Archive for June, 2009

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A female Anna’s hummingbird has taken to frequenting the flowers growing in wine-barrel tubs on my deck.

The website Hummingbirds in Motion reports, “The hummingbird (scientific family: trochilidae) does not fly in the same way other birds do. They can fly forward, backward, up, down, and even upside-down. The motion of their wings changes its angle with each flap. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds flap their wings horizontally in the shape of a figure 8. They also expand and contract their tail feathers, which allows them to hover in mid-air.”

100_19661This week I saw a wild turkey scare off a young deer on this hill by flapping its wings, and I’ve previously seen horses having fun chasing turkeys around in the Giacomini family’s pasture next to mine.

Wild turkeys are not native to West Marin but were introduced here for hunting. In 1988, wildlife biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game released a small flock on the Loma Alta Ranch overlooking the San Geronimo Valley. This original flock quickly grew, and many of the birds migrated first to the San Geronimo Valley and then to other parts of West Marin.

When a flock took up residence in a stand of eucalyptus trees west of Tomales in 2000, relations with townsfolk soon became strained. The turkeys tore up gardens, scratched parked cars by climbing over them, and threatened children walking along the street.

The menacing peaked in January 2001 when two tom turkeys lunged at a pair of schoolchildren riding scooters. The children escaped unharmed but had to abandon their scooters as they fled.

In March 2005, a low-flying turkey hit a power line over Highway 1 in Tomales, causing the line to slap against another line and blacking out the town. The turkey, which fell to the ground with some singed tail feathers, was initially dazed by the incident but then wandered off.

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To enhance habitat for great blue herons at Bear Valley Ranch (Historic W Ranch), the Point Reyes National Seashore has torn down historic structures, built new ones, and restored the primeval parking lot on land the previous owner had treated as an open field.

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With a typically inquisitive expression, possums are among the cutest of creatures, as I’m sure you would agree.

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A possum admires its reflection in the glass of my kitchen door.

The “common opossum” is not native to California but rather the Deep South and was introduced into the San Jose area around 1900 “for meat, delicious with sweet potatoes,” Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens writes in The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula.  By 1931, he notes, possums had spread as far south as the Mexican border but did not reach Point Reyes until 1968.

First an update on the condition of Linda Petersen since so many  people have asked about her. As was reported here, she  fell asleep at the wheel in Inverness a week ago and drove into a utility pole.

Linda, who is 61 and lives in Inverness, suffered multiple broken bones and a punctured lung. Her 16-year-old Havanese dog Sebastian, well known in Point Reyes Station for his sweet disposition, died in the crash.

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Sebastian and a raccoon appear to be seated across the table from each other à la C.M. Coolidge’s series of paintings a century ago, Dogs Playing Poker. In fact, there was a window pane between these two.

I visited Linda today at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland where she has been transferred from Marin General Hospital.

Although she faces more surgery, Linda was in remarkably good spirits. She is, of course, the advertising manager for The West Marin Citizen, and while we were talking, she received a call on her cell phone from Citizen publisher Joel Hack. Suddenly Linda was back on the job from her hospital bed. “Check with Toby’s,” she told Joel. “Susan Hayes’ ad won’t be ready till Wednesday….”

Linda’s head and neck are immobilized by a medical “halo,” and she can raise only one arm. Nonetheless, she cracked jokes with Joel and later remarked that by staying involved in her work, she’s reducing the boredom of being stuck in a hospital. Now there’s a brave response to an awful predicament.

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Now for an update on the wildlife around my cabin. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen as great a variety of critters on my deck at night as I normally see in a year. Here’s a gray fox that stopped by last week.

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A raccoon finds its wandering obstructed by a possum on my deck.

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When the possum didn’t leave, the raccoon took a run around it, giving the possum a wide berth. The possum hissed and bared its teeth but did nothing else. For several weeks, I’ve periodically seen this possum and raccoon warning off each other as they pass by on my deck. Sometimes, however, they ignore each other entirely.

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A blacktail doe on this hill gave birth to a couple fawns roughly two months ago. Today they followed their mother around my pasture while a year-old buck grazed nearby.

