Archive for April, 2011

Seeva Marie Cherms, 42, daughter of Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, was found dead in her Grass Valley home Friday. She had apparently died three or four days earlier.

Ms. Cherms had spent considerable time in West Marin, visiting and working with her mother in housecleaning jobs. She lived here twice.

Seeva Cherms — with her chihuahua named Barely on her lap — working on the unsuccessful Hemp and Health Initiative, which would have decriminalized marijuana growing, transportation, and recreational use.

She was perhaps best known for her political work on California’s 2008 Hemp and Health Initiative, which she took part in writing, along with and the late pot activist Jack Herer.

For part of her childhood, Ms. Cherms lived in Venice Beach, where at the age of 12 she became an avid listener when Herer publicly preached his doctrine of marijuana, Ms. Sturdivant said. Because of her involvement in marijuana politics and her 30-year acquaintanceship with Herer, “she always wanted to write a book,” her mother added.

Ms. Cherms leaves a brother Anthony Owens of Oakland; two daughters, Haley, 23, who is married, and Summer Raine, 13; and her husband Steven Cherms, all of Oroville.

Born in Sacramento on June 6, 1968, Ms. Cherms had an often-difficult life. Her father was killed in Mexico shortly after her birth, Ms. Sturdivant said.

In 2005, Ms. Cherms and her husband Steven were violently mugged by gang members in Sacramento. Mr. Cherms lost part of his vision while she received a broken jaw and suffered emotional trauma. The culprits were identified, and the following year, several members of the gang were sentenced to prison, one for more than 22 years, Ms. Sturdivant added.

“I’m just numb,” Ms. Sturdivant said on Saturday. “At least Seeva is in peace, so I have some kind of comfort. But knowing I will never see that beautiful smile or hear her laugh — when she brightened up any room — breaks my heart.”

Ms. Cherms’ West Marin friends and relatives will hold a memorial for her in Point Reyes Station in the near future. Ms. Sturdivant said nothing else is needed but people’s prayers.

Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, making this an appropriate time to ask: do you know where the word comes from? Easter is never mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Easter as we know it originated in the pagan world.

This story begins with Gregory the Great (at right), who was pope from 590 to 604.

At the time, England was populated by pagan Anglo-Saxons, and this prompted Pope Gregory to send a mission to England to convert them to Catholicism.

The conversions would be easier, Pope Gregory wrote Archbishop Mellitus, if those being converted were allowed to retain their pagan traditions. They would simply be told that their rituals, in fact, honored the Christian God.

Missionaries should accommodate the Anglo-Saxons in this way, as the pope put it, “to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God.”

Among the “gratifications” permitted were Easter festivities, which had been a pagan celebration of spring. Because the actual date of Jesus’ death is unknown, the missionaries could tell the Anglo-Saxons that their spring celebration should go on as always but to understand it was really all about Jesus’ resurrection.

This redirecting of traditions was so successful that the church then used it to convert pagans in the Netherlands and Germany.

The Venerable Bede is responsible for our knowing the origin of the word Easter.

A Christian scholar, the Venerable Bede (672-735), a century later wrote that Easter took its name from Eostre, also known as Eastre. Eostre (at right) was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe.

Similarly, some of the Teutonic names for the goddess of dawn and fertility were Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, and Eastur.

These names were derived from an old Germanic word for spring, “eastre.”

Since ancient times, spring has been seen as a time of fertility, so it was not surprising that among the pagan symbols of the season were rabbits (because large litters are born in early spring) and decorated eggs (because wild birds lay eggs in spring).

Bizarrely, these pagan symbols became so intertwined that Easter Bunnies ended up distributing Easter Eggs.

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And so it was that in this roundabout way Pope Gregory I unintentionally helped bring about a goofy bunny’s becoming associated with….

The resurrection of Jesus, who is seen appearing to Mary Magdalene as she weeps outside his tomb.

Former West Marin resident John Francis returned to Point Reyes Station Saturday to give a talk in Toby’s Feed Barn on what a 17-year vow of silence taught him about listening.

