Archive for September, 2009

From 1920 to 1991, The New York Daily News called itself “New York’s Picture Paper” because it used photographs with captions rather than articles to report a disproportionate amount of the news.

In that spirit, this blog will now try out a Point Reyes Station Picture Posting.

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While carpenter Charlie Morgan was walking out my cabin’s basement door this morning, he spotted a small gopher snake slithering in. We grabbed it although it pretended it was a rattlesnake, flattening its head into a triangle and shaking its rattle-less tail. (Photo by Charlie Morgan)

The snake didn’t like being picked up and tried to wriggle free, but it didn’t strike. Its mouth was so small it probably couldn’t have even if it had wanted to. In any case, I soon released it.

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Seeva Cherms, daughter of Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, gave me this sign as a Christmas present two years ago.

As too many roadkills make evident, the possums of West Marin are in particular need of a safe preserve, so I’ve started one.

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A continuing problem, however, is the ancient feud between my hill’s possums and raccoons. Tense encounters occur night after night, and I’ve photographed several, such as this confrontation on Sept. 12.

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In an effort to end the inter-species unrest, I finally resorted to a two-millennia-old stratagem for keeping unruly masses complaisant. When anti-social disorder broke out again last night, I distracted the raccoon with bread and circuses — “panem et circenses” in the words of the Roman satirist Juvenal, who coined the phrase around 200 AD. The circus in those days was somewhat different, of course, although it did have lions.

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Tonight I tried the same ploy with the possum, and it worked until the raccoon came over and stole the bread. Raccoons are like that — even among themselves. I’m tempted to send one in particular to Father Flanagan’s Home for Wayward Raccoons in Kits Town, Nebraska.

Linda-and-BurtonMeanwhile over in Inverness tonight, Linda Petersen, the injured ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, showed up after a Volunteer Fire Department meeting to thank firefighter Burton Eubank (right).

Burton was the first rescue worker on the scene when Linda fell asleep at the wheel June 13 near Motel Inverness and hit a utility pole.

Linda suffered 18 broken bones and a punctured lung in the crash.

Burton tonight noted the dispatcher originally said the crash had occurred just west of downtown Inverness not far from Vladimir’s Czechoslovakian Restaurant. As he rushed to the scene from Inverness Park, however, Burton discovered the wreck was actually east of town and radioed other members of the volunteer fire department to let them know.

Linda remembers almost nothing from the wreck, so Burton recounted how he evaluated her condition and what he and other firefighters did to remove her from the car without causing further injuries. As it turned out, Linda had two broken vertebrae, so the precautions were crucial.

Burton obviously hadn’t learned how to do all this in one training session, I quipped. “I’ve been a firefighter 24 years,” he replied, “ever since I was 18.” Burton said that some of the VFD’s traffic-accident calls are grim but responses such as Linda’s help balance that.

And put it on your calendar that a benefit to help pay Linda’s medical bills will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, at Toby’s Feed Barn. There will be entertainment by Johnny and June from El Radio Fantastique, Peter Asmus and Space Debris, and Matt Love’s band (sometimes called the Love Field Allstars). The initial, so to speak, entertainer will be Charlie, the carpenter. Charlie, who’s also a DJ at KWMR, will be MC.

Providing food will be Marin Sun Farms, the Station House Café, Olema Farmhouse, Café Reyes, the Tomales Deli, the Palace Market, the Marshall Store, and Mike and Sally Gale’s Chileno Valley Ranch. In addition, Anastacio Gonzalez will barbecue oysters with his “Famous BBQ Oyster Sauce.” The sauce is now being bottled, with retail sales having begun last July.

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Last Thursday when I dropped by Linda Petersen’s temporary digs, Tim Weed and Debbie Daly were entertaining the recuperating crash victim with a mix of country and folk music.

The Point Reyes Station couple are among many people who have stepped forward to help Linda, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, since her horrific wreck June 13 near Motel Inverness.  A dozen West Marin residents have been taking turns cooking meals for her, and several have provided her with transportation.

100_2628_1Linda suffered 11 broken ribs, two broken vertebrae, two broken ankles, a broken leg, a broken kneecap, a broken arm, and a punctured lung when she fell asleep at the wheel and hit a utility pole. The injuries required three months of hospitalization, including seven weeks wearing a steel-and-carbon halo that immobilized her head and neck.

Linda was released from the hospital Aug, 22 and has been temporarily staying in ground-floor quarters at Karen Gray’s place in Point Reyes Station prior to moving into an upstairs apartment.

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For the past month, Linda has been living out of boxes and is excited about the prospect of settling into her new apartment as soon as she can regularly climb the stairs.

