Archive for February, 2009

Nicasio Reservoir overflowed early today, symbolically extricating West Marin from California’s three-year drought. The land draining into the Marin Municipal Water District reservoir has received seven inches of rain in the past eight days, district spokeswoman Libby Pischel told me.

On April 1, the amount of water in MMWD’s reservoirs will determine whether the district considers this a drought year, Pischel said, and district projections now are far rosier than they were at the end of January. MMWD reservoirs currently are 75 percent full, she noted, adding that they would normally be 85 percent full at this time of year.

The present storm system and one a week ago have been especially welcome in Bolinas. Two weeks ago Bolinas Community Public Utility District’s main reservoir, Woodrat II, was essentially dry, and BCPUD directors had voted to limit each household, regardless of size, to 150 gallons of water per day. By mid-afternoon today, the reservoir had risen to within two feet of capacity.

“We’re very grateful,” BCPUD general manager Jennifer Blackman told me during this afternoon’s rainfall. “We’re in a much better place than we were last month.” Although “rationing is still in place,” Blackman said, BCPUD directors last week held off voting on further restrictions because the current rain was being forecast.

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Nicasio Reservoir that overflowed today is one of seven belonging to Marin Municipal Water District, which serves the San Geronimo Valley and most of East Marin south of Novato.

Shortly after noon, I began clambering up the embankment across the spillway from the dam in order to photograph the historic event.

Twice before in the past 30 years, I did this for The Point Reyes Light to record the ends of previous droughts. It’s never an easy climb. The slope is rocky and extremely steep with few hand holds in some places and dense brush in others.

This time was worse than ever. I was halfway to a ledge high enough to look down on the reservoir when my feet slid out from under me. I dropped to my hands only to have my camera fall out of a parka pocket. With dismay I watched as it tumbled away down the rocky slope.

Gloomily, I crawled and slid after it, muddying my pants, as well as bloodying my hands on the rocks. When I finally reached the bottom, however, I found a happy surprise. The camera had survived the rough descent better than I had. Kodak cameras are apparently as sturdy as they’re cheap. After wiping mine off, I secured it around my neck and once again began climbing.

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Luckily, deer trails crisscross the slope, which made traversing it at least possible although not easy. But when I finally reached the ledge from which I could photograph the dam and spillway with the reservoir behind them, the scene easily compensated for my scrapes and bruises.

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Seasonal waterfall. Driving from Point Reyes Station to the dam and back, I noted that every gully along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road had become a stream which flowed into Papermill/Lagunitas Creek. When rainfall is normal, these small waterfalls are annual roadside attractions.

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My hill too changes during heavy rains. When I looked out the dining-room window yesterday morning (that’s my cabin in the background), I spotted what appeared to be a piece of plastic flapping in the grass. My first impulse was to wait until the rain stopped before going outside to pick it up, but then I realized that what appeared to be plastic was actually water bubbling up.

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An artesian spring had sprung up out of a gopher hole. That’s common in these coastal hills and, in fact, can damage ranchers’ pastures. During heavy rains, hillsides that have become honeycombed with gopher tunnels act like a sponge. If the top two or three feet of soil become over-saturated, wholesale slumping can occur.

And finally for all you cynics out there, no, there is no water pipe or septic line uphill from this artesian spring. Stay warm and enjoy the bad weather. With any luck, we’ll get more of it.

Having just spent a three-day weekend in Los Angeles, I returned home to discover I’d missed out on quite a storm in West Marin while I was gone.

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On the upside, water districts and ranchers got up to eight inches of badly needed rain over the weekend. Nicasio Reservoir has come up dramatically, as have the flowers around my cabin. Seemingly out of nowhere, daffodils are starting to bloom everywhere.

On the downside, high winds worked mischief early Sunday. At the Point Reyes lighthouse, a gust was clocked at 66 mph at 1:22 a.m. That’s the wind speed of a violent storm on the Beaufort Scale and just 7 mph short of a hurricane-force gust. At 4:01 a.m., a 37 mph gust (gale force on the Beaufort Scale) was clocked in Point Reyes Station. At my cabin, the winds tore grommets out of the tarpaulin over my woodpile, shredded the tarp in places, and allowed some of my kindling to get wet.

100_1473Worse yet, a terra cotta pot more than two feet high and holding a palm tree was blown over and busted on my deck. The last time wind busted a big pot at my cabin was just over two years ago, and it wasn’t this big. Finding a replacement large enough to hold the root ball required a trip over the hill Wednesday and a lot of driving around. After extensive searching, I was able to find exactly one that was big enough.

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In contrast to nature’s fury…. Just before I flew off to LA, I happened to look out my kitchen window and see a young buck sleeping unusually soundly for a deer out in the open. I guess it felt secure on this hill where there are neither hunters nor loose dogs. The only large predators around my cabin are bobcats, which I’ve seen three or four times, and coyotes, which I often hear at night but have seen only once.

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This Valentine’s Day greeting comes to you from a flock of Canada geese aloft between Inverness Ridge and my cabin.

Since the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day — or St. Valentine’s Day — has been associated with lovers. But it wasn’t always this way.