For 22 years, John also refused to ride in motorized vehicles (largely as a reaction to a humongous oil spill at the Golden Gate).

During that time, John walked across the United States. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana and a doctorate in Land Resources — with a specialty in oil spills —from the University of Wisconsin.

John subsequently walked across the Amazon and down the west coast of South America to the tip of Argentina. He also walked around Antarctica a bit and north through Patagonia.

John, who now lives in Cape May, NJ, strums his banjo on all his treks — even while hiking from one Indian village to another in the jungles of the Amazon.

Not surprisingly, he starts all his talks with banjo music.

Traveling one step at a time gave John the opportunity to observe the environment of plants and animals, as well as humans.

The insight he gained led him to create in 1982 an educational nonprofit called Planetwalk. His adventures have also resulted in a book titled Planetwalker, which was published by The National Geographic in 2008. Sales of the book during Friday’s talk benefited the Planetwalk organization.

Beside B Street downhill from Café Reyes in Point Reyes Station

Last week’s posting on West Marin history noted that this wooden structure mostly hidden by foliage was once the base for a water tower.

Photo by M. B. Boissevain courtesy of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History.

On Monday, historian Dewey Livingston of Inverness sent over this photo from 1930 so you can get an idea of what the water tower once looked like. In the foreground are 4-H Achievement Day participants.

A barn dance in Toby’s Feed Barn March 2 helped raise funds for a commons in Point Reyes Station, as well as the Latino Photography Project. The commons project had been championed by Jonathan Rowe, who died unexpectedly March 20 at the age of 65.

During a break in the dancing, Mr. Rowe’s son Joshua Espulgar-Rowe read a statement about his father, describing his life and thanking those who showed up for the event.

It would be a difficult for anybody to publicly read a memorial to a parent yet Joshua carried himself as a man despite being only eight years old.

Joshua’s mother Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe, who was born in the Philippines, was not on hand. Elizabeth Barnet, who co-founded the commons project with Mr. Rowe, has been acting as the family’s liaison to the community and sat nearby while Joshua spoke.

Contributions to support Jonathan’s family or help pay for Joshua’s college education (please note which) can be sent to a newly established account, 5561290361, at Wells Fargo Bank, 11400 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station CA 94956. Make checks payable to Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe. Tax-deductible contributions in memory of Jonathan may be sent to West Marin Commons/Town Commons Project. The address is the West Marin Fund, Box 127, Point Reyes Station CA 94956.

A memorial for Mr. Rowe is planned for 11 a.m. Sunday, May 22, at the Town Commons in Point Reyes Station. A parallel memorial, organized by Jonathan’s friends at On the Commons, will take place in Minneapolis on the same day.

Several of us read our contributions to the latest volume of the West Marin Review during a party Sunday at the Bolinas Museum, and on our way back to Point Reyes Station, I told my girlfriend Lynn Axelrod about the time in 1853 when William Tecumseh Sherman was shipwrecked near Bolinas twice in a single day.

Lynn had never heard the story, which made me realize there is undoubtedly a lot of West Marin history that today’s residents are unaware of.

Take the story of Sherman (at left), for example.

Most of us know of Sherman as the major general in the Union Army who led a “March to the Sea” in 1857, leaving a swath of destruction across Georgia.

Just four years earlier, however, Sherman was named manager of the San Francisco branch of a St. Louis bank and bought passage on a ship to get here.

But the ship overshot the Golden Gate in heavy fog and wrecked on Bolinas’ Duxbury Reef. The passengers and crew all survived, and Sherman set off on foot to report the wreck. When he came upon a logging camp, he was told that steamers, mostly carrying lumber and farm products, departed daily from Bolinas for San Francisco.

Sherman got a ride on a steamer, only to have waves swamp it while it was crossing the Golden Gate. Fortunately for Sherman, he was rescued by a passing boat from his second shipwreck in one day.