Linda, 61, who works at the front desk in The Citizen office, can by now walk short distances with just a cane, and West Marin Senior Services has loaned her an electric scooter to get around town.

100_0148By chance, Missy Patterson, 82, who works at the front desk of the competing Point Reyes Light, also uses a scooter to get around downtown. The coincidence has led more than a few townspeople to suggest the two have a race.

“Missy said she would beat me, which is probably true,” Linda told me with a laugh. “Her scooter is bigger and more powerful.” Missy (seen here in the 2005 Western Weekend Parade) had started out with a donated scooter but a few years back moved up to a high-performance model.

Linda during her hospitalization accumulated several thousand dollars worth of bills that her insurer, Kaiser Permanente, is refusing to cover. To help raise money to pay those bills, a benefit with food, drinks, and entertainment will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, at Toby’s Feed Barn. More about this later…

Wasn’t that one heck of a thunder-and-lightning storm that hit here at 5:45 a.m. Saturday? Around the San Francisco Bay Area, the lightning started at least 20 fires and blacked out nearly 50,000 homes and businesses, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

In West Marin, the lightning momentarily blacked out a few homes and turned on lights in others. Here on Campolindo Drive, PG&E service was unaffected, but several homes connected to the Horizon Cable system took coaxial hits.

Like other townspeople, I was awakened early Saturday by a thunderclap as loud as canon fire. Instantly wide-eyed, I saw a fireball exploding outside my window followed by lightning flashes further away. The explosion fried my television, as my nose quickly told me, and destroyed the modem to my computer.

100_2829My stepdaughter Shaili and I occupied our time with old-fashioned reading after my Internet service went down.

One of my neighbors also lost a television while a total of four of us on this hill had our modems fried, Horizon Cable’s office manager Andrea Clark later told me. She noted all the damage to the Horizon system was along Campolindo Drive although no one has found the exact spot the lightning struck.

The National Weather Service attributed the lightning storm to a coastal low-pressure system that had picked up more moisture than expected, The Chronicle reported. The bulk of the blackouts were in San Francisco although the lightning started fires as far east as Livermore and Mount Hamilton (east of San Jose).

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It’s been a busy week around my cabin. My youngest stepdaughter from my last marriage, Shaili Zappa, 16, has been visiting from Guatemala. She’s a high school junior with top-notch grades, so Monday I drove her to my alma mater, Stanford University, hoping to get her interested in applying.

After taking the official tour of the campus and talking to admissions and financial-aid counselors, Shaili came away thoroughly impressed despite the cost. A financial-aid advisor told her a year at Stanford including room and board typically costs about $50,000 these days although the university might be able to cover all but $10,000 of that.

I received a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford in 1965 and a master’s in Communications in 1967 (when the costs were a lot less), but I hadn’t been back to The Farm in recent years. The biggest change in the last 40 years that I could see were dozens of new and expanded buildings with many more under construction despite the recession.

The recession has cost Stanford, the third wealthiest university in the US, 30 percent of its endowment, which has fallen to $12 billion from $17 billion. Harvard, the wealthiest university, has also lost 30 percent while Yale, the second wealthiest, has lost 25 percent.

Stanford reports it now has an enrollment of 17,833, but students studying for graduate and professional degrees greatly outnumber undergraduates, accounting for more than 63 percent of the studentbody.

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Meanwhile, my middle stepdaughter, Kristeli Zappa, 20, has just begun college in Taiwan. Kristeli is also a good student, and the Taiwanese government offered to pay for four years of college in English following a year spent studying Mandarin. The government in Taipei is also picking up her food, lodging, and transportation costs.

Emphasizing the significance of this scholarship, the Taiwanese ambassador on Aug. 12 presented it to Kristeli in Guatemala’s National Palace at a ceremony attended by Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom and Foreign Minister Alfredo Trinidad.

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The following day, Kristeli was featured in a Page 1 story of the daily newspaper El Diario de Centro America as one of four young people trying to make life better in Guatemala. Less than a week before that, she was the cover model for a society magazine, Overnight, which is geared to Guatemalan young people.

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As regular readers of this blog know, my eldest stepdaughter, Anika Zappa, 22, visited me in late May and took the opportunity to shoot a whimsical series of photos using a purple couch that had been abandoned beside Novato Boulevard in Hicks Valley.

Anika a week ago began attending the University of Minnesota after studying for two years at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota. To pay her way through college, she’s been working for Best Buy stores and steadily rising through the ranks.

I’m obviously proud of my studious stepdaughters. To me, a lightning bolt outside the window seems less striking.

Four years ago while I still published The Point Reyes Light, readers on their own gave birth to a new genre of first-person writing, Tall Tales of Intelligent Dogs.

