Archive for April, 2013

The weather has been so pleasant the last few days that even horses in the field next to mine have taken to lying down and basking in the sun.

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Meanwhile, a badger has excavated a burrow (also known as a “sett”) in the grass in front of Mitchell cabin.

As was noted here four years ago, “Badgers mate in late summer,” according to the Parks Canada website. “However, the fertilized egg does not implant into the uterus and begin to develop until February.

“This delayed implantation means that breeding can occur in the summer when the adults are most active, and young are born in the spring when food is abundant….

“They live off their mother’s milk until August when they strike off to establish their own home range.”

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Badgers live in setts up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are extremely efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.

Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows.

Its common for badgers to take over the burrows of prey they’ve eaten. Given the overabundance of gophers on this hill, I suspect that’s how this sett came to be.

I’ve found a couple of other holes along my driveway where a badger apparently chased gophers into their burrows. However, the holes were small compared to the sett’s opening, leading me to infer the badger gave up the chase in these other locations.

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A mother badger is known as a sow while her offspring are called cubs or kits. In May 2009, I photographed this sow and kit sunning themselves atop their sett in the horses’ pasture.

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Hank Snow (1914-1999).

On old song from the western countryside. While letting my thoughts wander a week ago, I happened to remember the late Hank Snow. He was without a doubt Country and Western music’s preeminent singer from Nova Scotia.

In 1962, the highly popular performer recorded the tongue-twister hit I’ve Been Everywhere (Click here to hear). The song required awesome elocution, and it inspired more than a 125 knockoff versions.

Snow himself had taken an Australian song and reworded it for North American audiences. Many of the knockoffs localized the song’s place names to appeal to listeners in different parts of the US. Through a friend from Florida, I knew of a version aimed specifically at certain cities and towns in that state. (The singer, however, couldn’t begin to match Snow’s virtuosity.)

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A mysterious turn of events: In my March 31 posting, I noted that according to Google Analytics, which tracks visits to this blog, the number of readers in my hometown of Point Reyes Station had plummeted to zero during the first few days of last month while readership in Sunnyvale mushroomed. Offhandedly I  joked, “Has Silicon Valley hijacked West Marin?”

The posting must have caught somebody’s eye. Within a week of its going online —according to Google Analytics statistics — visits to this blog  from Sunnyvale fell off to virtually none.

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Meanwhile — again according to Google Analytics statistics — the number of visits to this blog  from Point Reyes Station residents returned to normal. Could this be coincidence? The history of the Old West is replete with unsolved mysteries.

Ever since the April 15 explosion of two bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon, Lynn and I have found ourselves continually reading and watching the news. I’ve even awakened in the middle of the night to check the latest developments. And like the crowd in Watertown, Massachusetts, I rejoiced when the second suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was apprehended there Friday evening.

Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan, the supposed mastermind of the terrorist plot, died following a gunfight with police early that day. The cause of his death, however, is still uncertain. Was it the result of a gunshot or gunshots? Was he fatally wounded by a blast from one of the explosives the pair were throwing at police? Or did Dzhokhar fatally injure his older brother by driving over him while trying to escape?

Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 19 and 26, among the spectators at the footrace as they waited to set off their bombs.

Nor were the three people killed and more than 250 people injured in the bombing the brothers’ only victims. In trying to flee the area, the brothers fatally shot a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and shot a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority policeman, leaving him critically wounded.

Much has been said in the news media about the brothers being ethnic Chechens. However, the two were brought up in the United States. Dzhokar is a US citizen. Russia, as it turned out, had in 2011 asked the FBI to investigate Tamerlan before letting him into the country, but the bureau turned up nothing incriminating at that time.

Getting even more attention in the news media is the fact that the Tsarnaev family is Muslim. An uncle, as well as people who knew the brothers and their mother, have reported Tamerlan and his mother during the past three to five years had pushed each other into becoming Islamic fundamentalists.

The mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, initiated the conversion, she has said, out of concern that Tamerlan was smoking pot, drinking, and partying. He, in turn, began pressing her to adopt an ultra-conservative form of Islamic fundamentalism. In an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph, the mother said, “Tamerlan said to me, ‘You know mama, you are pushing me toward the truth, but I would like you to wear a hijab. A woman in Islam should be concealed.'”

“After that, relatives from Russia, communicating by Skype, were shocked to see her wearing a veil,” The Daily Telegraph reported. She also “started to refuse to see boys who had gone through puberty, as she had consulted a religious figure and he had told her it was sacrilegious,” writer Alyssa Lindley Kilzer reported in The Daily Beast.

