Archive for November, 2009

Years ago I read that more than half the citizens of Great Britain had spoken with Queen Elizabeth in their dreams. The only US leader I ever spoke with in mine was presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, and that happened exactly once more than 40 years ago.

100_1771So I was quite surprised Friday morning when I awoke from a dream in which I’d been pleasantly chatting with Vladimir Putin.

Not only that, the Russian prime minister and I were bunking together in some sort of camp where he was receiving advanced training in providing his own security.

I have no recollection as to why I was there.

Putin asked my opinion regarding what type of crime he should be concerned about in the area around the camp, and I suggested muggings and the like.

In retrospect, it was an odd question coming from from a former KGB agent.

Odder yet were some of the measures Putin took to safeguard himself.

180px-Vladimir_Putin_as_a_childWhen we first moved into our quarters, he used a disinfectant to scrub down the entire bathroom we would share.

The dream prompted me to check some biographies of Putin, and one of the more striking discoveries I made is how little his look has changed since boyhood.

He had already developed his cold, half-lidded gaze before he was out of school.

Interesting aside: Although Putin’s father was active in the Communist Party and a devout atheist, Putin’s mother had him secretly christened in the Russian Orthodox Church and regularly slipped away with him to attend services. For much of his life, Putin has worn a cross around his neck.

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None of this, however, explained what was going on in my life that caused me to encounter Putin in my dream. The only nighttime occurrence out of the ordinary had been coyotes howling outside my window every single night for several days. And then it occurred to me: that might be it.

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When a coyote showed up in my field Saturday afternoon, I photographed it and immediately noticed how similar its gaze was to Putin’s.

As it happened, the Nov. 16 New Yorker carried a lengthy article on dreams and how to cure recurring nightmares. In England as late as the 19th century, nightmares were often considered demonic in one way or another, correspondent Margaret Talbot writes.

Many cultures have believed (several still do) that highly attractive demons can afflict sleeping people by engaging them in sex to the point of exhaustion. In the English-speaking world, a female demon who seduced a man in his sleep was a succubus while a male demon who seduced a woman in hers was an incubus.

“The image of the nightmare as an incubus [or succubus] — a demon hovering over, or straddling, a recumbent figure — invoked both the helplessness of the sleeper and his or her vulnerability to rapacious sex,” Talbot explains.

Vandellas1A few months ago I heard an old recording of Dancing in the Street by the Motown group Martha and the Vandellas.

Curious as to when the song was recorded, I went online and found it was 1964. More interesting, however, was the origin of the name Vandella.

It turns out Martha Reeves took the “Van” part from Van Dyke Street, which was in her Detroit neighborhood, and “della” from singer Della Reese, whom she admired. No doubt unknown to Martha at the time, it also turns out some people in Ethiopia to this very day worry about a type of succubi called vandella.

As for me, I’d rather have some beautiful demon than Vladimir Putin show up while I’m asleep — despite the risk of exhaustion.

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On the other hand, I’d rather bunk with Putin than a coyote.

Today being Thanksgiving, let’s talk turkey. As it happens, there are a number of turkeys to talk about.

Fox-Thanksgiving

Well over 100 people from all walks of life showed up this afternoon at the Dance Palace for the West Marin Community Resource Center’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.

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Volunteers served guests buffet style. Along with the traditional turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, salad, yams, and green vegetables, there was tofu for vegetarians. The pies — apple, pumpkin, and berry — as always were delicious.

Thanksgiving

So many folks attended the dinner that the line of people waiting to be served sometimes stretched all the way around the room. And yet there was enough food left over that any guests who wanted to, such as I, could take some home.

Of course, the word turkey has many meanings, one of them being an inept public display (e.g. that play was a real turkey). Some turkeys in this sense of the word are really bad while some are basically just a misstep. The following fall in the latter category.

Prison-guard-head.-1945002Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work for a prison guard? The headline above from the Nov. 15 San Francisco Chronicle suggests an answer.

two-suits-1945002The turkey at right, also from the Nov. 15 Chronicle, might suggest that two agents from the FBI or other covert agency are getting involved in a fisheries issue.

As a former headline writer, I should note in fairness to The Chronicle that it’s all too easy to accidentally come up with a “head” that has a double meaning.

It comes about because of the need to pack as much information as possible into limited space.

