Archive for December, 2011

Two close friends from Los Angeles, Janine Warner, who reported for The Point Reyes Light when I owned the newspaper, and her husband Dave LaFontaine, have been staying here for the Christmas holidays.

On Christmas Day itself, however, some even more exotic guests showed up.

Around noon Janine went out on the deck to enjoy the sunny Christmas Day and soon spotted a coyote in my field. Here it heads into some eponymous coyote brush.

Immediately I hurried inside and grabbed my camera. Before long, the coyote reemerged next to my parking area. It could hear us chattering on the deck and began staring at me while I took its picture.

The creature then looked down my driveway to make sure all was clear. Coyotes can be fierce, but they’re not foolhardy.

When it finally decided to leave, it started off at a brisk walk. Whether walking or running, coyotes are amazingly graceful.

Coyotes have a walking speed that sometimes tops 20 mph while their running speed can easily top 30 mph. This coyote, however, was just meandering. It took him almost half a minute to travel 0.2 miles to the bottom end of the driveway, where he then sat down to survey the area. Before long, he had disappeared without a trace.

Less than five minutes later — as if on cue — two bucks showed up outside our kitchen window. Both were good looking animals, but the buck in the foreground had an especially regal bearing.

Accompanying the bucks were two does. Like the bucks, the does were not particularly nervous — even when I went out the back door to get a clear photo of them.

Of course, these were not the only wild animals to visit Mitchell cabin on Christmas Day. Our familiar raccoon families showed up in the evening. We fed them slices of bread, but — to save money — we’re now supplementing that with dog kibble instead of honey-roasted peanuts.

Also showing up were our usual pair of gray foxes. One is comfortable enough around us to take slices of bread from our hands. The other, however, is sufficiently skittish that most of the time we have to throw slices to him.

Having a peaceful relationship with the animals around us is key to our having a decent existence, as most religions agree. “Life is dear to the mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to die, so do other creatures,” wrote the XIV Dalai Lama in 1967.

“There is not an animal on the earth, nor a flying creature on two wings, but they are people like unto you,” proclaims the Qur’an. “Animals, as part of God’s creation, have rights which must be respected,” Dr. Donald Coggan, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, observed. “It behooves us always to be sensitive to their needs and to the reality of their pain.”

Many people will enjoy some turkey come Christmas. I’m enjoying 13 already. There are always wild turkeys around West Marin, but at this time of the year, there are more than usual around Mitchell cabin.

A flock of 13 wild turkeys this week parades across my field toward a stockpond.

While most people feel they know a fair amount about turkeys — domestic and wild — there have been many misconceptions over the years regarding the bird, which originated in North America and was first domesticated by the Aztecs.

One misconception is that wild turkeys have no white meat. They do — just proportionately less than domestic turkeys. While many Americans prefer white meat, people in other parts of the world are more likely to prefer dark. Or so I read.

Because much of the white meat comes from a turkey’s breast, the main domestic turkey we eat, the Broad Breasted White breed, has been bred to have a large chest. One result of this breeding, however, is that domestic turkeys — unlike wild turkeys — cannot fly. In addition, because of their large size and weight, they cannot mate, and hens must be artificially inseminated.

Likewise, domestic turkeys are white because they’ve been bred to be white. White feathers don’t leave unsightly pigment spots on turkeys after they’ve been plucked.

The wild turkey is an elegant bird. Benjamin Franklin felt it should have been chosen as the national symbol instead of the the eagle, which he considered “a bird of bad moral character.” Franklin didn’t having like a carrion eater as this country’s symbol.

Spanish conquistadors in Mexico in 1524 were the first Europeans to taste turkey meat. They found it delicious and brought some turkeys back to Europe. By 1524, turkeys had reached England, where they were quickly domesticated. Shakespeare refers to a “turkey cock” in Twelfth Night written in 1601.

Turkeys got their unlikely name because the “turkey merchants,” who did business in the Ottoman Empire (of which Turkey was the seat), were were the same merchants who brought turkeys to England from North America. This led to a widely held misimpression that the turkeys were coming from Turkey. Similar mixups occurred in other cultures. The Hebrew word for turkey literally means “chicken of India” while the Turkish word for turkey is “Hindi,” which refers to Northern India.

As for the country’s name, Turkey (which in Istanbul is Türkiye) is a combination of “Türk,” which is believed to have meant human beings in an archaic version of the Turkish language, while the “iye” apparently meant land of. In short, “Turkey” originally meant land of human beings, as a friend from Turkey confirms.

Elsewhere this turkey and fawn would be at risk of ending up on someone’s dinner table come Christmas. In this time and place, however, they can safely graze together, the fawn eating grass and the turkey eating insects and seeds. Merry Christmas, and I send you my wish that also on your Bach 40, sheep may safely graze.

This being Christmastime, I won’t devote too much space to the evil machinations of the Marin Independent Journal’s circulation department. As I reported last week:

On Oct. 22, I was leaving the San Anselmo Safeway with a cart full of bread when an Independent Journal vendor just outside the door stopped me, saying I could get half a year of the paper free of charge if I merely paid for the Sunday editions.

That came to $32.65, so I paid the vendor in cash and got a receipt. He said my IJs would start being delivered to my house in about a week. But none ever arrived, so on Nov. 6, I emailed the IJ’s circulation department to complain and asked that it look into the problem.

When I received no answer to my email, I wrote the IJ again on Nov. 11, saying I was cancelling my subscription and wanted my money back. If the paper didn’t send the money immediately, I warned, I would take the IJ to small claims court. A few days after that email, a woman in circulation called to say I should have been receiving my subscription. Would I like to start it now?

