred after a girlfriend convinced him to try smoking pot. Not only did the euphoria make him see the world differently, he became a different person. Herer went from a Goldwater Republican to an advocate for legalizing cannabis — both for enjoyment and medical purposes. Equally significant, he became an advocate for growing industrial-grade cannabis to replace wood in paper, for use as fuel and lubricants, for cooking oil etc.

empcover.jpgAs Herer pointed out in his repeatedly reissued 1985 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, hemp was used for thousands of years to make paper, cloth, oil (from its seeds), and innumerable other products. In 1937, however, the US government outlawed personal use of pot and outlawed even the growing of industrial-quality hemp despite outcries from the medical community, among others.

The absurdity of banning a valuable crop became evident a decade later when, as Emperor of Hemp shows, a US Department of Agriculture film described hemp farming as a patriotic part of the war effort — even though it remained illegal.

The federal government continues to ban hemp farming (although industrial-grade hemp contains too little tetrahydrocannabinol to create the effects associated with pot), and hemp products sold in this country are all made with imported hemp. Emperor of Hemp quotes the government’s argument for banning a valuable crop as being that police would have trouble determining which cannabis was legal and which was illegal, so allowing industrial-grade hemp growing in the US “would send the wrong message to our children.” Huh?

Emperor of Hemp contains interviews with people from the medical community, academia, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — all saying that what Herer preaches is on target despite his bombast. Even NORML, who for years didn’t want to associate itself with Herer’s “Hemp-will-save-the-world” rhetoric, now recognizes the aging activist’s writings have made the public understand the false premises behind the government’s war against cannabis, the group’s executive director says in the film.

Herer has now authored the Hemp Initiative in an attempt to make California law reflect reality. As Herer said Monday, signatures are being collected for the state initiative, with 434,000 valid signatures needed by April 5 to qualify for the November ballot. In any initiative drive, a large number of signatures are invalidated, so organizers of this campaign hope to reach three million signatures in the next two months.

The initiative would legalize the growing and selling industrial hemp, would bar state law enforcement officers from helping federal agents enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in California, would legalize marijuana smoking for religious purposes, would legalize adult use of marijuana for euphoria as well as medicine, and would set standards for non-commercial cultivation of marijuana.

100_6236_1.jpgTo publicize the initiative drive, three-day “Hip Hop for Hemp” festivals will be held in Northern and Southern California. Seeva Cherms (left), the daughter of Linda Sturdivant, is handling publicity, and Wednesday she told me 24 bands and several internationally known reggae and rock stars have already agreed to participate.

For the moment, Seeva added, the identities of the biggest names cannot be announced, pending arrangements with their recording companies. People who want to keep up with festival plans will soon be able to check a new Hip Hop for Hemp website.

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An operation aimed at eliminating a herd of axis deer near Marshall Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore was abruptly halted Monday morning after numerous news organizations learned of the killing and showed up to report on it.

The killing was being carried out by riflemen from a firm called White Buffalo, which the National Seashore hired last year. White Buffalo had planned on using helicopters to herd the axis herd into ravines where they could be gunned down en masse. However, the shooting stopped after 18 deer out of a herd of 80 were killed.

2082275718_842210215e_m1.jpgAxis deer on L Ranch in the Point Reyes National Seashore just before the killing began. (Photo by Trish Carney of San Rafael.)

“It looks like we might have successfully stopped the axis-deer slaughter that was scheduled for early this morning,” a pleased Trinka Marris of Inverness Park said later Monday. Trinka had organized protests this morning on Marshall Road and at the Bear Valley headquarters of the park.

Approximately 20 protesters took part, including representatives of WildCare and In Defense of Animals.

“The park had blocked the roads, and the White Buffalo helicopters were launched, but when our protest showed up at the roadblock [not far from Marshall Beach], with camera and reporter in tow, the word got back to park headquarters,” Trinka recounted.

Hired with grant money, a company called Full Court Press has been getting publicity for the axis and fallow deer’s plight in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Monday evening Trinka told fellow protesters, “Thanks to the remarkable firm that has been hired to help with this campaign, by 10 a.m. the park was crawling with new crews from ABC, NBC, CBS, KTVU, and The Independent Journal.

“By 11 a.m. the helicopters had been put away, the all-terrain vehicles that carry the carcasses were back at maintenance, and the mission had been aborted.”

