Archive for February, 2015

Just over a year ago, Tomales Regional History Center published my second book (coauthored by Jacoba Charles) The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light. The third printing is almost sold out, and it may soon be time for a fourth.

To whet the appetite of those of you who haven’t yet picked up the book, here’s a column from it that was originally written 30 years ago when these ruminations were in print labeled “Sparsely Sage and Timely.” Back then, The Light was published in Point Reyes Station’s Old Creamery Building with the newsroom on the second floor.

The Light’s former newsroom with my partner Don Schinske standing and me sitting at my desk. Back then I wrote and edited text on a computer but wrote headlines on an old-fashioned, standard typewriter and then hand-carried them to the typesetter downstairs. © 1998 Art Rogers/Pt. Reyes, who contributed 10 photos to “The Light on the Coast.”

It’s late in the evening, and I’m sitting at a rolltop desk in the newsroom listening to a dog barking a block or two away. Every minute or so, I can hear a car come down Highway 1 into town and turn the corner by the bank. Once in awhile, a car heads up the hill — probably someone who just stopped in town for a drink before heading home.

When I first arrived in Point Reyes Station in 1975, I slept for a couple of months in the newsroom of the old Light building [across the street from today’s Whale of a Deli]. Despite being at a bend and intersection of a state highway, the spot was reasonably tranquil — at least after midnight. Oh, there’d be a brief flurry of shouting when the bars closed and the sound of unsteady feet scuffing past the window, but for a place to spend the night, a room on Point Reyes Station’s main street wasn’t that bad.

When I was in college and had yet to live in a small town, I chanced to read Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson’s sketches of small-town life. In one of the tales, The Teacher, Anderson describes a late evening when there are only three people awake in Winesburg.

Naturally, one of the three was a reporter in the newsroom of the town’s weekly newspaper who “pretended to be at work on the writing of a story.” At last, the reporter too goes home and to bed. “Then he slept,” wrote Anderson, “and in all Winesburg, he was the last soul on that winter night to go to sleep.”

As a college student used to cities and suburbs, I found the concept of a town where no one was awake so strange that I briefly wondered if such a place were possible. Now, 20 years later, I find myself living in a town where on occasion late at night I probably am the only person downtown who isn’t asleep.

Of course, there are some nights when the tranquility of even this sleeping town is disturbed. A few years ago, Michael Jayson told me at the time, he had been asleep in an apartment over the old Dance Palace [where Cabaline is today] when he was awakened by the thunder of hooves below his window on Third Street.

A dog had gotten into rancher Waldo Giacomini’s pasture [now the Giacomini Wetlands] and began to worry a herd of cows, which then gave chase to the dog, crashing through a barbed-wire fence in their pursuit.

The next morning, Jayson told in amazement of having seen the stampede gallop up Third to Point Reyes Station’s main street and then turn east. At the T-intersection where the main street ends in front of Cheda’s Market, the herd wheeled around and headed back west.

As it happened, a fight had spilled out of the Western Saloon and into the intersection at Second Street where it had caught the eye of a bartender across main street at the Two Ball Inn [now the Station House Café]. He called sheriff’s deputies, who had just arrived to break up the brawl when the stampede did it for them.

With a herd of cows galloping toward them, the two brawlers, along with onlookers, scattered. After the stampede had passed, however, the brawlers returned to the intersection only to have the stampede come through again on its second pass.

This time as the crowd dashed for safety, the two combatants kept on running — as did a number of Giacomini’s cows once the stampede reached the west end of main street. It was two days before the rancher got them all rounded up again. “I wish some people would keep their dogs tied up,” he grumbled to me afterward.

Down the street, the dog is barking again — probably bragging about the night when he alone provoked 50 head of Waldo Giacomini’s dairy cows to stampede through the middle of town. — April 11, 1985

#ShutdownCanada, Friday’s nationwide protest in Canada calling on the government to investigate the murders and disappearances of indigenous women, was a bit of a disappointment, failing to garner as much public participation as expected.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States, last year reported that First Nation women in Canada are being murdered and disappeared at four times the rate of white women.

Although more than 7,000 people had said they would take part in demonstrations planned in Calgary, Espanola, Edmonton, Fredericton, Halifax, Hamilton, Kamloops, Lethbridge, London, Moncton, Montreal, Niagara, Oshawa, Ottawa, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg, according to Ontario’s Two Row Times, fewer than 700 showed up, Warrior Publications reported.

