Archive for May, 2014

The advent of email roughly 20 years ago created a new phenomenon in humor: jokes that quickly get forwarded and re-forwarded to an ever-expanding crowd of Internet users worldwide.

A Canadian cousin and her husband, both of whom shall remain nameless so they keep me on their email list, send me one or two jokes almost every day. Believing that clever humor — including blonde jokes and the like — should be shared, I’ve decided to pass along a few.

Turkey in the straw outside Mitchell cabin last week.

• An old man lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his tomato garden, but it was difficult work as the ground was hard. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament. Dear Vincent, 
I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here, my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me.
 — Love, Dad

A few days later he received a letter from his son. Dear Dad,
 Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where I buried the bodies.
 — Love, Vinnie

At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son. Dear Dad,
 Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances. — Love you, Vinnie

• A sign in the bank lobby reads: “Please note that this bank is installing new drive-through ATM machines enabling customers to withdraw cash without leaving their vehicles. Customers using this new facility are requested to use the procedures outlined below when accessing their accounts. After months of careful research, male and female procedures have been developed. Please follow the appropriate steps for your gender.”

Male Procedure:

1. Drive up to the cash machine.

2. Put down your car window.

3. Insert card into machine and enter PIN.

4. Enter amount of cash required and withdraw.

5. Retrieve card, cash and receipt.

6. Put window up.

7. Drive off.

Female Procedure:

1. Drive up to cash machine.

2. Reverse and back up the required amount to align car window with the machine.

3. Set parking brake; put the window down.

4. Find handbag, remove all contents onto passenger seat to locate card.

5. Tell person on cell phone you will call them back and hang up.

6. Attempt to insert card into machine.

7. Open car door to allow easier access to machine due to excessive distance from car.

8. Insert card.

9. Re-insert card the right way.

10. Dig through handbag to find diary with your PIN written on the inside back page.

11. Enter PIN.

12. Press cancel and re-enter correct PIN.

13. Enter amount of cash required.

14. Check makeup in rear view mirror.

15. Retrieve cash and receipt.

16. Empty handbag again to locate wallet and place cash inside.

17. Write debit amount in check register and place receipt in back of checkbook.

18. Re-check makeup.

19. Drive forward two feet.

20. Reverse back to cash machine.

21. Retrieve card.

22. Re-empty handbag, locate card holder, and place card into the slot provided.

23. Give dirty look to irate male driver waiting behind you.

24. Restart stalled engine and drive off.

25. Re-dial person on cell phone.

26. Drive for two to three miles; release parking brake.

• Two Virginia hillbillies walked into a restaurant. While having a bite to eat, they talked about their moonshine operation. Suddenly, a woman who was eating a sandwich at a nearby table began to cough. After a minute or so, it became apparent that she was in real distress.

One of the hillbillies looked at her and said, “Kin ya swallar?” The woman shook her head no. Then he asked, “Kin ya breathe?” The woman began to turn blue and shook her head no.

The hillbilly walked over to the woman, lifted up her dress, yanked down her drawers, and quickly gave her right butt cheek a lick with his tongue. The woman was so shocked that she had a violent spasm, and the obstruction flew out of her mouth. Once she started to breathe again, the hillbilly walked slowly back to his table as his partner said, “Ya know, I’d heerd of that there ‘Hind Lick Maneuver,’ but I ain’t niver seed nobody do it!”

• A blonde was on holiday and driving through Darwin (Australia). She desperately wanted to take home a pair of genuine crocodile shoes but was unwilling to pay the high prices the local vendors were asking.

After becoming frustrated with the no-haggle-on-prices attitude of one of the shopkeepers, the blonde shouted, “Well then, maybe I’ll just go out and catch my own crocodile, so I can get a pair of shoes for free.” The shopkeeper said with a sly, knowing smile, “Little lady, just go and give it a try!” The blonde headed out toward the river, determined to catch a crocodile.

Later in the day as the shopkeeper was driving home, he pulled over to the side of the river bank where he spotted the same young blonde woman standing waist deep in the murky water, a shotgun in her hand. Just then, he spotted a huge, 3-meter croc swimming rapidly toward her. With lightning speed, she took aim, killed the creature, and hauled it onto the slimy banks of the river.

Lying nearby were seven more of the dead creatures, all on their backs. The shopkeeper stood on the bank, watching in silent amazement. The blonde struggled and flipped the croc onto its back. Rolling her eyes heavenward in exasperation, she screamed, “What the hell? This one’s barefoot too!”