Today’s protest began at daybreak, and Trinka thanked “the 20 or so dedicated people” who showed up. “It was not easy getting up at 4:30 on a stormy Monday morning, but we did, and I think we bought these beautiful creatures at least one more day of sweet life.”

Earlier today Trinka reminded me that the park has consistently refused to let the public see how the killing is done.

Despite what the park has claimed, “it’s not one bullet to the brain,” Trinka said. If the public could see how brutal the killing actually is, “no one would stand for it.” Indeed, deer hunters in West Marin have complained that many of the deer shot by White Buffalo suffer long, agonizing deaths from “gut wounds.”

White Buffalo is under contract to kill fallow and axis deer in the park through June, at which time the eradication program must be reviewed and a new, one-year contract signed, Trinka said.

Members of Congress and the California Legislature have asked the Bush Administration’s Department of the Interior to at least temporarily stop the killing until it can be thought through better. The National Seashore, however, has responded that under the government’s contract with White Buffalo, it can’t afford to stop.

On Monday, Dr. Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, countered by offering to pay the rest of this year’s contract with White Buffalo. The veterinarian made the offer directly to both White Buffalo during the protest on Marshall Road and to National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher during the protest at park headquarters.

The Neubacher administration has told the public that the main reason for killing off non-native deer in the park is so they won’t compete with the native blacktail deer for forage. Pressed by the press today, however, the park superintendent conceded that White Buffalo’s riflemen sometimes shoot a few native blacktails that are hanging out with the fallow and axis herds.

The park’s claim that there would be more native blacktail deer in the park if the axis and fallow were not eating so much forage is, of course, sheer propaganda. The buildup of brush and dry grass is annually such a problem that the National Seashore regularly conducts controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Providing the biggest check on the blacktail population of federal parkland here, as can be seen along Highway 1 from Muir Beach to Marshall, are motorists. Fresh carcasses of deer struck in traffic are daily sights in West Marin. This is hardly surprising now that the National Seashore attracts more than 2.2 million visitors annually — and neighboring Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands, hundreds of thousands more.

Update as of Wednesday evening: Demonstrator Saskia Achilles, who has continued to track the axis-herd eradication, just reported, “All road access is blocked by park rangers in trucks when the hunting is going on, so I have only been able to get close on foot — and not at night — but I see their helicopters in the deer’s valley, and I see nets with a heavy load getting carried by the helicopter….

“Today they stopped again when a media helicopter flew over,” she added, “and resumed right after [it left].”

“It looks to us from the field that they are killing 20 to 30 every night [and] … and that their aim is to have wiped out the entire axis herd by the end of Thursday.”

Where tragedy was narrowly averted:
100_6613.jpg Rainwater pouring off the embankment at right created such a torrent across a 20-foot-long stretch of Highway 1 between Thirteen Turns and Dogtown Friday, that half the southbound lane dropped away.

The washout occurred around 5:30 p.m. on a winding, 55-mph section of the highway. Luckily, one of the first motorists — if not the first — to come upon the break in the roadway was a Caltrans supervisor. The supervisor was “proceeding slowly” in a pickup truck, a coworker told me, and stopped when he saw water rushing across Highway 1.

The supervisor, who was later identified as Eamonn Dymer from Caltrans’ Manzanita Maintenance Yard, then discovered that half the lane he was driving in had fallen away, and he was able to put out flares and traffic cones before any other vehicles got there.

In doing so, he probably saved someone’s life because any highway-speed motorist who failed to see the gap in time would have dropped 75 to 100 feet after sailing off the roadway.

By Saturday afternoon, Caltrans had erected a concrete barrier around the break, and Highway 1 was reduced to one lane in the area. Stop signs were erected at both ends of the one-lane section, and a road crew had painted “STOP” on the pavement in both directions.

Elsewhere, Friday’s storm flooded low-lying areas in Muir Beach and Stinson Beach, as well as parts of Highway 1 between Stinson Beach and Bolinas, between Olema and Point Reyes Station, between Point Reyes Station and Marshall, and between Marshall and Tomales.

