Archive for November, 2014

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I turned 71 Sunday, which was probably a good decision, but I threw out my back earlier in the week, which definitely was not a good move. You never realize how much use you have for something until you throw it out.

Just standing up is now a pain, and walking is even worse.

Doug Hill, president of the Berkeley City Commons Club, relays a member’s question to me at the end of my talk. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

As it happens, Morton McDonald, who has a home at Duck Cove in Inverness, had invited me to tell the Berkeley City Commons Club what I knew about Synanon from the cult’s days in West Marin. I had agreed to go last Friday but had to strut and fret my hour upon the stage from an overstuffed chair.

I’ve tried to portray my injury as caused by rugged work, telling friends I threw out my back while working with a chainsaw. “What were you cutting?” they ask. “Daisies,” I sheepishly reply. They’re inevitably startled. “No one throws out his back cutting daisies,” they say, “and no one cuts daisies with a chainsaw.”

It’s a long story. Former Point Reyes Light reporter Janine Warner and her husband Dave LaFontaine drove up from Los Angeles for my birthday and are staying for five days. My stepdaughter Kristeli, who is in her last year at New York University, will fly in Tuesday and stay for five days over Thanksgiving.

Vegetation was hanging over the railing along the outdoor steps, and I wanted everyone to be safe when they used the stairs. When I cut four or five dead fronds off a palm and three dead branches off a couple of pines, the chainsaw went right through them. But when I bent over to cut some woody branches from dead sections of two daisy bushes, a muscle spasm locked onto my back with all four feet.

Heating pads, back braces, and a ball-bearing-filled massage machine are helping, and I’ll no doubt recover in a week or two although post-traumatic-stress disorder could be a lingering problem.

I sign a copy of The Light on the Coast for Morton McDonald. The book includes a section on the paper’s investigation of Synanon, an investigation that led to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (Photo by Dave LaFontaine)

In the “best of times” category, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported by The Point Reyes Light, which I wrote with Jacoba Charles as coauthor, is now in its third printing. The Tomales Regional History Center is the publisher, and the book can be ordered online using the History Center link in the righthand column.

Two blacktails butting heads outside my kitchen window last week. I’d think a deer could easily get an eye poked out that way, but I’ve never seen a buck with an eye patch.

In a startling report last week, Aljazeera America unveiled the Kuwaiti government’s ingenious solution for dealing with its undocumented residents. Why couldn’t the US do something similar? Of course, we’d have to figure out how to do it on the cheap; Kuwait is the fifth richest country in the world per person while the United States is only tenth.

Here’s how reporter and opinion editor Atossa Araxia Abrahamian explained the scheme. “The oil-rich gulf state of Kuwait has struggled for years with a demographic problem: More than 100,000 of its residents are legally stateless, and the country refuses to recognize them as its own, saying they entered the country illegally.”

The Bidoon, as they’re called, “come from a range of economic backgrounds — some Bidoon live in poverty while others…. live in tony houses.” Many are descended from desert nomads. What they share is being routinely denied basic documentation such as birth, death, and marriage certificates supposedly because the Bidoons are “illegal residents.”

This, in turn, makes it almost impossible for them to get social services and passports.

But now, “a Kuwaiti minister has told a local paper that within a month, Kuwait’s Bidoon… would be eligible to gain citizenship — not of Kuwait but of the Comoros Islands,” Aljazerra’s Abrahamian reported. Never heard of the Comoros? Take a look.

The Comoros Islands, a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean, lie 185 miles east of Mozambique. With a land area of only 785 square miles, the former French colony is one of the smallest countries on earth. Its population is approximately 798,000. Kuwait isn’t all that big itself — 9,880 square miles (the equivalent of 83 by 83 miles) — with a population of 4 million.

Kuwaiti’s interior minister has revealed that in less than a month, the government of his desert state will help its Bidoon register for “economic citizenship” in the lush, tropical Comoros Islands, Aljazeera reported. “This would legalize their immigration status in Kuwait and allow them to qualify for health and education benefits,” reporter Abrahamian explained.

However, she added, “the citizenship could also put them at risk of deportation. While stateless people are difficult for countries to get rid of — their lack of documentation actually protects them from being sent away — foreign citizens can be kicked out at a moment’s notice.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission has called Kuwait’s scheme “a cynical ploy to relieve itself of its own obligations to the Bidoon.” The Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa program has called it “shocking.” A New York-based Bidoon activist quipped, “I went to bed in West Asia and woke up east African. These are the miracles of Arab regimes.”

And what do the Comoros Islands get out of the deal? Roughly five years ago, the impoverished islands began selling citizenships and passports to stateless residents of the United Arab Emirates and so far have made $200 million from the deal, which is a lot when you’re short of cash.

The mosque in Moroni, the capital of the Comoros Islands.

“In return for the passports [bought for Kuwait’s Bidoons], Comoros will…. receive direct investment from the Kuwaiti government, which promised to build schools and charities on the islands,” Kuwait’s interior minister said.