That is why when I edited The Point Reyes Light, the paper routinely used “flap” in headlines to mean dispute, “rap” to mean criticize, “confab” to mean meeting, and “supes” to mean the Board of Supervisors.

In 2003, a sheriff’s deputy in Stinson Beach shot a motorist three times at the end of a high-speed chase, but all that would fit in the headline was “thrice,” so that’s what we used. This prompted a letter from a reader who commented on how quaint West Marin is when a deputy here can shoot a man “thrice.”

I can also recall once writing a headline along the lines of “Feds announce big deer hunt in park.” Luckily, one of my staff saw the head before the paper went to the printer and asked, “Big deer go hunting in the park?”

many-hope-for-prison001Perhaps my favorite Chronicle headline of recent was in the Nov. 17 issue. The turkey at left immediately made me wonder if the story were about Richmond.

From what I read, spending time behind bars is considered a rite of passage among hundreds of young gang members there.

The story was actually about residents of economically depressed Thomson, Ill., wanting Thomson Correctional Center used as the new prison for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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And then there are actual turkeys, which are called that only because of a confusion involving the country of Turkey. When the British were introduced to the North American wild turkey, they confused it with guinea fowl, an African bird that was being imported by way of Turkey.

By coincidence, I read in Al Jazeera today that Turkey and Armenia are on the verge of reestablishing diplomatic relations. That would be something to be thankful for.

In 1994, Turkey sided with Azerbaijan in a conflict with Armenia over the disputed Caucasian territory of Nagorno Karabakh, leading Turkey to close its border with Armenia.

More enmity by far, however, stems from the 1915-25 genocide when Turks exterminated up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians (more than half their population) and marched many others across the desert into Syria. This Armenian Holocaust, as it often called, reduced the number of Armenians in the country to between 60,000 and 70,000 today.

Remember the starving Armenians,” my mother used to say when I didn’t eat every vegetable on my plate at Thanksgiving dinner.

If a segment of Connections had been devoted to popular culture, it could not have found a better example than this story, which begins on stage and ends in soccer.

For those of you who don’t remember Connections, which was first aired on Public Television in 1979, the series was hosted by the British science-historian James Burke. His premise was that developments in one area of science and technology often lead to developments in seemingly unrelated areas.

Burke, for example, once showed how improved trade in the ancient world led to the understanding of magnetism during the 16th century, which in turn led to the discovery of electricity in the 17th century and ultimately the development of radar and nuclear weapons in the 20th century.

Ferenc_Molnár_1941The connections now fascinating me are far less significant than Burke’s but at least as convoluted — and probably more fun.

To demonstrate my series of connections, I’m including several video links,  probably too many to watch to conclusion.

In 1909, a Hungarian named Ferenc Molnár (right) wrote a grim play called Liliom about an out-of-work carousel barker who unsuccessfully turns to crime and then kills himself, causing great suffering for his wife and unborn daughter.

In the end, he is consigned to Hell.

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48ed0_rodgers-hammersteinBizarrely, two producers during World War II asked Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (left) to turn the play into a Broadway musical.

Although skeptical, Rodgers and Hammerstein agreed to take on the project but relocated the story from Budapest to a New England fishing village and gave it a happier ending.

The result was Carousel, which opened in 1945. Time magazine would later call it the best musical of the 20th century.

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Carousel

In 1956, Carousel was made into a film starring Gordon MacRae as Billy the barker and Shirley Jones as his wife Julie.

The musical contained several memorable songs, the most powerful of which is You’ll Never Walk Alone. Julie’s aunt sings it to her when Billy dies, and the song is reprised in the finale during his daughter Louise’s graduation from high school.

In the final scene, Billy has returned to earth, having been told he can’t enter heaven until he salves the pain he caused Julie and Louise. Louise in particular has been shunned by other villagers because of her father’s misdeeds, leaving her isolated during graduation.

Although invisible to others, Billy appears to Louise during the ceremonies and boosts her self-confidence, which leads Louise and Julie to take part in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone:

“When you walk through a storm/ Hold your head up high/ And don’t be afraid of the dark./ At the end of the storm/ Is a golden sky/ And the sweet silver song of a lark.