100_24081The fawns appear healthy and are now old enough to enjoy bounding across my fields. I see them as a good omen for this summer.

100_1817_1The advertising manager of The West Marin Citizen, Linda Petersen, 61, of Inverness, suffered major injuries last night around midnight when her car hit a utility pole just west of Motel Inverness.

Her tiny Havanese dog Sebastian was killed in the crash, causing much sadness around Point Reyes Station.

Linda took him everywhere she went, and when The Citizen opened its office in Point Reyes Station more than a year ago, Sebastian soon became a much-beloved dog about town.

A gentle animal with long, silky hair and almost sad eyes, Sebastian charmed most people. Adults, as well as children, regularly stopped by The Citizen office just to see him.

As it happened, I had taken care of Sebastian all afternoon and evening yesterday while Linda helped with a caterer’s event in Stinson Beach.

On her way home to Inverness, Linda stopped by my cabin about 11:30 p.m. to pick up Sebastian but didn’t stick around long, explaining that she was sleepy and needed to get to bed. Unfortunately, her concern proved to be all too valid.

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Sebastian among my daffodils.

Just after she drove through Inverness Park, she fell asleep at the wheel, ran off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, and hit a utility pole. A sheriff’s deputy noted that although the car’s front end was crushed, the utility pole received virtually no damage.

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Photographer Jasper Sanidad caught Linda’s and Sebastian’s affection for each other being echoed by a couple behind them in the garden of Café Reyes.

Paramedics transported Linda to Marin General Hospital, where she underwent surgery today for multiple broken bones and a collapsed lung.

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Linda’s daughter Saskia van der Wal places roses on a small cairn above Sebastian’s grave.

This afternoon, Linda’s daughter Saskia and I picked up Sebastian’s body at the Marin Humane Society, where Animal Control had taken him. Returning to Point Reyes Station from Novato, we stopped near Nicasio Reservoir’s dam where a roadsign warns of falling rocks and gathered a trunk-full of rocks. She and I then buried Sebastian under a persimmon tree in my front yard and used the rocks to erect a cairn over his grave.

The mound of rocks is intended to serve both as a memorial to Sebastian and as a barrier to critters that might want to dig him up.

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Linda was my houseguest for a year in 2007-08, and she and I have remained close friends.

I’m still in shock over what has happened to her, but I’m confident her spirit will be what saves her. When I talked with Linda at Marin General today, she was determined to get through this ordeal and resume her normal life.

As for Sebastian, during the year he and Linda lived in my cabin, we became buddies. (In this photo by Linda, I’m sheltering him from a cold wind.) When Linda was away, Sebastian slept beside me on my bed at night. In recent months I had looked after him several afternoons a week.

However, at 16 Sebastian was virtually deaf, legally blind, and (for the last few months) hobbled by an untreatable tumor on a rear leg. He didn’t have that much longer to live, but I still haven’t come to terms with the finality of his death. I probably won’t for some time.

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As an old dog, Sebastian was too blind to notice the deer close behind him, and the doe quickly realized he was no threat.

Sebastian came from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Linda lived for more than 20 years. Saskia had found him running in the streets of a working-class neighborhood, filthy, and eating garbage.

He nonetheless was such a sweet dog that Saskia tracked down his owners and asked if she could have him. Embarrassed by his condition, they gave him to her. In short, even as a young dog Sebastian was so good-natured he saved himself from a street dog’s life and enjoyed 11 good years instead. He was that charming.

Sunday’s Western Weekend Parade packed the main street of Point Reyes Station, making it look like half the residents around Tomales Bay were either watching the parade or in it.

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A Coast Guard color guard led the parade, followed by Marin County and Inverness fire engines. Several parade entries, including an inflatable boat from the Coast Guard base in Bodega Bay, had maritime themes.

100_2325The good ship Mary Kay’s Revenge from MarshallThe Point Reyes Light on Thursday reported, “The boat is constructed largely of recycled sail cloth, plywood and pallets” and had been sitting “on Peggy Bannan’s porch in Reynold’s Cove” while awaiting the parade.

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Parade Marshal Maidee Moore of Inverness received a ride from Dennis Luftig of Point Reyes Station. Maidee has long been active in civic affairs and is perhaps best known for decades of leading a program, Tomales Bay Waterdogs, which teaches children living around Tomales Bay how to swim.