• The stoplight on the corner buzzes when it’s safe to cross the street. I was crossing with a co-worker of mine. She asked if I knew what the buzzer was for. I explained that it signals blind people when the light is red. Appalled, she responded, “What on earth are blind people doing driving?”

No joke, something similar actually happened to the late Ralph Craib, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter who nominated The Point Reyes Light for its Pulitzer Prize. Ralph came home from World War II legally — but not totally — blind, and his family got a Disabled Veteran license plate for their car.

The plate permitted them to park in handicap spaces, but one day a San Francisco policeman upon seeing Ralph get into the car accused him of parking in a blue zone without having a handicap placard. Ralph pointed out the car’s Disabled Veteran license plate and noted he was legally blind.

If you’re legally blind, the cop demanded, what are you doing driving a car? With great patience, Ralph explained that the license plate allowed his wife to drop him off and meet him close to his destinations.

Lynn looked out the kitchen window Thursday morning in time to see a doe and two fawns grazing only a few feet away. Immediately, I grabbed my camera.

The spots suggest the fawns are only about a month old.

Our word “deer” comes from the Old English word “deor,” which referred to animals in general, of course, including deer. In Middle English, the language of Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the word was spelled “der,” and the American Heritage Dictionary notes it could refer to all manner of creatures, including “a fish, an ant, or a fox.”

Even in the plays of Shakespeare (1564-1616), who wrote in Modern English (albeit of the Elizabethan variety), the meaning of the word remains uncertain. In King Lear, Act III, scene iv, the Earl of Gloucester’s much-abused son Tom ‘o Bedlam (disguised as Edgar) laments, “Mice and rats, and such small deer,/ Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.”

To our surprise, the fawns soon trotted under Mitchell cabin’s deck but before long emerged from the far side.

“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,” Bruce Morris writes in Bay Nature.

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 Southern California about 1.5 million years ago.

In moving up the coast, whitetails evolved into blacktails, which resemble them in appearance and temperament.

The fawns soon followed their mother (note hoof at left) away from the cabin.

The blacktails eventually spread inland, 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.

DNA tests have determined that mule deer, which are found from the Northwest to the deserts of the Southwest and as far east as the Dakotas, are a hybrid of whitetail does and blacktail bucks, author Valerius Geist writes in Mule Deer Country.

The doe crossed our parking area keeping an eye out for any threat to her fawns.

Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the subspecies of blacktails native to West Marin and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area. The California Department of Fish and Game a few years back estimated there were approximately 560,000 deer in all of California, about 320,000 of which were Columbian blacktails.

“Blacktails have a typical lifespan in the wild of seven to 10 years, but they can survive in suburban habitat for as long as 17 to 20 years if unmolested,” Morris notes in Bay Nature. “Suburban deer have minuscule home ranges, measuring three or four blocks for females whereas wild deer inhabit territories that extend for several miles.”

The fawns walked behind our cars as they followed close behind the doe.

Mountain lions, and occasionally bobcats and coyotes, prey on deer, but the biggest threat to West Marin’s blacktails are motor vehicles. In fact, being struck by automobiles is the biggest cause of deer fatalities nationwide: more than one million a year.

More surprising is the number of deer struck by airplanes, an average of one a week nationwide. Or so says Benner’s Gardens, which makes deer-fencing systems.

One last bit of deer trivia: “The male deer is usually called a buck, but the male red deer of Europe is a stag, or when mature a hart, [and] the female is called a hind or doe,” to quote the Encyclopedia Americana.

“Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” — Rod Stewart

Cows heading toward the milking barn at Steve and Sharon Doughty’s ranch in Point Reyes Station. Of all the photos I’ve shot of West Marin agriculture, this is my favorite (2004).

The newsroom of The Point Reyes Light when the newspaper was located in Point Reyes Station’s Old Creamery Building (2004).

One day I heard something banging around in the firebox of the newsroom’s potbellied stove, which was not lit, so I opened the door to look inside. This house finch, which had apparently fallen down the chimney, flew out and started flying around the room, banging into the closed skylights.

I opened a skylight, but the finch didn’t fly out. Instead it landed on the antenna to our weather radio and perched there looking out over the world. The scene seemed so symbolic he could have been an avian journalist.

Before long a house finch outside the building began singing. The one inside sang back. After several seconds of their calling back and forth, the finch in the newsroom finally flew out the open skylight.

A Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window, Point Reyes Station (2004).

Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley (2005).

The castle was built in the 1920s by Albert Mussey Johnson, a millionaire from Chicago. Scotty (Walter Scott) was a con man, who took advantage of Johnson, as well as others. Nonetheless, Johnson kept Scotty around to entertain guests with his storytelling.

Thailand (1986).

Two mothers and their children in one of Thailand’s semi-isolated hilltribes.

A Thai hilltribe father and his son (1986).

The father is holding a Point Reyes Light ballpoint pen, which I had given him. The pens were made in 1979 to commemorate the paper’s winning the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

Thailand’s hilltribes grow opium poppies, as well as bananas and other crops. Here a man in his hut without windows — only gaps between wall boards for light — smokes opium in a pipe (1986).

Rangoon, Burma (1986).

Two Buddhists pray outside the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

Mandalay, Burma (1986).

Buddhist monks in Thailand and Burma are considered novices before they turn 20. Most live monastic lives for only short periods, a few years or even just a few days. Youths receive schooling inside or outside of their temple. Helping take care of the temple is one of their main responsibilities. Novices are not expected to be continually solemn, and these boys felt free to roughhouse with each other.

Boy tending water buffalo at the edge of the Irrawaddy River at Mandalay (1986).

Guatemala (1982).

Two Mayan girls wash dishes at a pila (outdoor trough) because their homes on a finca (plantation) lack running water. For many women in rural villages, washing dishes and clothes together at a community pila is their primary time to socialize.

El Salvador (1983).

Government forces take cover during a firefight with FMLN guerrillas. The government patrol, which had been fighting all night, was exhausted and retreating under fire.

Guerrilla-held territory — El Gramal, El Salvador (1983).

A guerrilla stops a vehicle belonging to Antel, the government-owned phone company, and then sends it on its way. Earlier in the day, an Antel driver divulged a bizarre arrangement whereby the guerrillas regularly borrowed the four-wheel-drive Toyota for night patrols but returned it to Antel in the morning. Such cooperation probably explained why an Antel manager in El Gramal said the government phone company in his area was able to operate as usual even though Popular Liberation Front guerrillas had by then occupied the region for six months.

What many of us on the coast like most about West Marin these days is its mix of land and animals, both wild and domestic. They provide a refuge from the violence, hatred, greed, and misfortune that dominate the news coming in from Kabul to Kiev, from Kenya to Korea.

Horses from Point Reyes Arabians stable graze in a pasture next to mine. Downtown Point Reyes Station can be seen through a gap in the trees at right.

The horses drink from — and in warm weather cool off in — this stockpond and another further downhill. Originally created to provide water for cattle, the ponds these days are watering holes for deer, such as these, and other wildlife, along with the horses.

A young buck grazes alone near Mitchell cabin. Most of the year, I can spot blacktail deer around the cabin virtually every day. Herds of 12 and 14 animals are not uncommon. Deer, as most of us know, will eat flowers, vegetables, and shrubbery if given a chance. At Mitchell cabin, any plants I want to protect from deer are grown in containers on my deck. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Three cows laze about Carol Horick’s pasture across the canyon on a warm afternoon last week. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

The jackrabbit that has taken to hanging out along my driveway was there every day this past week, usually with a companion. The other rabbit is more skittish, however, and hops away whenever it sees me. As a result, I’ve yet to get a photo of the two of them together.

House finches are year-round residents of West Marin, but they seem more plentiful at this time of year. Their cheerful warbles are as colorful as the males’ feathers. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Male house finches are usually red, with the intensity depending on the season. Their coloration is derived from the fruits and berries in their diets. Female house finches tend to be light brown with white streaks. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

When it comes to coloration, however, no other bird around Mitchell cabin can match this lone, male peacock, which for three years has been hanging out with a flock of wild turkeys. Peafowl which originated in India were introduced on the US mainland in California back in 1879.

A golden-crowned sparrow looking for birdseed on my deck. People have compared the bird’s song to Three Blind Mice sung in a minor key. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Although it’s called an Oregon junco, this variation of junco can be found from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains, as far north as southern Alaska, and — occasionally — as far east as Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Their song is a sweet trill. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

We’ll close with three house finches in a classical pose on the railing of my deck. Originally native to Mexico and the southern United States, house finches in the 1940s were introduced on the East Coast where they have rapidly spread. Ornithologists estimate there are now between 267 million and 1.7 billion of them in North America. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)