“Walk on through the wind,/ Walk on through the rain,/ Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown./ Walk on, walk on/ With hope in your heart/ And you’ll never walk alone,/ You’ll never walk alone.”

KylaBecause of the song’s inspirational message and its being sung during the musical’s graduation scene, schools throughout the United States soon began singing it at graduation.

On YouTube, one can watch the song being performed during the graduation exercises of various schools, ranging from UCLA to BYU.

Singers from Frank Sinatra, to Doris Day, to Elvis Presley recorded it. One of the most-striking, and perhaps surprising, renditions comes from Manila where it is performed by the beautiful Filipina singer Kyla (left).

But the rendition that gave You’ll Never Walk Alone a connection no one could have foreseen came from Liverpool, England, where a band called Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded it in 1963. Their version immediately topped the British pop music charts.

Picture 2Today Gerry Marsden (right) and the Pacemakers are remembered, if at all, in the United States for their 1965 hit Ferry Cross the Mersey.

Nonetheless, the group was right behind their fellow Liverpudlians, the Beatles, in leading the British Invasion of American pop music after 1964.

Now here is where a bit of sociology comes into play. Liverpool is ethnically diverse and in the early 1960s had enough nightspots to employ hundreds of bands.

Because the city is a major port on the Mersey Estuary, the style of music played by the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and other Liverpudlian bands came to be known as Merseybeat.

Picture 3However, Liverpool was also an industrial city in decline (left), and in the early 1960s, the main thing its popular culture had going besides music was its professional soccer team (or football club, as they say in other parts of the world).

In 1959, a working-class manager named Bill Shankly had taken over the club when it was at the bottom of the English Football Association’s second division and its facilities were decrepit. By the end of six years under Shankly, who was admired by fans and players alike, the Liverpool Football Club was the best in England.

With the formerly forlorn football club generating so much pride and expectation among Liverpudlians, it was perhaps appropriate You’ll Never Walk Alone became the “Liverpool Anthem” for the fans. Not just any version, of course, but specifically the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ Merseybeat rendition.**

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Before every match, a Gerry and the Pacemakers’ recording of You’ll Never Walk Alone is played on the stadium PA system while Liverpool fans by the tens of thousands sing along and wave banners.

The anthem so impressed fans elsewhere that soon other football clubs adopted You’ll Never Walk Alone as their anthem too. Again, not just any version but specifically the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ Merseybeat version.

Before long, there were matches where the fans of opposing teams were singing the same anthem in unison.

FCC-Tokyo

In time, the song’s popularity as a football anthem spread to clubs in the non-English-speaking world. Belgian football fans from Brugge now struggle to sing along in English with Gerry and the Pacemakers. Fans of Tokyo’s football club sing a pretty fair approximation.

How have Liverpool fans reacted? One Liverpudlian posted a complaint on a Japanese video: “Why does every team steal our song? It’s ours, no argument. Gerry and the Pacemakers, who sung it originally, are from Liverpool, and they said in an interview they made it for Bill Shankly.”

Of course, Gerry and the Pacemakers — like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Kyla, and hundreds of school choirs — took the song from Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein who, in turn, got the story from Liliom by Frenec Molinár.

All the same, it is intriguing how a Merseybeat band in recording a song from a 1945 Broadway musical — based on a 1909 play — ended up creating a football anthem that today is sung around the world.

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Marin Municipal Water District in 1961 built Seeger Dam on Nicasio Creek, creating Nicasio Reservoir. The reservoir covered the old Nicasio Valley Road (center), which was replaced by the new alignment at far left.

100_3266_1This year’s falling water level has revealed many sections of the old road, such as its bridge over Nicasio Creek (above).

Here and there the road’s centerline can again be seen.

On its west side, the reservoir covered the remains of James Black’s ranch house built in the 1840s.

Black, for whom Black Mountain is named, once owned the site of Point Reyes Station.

More significantly, the creation of Nicasio Reservoir inundated the Tomasini and McIsaac ranches while its dam put an end to salmon runs in Nicasio Creek.

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Although the salmon are gone, large-mouth bass, crappie, catfish and carp normally thrive in the reservoir and draw numerous fishermen to its shores. This year’s receding water level, however, has left many fish trapped in shallow pools where they make easy pickings for a variety of predators. The shells of freshwater clams can also be seen everywhere.