08-13_edited.jpgPapermill/Lagunitas Creek crested its northern levee in Point Reyes Station about 3 a.m. Saturday and flooded much of the former Giacomini Ranch, Jack Long of Point Reyes Station told me. Long, who lives on the southern levee, took this photo and the one below.
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After buying the Giacomini Ranch with the intention of turning much of it into marshland, the National Park Service last year scraped away sections the northern levee.

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The flooded pasture of the former Giacomini Dairy Ranch, as seen from Inverness Park. Perry’s Inverness Park Store and the Busy Bee Bakery are in the foreground. Black Mountain is in the distance. Photo by Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park.

The surge of water onto the ranch from the break in the levee was not enough, however, to prevent the confluence of Papermill Creek and Olema Creek from cresting the southern levee too. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which is known as “the levee road” where it travels atop the southern levee, flooded Saturday and was briefly closed.

The rainstorm also blacked out much of West Marin for roughly two hours Friday evening.

Bad as Friday’s storm problems were, they weren’t as severe as those that occurred during an even fiercer storm three weeks to the day earlier.

100_6647.jpg Fallen utility pole in a marsh at Millerton Point.

In fact, some in West Marin are still cleaning up from the earlier heavy rainstorm, which was accompanied by hurricane-force wind.

Shoreline School District, it now turns out, is facing extensive repairs at Inverness School where the Jan. 4 storm sent a river of water down Forres Way and into the administration office.

With water having been well over a foot deep in the office, carpeting and other fixtures must be replaced.

But the real storm news is what didn’t happen: no motorists plunged to their deaths last Friday evening when a major gap opened up in Highway 1 north of Dogtown.

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A female Bufflehead swims across the Giacomini family’s stockpond next to my pasture last Friday.

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A male Greater Scaup paddles up Papermill Creek at White House Pool on Jan. 13.

West Marin’s waters provide winter havens for many thousands of ducks that summer further north. Ornithologist Rich Stallcup of Point Reyes Station, who helped identify these ducks, this week told me the “Greater Scaup does not nest in California, and only a few Buffleheads do.”

Buffleheads and Greater Scaups, Rich noted, “begin to arrive in West Marin in early October, and each species numbers well into the thousands on Tomales Bay during herring runs in late December and early January — at least 6,000 each. Most are gone by early April….

“Buffleheads are cavity-nesters and are expanding their breeding range aligned with the increased human interest in Wood Duck boxes, which Buffleheads will [likewise] occupy.

“Hooded Mergansers are similarly expanding their range,” Rich added. It’s one of the “side perks of Wood Duck-nestbox programs.”

Since 1955, the California Department of Fish and Game has annually made estimates — based on counts from the air — of how many breeding-age ducks are in their primary hangouts: “wetland and agricultural areas in northeastern California, throughout the Central Valley, the Suisun Marsh, and some coastal valleys.”

Weather greatly affects how many ducks nest in California. Two years ago, Fish and Game reported there were 615,000 ducks in their main nesting grounds, nearly a 50 percent increase from the year before, thanks to abundant spring rains that year. Approximately half the wild ducks in the state were mallards.

Fish and Game uses such estimates in regulating how many ducks hunters can bag in California each hunting season.

Last year, hunters nationwide shot approximately 16.6 million wild ducks, the Fund for Animals reports. That total is actually up slightly from figures half a century ago, as reported in The Encyclopedia Americana.

While Buffleheads and Greater Scaups are both hunted, roughly half the wild ducks shot in the US annually are mallards.

The new owner of The Point Reyes Light, Robert Plotkin (below at right), and I agreed this week on a public statement announcing the conclusion of two years of litigation between us. Plotkin is likewise publishing this statement in The Light today:
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100_0468_2_1.jpgPoint Reyes Light publisher Robert Plotkin and former publisher David Mitchell have reached a settlement of their pair of lawsuits and countersuits, which involved financial and non-financial matters.

“Although they have agreed to keep terms of the agreement private, they are both happy with the settlement. More importantly, both hope to resume a friendly relationship. Each wishes the other well, and both are now looking forward to getting on with their lives.”

Most people probably think of Bambi’s friendship with Thumper as merely a fantasy dreamed up for children. But I suspect that Felix Salten was working from direct observation when he authored Bambi, ein Leben im Walde in 1923. (Walt Disney’s 1942 animated feature Bambi was taken from Salten’s book.)
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While I watched from my deck last Friday, a blacktail doe spotted a housecat near neighbor Dan and Mary Huntsman’s fence.
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The doe took great interest in the cat’s crawling under a gate.