The genre faded shortly before the grand old newspaper changed ownership, but the tales have now inspired me to try replicating with wildlife around my cabin what West Marin residents had reported accomplishing with their pets.

possum-with-placematGood table manners being a sine qua non for participating in polite society, last week I began teaching the local possum proper dining etiquette.

“I am teaching my dog to drive,” Ed Fielding of Bolinas wrote in a June 9, 2005, letter to the editor of The Light. “I am 81 years old, and my strength is ebbing, my reflexes are slowing, my vision is fading, and my hearing is deteriorating. The qualities I am losing my dog Juno possesses in superb degree. She is a 145-pound Rhodesian ridgeback – strong, quick, and very intelligent.

“I have made special metal cups and attached two of these to the steering wheel in the recommended ‘10-to-2’ position. The cups are well padded so that her front paws fit snugly, and she is able to steer the car with ease. I have also modified the accelerator and the brake pedal. With her long legs and great strength, she has no trouble operating these two mechanisms.”

It was an obvious spoof, but Fielding presented it with flair. “[Juno] just loves driving the car,” he wrote, “and the highlight of her day is when she gets behind the wheel and we go for a short spin. Of course, she drives with her head out the window, a habit I have been unable to break, but it seems to be no problem, and she handles the car with skill….

“If any readers of this letter have also taught their dogs to drive, I would appreciate hearing from you…”

The Light never heard from anyone else teaching his dog to drive, but the next issue carried a letter from David Miller of Inverness Park, who wrote, “I was pleased to learn from Ed Fielding’s letter that there are others who are training their pets to handle moving vehicles. In my case, I have been training my dog Bela to ride a bicycle.

“It all started when I would ride my bike and Bela would run on the path beside me on a leash. So many times I would hear angry people telling me I should get off the bike and let Bela ride that I decided that if I trained Bela to ride, we could mountain bike together and avoid the scorn of passersby…

“Bela is still on training wheels, and I have had to address a few mechanical problems. For example, I had to deal with her tail. It was always getting caught in the spokes of the back wheel. I solved that problem by tying a string to her tail and connecting it to her collar. I had to make sleeves on the handlebars into which she could comfortably slide her front legs for steering. Bela uses her mouth to manipulate the hand brake.”

Miller went on to say that his “real problem” is the policy of local parks to prohibit mountain bikes on certain trails and dogs on others, leaving Bela with few choices. This letter writer too asked to hear from others in his situation.

No other owners of canine mountain bikers responded, but Robin Bradford of Bolinas on June 30 wrote, “For quite some time, Frank and Winston, my Yorkshire Terriers, have tried to convince me to allow them free access to our Toro gasoline-powered lawn mower. Naturally, I refused….

“Recently, Frank and Winston brought me the letters to the editor from The Point Reyes Light written by Ed Fielding and David Miller. I can tell you, some fairly biting accusations were hurled… [and] I finally acquiesced.

“Much to my surprise, Frank and Winston operated the Toro as though they’d been doing it for years, which it turned out they had been. My teenage son had been taking the credit (and the allowance) for the job for an extended period of time, but it was actually Winston at the steering wheel and Frank running ahead to ensure straight lines on the grass…”

Through no effort on its part, The Light had suddenly become a weekly publisher of tall tales of canine cunning, all written in the form of letters to the editor.

Carl Dern of Stinson Beach on July 14, 2005, wrote, “I taught my dog Billie to weld. I realized that she had a great interest in welding when she was a pup because she would hang around my studio watching me weld. I made her a self-darkening helmet and a small leather apron so she wouldn’t hurt her eyes or burn her fur. As time went by, I noticed that she would try to nudge me away from what I was welding and try to take the welding torch from me.

“I soon caught on that she wanted to do the welding. I made her some small, padded cups for her paws to hold the welding gun. She worked the controls with her mouth and right-rear leg. I soon found myself holding the work while she welded it with beautiful precision and skill.

“Billie died last winter at the age of 16 and a half, which is 115 years human. I have not had the courage to disclose this information until now because I was afraid that I would be accused of exploitation. In my own defense, I paid Billie minimum wage and registered her as a Democrat. She voted for Kerry and missed Clinton very much. Our grandchildren inherited her estate.”

raccoon-bartenderBack in 2007, I myself taught a local raccoon to tend bar. Before long it could mix a margarita, Manhattan, or martini as fast as it could shake a tail. When government began enforcing a ban on smoking in bars, however, the raccoon quit to take an outdoor job.

As the parade of talented-dog stories continued, I was amazed not merely by the phenomena itself but also by their wit. “I think too many exceptional canines have gone unrecognized because the fear of low-cost dog labor is so prevalent,” Cory Griffith of Bolinas wrote on July 28.