100_3268Last Wednesday two houseguests — new-media consultants Janine Warner and Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles —  and I walked across part of the reservoir’s dry bottom.

Our route took us along the old Nicasio Valley Road.

We had barely gotten started when I was surprised to see numerous dead carp lying on the dried mud of the reservoir’s bottom. Many were almost two feet long.

100_3249_1Even more surprising was  finding five dead deer spread out along our route.

Some carcasses had obviously been there a while, but some still had a bit of meat on their bones.

None was close to the present Nicasio Valley Road, making me wonder how they had died.

At one point, Janine asked me to pose for a photograph beside a railing of the old bridge. As I walked toward it, however, I suddenly sank in mud up to my ankles.

100_3223_3Nor could I easily free myself. When I tried to step backward, one shoe came off in the mud.

Perhaps that’s what happened to some of these deer, I mused. Maybe they were being chased by a predator, such as a coyote, when they unluckily tried to cross deep mud and became bogged down.

On Sunday I mentioned this hypothesis to Kathy Runnion, who lives near the reservoir, and she told me a large number of coyotes are currently in the area. That doesn’t prove anything, of course, but as Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens commented, “It’s fun to speculate.”

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The falling reservoir has not yet seemed to affect the flocks of Canada geese that feed there. The geese, however, require a certain amount of water, and if the reservoir were to go completely dry as it did in 1976-77, they’d have to take off.

The intersection of Nicasio Valley Road and the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road at the northeast corner of the reservoir is known as Four Corners. (A ranch road creates the fourth corner.)

100_3291Near Four Corners on a knoll overlooking the reservoir is a stand of cypress trees. They are all that remains of the schoolyard for the former Pacheco School. The one-room school was built in 1895 and closed in 1938.

Pacheo graduate Don McIsaac of Tocaloma five years ago recalled, “It had kids from first to eighth grades. The most students I can remember at a time was 14. The least I can remember was five: three Gallaghers and two McIsaacs.

“None of us can remember what happened to that school [building].”

As I walked along the old road Wednesday looking at Pacheco School’s cypress trees, I found myself thinking wistfully about all that’s been lost.

I realized that not many people these days know about the former school. The Tomasini and McIsaac families survived the loss of their ranches. Carp are considered “trash fish.” The clams are non-native. Deer regularly die in traffic around the reservoir anyway. And the water is needed by neighbors as close as the San Geronimo Valley.

Yet with so much loss thereabouts — both current and historic — it was probably inevitable that walking across the dry eastern reaches of Nicasio Reservoir last Wedneday afternoon felt like walking through a graveyard.

The bear will be gentle/ And the wolf will be tame/ And the lion shall lie down by the lamb.” — Peace in the Valley

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Two young bucks sparring in my backyard on Sunday in preparation for bigger battles to come. (Deer photos by my houseguest Janine Warner, founder of DigitalFamily.com)

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Every fall the young bucks on this hill lock antlers in practice fights that sometimes get too rough. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

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Inevitably one buck gets the worst of it and runs off, which is usually the safest strategy. As the Greek orator Demosthenes remarked in 338 BC, “He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day.”

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Nor are bucks the most aggressive adversaries on this hill. As noted here before, a possum and raccoon have had more than a few hostile encounters on my deck. Because their skirmishes destabilize the area, I decided a while back to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

sharingI did this by putting some peanuts on the table. Both sides welcomed the gesture although the possum at first kept a wary eye on the raccoon.

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Nor did the raccoon entirely trust the possum initially.

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But over the course of several meetings that lasted well beyond midnight, the possum and raccoon found they could peacefully co-exist. It wasn’t exactly the lion lying down with the lamb, but it was a breakthrough in inter-species relations.

Negotiating a truce among the bucks in my pasture will, of course, take longer because because butting heads has been part of their culture for millenia.

In contrast, possums didn’t show up in West Marin until the late 1960s and weren’t here in numbers until the late 1980s. For that reason, it’s not too late to convince them and the long-resident raccoons of this ancient land to join paws in brotherhood.

And despite both sides now feeling less anxious around each other, I haven’t stopped my shuttle diplomacy, for I’ve taken to heart Henry Kissinger’s warning: “The American temptation is to believe that foreign policy is a subdivision of psychiatry.”