Deer and cats, as this blog has noted previously, seem to get along well, as evidenced by the doe below watching a housecat wash itself on a woodpile.

100_1080.jpgIt’s an inter-species attraction that folks around the country have noticed. If you want to watch a deer and cat flirt with each other, two videos on YouTube are particularly fun. The first is made all the more humorous by the chatter, as well as, a radio broadcast, in the background. The second is notable for the persistence of both the cat and deer in bussing each other.

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I’ve also witnessed similar behavior in my fields between a fawn and a jackrabbit. When a curious fawn spotted the rabbit, it began slowly walking up to it. The rabbit stayed put until the fawn started sniffing around it and then hopped under a nearby bush.

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unknown_1.jpgI didn’t manage to photograph that encounter, but many of us have seen a series of photos depicting the friendship between another fawn and a rabbit. Here’s one from the series, which was shot by German photographer Tanja Askani in Alberta, Canada.

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Although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last Thursday proposed closing Tomales Bay State Park to save money, several knowledgeable people here doubt that will happen — especially if the opposition is sufficiently vocal.

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Park visitor Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles hikes through Tomales Bay State Park. Photos by Janine Warner, founder of DigitalFamily.com.

The park, which includes Hearts Desire Beach, Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, Shell Beaches I & II, and Millerton Point totals 2,000 acres. It is among 43 parks statewide the governor wants to close to save a total of $13 million per year.

With state-government spending in fiscal 2008-09 now projected to exceed revenue by $14.5 billion, the governor has proposed slashing 10 percent from most departments’ budgets. That would reduce healthcare for 6.6 million low-income people in order to save $1.1 billion a year. Spending on public education (kindergarten through high school, junior college, the state university system, and UC system) would be cut by $4 billion.

The governor, whose personal wealth is more than $100 million (The San Francisco Chronicle has reported), proposed that spending on Social Services for poor families be cut by $390 million per year. Schwarzenegger would likewise cut child-welfare payments by $84 million per year. Aid to low-income people who are blind, otherwise disabled, or elderly would be cut by $300 million per year. Care for foster children would drop by $82 million per year.

“I have made it very clear we cannot tax out way out of this problem,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s no reason to tax anyone because our system doesn’t work,” the governor added ambiguously.

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Inverness resident Carlos Porrata was the resident ranger for Tomales Bay State Park when he retired in 2004. Carlos had been a state park ranger 28 years, including two in Samuel P. Taylor State Park and 24 years on Tomales Bay. Now a trustee of the Marin Community Foundation, Carlos wrote me, “I was very disappointed when I heard the news that Tomales Bay State Park was one of the state parks being considered for closure…

“The Office of the Governor asked State Parks to come up with a plan proposal for a $17 million reduction for the 2008-09 fiscal year budget (a 10 percent cut)…. Most of the department’s budget is personnel, so the decision was made to eliminate positions by closing a series of parks.

“To choose which parks would be proposed for potential closure a set of filters (criteria) was developed. The filters were: 1) Can the park be physically closed to the public? 2) If the park were closed, would it save the amount needed? (In the case of Marin District, [the proposed closure] entails two permanent positions). 3) Closures would have to be spread around throughout the whole state.

“It should be emphasized that this is just a PROPOSAL and a lot of back and forth will soon start between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office. I do not think the [Marin] District has started conversations as to what closing Tomales Bay State Park would entail operationally or if there might be other possibilities to achieve the required [spending] cut.

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A raft for swimmers at Tomales Bay State Park with Indian Beach in the distance.

“The closure of Tomales Bay State Park would certainly be a challenge. Although the entrance gate to Hearts Desire beach can be closed, we all know that the State Park beaches are easily accessible by boat and kayaks. Jepson Trailhead and the south boundary trailhead to Shell Beaches I and II are also easily accessible.

“I clearly remember having gone through this predicament in the early 1990s, and although a large number of positions were eliminated, park closures never materialized. A lot of [proposals] ended up being part of the process in the political dance between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office.

“If the closure of that jewel of the state parks were to become a reality, another big loss would be the Environmental Living Programs that are held at Indian Beach for fourth and fifth graders throughout the school year, a signature program for Marin District.