As it happened the writer had been receiving facial treatments from Zubeidat, but she had stopped after the mother evolved into a religious zealot. Zubeidat had begun claiming the 9/11 attack was actually the work of the US government to make Muslims look bad, Kilzer wrote. Her sons knew all about this from the Internet, the mother had said.

How does all this reflect on Islam? First, members of Tamerlan’s mosque described him as a disruptive zealot with an anger problem, so he certainly didn’t fit in the mainstream.

Second, his fanaticism doesn’t sound any different from that of Christian fanatics who attack abortion clinics and staff. In the past 20 years, eight abortion-clinic staff have been murdered; there have been attempts to murder 17 others; there have also been 153 physical attacks on staffers; and there have been three kidnappings. Yet no one claims that all this violence reflects badly on Christianity.

Less than a day after crowds in Watertown, Massachusetts, cheered law enforcement personnel who captured Dzohkar Tsarnaev, another crowd was running for cover after a man, a woman, a boy, and a dog were wounded by gunshots during a marijuana festival in Denver.

And how did the shootings reflect on Colorado’s recent legalization of recreational pot? Despite conservative attempts to make political hay from the crime, no link exists. It now turns out the shots were fired during a fight between rival gang members.

Nor was Saturday’s incident an indication that a marijuana celebration is more likely to experience gang violence than other public events. As The Denver Post later reported, “It was the second time in less than a year that gang gunfire pierced a large gathering. Denver police Officer Celena Hollis was killed last summer when Rollin Oliver, apparently fleeing a group of Crips, opened fire in a crowded jazz concert at City Park.”

The crime scene in Federal Way, a city of 90,000 people between Seattle and Tacoma.

Nor were those the last of the multiple shootings. The following day, Sunday, a man in the city of Federal Way, Dennis Clark, 23, became angry with his girlfriend and shot her to death at their apartment complex. When he was confronted by two men in a parking lot, he killed them too along with a third man. Police fatally shot Clark while he was attempting to shoot witnesses.

Then came Monday’s news from Canada where police arrested two men who allegedly planned to bomb a passenger train line between Toronto and the US.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the American CIA had worked together for a year to foil the terrorist plot. Canada’s Global Post reported, “Police said that the two men arrested, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were receiving support from ‘al Qaeda elements in Iran.'”

But don’t make too much of the Iran connection either. Al Qaeda is a Sunni terrorist group and has not been linked to the government of Iran, most of whose citizens belong to the rival Shiite sect of Islam.

The crime scene in Belgorod, southwestern Russia.

Also on Monday, a man in the Russian city of Belgorod randomly opened fire at people on the street and in a store, apparently outraged that his car had been scratched. Six people died, including a 14-year-old girl. The man, who is approximately 30 years old, fled in his scratched car, which he later abandoned.

“The attack comes some six months after a Moscow lawyer shot dead six people in the Russian capital in what was believed to have been his violent response to the end of a romance,” the Russian press reported.

The crime scene in the Serbian village of Velika Ivanca, which consists of only 12 houses. The village is 25 miles from Belgrade, the capital.

The use of guns and explosives to commit random violence is obviously a worldwide problem. In the early hours of April 9, a former soldier, Ljubisa Bogdanovic, went on a killing spree in Velika Ivanca, shooting to death 13 people, including members of his own family, and critically wounding two others plus himself. He has now died.

Bogdanovic, 60, was a veteran of Serbia’s war in Croatia 20 years ago, and some Serbs have suggested he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Serbian cabinet is now reviewing the tragedy, and officials have said the shootings show that the government must pay more attention to gun control.

In the midst of all this, the US Senate voted not to require background checks for those purchasing guns. One can only wish US lawmakers were as enlightened as officials in Serbia, who last week even managed to normalize relations with their long-standing nemesis Kosovo.

Looking for a respite from a week of violent news, Lynn and our resident raccoon turned their attention to the comics.

A 79-year-old bicyclist from Terra Linda, David Hauer, died at approximately 12:25 p.m. Friday in Inverness Park when he fell against the passenger side of a passing pickup truck driven by Juan Rubio, 52, of Marshall. Both the truck and the bicycle were eastbound on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

“The preliminary investigation revealed that as Mr. Rubio was passing the bicyclist at a slow speed, the bicyclist began to lose control of his bicycle for unknown reasons,” the Highway Patrol later reported.

“It appears that the bicyclist fell to his left and under the pickup truck where he was struck by the rear wheel of the pickup.”

The victim covered with a yellow plastic sheet remained in the roadway long after the accident.

