Archive for November, 2012

Today is my 69th birthday; that is, I am now in my 70th year. I can claim to officially be an old codger. I have outlived my mother. My beard has turned white; it’s Nature’s way of awarding me a combat ribbon for having thus far survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

My birthday was sunny and warm. The roads of West Marin were jammed with tourists. Tonight, however, is chilly — 48ºF at the moment — but that’s outdoors.  Inside Mitchell cabin, a fire in the woodstove is warming the start of my 70th year.

Give a turkey an inch and it’ll take a mile? It is traditional for US Presidents to “pardon” a turkey so that it escapes the fate of the other 45 million turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving, which happened to be yesterday. All the same, I was a bit startled to see both of these headlines on the same screen when I checked Google News on Wednesday.

Of course, the bird takes its name from the nation although the two have nothing to do with each other. You can read an earlier posting explaining how this came about by clicking here.

Just before Turkey Day, as some people call Thanksgiving, a flock of 29 wild turkeys crossed my field in a long line.

Turkeys are native to North America but not to West Marin. Working with the California Department of Fish & Game, a hunting club in 1988 introduced the local wild turkeys on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. The original flock of 11 hens and three toms all came from a population that Fish & Game had established in the Napa Valley during the 1950s.

Tom turkeys strut and display their feathers for a group of hens.

Wild-turkey hunting, however, has dropped off significantly in recent years, and in some parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, wild turkeys are becoming a problem not only in gardens but also on roadways. NBC Bay Area reported yesterday: “One bicyclist died when he crashed in Martinez trying to avoid a flock of the birds, according to [The Contra Costa Times]. A motorcyclist wrecked but survived when a turkey hit him on Interstate 680 last year.”

Gary Titus of Tomales has told me of driving a truck and trailer in the Two Rock area when a wild turkey suddenly flew out in front of him. The bird hit his windshield with wings spread, totally blocking his view. Gary slammed on his brakes. The truck and trailer jack-knifed and spun 180 degrees but somehow managed to stay on the road; however, tires were flattened by the skid. As for the bird, friends had roast turkey for dinner that night.

A tom turkey keeps a watchful eye on his harem.

Making sure the hens don’t wander off.

With the dominant male gobbling, the toms tend to stay in groups, often with their tail feathers spread and their wings dragging on the ground, as they strut for the hens. The tom in the foreground (without its tail fanned) was unfortunately reduced to hopping on one foot and had a hard time keeping up with the flock.

I have no idea, of course, how his other foot got injured. If he was attacked, he probably would have appreciated being armed with one of those NATO missiles.

Everyday wildlife seems to take on new character in the Fall, as can be seen in this small gallery of photos shot from Mitchell cabin during the past two weeks.

Flocks of Canada geese head to their nightly roosts around Point Reyes after days spent feeding further east, often at Nicasio Reservoir. Many migratory geese winter here, joining West Marin’s resident population. Larger flocks of Canada geese typically make their presence known at sunset by their honking as they fly.

Further proving that birds of a feather do indeed flock together,  Oregon juncos assemble for birdseed on the railing of my deck. As with Canada geese, West Marin has a year-round population of juncos, but their numbers go up substantially in the late fall.

Flocking together on their own section of railing are these Golden crowned sparrows. Their breeding grounds are as far north as Canada, but they show up in West Marin during the late fall. Golden crowned sparrows can be easily identified by their three-note song, which sounds like “Three Blind Mice” in a minor key.

When I headed down to the foot of my driveway to pick up The San Francisco Chronicle this morning, I surprised a doe and two fawns grazing about 25 feet from my front steps. To reassure the deer I meant no harm, I moved slowly and spoke to them in a soothing voice. That approach worked, and the deer stuck around.

After filling themselves on green grass engendered by days of intermittent rain, the fawns lay down by my neighbors’ fence to chew their cud. Their mother did the same about 10 yards uphill from them.

I may be guilty of anthropomorphizing wildlife, but to me the fawns are cute as can be.

Not so cute. Teenage Mutant Ninja Blacktail? From this unflattering perspective, a grazing doe appears to have three legs and a turtle-shaped head and body.

Gray fox on my deck.

I’ve long noticed that foxes will eat almost anything, from wild berries to roasted peanuts to white bread. Last week on a lark, I decided to find out if a fox will also eat coconut cream pie. I can now testify that it definitely will. The fox ended up with a dab of whipped cream on the end of its nose but happily licked it off with its long tongue.

