Archive for December, 2013

Lynn watches as the final days of 2013 come to their end.

By the way, despite complaints from the illiterati, spelling Christmas as Xmas does not amount to “leaving Christ out of Christmas.” As the American Heritage Dictionary notes, “Xmas has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where X is understood to represent a Greek chi, the first letter of  Χριστός, ‘”Christ.'”

Likewise, religious scholars have often spelled Christian as Xtian. Half a century ago when I took a course in Theology and Contemporary Literature at Stanford, the professor shortened the spelling even further to Xn.

No doubt thankful that they were blacktail deer and not reindeer so they wouldn’t have to drag a sleigh all over the globe on Xmas eve, two bucks graze in my fields and gaze at my camera.

Also spending a bit of the yuletide in my fields was the bobcat seen here crossing my driveway. Bobcats tend to be merciless loners, sort of like Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge.

If you recall Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, you know that Scrooge is transformed from his grasping, cynical ways through a series of nighttime visions:

• First, he is visited by the tormented ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley, who regrets his life of avarice, for it has left him cursed to wander the earth forever, dragging the chains of his greed.

• Second, he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who reminds Scrooge of his innocent childhood.

Lynn and I as ghosts of Christmas Just Past (right).

• Third is the Ghost of Christmas Present (odd name), who shows Scrooge people enjoying Christmas as well as the meager Christmas dinner at the home of his employee Bob Cratchit, who cannot afford treatment for his chronically ill son Tiny Tim.

• Fourth is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be, who shows Scrooge the death of an unloved businessman, whose servants quickly steal his belongings while no one tends his grave.

After all this, Scrooge is terrified. He no longer rejects Christmas as “humbug.” He anonymously sends a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s family and gives his employee a raise so he can get care for Tiny Tim. A thoroughly new man, he begins treating everyone with kindness.

With 2014 beginning on Wednesday, four contrails enhanced by a lens-flare sunburst on Sunday morning heralded the coming of a new day. In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone.”

At first glance, it may seem inappropriate to talk about natural disasters during the holidays, but unfortunately that’s often when some of the worst weather-related crises have occurred in West Marin.

Moreover, I’ve been asked by Anne Sands, the new West Marin Disaster Council coordinator, to publish her letter to the community. So I’m doing so below.

On New Year’s Eve in 2005, a rainstorm caused Papermill/Lagunitas Creek to flood. The Point Reyes-Petaluma Road was inundated in several locations, and one was at the now-closed Rich Readimix plant near Platform Bridge. Even before the flood crested, the car of a passing San Francisco Chronicle delivery driver got caught in the current and overturned near the plant.

Downstream, low-lying areas of Point Reyes Station were also flooded that New Year’s Eve and Day. ________________________________________________________________

On Jan. 4, 1982, a ferocious storm caused floods and landslides which destroyed homes in Inverness and left a San Geronimo Valley resident permanently paralyzed. _______________________________________________________________

Not all the disasters that periodically hit West Marin are related to the weather, of course. With the San Andreas Fault running under Bolinas Lagoon, up the Olema Valley, and the length of Tomales Bay, major earthquakes can be expected from time to time. The April 18, 1906, earthquake along the fault killed 3,000 people around the Bay Area and overturned this train in Point Reyes Station. _______________________________________________________________

And when the weather is dry and windy — as it unseasonably is now — wildfires are a continual threat. In July 1929, the Great Mill Valley Fire (above) charred Mount Tamalpais from Mill Valley to the peak and destroyed 117 homes. ________________________________________________________________

The Inverness Ridge Fire in October 1995 was also exacerbated by high winds and dry weather.

The “Mount Vision Fire,” as it is alternately known, destroyed 45 homes and blackened 15 percent of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

________________________________________________________________________________

Because the chance of more such disasters in the future is real, I will now let West Marin Disaster Council coordinator Anne Sands of Dogtown use this space to present a strong case for being prepared.

Anne, by the way, is a former president of the Bolinas Fire Protection District’s board of directors.

She’s also an equestrian and told me, “I am rarely away from a horse at any given time.” Here she rides in the Western Weekend Parade a couple of years ago.

– • –

Dear West Marin residents, It’s New Year’s Resolution time again! What about that disaster-preparedness class you have been meaning to take?

A major earthquake can hit anywhere around the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, the great circle of tectonic activity created by the Pacific plate [of the earth’s crust] rubbing against its neighboring plates.

And we in West Marin are right on that Ring of Fire.

One of the best things we can do as a community to survive the next earthquake, tsunami, winter storm or wildfire is to increase the number of us who have learned basic disaster-preparedness and response skills.