“The good news is that Tomales Bay State Park personnel would not loose their jobs; they would probably be reassigned to another one of the park units (e.g. Samuel P. Taylor), and two open positions … would not be filled, achieving the savings needed.”

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State Park maintenance worker Roberto Barajas on Sunday cuts up trees that fell against a Tomales Bay State Park building in the recent storms.

One of those who doubts whether much money can be saved by closing the state park is LeeRoy Brock of Point Reyes Station. A retired ranger at the neighboring Point Reyes National Seashore, LeeRoy was a ranger at Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico when it was temporarily closed two decades ago.

There was no way to keep the public off the land, he said, so federal employees were still needed to clean up litter, maintain facilities, and patrol the area. LeeRoy suspects the situation would be the same at Tomales Bay State Park. Like Carlos, LeeRoy said there are too many places to enter the park on trails or by boat to keep people out.

img_0001.jpgState facilities, such as those getting park-maintenance workers Roberto Barajas’ and Janet Tafoya’s attention after the last storm, will still need protection from the elements, not to mention vandals. But under the governor’s proposal, there would be no Hearts Desire’s entrance fees to help pay for the work.

As one current state park official told me, it’s possible the Point Reyes National Seashore would try to acquire Tomales Bay State Park if it closed. That would be a shame, he added, for it’s already being run “efficiently.”

“This week,” Carlos said, “I will be writing to State Senator Carole Migden and Assemblyman Jared Huffman, sharing my concerns and disappointment about the proposed closing of Tomales Bay State Park — or any other parks, for that matter.

“Without taking away from the importance of parks and trails, however, I am personally very upset about the proposed cuts to the health, welfare and education of so many poor and needy children and families in California. They will be devastated by the draconian cuts that will affect other state agencies while the governor is willing to sink a huge sum of money into building a new death-row facility. Go figure.”

Tomales Bay State Park is rich in Miwok Indian middens. Its beaches are sheltered from the prevailing wind. And it is geared to families, who can park near picnic tables and barbecues overlooking the bay.

How did the park come to be? “Most of the Tomales Bay area lay untouched until the late 1940s, when developers discovered its beauty and began to purchase beachfront lands,” notes the State Park website.

“Local residents, fearing that the beaches would be closed to public use, formed a committee to help secure the land for park purposes. The Marin Conservation League, various conservation and civic organizations, and the state purchased portions of the area. On Nov. 8, 1952, Tomales Bay State Park was dedicated and opened to the public.”

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“State Park Property. All features protected. This is your heritage. Help Guard It…”

Yet after all the work that went into creating Tomales Bay State Park, the future of its land is again in doubt.

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Old Christmas trees piled behind the Arthur E. Disterheft Public Safety Building in Point Reyes Station this week.

County firefighters each year encourage West Marin residents to drop off their old Christmas trees at firehouses. The trees are chipped and hauled off, eliminating the risk of dry trees accidentally catching fire around the house. I dropped my tree off at the Point Reyes Station firehouse Monday after calling ahead to make sure I could do so a day after the recycling program supposedly ended for the year. No problem, I was told.

Of course, old Christmas trees shed pine needles whenever they brush against something, so I wasn’t especially happy about hauling the tree in my car’s trunk. “Too bad you can’t just drag it behind your car,” my houseguest Linda Petersen said with a laugh.

I could imagine my route to the firehouse littered with Christmas tree branches and cited the State Vehicle Code, which says that when hauling stuff on a public roadway, you must make sure none of it ends up in the road — with two exceptions, one of which you may never have thought about.

As the Highway Patrol officer, whose patrolcar is seen here, later confirmed in detail, Section 23114 of the Vehicle Code provides: “A vehicle may not be driven or moved on any highway unless the vehicle is so constructed, covered, or loaded as to prevent any of its contents or load other than clear water or feathers from live birds from dropping, sifting, leaking, blowing, spilling, or otherwise escaping from the vehicle.”

This allows farmers to transport “livestock,” the CHP officer said. In short, if you’re allergic to feathers, it’s up to you not to tailgate the turkey truck.

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Wild Turkeys at Dawn. Monday morning I was awakened by 37 wild turkeys gobbling outside my bedroom window. Transported by the sunrise, they dropped few feathers.