The impact cracked Hauer’s helmet, and he received major head injuries. The accident occurred next to the parking area for Perry’s Inverness Park Store and the Busy Bee Bakery. Gail “Shorty” Coppinger, who works at the store, and a friend attempted without success to resuscitate Hauer.

Then “paramedics arrived on scene and after attending to the bicyclist determined he suffered fatal injuries,” the Highway Patrol noted.

“Mr. Rubio (right) heard the collision and immediately stopped to see what had happened,” the Highway Patrol added. Rubio said he did not see what caused Hauer to fall over.

Two other bicyclists (at right) were riding with Hauer, but they were ahead of him and did not see the accident, they said, but described the victim as “an experienced rider.” Hauer’s bicycle (seen here) was not damaged in the accident.

Rubio, a Highway Patrol officer, and one of Hauer’s companions together inspect where the truck was scraped when the bicyclist fell.

The Highway Patrol and the Coroner’s Office each conducted its own investigation, and “both lanes of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard were closed for approximately three hours while the collision was investigated,” the CHP reported.

Because few roadways in West Marin have paved shoulders, let alone bicycle lanes, even some experienced bicyclists have become wary of riding on local thoroughfares. A nearby resident who stood watching the scene — his car stuck in the traffic jam — noted he and his wife no longer ride their bicycles here, fearing an accident such as this could happen to one of them.

As a regular reader of The San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Carroll, I recognized an echo of the divine in his March 5 column, which was headlined: My legs are frozen and I can’t get up.

The column, which focused on his cat named Bucket, asked: “Do you inconvenience yourself just to please a cat? ….Do you allow your legs to freeze and tingle because the cat on your lap does not feel like moving just now?”

Indulging cats in this way is not another sign of modern Americans’ excessive solicitude toward their pets, many of which are better fed than impoverished citizens in some African countries. Rather there is historical and religious precedent for being especially considerate of sleeping cats.

I’m thinking, of course, of a cat named Muezza that, according to Muslim lore, belonged to the Prophet Muhammed. Legend has it that one day when Muhammed heard the call to prayers, he went to put on his robe only to find Muezza asleep on a sleeve. Rather than disturb the cat, Muhammed cut off the sleeve and wore the mutilated garment to the mosque.

An India peacock walks next to Mitchell cabin.

As has been noted here previously, a lone peacock showed up on this hill several months ago and eventually began hanging out with a flock of wild turkeys. He can often be seen bringing up the rear as the flock hunts and pecks its way across the fields.

Occasionally, however, the peacock gets separated from the flock and begins its shrill cries as he searches for his companions.

A peacock by the chimney.

Last Wednesday Lynn repeatedly heard the peacock’s cries coming from somewhere near Mitchell cabin. We both went out on the deck and scanned the fields uphill and downhill but saw nothing.

Eventually we went indoors only to hear more of the peacock’s cries, which always sound a bit like anguished screams. So we went back outside, but again we couldn’t spot it. I was about to go indoors when I heard some scratching on the roof. I looked up, and there was the peacock looking down at me.

After a minute or two, the peacock flew awkwardly to the ground (they’re not good at flying), crossed a field, and departed with a stately strut down the driveway.

Another colorful visitor during the past fortnight was this tom turkey. The wild turkey could be heard gobbling after a disinterested hen he was pursuing. The gobbles were noisy, but they didn’t compare to the peacock’s screams.

This bobcat, like the peacock and turkey, is a regular visitor to Mitchell cabin. Unlike the birds, however, it seldom makes a noise. A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor Didi Thompson called to let me know the bobcat was in my field, and I was able to shoot this photo of it, as well as several others.

Shaili Zappa Monterroso arrives at Larkspur Landing after taking a Golden Gate Ferry from San Francisco.

One visitor last month who doesn’t drop by Mitchell cabin all that often was my youngest stepdaughter Shaili, a student at the University of Minnesota. Shaili grew up in Guatemala and lived at Mitchell cabin during the months I was married to her mother, Ana Carolina Monterroso.

Shaili turned 20 while she was visiting and is seen here celebrating with Lynn.

Although her first language is Spanish, Shaili speaks better English than some of my friends who grew up here.

Of recent, I’ve noticed people having trouble with homonyms, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things: sum and some, weight and wait, wear and ware, or there, their and they’re.

Homonyms are one reason why it’s better to get news from newspapers than from radio or television, for it is obviously easier to distinguish between written homonyms than spoken ones. This is particularly important when it comes to one’s “burro” or his “burrow.” A “burro” is an “ass.” A “burrow” is a “hole in the ground.” Listening to the radio, it’s sometimes hard to tell one from the other.