The Olema Valley, north from Bolinas, is also rich in forgotten history. Just south of Olema Cemetery, for example, the remains of the ancient stagecoach road that once connected Bolinas and Olema can be seen under a stand of oak and bay trees on the east side of Highway 1 where it winds up a hill.

A bit to the south, the stagecoach road can be found on the west side of Highway 1 across from the boarded-up Randall House. Before writing these tales Tuesday, I doubled checked my facts with historian Dewey Livingston of Inverness, and he noted that people often confuse parts the stagecoach road with trails.

Travelers get off the North Shore Railroad train at right in Point Reyes Station.

Point Reyes Station is obviously rich in relics of days gone by, but there is much that goes unrecognized. The town was born when a narrow-gauge railroad from Sausalito to Cazadero opened in 1875. What started as a whistlestop in a cow pasture owned by Mary Burdell became a town subdivided by her husband Galen, a dentist.

Soon there was a depot on the main street, but it was turned 180 degrees when tracks east of town were converted to standard gauge in 1920. The narrow gauge up the coast shut down in 1930, and the standard gauge east of town closed in 1933.

The line had never been profitable, and the Great Depression, along with the advent of competition from trucks, brought about the end of West Marin’s railroad era. The former Point Reyes Station depot is now the town’s post office.

One curiosity from those days is the north wall of the Cheda Building, which once contained a warehouse for the Grandi Company general store nextdoor. The narrow-gauge tracks on the main street had a sidetrack leading to the back of the building. Unlike cars, trains cannot make right-angle turns, so the north wall (the side of the building where the Point Reyes Jeweler is today) was built with a slight curve to accommodate the radius of narrow-gauge tracks.

Diagonally across the Cheda Building is Café Reyes; next to B Street downhill from the café, an ancient, wooden structure is barely visible through the foliage. In the railroad era, this was the base for a water tower.

Photo by Pete Mohn

Perhaps the greatest curiosity is at the north end of the main street where the sidewalk in front of Cabaline Saddle Shop, the Bovine Bakery, and Viewpoints Gallery is higher than the adjoining sidewalk.

Back in the days of the narrow-gauge trains, the building housing these businesses was another general store, the Point Reyes Emporium. The train tracks went up the main street, which was not yet paved, meaning that in wet weather, workers transporting cargo from a boxcar to the store had to slog through mud.

Their solution was to build a sidewalk as high as the floor of a narrow-gauge boxcar. When a train stopped in front of the Point Reyes Emporium, workers stuck sawhorses in the mud, laid planks on top of them, and then had a level, dry passage from the floor of the boxcar to the door of the store.

On June 14, 1846, American settlers living in California declared their independence from Mexico in what came to be known as the Bear Flag Revolt. At the time, all of West Marin was divided into Mexican land grants except the land around Tomales.

However, a tavern owner named Juan Padilla soon stepped forward and claimed that the last Mexican governor of California, Pio Pico (at right), had signed papers just two days before the revolt, giving Padilla the so-called Bolsa de Tomales as a land grant.

His claim was suspect, and settlers living around Tomales immediately protested. The land was sold and resold half a dozen times in the next few years while more and more settlers took up residence on it.

During a series of court hearings, the settlers claimed that Pico’s signature was forged, that the land grant was back dated, and that Padilla never lived on the land — a requirement for a land grant.

Despite the claims, a judge in 1857 ruled against the settlers, who were infuriated. A town meeting was held, but the only resident calm enough to offer sage advice was a carpenter named William Vanderbilt. The settlers then agreed Vanderbilt should represent them in an appeal of the judge’s decision.

Not being an attorney, Vanderbilt went to Sacramento in 1862 and spent several months learning land-use law. He then traveled to Washington, DC, and in 1863 pled the settlers’ case before the US Supreme Court. He won the case and returned to Tomales, which celebrated with a “Barbecue in Honor of the Triumph of Truth and Justice over Fraud and Falsehood.”

In 1864, Congress put the matter permanently to rest, passing legislation that guaranteed the settlers their property rights.

All this is in the history books. You can look it up.