According to the Aesop fable, when a fox could not reach grapes on a vine, he consoled himself that they were probably “sour grapes” (from which we get the expression). When this fox found a slice of pie within easy reach, he satisfied himself that even coconuts are sweet.

A German word, schadenfreude, is steadily becoming more common in English. It means finding pleasure in the misfortune of someone else, and it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled. In the aftermath of last week’s election, Democrats, many commentators, and most pollsters can’t be blamed for indulging in a bit of schadenfreude.

Fox News used to claim that most of the other news media have a “liberal” bias. In the wake of last week’s election, the new complaint from Fox is that most of the news media have a “mainstream” bias.

The schadenfreude isn’t all in reaction to Mitt Romney, the plutocrat, having lost to the more-egalitarian Barack Obama — although Democrats were certainly delighted by their victory. Interestingly, much of the schadenfreude is in reaction to the humiliation of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Unlike Romney, who conceded with grace, Fox News commentators have been apoplectic. Despite many polls to the contrary, they had insisted right up until the end that there was no way their man could lose.

(With Florida’s election results finally tallied, Obama as of Sunday evening had won the nationwide popular vote by a margin of almost 3.3 million votes out of 120 million cast. In the all-important Electoral College race, Obama trounced Romney 332 to 206.)

“It’s not a traditional America anymore,” Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly growled as the outcome became obvious, “and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff…. People think they are entitled to things.” O’Reilly refused to acknowledge that convincing voters a Republican has what it takes to be President is no Tea Party.

“Could it be that the Fox model has played out?” asked columnist Jon Carroll in Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle. “Could it be that the lack of civility and grace, the embrace of the most extreme candidates as long as they were Republicans, indeed the whole idea behind [Fox News president] Roger Ailes’ brainchild — a pimping station for the far right — may be politically bankrupt?

“Perhaps not financially bankrupt; it seems supported by its advertisers very nicely. It could go on for quite some time. The question is: Is it hurting the very people it is supposed to be helping? Does the existence of this high-profile echo chamber deafen candidates to what the electorate is actually saying?”

General David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell. Photo by Command Sgt. Major Marvin L. Hill.

Only two days after last Tuesday’s election, CIA chief David Petraeus admitted he’d had an extramarital affair with his biographer and promptly resigned, acknowledging he had used “extremely poor judgment.”

As news media worldwide were quick to report, Broadwell and Gen. Petraeus had formerly spent time together far away from home in Middle East war zones. This has led to a popular tweet, I am told by a friend with a Twitter account, “Having sex with your biographer is unquestionably more fun than having sex with your autobiographer.”

Before leaving the Middle East, we might note a headline CBS used for an online account of a gruesome crime. It sounds as if the testimony will be riveting.

Finally,  for those of you who refuse to believe that alligators and crocodiles live in sewers, such as New York City’s, here’s a crocodile caught after two years in a Gaza sewer. Al Jazeera photo.

“A crocodile that has been roaming the pipes of the sewer basins network in the besieged Gaza Strip has been captured, according to Brigadier General Mohammed Abu Sissi, a police officer,” Al Jazeera reported Nov. 5. Already there there had been word of the crocodile making forays out of the sewer long enough to snap up a couple of goats.

“‘We have been chasing the crocodile to catch it before it grows more and becomes a real threat for civilians. We have used all possibilities — including fishermen and civil defense men — to catch it alive. We could have sniped it, but we preferred to catch it alive and bring it back to the nearby zoo where it fled from,’ Abu Sissi said.”

Regarding the alligators in New York City’s sewers, most Americans have heard that the story is a classic urban legend. If so, how do skeptics explain all the alligators down there? I’ve lived in New York, and as everyone in the city knows, residents vacationed in Florida, brought small gators home as pets, got tired of them, and ultimately flushed them down the toilet.

Don’t believe it? In 1935 (this is true), an eight-foot alligator was captured in the sewer under East Harlem and pulled out of a manhole. Moreover, retired New York sewer official Teddy May in the 1950s (again this is true) told public utilities historian Harold Brunvand that he had actually seen one colony of alligators in the sewer system 20 years earlier and had his workers get rid of them.

Fox News is headquartered in New York City, and finding out how the alligators fared during Hurricane Sandy’s flooding of the sewers would seem like the perfect assignment for Bill O’Reilly.

After months of preparation, Tuesday was, politically speaking, D-Day. For awhile it seemed that almost anything could happen.