A series of Pacific storms caused widespread damage in Stinson Beach during January and March of 1983. This is Calle del Ribera. (Point Reyes Light photo)

These skills include first aid, triage, communications, team building, and search and rescue. Immediately after a disaster, it will be impossible for our firefighters, EMTs, and other qualified medical people to take care of everyone who needs immediate help. We must be prepared to extend the capacity of our local emergency responders by becoming trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members.

The fire departments of West Marin are offering a two-day CERT course on Saturday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 18., at the Nicasio Corporation Yard. Many West Marin residents have taken these classes and are already involved in local disaster preparedness.

Paul Gallagher’s dog appropriately carries a buoy as Mesa Road floods in Point Reyes Station during the New Year’s Eve storm of 2005.

You can join your neighbors and friends to make our communities more self-reliant and able to cope with disasters. There are no pre-qualifications for this training , and you do not have to be in “great shape.” In a widespread emergency, there are many ways to contribute your newly learned skills.

For 18 hours and $45 you can learn how to prepare yourself, your family, and your community to respond effectively. CERT class graduates receive a certificate and an Emergency Response daypack. There are scholarships available for those needing financial assistance in order to register.

Be prepared! Join CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team. To register go to www.marincountycert.org or call Maggie Lang at 415 485-3409.

Thank you for taking CERT.

Anne Sands, West Marin Disaster Council Coordinator <annewmdc@gmail.com> 415 868-1618.

Winter will begin on Saturday, and the last days of fall have been mostly brisk in West Marin. Freezing temperatures at night killed a few potted plants on the deck of Mitchell cabin, and the surrounding hills were white with frost several mornings this past week.

In Inverness, where the ridge creates daylong shadows in some places, there were days when the frost never melted.

Horses munching on bunches of green grass below my persimmon tree. Although the persimmons have ripened, Lynn and I haven’t found time to pick them, so birds and raccoons have been feasting  for a couple of weeks. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Five blacktail bucks in my pasture near the Giacomini stockpond. Bucks can often be seen hanging out together these days.

The sunrise Saturday a week ago was so spectacular, I had to get out of bed long enough to photograph it. ‘Twas another reminder that the world is waiting for a sunrise.

Four of the horses grazing near Mitchell cabin are wearing blankets because of the cold. (The fourth would be totally hidden were it not for its blue blanket.) The fifth horse is either hardy or unlucky enough to have an owner that can’t afford to buy it a blanket, which I doubt is the case. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

A young buck grazing outside my kitchen door.

For years many people believed (and many websites still say) that blacktails are a subspecies of mule deer, a species found from the Northwest to the deserts of the Southwest and as far east as the Dakotas. DNA tests, however, have now found mule deer to be a hybrid of female whitetail deer and blacktail bucks.

As Bruce Morris writes in Bay Nature, “All three major deer species native to North America (blacktail, whitetail, and mule) trace their ancestry back to a primordial, rabbit-size Odocoileus, which had fangs and no antlers and lived around the Arctic Circle some 10 million years ago.”

Whitetails first appeared on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago, as this blog previously noted. DNA evidence suggests they spread south and then west, arriving in California about 1.5 million years ago.

In moving up the coast, whitetails evolved into blacktails, which resemble them in appearance and temperament. Blacktails eventually extended their range eastward, meeting up with more whitetails coming from the east. Apparently the blacktail bucks were able to horn in on the harems of their parent species. The result: mule deer.

I always feel nostalgic as fall comes to an end. It’s a time to reflect on both the past year and the passing of the years.

Having just read virtually all issues of The Point Reyes Light/Baywood Press from shortly after World War II to the present, I can understand why longtime West Marin residents think of the old days on this coast as a happier, simpler time.

American entertainment was frequently cornier while at the same time more fun.

You can share in the nostalgia by watching this goofy but clever video featuring the pop-eyed expressions of the late Jerry Colonna (right) more than half a century ago.

You’ll need to be full screen with the sound up to appreciate it. The Girl that Married Dear Old Dad (click here).

The April 12, 1956, edition of Point Reyes Station’s Baywood Press reported: “Mrs. Joe Curtiss’ television set caught fire last week, and the wall behind the set began burning.

“Before the fire department could answer the call, Margie picked up the set, threw it out the window, and proceeded to extinguish the blaze.”

That was the entire report, but Margie must have been a hardy soul because that early TV would have been big and heavy as well as hot.

The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was called for its first 18 years, began publication on March 1, 1948.

The newspaper’s coverage of the past 65 years of West Marin news, big and small, is the focus of a book its publisher, the Tomales Regional History Center, has just released.

The book’s cover at left.

I’m particularly interested in the book, The Light on the Coast, because I, along with Jacoba Charles, authored it.

The graphic artist was Dewey Livingston, formerly production manager at The Light. He is now the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History and is an historian for the National Park Service.