I replied that the whole experience had soured me on the IJ and that I merely wanted my money refunded. She said she’d have a check sent to me.

Another three weeks have now passed without my refund. As it happened a week ago, I was again coming out of Safeway with bags of bread and found the same vendor selling subscriptions just outside the door. “I don’t want to hassle you,” I told him, “but this seems like a scam.”

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As for me, the “torture” has not ended.

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I then retold my tale of woe, and he said my mistake had been in dealing with the IJ by email rather than by phone. Even if the IJ’s phone rings in another state, whoever answers can take care of my problem, he said.

In fact, the one time I got any response from the IJ was when a woman in circulation phoned me after I threatened by email to take the paper to small claims court.

As it happened, a middle-aged woman who was coming out of Safeway just behind me overheard our conversation and exclaimed, “The same thing just happened to me.” She hadn’t received any refund either.

Last week Marin County Planning Commissioner Wade Holland posted a comment on this blog: “Actually, Dave, there’s a bit more to your IJ subscription experience than meets the eye. As you may be aware, the IJ has pretty much discontinued distribution in West Marin — probably why your subscription never started.

“If you also get the Chronicle, you can get the IJ delivered together with the Chronicle. But you can no longer get home delivery of the IJ alone; you can only get it as a “supplement” to the Chron.

“Moreover, there are no longer any newsstand sales of the IJ anywhere in West Marin. All the boxes have been removed, and there are no copies available at grocery stores or other retail outlets. They really should start calling it the ‘East Marin Independent Journal.’”

Commissioner Holland’s description of the evolution of IJ circulation in West Marin seems on target, but in my case, I’ve had a subscription to the the Chronicle for years, so that doesn’t get the IJ off the hook. The vendor promised to look into the problem for me, but so far that hasn’t helped either.

Anyone who wants to give the IJ a nice Christmas present might send the paper’s management a copy of A Christmas Carol starring Ebenezer Scrooge.

We’ll start with who deserves coal in their stockings come Christmas morning. At the top of my personal list is the Marin Independent Journal, which cheated me out of $32.65 last Oct. 22. Here’s the story in brief.

Lynn and I hand out about three loaves of bread to foxes and raccoons every evening. If we buy cheap white bread for 99 cents a loaf at Safeway, this comes to about $21 per week. If we bought the same amount of bread in West Marin, where bread typically costs about $5 a loaf, the total cost would be about $105 per week (or almost $5,500 per year) — far more than we can afford. Which is why we buy it at Safeway.

On Oct. 22, I was leaving the San Anselmo Safeway with a cart full of bread when an Independent Journal vendor just outside the door stopped me, saying I could get half a year of the paper free of charge if I merely paid for the Sunday editions.

That came to $32.65, so I paid the vendor in cash and got a receipt. He said my IJs would start being delivered to my house in about a week. But none ever arrived, so on Nov. 6, I emailed the IJ’s circulation department to complain and asked that it look into the problem.

When I received no answer to my email, I wrote the IJ again on Nov. 11, saying I was cancelling my subscription and wanted my money back. If the paper didn’t send the money immediately, I warned, I would take the IJ to small claims court. A few days after that email, a woman in circulation called to say I should have been receiving my subscription. Would I like to start it now?

I replied that the whole experience had soured me on the IJ and that I merely wanted my money refunded. She said she’d have a check sent to me. Another three weeks have now passed without my refund, and I’ve started my small claims lawsuit. I’m certainly glad I saved my receipt to show the judge.

My advice? Don’t buy a subscription from an IJ vendor. It may well be a ruse to get your money without providing you with anything but frustration in return.

Who’s been nice

Point Reyes Station celebrated the start of the Christmas season Friday night with luminaria lining the main street and the lighting of the town Christmas tree, which is located between Wells Fargo Bank and the Palace Market at the far end of the street.

Toby’s Feed Barn held Christmas in the Barn, which included a visit from Santa Claus, with whom many young people wanted to be photographed sitting on his lap. Jewelry, crafts, and ethnic clothing for sale made the scene particularly festive.

In the gallery at Toby’s Rich Clarke of Marshall exhibited his photography while his son Kevin of Oakland showed off his paintings, furniture, and wooden sculpture. They each said they’ve been influenced by the other.

Meanwhile at the other end of town, the Dance Palace hosted a crafts fair that filled the church space (seen here) and the auditorium. Along with arts and crafts, jams, soaps, and jewelry were for sale.

In the main auditorium, Point Reyes Station painter Christine DeCamp discusses her colorful art with visitors to the show.

Who’s the naughtiest of all? “The US Postal Service wants to close your North Bay Processing and Distribution mail facility [in Petaluma] and send all of your mail to Oakland to be processed,” the American Postal Workers Union warned last week.

“If your ZIP Code starts with 954 or 949, this affects you. If this happens, all your mail will be delayed by at least one day! This will delay delivery of your checks and bills, your prescriptions, your packages, your movies, your absentee ballots, and everything else you receive in the US mail.

“Under this plan,” the Postal Workers Union adds, “if you want prompt delivery, you will have to pay high Express Mail rates.

“The USPS is required to notify affected customers and hold a meeting for public input. This meeting has already been held. Were you notified?”

The union has urged the public to send its concerns to Theresa Lambino, Manager, Consumer and Industry Contact, San Francisco District, Box 193000, San Francisco, CA 94188-3000.

However, your letters were supposed to be postmarked by this past Saturday. Unfortunately, the mails are already so slow that most people didn’t have time to respond before the deadline. Personally, I’d send a letter anyhow.

If you want to see how we got into this mess, check my Nov. 6 posting.