Republican-controlled legislatures in several states had made it more difficult for minorities and the aged to vote. Voting was chaotic in Florida, where the period for early voting had been greatly shortened. On Sunday, so many people waited — often unsuccessfully — at the Miami-Dade elections office to cast absentee ballots that some of them had their cars towed from a parking lot across the street. Yet Republican Governor Rick Scott refused to extend the hours for early voting.

“Democrats are traditionally more likely to vote early, which is why many in the party have ascribed political motives to Scott’s restriction of the process. According to a report in The Miami Herald on Saturday, Democrats were leading Republicans ‘by about 187,000 early in-person ballots cast’ as of that morning,” the Huffington Post had noted a day earlier.

Meanwhile, blacks in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida were receiving robocalls that falsely informed them they could vote by phone.

D-Day in West Marin — Photography is not allowed in California’s polling places if it would intimidate anyone from voting. Fortunately when I showed up during a lull at the Point Reyes Station polls, both women marking their ballots told election workers they had no objection to being photographed.

Listening all Tuesday evening to reports from the front must have been far harder on our commander in chief than it was on those of us whose main responsibility was to photograph a bit of the event. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled Wall Street Journal was predicting that our fight was lost. Reports from battles for bunkers in the Senate sounded encouraging — not so good for advances in the House.

Barack Hussein Obama was leading in the Electoral College, but Willard Mitt Romney was temporarily ahead in the popular vote. Anything seemed possible. Television kept telling us the outcome in key states was still too close to call. Periodically I had to tune it all out just to clear my head.

One hundred twenty-four years of happiness. Malia, 14, Michelle, 48, Sasha, 11, and Barack Obama, 51, celebrate his reelection as the 44th President of the United States. New York Times photo.

Suddenly television showed Obama supporters in Chicago cheering. The fight was over, and the country for the moment was again safe. It hadn’t been Romney himself that had me worried as much as the rightwing fanatics with whom he is now allied. Can you imagine Paul Ryan a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Apparently Congressman Ryan had trouble imagining that too, for he kept on campaigning for his current seat in the House of Representatives while separately running for the Vice Presidency. He realized the likelihood of his being elected to serve as Vice President of the United States for four years was less certain than the likelihood of his being reelected to represent southeast Wisconsin in the House for two more years.

Obama carried California by more than a million votes and Marin County with 73.93 percent of the vote.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein, 79, (right), who has already represented California in the US Senate for 20 years, won easy reelection for another six.

Measure A, which had been supported in West Marin by Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), as well as many individual ranchers and conservationists, won countywide with 73.6 percent of the vote. The quarter-cent sales tax to support parks and open space needed a two-thirds majority.

Measure C, an eight-year extension of a $184.70 parcel tax to maintain and improve Shoreline School District, won with 76.8 percent of the vote. It also needed a two-thirds majority for passage.

Measure E, which would have authorized a $49 parcel tax in Bolinas for maintaining Mesa Park, lost despite getting 65.44 percent of the vote. It needed 66.66 percent for passage but fell short by 1.22 percent.

Measure F, which merely allows the Stinson Beach Fire Protection District to keep all the tax revenue it collects, won with 64.6 percent. It needed only a simple majority for passage.

Stinson Beach Water District elected three directors: Barbara Boucke,  239 votes (29.33 percent), Sandra Cross, 233 votes (28.59 percent), and Marius E. Nelsen, 195 votes (23.93 percent). The losers were: Terry Bryant, 78 votes (9.57 percent) and G. Scott Tye, 63 votes (7.73 percent).

House of Representatives: Democrat Jared Huffman appears well ahead of Republican Daniel Roberts, winning 76.59 percent to 23.41 percent in Marin County. That’s a 43,247-vote margin. The 2nd Congressional District runs from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, however, so results are not yet in from all northern counties.

State Assembly: Democrat Marc Levine beat Democrat Michael Allen by 2,131 votes in Marin County and trailed him by 468 votes in Sonoma County, giving Levine a 1,663-vote margin of victory.

There have been some odd returns around the country this election season. In August, residents of Jacksons’ Gap, Alabama, decisively reelected Mayor Janice Canham even though she had died in July. This week, Texans reelected State Senator Mario Gallegos, a Democrat, although he died last month. Likewise Iowans reelected State Senator Pat Ward, a Republican, even though she too had died in October.

These unlikely results will now, of course, necessitate special elections, but at least they stand as a testament to the popularity of the deceased incumbents. Thank God Obama not only won reelection but is alive and well in the White House.