The Light is in its 10th ownership, Marin Media Institute, and the evolution of the newspaper itself is part of the story. As editor and publisher for 27 years, I was responsible for the chapters covering the first eight ownerships. Jacoba, who is on The Light’s board of directors and formerly was a reporter for the paper, was responsible for the most recent two.

Flooding in Bolinas. The ferocious storms that periodically hit the coast have always received extensive coverage in The Light.

Highlights of the 354-page book include the evolution of West Marin agriculture; the effects of the arrival of the counterculture on local politics, law enforcement, and the arts; the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Examples of The Light’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of violence and other illegal activities by the Synanon cult are, of course, included in The Light on the Coast.

The newspaper’s complete series on the five historic waves of immigration to West Marin is also a central chapter.

The forefathers of many longtime families in West Marin arrived in immigrations from specific locales in: Ireland, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Croatia, and Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores. Researching their journeys to West Marin, as well as the more-recent immigration from Mexico, involved sending Light reporters abroad four times between 1988 and 1997.

This illustration for Sheriff’s Calls by cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux’s was often used in Western Weekend editions. The final section of our book consists of some of the more unusual Sheriff’s Calls from the the past 38 years.

The Light on the Coast features, along with a variety of news and commentary, a sampling of cartoons, advertising, and photography (including 10 portraits by Art Rogers). My partner Lynn Axelrod and I reviewed almost 3,000 back issues of The Point Reyes Light/Baywood Press in compiling the book. Jacoba reviewed more than 400. After making our selections, she and I wrote background narratives for many of them.

Those who’ve read the book have had good things to say about this approach of presenting West Marin’s history through the pages of The Light. Commenting on the book, San Francisco Chronicle reporter and columnist Carl Nolte writes: “The Point Reyes Light is a great window into a fabulous small world.”

Dr. Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, is likewise enthusiastic: “Dave Mitchell and The Point Reyes Light are synonymous with top-shelf newspapering. Dave is one of the few small-town editors ever to win a Pulitzer Prize; his investigation of the Synanon cult is a textbook example of tenacious reporting. His witty and colorful anecdotes always make for good reading.”

The Light on the Coast is available at Point Reyes Books for $24.95 plus tax.

It can be ordered online from the Tomales Regional History Center bookstore for $29.95 including tax and shipping.

He’s one of those writers whose words we all remember, but few people today are familiar with his works or even his name.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton

Yet when Snoopy sits down to type his novel, we readers of the comic strip Peanuts immediately know what the opening line will be: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Now where did cartoonist Charles Schultz get the line? The British writer cum politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803-73), coined it for the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

Let’s take another line that’s frequently used, especially among journalists: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” One might guess it originated with someone like Voltaire or Thomas Jefferson. In fact, this adage too was coined by Lord Lytton. He used it in his 1839 play called Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.

Along with being a writer and serving in the House of Commons and House of Lords, he was Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1858-59. As such, he focused much of his attention on the development of the Crown Colony of British Columbia.

The son of a general, he knew how the upper classes viewed the world. So it is not surprising that he coined a dismissive reference to the common man as “the great unwashed” in his novel Paul Clifford. Or that he coined the condescending “pursuit of the almighty dollar” in his 1871 novel The Coming Race.

These phrases have become clichés, so the next time you hear people using them, ask if they know whom they’re quoting. If they need a clue, you can tell them he was once a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. Then ask them if they’ve ever heard Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton.

Joseph Estrada receives congratulations upon being elected mayor of Manila in May.

There has been so much tragic news from the Philippines as a result of October’s Typhoon Haiyan I’d thought I’d offer some light-hearted relief. The mayor of Manila is Joseph Estrada, a popular movie actor who was the country’s president from 1998 to 2001 but was ousted following charges of graft.

On the eve of Estrada’s taking office in 1998, The Los Angeles Times published what it described as an apocryphal story: “Estrada, who is as famous for his malapropisms as for his romances with leading ladies and beauty queens — he has three children out of wedlock — is said to have taken confession from Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin and replied, ‘Forgive me, Sin, for I have fathered.”

Drew Houston — Listen carefully to what he says.

Sometimes what people hear can cause as much confusion as what others say. On Sept. 17, Wired Magazine’s website wrote in an interview with Drew Houston, co-founder of the Dropbox computer application, that “he soon saw that what he was making had the potential to be useful to everyone. ‘You think about who needs Dropbox,’ he said years later, ‘and it’s just about anybody with nipples.'”

Four hours after the posting went online, Wired issued a correction. Houston hadn’t said “anybody with nipples” but “anybody with a pulse.” I guess they do sort of sound alike. And if that isn’t subtle enough, Houston pronounces his name “HOUSE-ton” (like the street in Greenwich Village, not the city in Texas).