100_2264Western Weekend Queen Mindy Borello, 17, rode in a pickup-truck carriage during Sunday’s parade. Mindy won the queen contest by selling the most Western Weekend raffle tickets.

100_2265Western Weekend Princess Rocio Gomez — Together Rocio and Mindy sold more than $8,000 worth of raffle tickets.

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The float was called “The Hula Hoopin’ Haley Grandkids,” and this grandkid was a pro.

garden-club2Three quarters of a century — Inverness Garden Club’s entry each year includes numerous participants, a motorcycle with a sidecar, and a float festooned with flowers and greenery. This year the club is celebrating its 75th anniversary, hence the birthday cake. Among the club’s activities is maintaining flower beds in public places.

100_2281Several kids on mini-motorcycles took part in the parade. This young biker may be new to the parade circuit, but he has already learned its protocol. To get the attention of other kids along the parade route carry a bag of candies and toss out handfuls. Works every time.

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Papermill Creek Children’s Corner (a preschool in Point Reyes Station) and Marin Head Start paraded together.

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Planned Feralhood president Kathy Runnion of Nicasio, dressed as a cat and festooned with toy kittens, led her group’s parade entry. The group catches feral cats in Point Reyes Station and neuters or spays them.

Kathy finds homes for the kittens and as many of the adults as possible. A few adults cannot be domesticated and are returned to the street, but at least they are no longer reproducing. Not surprisingly, the number of feral kittens around town has dropped dramatically.

dancersWest Marin School students dance a Paso Durangeneze. The group includes Alejandro Chavarria, 3rd grade; Graciela Avalos, Sarahisabel Barajaz, Stepanie Gonzalez, William Gonzalez, Shelby Hunt, Normar Isais, Bianca Lima, and Phoebe Marshall, 4th graders; and Armando Gonzalez, 5th grade. Their teacher is Dolores Gonzalez.

nave-patrola1The Nave Patrola annually spoofs the Italian Army in World War I although it also borrows an “Il Duce” chant from World War II.

In the early 1970s, an official from the Italian Consulate in San Francisco complained to parade organizers, the West Marin Lions Club, that the patrol disparaged Italians, what with its seemingly confused marchers colliding with each other and going off in all directions.

Defenders of the patrol, however, replied that many of the members are of Italian descent. In addition, most folks here find Benito Mussolini, “the Duce of Fascism,” as he called himself, fair game for satire.

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Bikini-clad dancers on an entry from Very Nice Firewood of Point Reyes Station waved placards that said, “Joe’s Knows How to Keep It Hot,” along with “Keep Warm & Toasty” and “Got Wood?”

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A highlight of every Western Weekend Parade is the impressive Concord Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, which participates in numerous parades each year. Based in Contra Costa County, the Blue Devils are a world-class drum corps, having won 12 Drum Corps International championships in the past 33 years.

The Western Weekend Livestock Show and Fair were held Saturday at the Dance Palace for the second year, having been held for more than half a century at the Red Barn (whose current owner has renamed it and repainted it green).

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William Nunes’ four-year-old dry Holstein took first place in junior showmanship while Alyssa McClure’s heifer took second.

100_2213_1Thoroughly enjoying the livestock show were the dogs of Lisa Patsel, who owns Tree House bed-and-breakfast inn.

Because the number of ranches in West Marin has been steadily shrinking, the number of entries is now tiny compared with what it was back in the 1960s and 1970s.

Half a dozen cows were shown this year compared to 100 in 1962, but youths in the ranching families that still remain take the competition as seriously as ever.

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4-H Club members recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the 4-H pledge at the beginning of Saturday’s livestock show.

100_2221Michelle McClure took first place in senior showmanship for Holstein cows, and Nathan Hemett took second.

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Kelly Hinde of Sonoma County 4-H judges rabbits during the 4-H fair.

100_2230Freddie Genazzi’s red slider named Ozzie took first place in the turtle competition. Although his sister wasn’t present, her turtle, whom the judge dubbed Harriet, took second.

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Judge Hinde inspects a pair of mice.