The non-native turkeys were introduced into West Marin in 1988 by a hunting club working with the State Department of Fish and Game. You can read that story at Posting 76. By now there are far more turkeys than turkey hunters, and their flocks have spread throughout West Marin.

Hunting and slaughtering animals are not for everyone, but for the edification of those inured to them, the Associated Press in 1875 reported on a get-rich-quick scheme for perpetual-motion farming then being advertised in Lacon, Illinois:

Glorious Opportunity to Get Rich — We are starting a cat ranch in Lacon with 100,000 cats. Each cat will average 12 kittens a year. The cat skins will sell for 30 cents each. One hundred men can skin 5,000 cats a day. We figure a daily net profit of over $10,000. Now what shall we feed the cats? We will start a rat ranch next door with 1,000,000 rats. The rats will breed 12 times faster than the cats. So we will have four rats to feed each day to each cat. Now what shall we feed the rats? We will feed the rats the carcasses of the cats after they have been skinned. Now Get This! We feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats and get the cat skins for nothing.”

The advertisement not surprisingly turned out to be a hoax. The perpetrator was an Illinois editor named Willis B. Powell.

Parts of the Big Mesa in Bolinas finally had their power restored at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday after being blacked out for more than five and a half days by last week’s stormy weather.

Much of the blackout on the Mesa resulted from fallen lines near the Elm Road home of Serena Castaldi. However, pockets of homes on the Big Mesa, as well as the downtown, lost power for only brief periods. High winds, which were clocked at hurricane force on Big Rock Ridge near Nicasio Friday morning, also caused multi-day blackouts in parts of that town and in parts of Inverness.

Bolinas resident Laura Riley told me that by the time her home got its power back Wednesday afternoon, “my humor was starting to flag. It’s hard to do everything in the dark

“We have a woodstove we heat with normally,” Laura said, and her home’s kitchen stove uses propane, so she could cook. For a while she used up food that was thawing in the refrigerator. “It was fun,” she wryly commented, “for about two and a half days, but how long do you want to eat that old turkey?”

Laura said her home’s on-demand water heater burns propane but has an electric starter, so it didn’t work. Her family, she added, spent a fair amount of time at her brother Ned’s home next door, which also has an on-demand, propane water heater but with no electric starter.

In fact, several Bolinas people told me that the worst part of the blackout was going without hot water for almost a week.

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Jonathan Rowe of Point Reyes Station is known for a number of things. He hosts America Offline on KWMR at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays (rebroadcast at 11 a.m. Thursdays). He is an advocate for a commons in town. He is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly and YES! magazines. And he seems to do much of his writing on a laptop computer in the open-air coffeehouse at Toby’s Feed Barn.

More than a few passersby have seen Jonathan staring into his computer screen and wondered what kind of stuff he writes. This week, some folks here found out. As a number of people have alerted me in the past 36 hours, The Columbia Journalism Review just published a long article by Jonathan on The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen, as well as on the types of readers in these small towns. The article titled The Language of Strangers is already online.

Jonathan’s piece is accompanied by Inverness writer Elizabeth Whitney’s transcription of the community meeting a year ago in the Dance Palace where residents said what they wanted in their hometown newspaper.

Columbia Journalism Review, the best-known trade magazine watchdogging newsrooms around the US, is headquartered at Columbia University in New York City.

FRUSTRATION ON THE PRAIRIE

Every year or so for a couple of decades The Point Reyes Light and I would hear from a woman in Kansas named Melissa Koons. She filled us in on what was happening in her hometown of Newton (pop. 17,000) and on how her own writing was going.

This year when she wrote The Light, the paper forwarded her letter to me. The three-page, handwritten letter provides a glimpse into what it feels like to be an older progressive on the prairie. “Believe me,” she wrote, “it’s very hard to speak my mind in general public here in my own state of Kansas.”

Melissa, as a result, has chosen to speak her mind in A Poem on Ethics: “What is ethics?/ It is:/ People who have a voice./ Doing something about the world’s problems./ What comes to mind?/ Simple:/ Conservation./ Accepting people as they are./ Communication/ To change the viewpoint/ Of world leaders./ So what are we waiting for?/ Is anybody listening?”

Melissa Koons, a free-verse voice crying out on the Kansas prairie.