In fact, the Catholic Church until as recently as 1969 recognized 11 St. Valentine’s Days annually, each in memory of a different religious martyr named Valentine. The Valentine’s Day traditionally celebrated on Feb. 14 is in honor of St. Valentine of Turni (a bishop martyred 197 AD during a persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Aurelian) and St. Valentine of Rome (a priest martyred in 269 AD).

The remains of St. Valentine of Turni are buried in Rome while those of St. Valentine of Rome are buried in Rome, Dublin, and (according to islanders) on Malta. In any case, after a few hundred years went by, lay people didn’t distinguish between these two St. Valentines.

Another St. Valentine was supposedly executed under orders from the Emperor Claudius II, who had unsuccessfully urged him to become a pagan. According to lore, this St. Valentine healed his jailer’s blind daughter, and on the eve of his execution, he sent her a message, which he signed, “Your Valentine.” Other lore says he sent the message to a girlfriend, which may explain why a religious holiday evolved into a romantic celebration.

However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the tradition of lovers exchanging Valentines on Feb. 14 began. The tradition started in England and spread to the United States just in time for the Industrial Revolution to make possible the mass production of  Valentine’s cards. By now an estimated one billion are mailed each year worldwide.

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Sealed with a kiss. I spotted these harbor seals sunning themselves last month on a sandbar at the mouth of the Russian River. And may you too find yourself with a warm companion this Saturday.

New software is allowing me to track the countries where this blog’s readers are located, and as was noted in a Jan. 13 posting, people in 23 countries found their way here in the first two weeks after the tracking began.

In the two weeks since then, readers in an additional 24 countries visited this site. They came from: Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Guatemala, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Morocco, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, and Thailand.

Of course, some visitors didn’t stick around long, but some did. The average visit lasts more than two minutes and 20 seconds. Among the foreign readers who first visited this site in the past two weeks, those who spent significant time reading it came from Belgium, China (Shanghai), Guatemala, Morocco, and Thailand.

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Finding the door open, three young raccoons consider exploring my kitchen but think better of it when they hear, “Scat.” A Sept. 16 posting on raccoon scat continues to bring visitors to this blog.

What interests visitors? There are lots of ways to find this blog, and Google is obviously an important one. Nor is it surprising that the same Google Analytics software that can track readers’ cities and countries can also track what words people Googled to reach this blog. The top 10 “keywords,” it turns out, were: raccoon scat, dave mitchell the light point reyes, dave mitchell editor, west marin sheriff’s citizen, sparselysageadtimely.com, tony ragona reyes, bolinas clinic, dave mitchell blog, tomales bay association ken fox president, “didi thompson.”

Didi Thompson is my neighbor and has been mentioned in postings. Tony Ragona, a Point Reyes Station innkeeper, is a friend and has also been mentioned. The rest are fairly self explanatory although “west marin sheriff’s citizen” is a bit confused.

But it is downright bizarre that “raccoon scat” tops the list of terms that people around the world Googled last month to end up at this blog with its Sept. 16 posting, Telling the Raccoon ‘Scat.’ The posting discusses the unsightliness of some raccoons’ elevated latrines and the danger of raccoon excrement’s containing eggs of the parasite Baylisascaris procyonis.

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors has reprinted the posting, and I suppose that might explain some interest in the original. In any case, this blog’s Sept. 16 entry has now risen to fifth place in Google’s compendium of 113,000 “raccoon scat” postings. Try Googling the term. You’ll see for yourself.

Bemused by all this, I sent Tony an email congratulating him on ranking almost as high as “raccoon scat” and higher than “dave mitchell blog” in drawing people to this site. “Thanks,” he wrote back, “I guess.”

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The “wildland/urban interface.” One afternoon last week I took care of Sebastian, a 15-year-old Havanese that belongs to Linda Petersen of Inverness. At his age, Sebastian is deaf and legally blind, so when the dog wandered over to this deer, he didn’t see her, and the doe immediately realized he was no threat.

In directing my neighbors and me to make our properties safe from wildfires,  Marin County Fire Chief Ken Massucco last September wrote us that we live in a designated “wildland/urban-interface area.” Despite that being firefighter jargon, the “interface” could as easily describe our interactions with wildlife as our risk of wildfires.

I’ve found it striking how much more wildlife I’m seeing around my property now that I’m retired and at home more. Just by staying alert, I’ve been able to shoot photos for this blog of a coyote and a bobcat, deer and raccoons, foxes and possums, snakes and salamanders, frogs and roof rats. All this wildlife has no doubt been around my home for 30 years, but until three years ago when I stopped editing The Point Reyes Light, I was too busy to see it.

And there’s another noteworthy difference between running a newspaper office and maintaining a blog from home. Once a newspaper article is in print, you can’t change it. I can remember times when I lamented this as a curse; now, however, I think it might have actually been a blessing.

Upgraded WordPress software now counts how many changes I make to a posting after I first put it online. The changes are usually very small, rearranging a sentence or substituting one word for another, but they can add up. A few days after last week’s posting went online, I became curious how many times I’d taken it down and changed it, so I checked: 107 times!

Add this attention to detail to humanity’s natural concern with raccoon scat, and you can see why SparselySageAndTimely.com has caught the attention of some serious readers around the globe: from Bangalore, India, and Palmerton North, New Zealand, to Sandefjord, Norway, and Riga, Latvia.