100_2253Judges Ellie Genazzi and Terry Gray compare notes during the Western Weekend Fair’s dog show.

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Amelia McDonald’s dog Hamlet clears a hurdle in an obstacle course during the dog show.

dumpster2While the obstacle course confused all the dogs that went on it, this Dumpster behind the Dance Palace confused virtually all the humans who went to use it.

Despite what was reported last week in the calendar sections of The West Marin Citizen and Point Reyes Light, the Western Weekend Parade will be held on Sunday this year, as always. Both papers were apparently led to believe the annual parade would be held a day early on Saturday, June 6; however, a check with the county firehouse in Point Reyes Station Monday confirmed it is making arrangements for a parade on Sunday.

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A procession of antique tractors in last year’s parade.

The Western Weekend Livestock Show will likewise be held Saturday as always. However, it is no longer held at the Red Barn but at the Dance Palace.

The event, which is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., is a time for 4-H club members to exhibit crafts and animal projects they have been working on all year.

Sunday’s parade will march down Point Reyes Station’s three-block-long main street at noon. Because the route is short and the number of entries is sometimes small, it is not uncommon for several entries — after they finish the procession — to circle around via sidestreets in order to parade down the main street a second time.

The 34th annual Dance Palace Silent Auction will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday with live music by Moonlight Rodeo from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Oysters and drinks will be sold on the lawn, starting at 11 a.m.

Launching the forerunner of Western Weekend on Aug. 6, 1949, was a women’s sorority called Companions of the Forest. Their turreted former hall still stands across Mesa Road from the Marin Agricultural Land Trust office. That first celebration included a dance, a queen contest, a carnival, and a cakewalk, which together raised $440.65 for repairing the hall.

Western Weekend didn’t become a celebration of West Marin’s agricultural heritage until the following year when the women’s husbands, who belonged to the newly formed West Marin Lions Club, got involved. They added a parade, a chicken barbecue, and a livestock show at the Red Barn (now also called the Old Engine Barn).

100_74741In subsequent years, the event increasingly focused on 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America).

During the early 1950s, 4-H and FFA were the main youth groups on the coast, and in those days members had relatively few places to exhibit their animals and other projects.

Parade judges’ viewing stand last year.

By 1962, the West Marin Junior Livestock Show was attracting cows from throughout Marin County, and 100 head showed up that year. The Lions added a lean-to onto the Red Barn to house the overflow. (The “Junior” referred the competitors all being 4-H or FFA members.)

The women held fashion shows on Sunday afternoons, and the Lions brought in carnival rides. Eventually the Point Reyes Station chapter of Companions of the Forest merged with the Petaluma chapter, which continues to this day.

Throughout the 1970s, the parade grew every year. In 1980 and 1981, it drew about 150 entries. An ad hoc group calling itself the Tomales Bay Explorers Club annually entered elaborate floats: Nessie, the bay’s own underwater monster; King Tut’s Tomb, a large pyramid complete with the king’s court; and a hug replica of one Imelda Marcos’  open-toed shoes, out of which a tap-dance group periodically slid and then performed in the street.

100_74881The Wells Fargo stagecoach in last year’s parade.

By then, 10,000 or more people sometimes jammed the town’s sidewalks and store roofs to watch the parade.

Some merchants would later discover that drunken spectators, who had without permission used roofs for vantage points, had dropped empty beer cans down drainspouts.

With the first heavy rain each fall, several flat roofs would flood, and the stores below would have water dripping through their ceilings.

With so many people jamming Point Reyes Station for these monster parades, beer flowed in the gutter by the time the last floats disappeared each year — sometimes to be replaced by outlaw bikers doing wheelies down the main street.

The Lions too were finding it difficult to cope with the throng, so in 1982 and 1983, they eliminated the parade although the West Marin Junior Livestock Show was held as usual. When the parade was revived in 1984, it was much smaller with far fewer groups from outside West Marin.

Nowadays, a variety of groups ranging from the Lions Club to the 4-H Council to the Dance Palace to the Farm Bureau help put on Western Weekend. The gods too seem to help out. In 58 years, it’s never rained on our parade although high winds have occasionally blown floats apart.