Unist’ot’en camp (Warrior publications photo)

Also joining the demonstrations were several groups trying to stop environmental damage. One of them, Unist’ot’en Camp, describes itself as a “resistance community in Northern British Columbia, whose purpose is to protect sovereign Wet’siwet’en territory from several proposed pipelines.”

The Unist’ot’en clan says, “Wet’suwet’en territory, which extends from Burns Lake to the Coastal Mountains, is sovereign territory which has never been ceded to the colonial Canadian state; the Wet’suwet’en are not under treaty with the Canadian government.”

Since July of 2010, the Wet’suwet’en have established a camp in the pathway of the Pacific Trails Pipeline.

On Friday, protesters also blocked a main entrance to the Port of Vancouver. In Winnipeg, a number of protesters blocked a road. In Regina, a small group blocked a railway line. And in Montreal, protesters temporarily blocked a major intersection and then briefly occupied a branch of the Bank of Canada.

Despite police limiting the protesters’ movements, #ShutdownCanada did cause some disruption in Regina, noted Daniel Johnson, who took part in demonstrations there. “But it was not the success it could have been.” ________________________________________________________________

No St. Valentine’s event, of course, is likely to ever get as much public attention as the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago.

This was during Prohibition, and in a fight over territory, Al Capone’s South Side Italian Gang  captured five members of Bugs Maron’s North Side Irish Gang, as well as two of its accomplices.

The seven were lined up against a wall inside a garage and executed with Tommy guns. (See photo at left.) One member of the North Side Gang, Frank Gusenberg, lived for three hours after the shootings. Although he received 17 gunshot wounds, he refused to tell police who the gunmen were. ____________________________________________________________

Canada on Valentine Eve Friday was lucky to escape its own massacre, which had been planned for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Before the carnage could occur, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took a 23-year-old woman from Illinois, Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, and a 20-year-old man from Halifax, Randall Steven Shepherd, into custody on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

The woman subsequently told authorities about plans to attack a mall. Two other men, 17 and 20, have also been taken into custody, and a fifth person, a 19-year-old man, committed suicide when police surrounded his home.

Police said the plotters were not involved with Islamic terrorism and merely wanted to kill as many people as possible before taking their own lives. Luckily the Mounties received a tip and found that on social media, the group had revealed an obsession with mass killings. ________________________________________________________

Tony’s Seafood Restaurant.

Also on Valentine Eve, the band Rusty String Express packed Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in Marshall. “The musicians play a mix of jazz, Celtic, and other styles — some traditional and covers,” said West Marin musician Ingrid Noyes.

“But they also write a lot of their own material. They give it all their own unique spin, and they have a unique sound with that mix of instruments.”

The restaurant offered plenty of meal specials, and barbecued oysters were served for only $2 apiece, which is the best restaurant price I’ve seen in West Marin in a very long time.

A Buckeye butterfly on Saturday paused for a rest on bamboo that grows in a half wine barrel on Mitchell cabin’s lower deck. Other parts of West Marin matters were less tranquil on Saturday. In Point Reyes Station, so many tourists crowded into town that a couple of restaurants ran out of food. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

No Name bar

The Michael Aragon Quartet on Valentine Eve played what I call “modern jazz” (think John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley) in Sausalito’s No Name bar, as it does every Friday evening. From left: Rob Roth on sax, KC Filson on keyboard, Pierre Archain on bass, and Michael Aragon on drums.

There’s no cover charge; the music is inevitably great; and at times virtually every seat in the bar is taken. When that happens, some customers inevitably retire to a covered garden in the rear to talk, smoke, meet people, or play chess.

She’s appreciated.

One of the attractions of the No Name on Friday nights is its unceasingly cheerful waitress, Sarah Burke. Just placing drink orders with her is part of the fun. I’m hardly the only person to notice this, and as a way of saying thanks, her regular customers signed a Valentine’s card, which she received Friday, along with a potted red rose.

Hunters-gatherers: Two migrating robins forage outside Mitchell cabin last Wednesday.

There are more robins in West Marin than usual this winter. Wildcare, the wildlife-rescue group in San Rafael, reported last week, “It’s songbird migration time…. In the past few weeks, we have admitted 11 thrushes and six robins with head trauma from hitting windows.”