“My confession was especially hard to make before now because it would have cost me my job. More accurately, my dog Rona’s job. I used to work as a dishwasher and occasional cook in an unnamed Stinson restaurant…. Rona always liked to follow me around the kitchen and beg for treats.

“After we’d been together for a few years, something strange began to happen; I noticed she’d alert me with a bark whenever the water was about to boil. From there it was just a few months of practice until a dog who couldn’t crack an egg transformed into one who was putting a shrimp on the Barbie. She’d grab a whisk in her mouth, and a few hours later we’d have a beautiful cake with only a few dog hairs in the frosting.”

For the same edition, Hawk Weston of Bolinas sent in a photo of herself and her pug Scrunchie. While practicing her guitar, Weston wrote, she noticed that “Scrunchie was spending an inordinate amount of time watching my fingers – especially the left-hand chord positions…

“I decided to teach her to play folk music, figuring if I could play it, how hard could it be? Actually, it wasn’t hard at all, especially after she suggested that I lay the guitar flat on the floor so she could play it like a Dobro with a flat-pick held tightly between her tiny teeth. She also developed her signature ‘softer sound’ by brushing across the strings gently with her little tail.”

Other tales came in from Kent Goodwin of New York City, who wrote that his yellow lab Trapper had developed expertise in corporate management while living in Stinson Beach. Scott Leslie of Point Reyes Station, however, growled, “Enough already.” He suggested that all the tales of canine accomplishments indicated a dog had taken over the editor’s desk.

But virtually all other letters were in the style of one by Inverness resident Laura Brainard of Planned Feralhood (the humane program for reducing the number of stray cats). Brainard on Aug. 4 wrote she’d read the letters aloud to cats in the program’s shelter to give them “inspiration.” The cats, however, “were not impressed,” she noted.

Cats, in fact, were beginning to creep into coverage that had been limited to a dog’s world. Sandra Wallace of Inverness on July 28 wrote, “I do hope someone is making a collection of the letters recounting the accomplishments of these exceptional dogs. One of my dogs – the one that reads – is fascinated and inspired by these accounts. The cats, however, remain incredulous.”

I’d would have been incredulous about all this too had I not seen it myself. In fact, now that I’ve tried it myself, civilizing the animal world doesn’t seem that difficult.

Editor’s note: The readers’ letters were previously summarized in my Aug. 8, 2005, Sparsely Sage and Timely column in The Light. The possum-and-table-setting photo was shot Wednesday.

linda-at-beach1Linda Petersen in a wheelchair at North Beach Aug. 23, the day after she came home to West Marin. (Photo by her daughter Saskia van der Wal)

It’s been fascinating to watch the story of Linda Petersen’s car wreck, surgery, hospitalization, and homecoming spread around the globe. Not only have her friends and relatives overseas been following online the progress of her recovery, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors last month published one of my postings about her. Now Google has taken the story to a whole new level.

Linda, who is the advertising manager for The West Marin Citizen, suffered 11 broken ribs, two broken vertebrae, two broken ankles, a broken leg, a broken kneecap, a broken arm, and a punctured lung when she fell asleep at the wheel June 13 and hit a utility pole in Inverness.

100_2628She has now been home for 10 days after spending two and a half months hospitalized, the last seven weeks at the Rafael Convalescent Hospital in San Rafael.

For most of her time in the hospital, Linda had casts on both legs and on her left arm. Her head and neck were immobilized by a medical “halo” (right) made of steel and carbon.

Stuck on her back and able to move only her right hand, Linda chose to fight the tedium by getting back to work. Using her cell phone and email, Linda resumed selling ads for The Citizen. Thanks to the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors republishing my posting about this, the ad manager’s dedication to her job despite personal disaster is now known to some top-notch editors around the world.

In addition, The Citizen has printed other writing and photos from this blog concerning Linda’s recovery

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As is typical of thumbnail photos online, readers were able to click on them to enlarge the images.

The most-surprising republication, however, was a Google image that Linda happened upon.

100_2631_2The medical halo which Linda wore for seven weeks had been extremely uncomfortable, so last weekend she went online to read about medical halos. Linda Googled “medical halo” and then clicked on “medical halo pictures.” As Linda later exclaimed, “What a surprise! That was me in one of them!”

The photo (at right) was taken from my Aug. 5 posting, which described Linda’s relief at getting rid of the halo. The posting included both the photo of Linda wearing the halo, which was screwed into her skull, and this photo of her wearing only a removable neck brace once the halo was no longer needed. To Linda’s further surprise, Google was using the wrong photo to illustrate medical halos.

Addendum: Four days after Linda noticed the mixup and a day after this posting went online, Google removed the incorrect photo for whatever reason. Linda, for her part, is much amused at having spent a week or two as an international, medical-halo model.