“Many Bidoon see reason to accept the offer, reasoning that any citizenship — even if it’s from a country most people haven’t heard of, let alone one they can find on a map — is better than nothing, especially when it appears to come with actual benefits,” Aljazeera commented.

One Bidoon worker in Kuwait was quoted as joking that “Comoros looked nice and that they would soon be jetting away to the islands.”

With that thought in mind, why doesn’t our government merely buy citizenship in some Caribbean island-nation for our undocumented immigrants arriving from Mexico and Central America? It would be far cheaper and safer than the current battle on our southern border.

And what’s more, none of these immigrants would ever be obliged to visit the Caribbean although how could they resist such entreaties as: “Aruba, Jamaica — ooo I wanna take you — Bermuda, Bahama — come on pretty mama — Key Largo, Montego — baby why don’t we go — Jamaica. Off the Florida Keys, there’s a place called Kokomo….”

The names alone are enough to make one want to be a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, or St. Lucia.

Marin County, and especially West Marin, have come to seem like a coastal refuge after last week’s Congressional elections, the conundrum of ISIS, California’s drought, and Stanford’s losing to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

In order to provide a respite from this world of troubles, I’m presenting this week a collection of happier scenes from around Marin.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Nicasio Square. Using locally milled redwood, townspeople in 1867 built the church for $3,000 (about $48,000 in today’s money).

I spent some time in Nicasio late last month, attending the opening of the new Nicasio Historical Society Museum and MALT Day at Nicasio Valley Farm’s Pumpkin Patch. While walking around the square, I was again struck by how unexpectedly well the New England architecture of several buildings fits with the old-west architecture of others, such as the Druid’s Hall and Rancho Nicasio.

Rob Roth on sax, KC Filson on piano, Píerre Archain on bass, and Michael Aragon on drums at the No Name bar in Sausalito. At far right, prominent Sausalito artist Steve Sara sketches the scene.

Last Friday evening, Lynn and I again ended up at the No Name bar  where we often go on Fridays. That’s the night the Michael Aragon Quartet performs modern jazz, much of it in the vein of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.

When the quartet performed Adderley’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy a month ago, they inspired me to see what I could find out about the late sax player (1928-75). Perhaps the most-intriguing trivia I turned up was the origin of his name.

Here’s the story. Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley, a hefty man, already had a voracious appetite by the time he reached high school, and this led his classmates to call him “Cannibal.” The distinction between cannibals and cannonballs is, of course, so minor that most of the public didn’t notice when Adderley evolved from one into the other. __________________________________________________________________

The view out our bedroom window Sunday of a horse from Point Reyes Arabians grazing in the neighboring pasture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Doe, a deer, a blacktail deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun…. A young deer in a spot of sunlight outside our kitchen window last week pricked up her ears as if the hills were alive with the sound of…. ?

Wild turkeys and deer coexist surprisingly well at Mitchell cabin. Obviously neither looks threatening to the other. The biggest dangers to them come from cars and hunters.

In the pine tree, the mighty pine tree, the raccoon sleeps tonight. In the pine tree, the quiet pine tree, the raccoon sleeps tonight. Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh…. ________________________________________________________________

A mother raccoon and her kit at our kitchen door.

Young raccoons are recognizable by the time we get to see them notwithstanding their having been delivered in kit form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lynn and I hear coyotes around the cabin every few days, but we seldom get to see them. Here a coyote takes cover behind our woodshed.

The sloe-eyed coyote emerges from behind a clump of — appropriately enough — coyote brush. Coyotes are close relatives of gray foxes.

Keeping an eye out (and ears up) for coyotes and other predators, a jackrabbit sits in the field outside our kitchen window.

Among the other predators around here are bobcats. They don’t try to stay out of sight, but they trot off when they see humans.

And then there are the gray foxes. They live and breed on this hill, and until recently would show up at the kitchen door most evenings hoping to be fed just about anything — bread, nuts, dog food, whatever.

The foxes still show up occasionally in the afternoon to sun themselves atop the picnic table on our deck. Their nighttime visits, however, have come to an end for now, and I miss their vulpine partying.

The Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was observed Saturday evening in downtown Point Reyes Station. It’s a day set aside each year for special remembrances of friends and relatives who have died.

Meanwhile up the bay, Tomales Regional History Center on Sunday opened a well-attended exhibition, “The Region’s Lost Buildings: Their Stories and their Legacies.” More about that in a moment.

A Día de los Muertos altar in the Dance Palace held dozens of photographs of deceased family members and mementos of their lives.

Saturday’s celebration began with a procession from Gallery Route One to the Dance Palace. These young ladies wore angel costumes and looked very sweet while some celebrants wore Halloween costumes which were downright ghoulish.

Aña Maria Ramirez, the de facto matriarch of the Latino community around Point Reyes Station, spoke in English and Spanish about Dia de los Muertos. The event was organized by Point Reyes Station artist Ernesto Sanchez, who also created the altar. The Dance Palace sponsored the event with financial support from Marin Community Foundation.

A variety of excellent Mexican food drew a long line to the serving table.