Most long-time residents of West Marin know his story. For 22 years beginning in 1971, John Francis of Point Reyes Station refused to ride in motorized vehicles (largely as a reaction to a humongous oil spill at the Golden Gate).

And for the first 17 of those years, he also maintained a vow of silence. His not talking caused him to listen more and kept him out of arguments over his not riding in motorized vehicles, he told listeners at the Dance Palace Sunday.

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John received standing ovations Sunday after two farewell shows of storytelling, acting, and banjo playing.

Notwithstanding the audiences’ enthusiasm, there was a bittersweet quality to the shows. Although West Marin has been his home base for 40 years, John, his wife Mattie, and their sons Sam and Luke, will move to Cape May, New Jersey in a couple of weeks.

(The  family will live in his parents’ old home and expect to benefit from New Jersey’s healthcare costs being much lower than California’s.)

Even when John was on the road from 1983 to 1995, a group he founded in 1982, Planetwalker, remained based in West Marin. On its website, Planetwalker describes itself as “a non-profit educational organization dedicated to raising environmental consciousness and promoting earth stewardship.”

While on the road, John walked to Missoula, Montana, where he earned a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. He then walked east to Madison, Wisconsin, where he earned a doctorate in Land Resources with a focus on oil-spill damage.

In the wake of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, John headed a Coast Guard team writing the congressionally mandated Oil Spill Act of 1989. Once done with that, he sailed to Antigua, stayed a year working as an environmental advisor to the island’s British governor, and then sailed further south to Venezuela.

100_3171_1Along with his many other talents, John is a first-rate artist. His book “Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time” is illustrated with his sketches.

After he had walked the length of Venezuela, John’s life changed significantly. At the Venezuela-Brazilian border, he resumed riding in motorized vehicles. “Walking had become a prison for me,” he later explained.

Nonetheless, he walked across the Amazon from Venezuela, through Brazil, to Bolivia, where he caught malaria and just about died. However thanks to Al Gore, the UN had designated John a “goodwill ambassador” and provided him with a transmitter so he could send daily messages to schoolchildren around the world. John used the transmitter to send out a distress signal.

However, the Bolivian government initially showed no interest in saving him, he said Sunday. John credited Mattie with getting the White House to bring about his rescue.

Throughout Sunday’s show, John kept returning to a skit in which he was weak and delirious from the malaria. In the final scene, he imagined seeing enormous mosquitoes, which turned out to be dragonflies, which ultimately turned out to be the helicopters that had come to save him.

It was a wonderful performance, and John’s impersonations of his mother and father were masterful and humorous while his candid stories about race were telling.

In one frightening incident on a back road north of Jenner, a white bigot stuck a gun to John’s head and in racist language told him blacks were not welcome in the area.

After the man had left, John realized he had recognized the face: “It was death.” John took the experience as a reminder of life’s fragility and the need to fully appreciate the present.

John also told of a droll observation at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. A member of the staff told John his colleagues had been expecting a team leader who hadn’t ridden in motorized vehicles for 18 years and who had just resumed talking after 17 years of silence. What caught them by surprise, the staff member added, was John’s being black.

West Marin will definitely miss John, but he promises to return from time to time. For one thing, he’s now walking — a couple of states at a time — back across the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. So far, he’s walked across New Jersey and into Ohio.

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Also on Sunday, photographer Art Rogers of Point Reyes Station (left) and painter Thomas Wood of Nicasio concluded a month-long exhibition, Silver and Oil, at the Pelican Gallery in Point Reyes Station.

ROGERS-WOOD-LAST-CHANCEThe exhibition of “landscape photography and paintings” repeatedly juxtaposed photos and paintings of the same scene, such as these two views of Black Mountain from the east. This was the second year in a row that the Rogers and Wood have mounted a joint exhibit.

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Meanwhile, photographers Richard Blair and his wife Kathleen Goodwin held a party in their Inverness Park studio a week ago to celebrate publication of their new book, Visions of Marin.

The couple previously produced California Trip and the highly successful Point Reyes Visions coffee-table books.

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Visions of Marin, as the book’s publicity notes, “includes local histories of Marin towns, beautiful images of Marin’s parks and natural wonders, as well as agriculture, outdoor sports from horse riding to bocce, Sausalito’s sailing community and ethereal landscapes.”