The first of three expected weekend storms blew through West Marin Friday, causing flooding, toppling trees, and closing roads.

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Matt Gallagher of Point Reyes Station (using a shovel for a paddle) and Tony Smith check on Jim and Kathy Love’s levee road home. The Loves years ago raised their home on high stilts, so the living area stays dry regardless of what nearby Papermill and Olema creeks do.

Friday’s wind speed was at least as high as an East Coast hurricane.

On the Beaufort Scale used by mariners, winds reach hurricane force at 74 mph. The National Weather Service considers winds to have reached hurricane force at 80 mph. At 8:33 a.m. Friday, a National Weather Service monitoring station on Big Rock Ridge just east of Nicasio clocked the wind holding steady at 83 mph.

Exactly 23 minutes later, county firefighters received a call that a 50-foot-high tree had been blown onto a house at 25 Drakes Summit Rd. in Inverness Park. Although there was “major damage” to the home, no one was injured, Fire Capt. Joe Morena told me. He added that the house was sturdily built.
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The backstop, infield, and outfield were flooded by Olema Creek Friday at Love Field next to the home of Jim and Kathy Love.

At least four inches of rain fell in much of Marin County, swelling West Marin Creeks, which flooded roadways. Around noon, Highway 1 was flooded between Point Reyes Station and Olema and between Bolinas and Stinson Beach. Papermill/Lagunitas Creek flooded Platform Bridge Road and (briefly) the Point Reyes Petaluma Road just east of Highway 1.

Calle Arroyo in Stinson Beach flooded, and Panoramic Highway leading over Mount Tamalpais from town was closed by fallen trees near Mountain Home Inn. Fallen trees also closed Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

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Gary Cheda, owner of Cheda’s Garage in Point Reyes Station, told me his towtrucks pulled two cars and a van off flooded Highway 1 just south of town.

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Gary said motorists increase their chance of stalling if they don’t proceed slowly on flooded pavement. Driving faster kicks up water into the engine compartment. When water gets into the cylinders, it can’t be compressed and piston rods are bent, he explained.

Although the creeks are not saltwater, Gary noted, they nonetheless are brown with “grit,” which also is bad for car engines. Grit can into engine rings and seals where it sometimes causes expensive problems, he said.

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In addition to flooding, fallen trees and limbs that blocked roads made driving difficult throughout West Marin Friday. The fire captain told me county firefighters from the Point Reyes Station firehouse spent much of Friday clearing away downed trees.

After this cypress tree blew down across Highway 1 on the north side of Point Reyes Station Friday morning, county firefighters partly reopened the road, but the northbound lane remained blocked all afternoon while firefighters and Caltrans dealt with crises elsewhere.

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Broken limbs also brought down powerlines, and parts of Nicasio were without power for a day and a half. Olema and parts of Inverness experienced shorter blackouts. Overall, relatively few West Marin residents experienced more than momentary blackouts compared with residents of East Marin (especially Sausalito, Mill Valley, and Fairfax).

Nonetheless, downed powerlines can be shocking, and this one at Cypress and Overlook roads in Point Reyes Station sparked a (very small) fire notwithstanding the rain.

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Art and Laura Rogers of Mesa Road in Point Reyes Station found their road flooded by Tomasini Creek at noon Friday and had to take another route downtown.

Not only did downed lines, fallen trees, and flooding make it difficult for motorists to leave West Marin, Sheriff’s. Lt. Doug Pittman issued a plea over KWMR for West Marin residents to stay at home. Over the hill, traffic was in “gridlock,” he said.

The problem again was high wind. Shortly before 11 a.m. Friday, it blew over five semi trucks traveling in both directions on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, leading to bridge closures off and on all afternoon. But that was not the worst of it.

Within an hour of overturning big rigs on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the wind blew construction plywood and planks onto Highway 101 in San Rafael. Clearing away the construction material, which came from the new Highway 580 overpass, and making sure no more would blow down halted Highway 101 traffic for most of Friday afternoon.

At various times, vehicles were backed up 10 to 20miles in both directions on the freeway, and thousands of motorists detoured onto surface streets in East Marin.

Bad as the weather was in West Marin, most residents had reason to be prepared; the county fire department Thursday afternoon called virtually every household here with a recorded message that warned about the severity of the stormy weather to come.