In order to feed these patients, the Birdroom at Wildcare “needs earthworms (good from your compost) and frozen berries (wild blueberries, the small ones, are best).” The group can be reached at 415 453-1000.

The middle of February is always a busy time in the United States and Canada, and this year it will be especially busy in Canada. Indigenous activists have announced plans for a one-day, coast-to-coast version of the Occupy movement. More about that in a moment.

Both countries will celebrate Valentine’s Day this Saturday, Feb. 14. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday will be Thursday, Feb. 12, and President George Washington’s birthday will be Feb. 22. In accordance with Congress’ Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971, California and most other states will celebrate the two presidents’ birthdays together as Presidents’ Day this coming Monday, Feb. 16.

Beyond that, however, things fall apart; the center cannot hold, for the holiday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday although in some years it falls on Lincoln’s. In addition, some states honor different presidents with different holidays.

In Massachusetts and Virgina, only Washington’s birthday will be celebrated Monday. Massachusetts, however, will celebrate a second Presidents’ Day on May 29, honoring Presidents John F. Kennedy, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and the lackluster Calvin Coolidge. Why those guys? They were all born in Massachusetts.

In Washington and Alabama, Washington’s and President Thomas Jefferson’s birthdays will be celebrated next week on Presidents’ Day but not Lincoln’s birthday. Arkansas on Monday will officially celebrate the birthdays of both Washington and Daisy Batson Gates (1914-99), an NAACP leader during the struggle for integration.

The Big News this coming weekend, however, will concern neither Presidents’ Day nor Valentine’s Day.

Nor will it occur in the United States.

Just across the border, thousands of First Nation people plan to economically disrupt Canada for a day.

Canada geese over Point Reyes Station bring to mind two impending events: Valentine’s Day and #ShutDownCanada.

#ShutDownCanada, as it’s called, is a collection of nationwide protests being organized via Facebook, the Two Row Times of Hagersville, Ontario, reported on Jan. 21. The group is asking for “communities across Canada to blockade their local railway, port or highway on February 13th,” the First Nation publication noted.

“Don’t buy, don’t fly, no work and keep the kids home from school… The goal is to significantly impact the Canadian economy for a day and demand there be an independent inquiry into the 2000+ cases of missing or murdered indigenous women….

“Plans to demonstrate outside city halls, shut down highways, occupy high traffic areas and more have been organized by groups in Calgary, Espanola, Edmonton, Fredericton, Halifax, Hamilton, Kamloops, Lethbridge, London, Moncton, Montreal, Niagara, Oshawa, Ottawa, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.”

#ShutDownCanada intends to draw attention to both the “missing and murdered indigenous women” and to several “man-made environmental disasters [including] existing and operational fracking wells, open-pit mining projects, the Site C Dam construction [a hydroelectric dam planned in northeastern British Columbia], and the widespread devastation that tar sands and related pipeline projects brings to all life forms, ecosystems, families and communities.”

Drawing particular ire is the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative. Percentage-wise, four times as many First Nation females as white females are being murdered or disappearing in Canada. So says a recent report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States.

In December, however, Harper (at right in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation photo) shrugged off complaints that his government was not looking into the disproportionate number of attacks on indigenous women. “It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest,” he acknowledged.

“Our ministers will continue to dialogue with those who are concerned about this…. I would rather spend my time focusing on what actions we can take to improve these situations, prevent these situations than have more multimillion dollar inquiries.”

Further offending many First Nation people were comments by Canada’s Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt. When 16-year-old Rinelle Harper, who had been physically and sexually attacked, called for a national inquiry into the violence against indigenous females, he responded: “Listen, Rinelle, I have a lot of sympathy for your situation… and I guess that victims… have different views and we respect them.”

The First Nation reaction was immediate. Referring to the girl’s traumatic ordeal as a “situation” epitomized the insensitivity of the Harper government to indigenous people, one critic wrote.

Beyond fuming at the conservative government’s lack of concern about attacks on indigenous women, many First Nation people also accuse Harper of corruption, saying his government plans to take over more aboriginal land for development of natural resources in violation of a Canadian Supreme Court ruling.

In 1990, Mohawks in Quebec faced provincial and federal troops for six months in a standoff that resulted from a dispute over land ownership. Friday’s conflict will probably be more peaceable. An Eastern Door editorial by editor and publisher Steve Bonspiel, whom I wrote about last week, advised his Mohawk readers: “A unified approach without violence but with plenty of information to inform others is a sound one.”