Local singer Tim Weed and his partner Debbie Daly (in white) led some impromptu singing in the Dance Palace.

For many in attendance, including Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe and her son Joshua, it was a family event.

Elvira de Santiago of Marshall paints the face of Ocean Ely, two and a half, of Point Reyes Station.

Carrie Chase and Diego Chavarria, 10, of Point Reyes Station showed up in elegant costumes. Here Diego waits to have his face painted.

And while all this was going on, photographer Eden Trenor (left) of Petaluma and formerly of Point Reyes Station, was having an opening in the Dance Palace lobby for an exhibit of her works. With her is Dan Harrison, a printmaker who owns a gallery in Olema.

This photograph of ponds is part of Trenor’s show, which is called “For the Yes of It.” _______________________________________________________________

“The Region’s Lost Buildings: Their Stories and their Legacies,” which opened at the Tomales Regional History Center Sunday, is also a photographic exhibit for the most part, but the photos are far older.

Curating the exhibition was Ginny Magan of Tomales, and she did an excellent job, both in her choice of pictures to display and in her captions for them.

The narrow-gauge railroad depot in Marshalls, as Marshall used to be called. The Shields store to the right of the depot still survives and now belongs to Hog Island Oyster Company. “This image of Marshall’s depot shows a style typical of small, early train stations across the country, with its board-and-batten siding and deep eaves,” its caption notes.

The Bayview Hotel, which once stood in this spot on the shore of Tomales Bay, was built by the Marshall brothers in 1870 and was frequented by fishermen and hunters.

When it burned in 1896, the Marshall brothers had the North Coast Hotel (above) constructed on the site. “As the photo shows,” the History Center points out, “the building was a few feet from the railroad tracks.

“The hotel was knocked into the bay by the 1906 earthquake, but pulled out and repaired by the owners, Mr. and Mrs. John Shields.

“Except for its use as military housing during the Second World War, the building remained a hotel under several proprietors until it caught fire in 1971. The 25 guests, all the employees, and owner Tom Quinn and his family got out safely, but the hotel — with only its brick chimney standing — was a complete loss.”

“The depot at Tomales was unusual,” according to the History Center’s caption. “Because of its low-pitched roof, it resembles something built a century later. All Tomales railroad buildings were painted a brick red.

The aptly named hamlet of Hamlet, another stop on the North Shore Railway line, was a village from 1870 to 1987, when the National Park Service bought it.

“Hamlet’s namesake was John Hamlet, a dairyman from Tennessee who purchased the site with gold coin in 1870. He left little but his name. The next owner, Warren Dutton, developed Hamlet as a railroad stop that the Marin Journal described as ‘one of the most inviting places on the bay for aquatic sports.’

“To most of today’s locals, the name Hamlet is connected with the Jensen family, who purchased the land in 1907, and developed and inhabited the village over 80 years and four generations. By 1930, the Jensens were establishing Hamlet’s well-known connection with oyster farming.

The Tragedy of Hamlet.

“In 1971, third-generation matriarch Virginia Jensen was left a widow with five children. She — and eventually they — carried on, though maintaining the oyster farm, its retail components, and the property’s buildings was clearly a struggle.

“A 1982 storm all but obliterated the oyster beds. ‘I never planted [oysters] after that; that was my last tally-ho,’ remembered Mrs. Jensen. In 1987, she sold the site to the Park Service, which then looked the other way as vandals and the elements savaged it. In 2003, the Park Service demolished the last of the buildings.

Highway 1 is the main street of Tomales where it’s known as Maine Street.

“Trotting down Maine Street toward First c. 1890. Originally the Union Hotel occupied this site; after it burned this group of small buildings housed a saloon — one of six or eight in the town — a billiard room and Sing Lee Washing and Ironing. Today the Piezzi Building is at this corner.”

“On a windy day in May 1920, the Plank Hotel caught fire. Despite the best efforts of townspeople at least 16 buildings burned to the ground — two dwellings and most of the town’s commercial center south of First Street.”

“The William Tell was established as a hotel and saloon in 1877. The original building burned in the 1920 fire but was rebuilt within the year. This photo was taken in the mid-1950s.

“The Fallon Creamery, built near the end of the 19th century, used state-of-the-art, steam-operated machinery. The creamery exhibited a 500-pound wheel of cheese at the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in San Francisco.” ________________________________________________________________

By the end of the weekend I was again thanking my lucky stars to be living in West Marin. Everybody had been on their good behavior — even the cops.

When a sheriff’s deputy needed to use his patrol car to create a buffer for the Día de los Muertos procession marching down Point Reyes Station’s main street, I walked over and with feigned indignation exclaimed, “They’re all jaywalking.” The deputy replied with a laugh, “They are all jaywalking. And everyone is going to get a ticket.” And soon he drove off.

What a contrast with police in Saint George, Utah. At least according to the Daily Kos website, police last week raided a Halloween party at a family fun center simply because the event included dancing.

One can only imagine how St. George’s police would have reacted to the Aztec Dancers (left) in Point Reyes Station.

They weren’t just dancing, they were dancing on the main street.