Archive for October, 2017

Two middling-large celebrations were held this past weekend in Point Reyes Station. Both were fun — but reflected grim reality.

Saturday was Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Among families from south of the border, it’s a day to pay homage to loved ones who are no longer with them. In West Marin these days, a number of Gringos also observe Dia de los Muertos. (The word Gringo, by the way, did not originate in Mexico but in Spain during the 1800s. For some Spaniards, Gringo was used to mean Greek (Griego) and referred to people speaking a language that was Greek to them.)

In Point Reyes Station, the celebration began at Gallery Route One with a parade featuring music, dancing, and colorful costumes. Leading music for part of the march were Debbie Daly on accordion and Tim Weed on banjo.

Artist Ernesto Sanchez provided face painting at his studio in Point Reyes Station. Adults and young people both took advantage of the offer.

Main street merchants, including Chris Giacomini, owner of Toby’s Feed Barn, and Sheryl Cahill, owner of the Station House Café, went outdoors to watch the parade go by.

After dancing and making music for the entire length of downtown, all three blocks of it, the marchers headed for the Dance Palace Community Center. Providing special color, music, and dancing were the Aztec Dancers, who regularly perform in Point Reyes Station parades.

Inside the Dance Palace, artist Sanchez had created a giant altar where members of the crowd placed pictures of loved ones no longer with us or mementos of their time on earth. Here Socorro Romo, the program director of West Marin Community Services, rests in front of the altar.

Following these rites celebrants enjoyed Mexican food, drinks, and traditional music.

____________________________________________

But Point Reyes Station was just warming up. On Sunday morning, the annual Pancake Breakfast was held in the town firehouse. It’s a benefit for the Point Reyes Disaster Council which helps residents prepare for — or deal with — wildfires, major earthquakes, and flooding.

The council sprang into action during the recent wildfires in the wine country, which forced hundreds of evacuees to seek shelter in Marin County. Although the disaster was not local, the council acted as an intermediary between various organizations helping evacuees, numerous volunteers, and people staffing shelters.
At the firehouse, firefighters cooked a variety of pancakes (regular, vegetarian, or gluten free), sausages and eggs, which they served along with milk, orange juice and coffee. Seen frying sausages is Ken Eichstaedt, manager of Inverness Public Utility District; the district administers Inverness Volunteer Fire Department’s finances.

Approximately 400 people showed up for breakfast in the firetrucks’ garage.

A raffle to raise funds for the Disaster Council was also held, and youngsters had a chance to ride around town in a firetruck.

The Point Reyes Disaster Council’s account of how it came to be, what it does, and how to take part can be found at pointreyesdisastercouncil.org.

 

Halloween, which will be celebrated Tuesday, is our second Irish holiday of the year. The celebration is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago with a Celtic harvest festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). During the eighth century, the Catholic Church Christianized the celebration as “All Hallows’ Eve,” hallows being a word for saints. The name “Halloween” is a contraction of “all hallows eve” because it falls on the night before All Saints’ Day.

Halloween is the night that the dead supposedly return, which accounts for all the ghosts and goblins on the street. 

My fiancée Lynn buying a pumpkin this week at Nicasio’s popular pumpkin patch.

The Celts inhabited Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, along with Brittany in France. This helps explain why many Halloween traditions are basically Irish: the costumes (to scare off and confuse ghosts of the dead), the games (e.g. bobbing for apples), and especially the jack-o’-lanterns. When it came to carving jack-o’-lanterns, however, the Irish used large turnips, not pumpkins.

Immigrants to the US brought the jack-o’-lantern tradition with them and found that American pumpkins were far better than turnips when carving jack-o’-lanterns. Thus the Halloween tradition took another interesting turn.

Because Halloween falls during the harvest season, a traditional cornucopia (horn of plenty) is assembled annually at Mitchell cabin.

Also marking the fall are ants. As nature dries out, battalions of ants annually invade our kitchen in search of water. We place saucers under our houseplants to catch any seepage, and the ants head straight for the saucers. I often wipe them away with a damp sponge; if they’re on plants, I spray them with Windex, which doesn’t seem to bother the plants.

“The evening rabbit show,” as we call it, provides predictable entertainment daily at Mitchell cabin.

It’s in the same tradition as our “evening bird show.” Here a couple of sparrows take their daily shower in our birdbath.

So as we head into Halloween night, let’s be sure to remember Ireland’s role in shaping it. “Halloween” may not sound like a Celtic rite, but it’s as Irish as St. Patrick’s Day and even more Irish than the constellation O’Ryan over our heads.

 

 

 

At least 42 people have lost their lives and another 90 are missing in Northern California’s ongoing rash of fires, the deadliest in the state’s history. But the end appears to be coming soon. “Full containment of all the fires is expected Friday,” Cal Fire Incident Cmdr. Bret Gouvea said today (Wednesday).

Fighting the fires have been 1,100 firefighters, a number of them arriving from other states and from as far away as Canada and Australia.

Some 200 to 250 homes have been lost in Mendocino County fires, State Sen. Mike McGuire told KWMR yesterday (Tuesday). Another 100 to 130 homes were lost in Lake County, he added.

More than 3,000 homes and businesses were lost in Santa Rosa’s inferno but only one fire station.

In all of Sonoma County, 21,000 acres have burned, and 75,000 people were evacuated. Four Marin County firefighters lost homes in the fires, as did another six Marin County employees, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said on KWMR Monday.

As of yesterday, 36,000 of Sonoma County’s evacuees were being allowed to return home.

When the evacuations began Oct. 9, hundreds of Sonoma County and Napa County residents headed for Marin County. More than 200 people were in and out of the Dance Palace, with 80 sleeping there that first night. Another 20 spent the night sleeping in their cars nearby, so they could be with their pets. 

The evacuees’ love for their pets was epitomized in this widely circulated photograph of Lauren Mesaros of Santa Rosa escaping the fire with her pony Stardust in the backseat.

On Tuesday, Oct 10, most of those at the Dance Palace relocated to Marconi Conference Center in Marshall. The Dance Palace, however, continued to provide some of their food. The conference center, which is officially an emergency shelter within the Point Reyes Disaster Council plan, provided beds for about 120 people Tuesday night.

San Geronimo Valley Community Center meanwhile provided shelter for 35. Tomales Bay Resort (the former Golden Hinde) took in 80 or so.

In all, 500 evacuees were sheltered in West Marin, many of them in private homes. Dillon Beach homeowners were impressively forthcoming. Last weekend, about 231 evacuees were estimated to have found beds in Dillon Beach homes, and more than 135 received campsites in the town’s campground, Lawson’s Landing.

The numbers in all locations in West Marin fluctuated as evacuees would leave in the day to check on their homes up north. Many would return, but as the week progressed more were able to go back to their homes because the air quality improved or they would relocate to shelters nearer their homes or former homes.  

Dry conditions and high winds that, according to Sen. McGuire, gusted to 79 mph so far are getting much of blame for the fires, but wind damage to power lines is also being cited. Yesterday a Santa Rosa couple filed the first lawsuit against PG&E.

Not yet getting much attention is the fire’s likely effects on landfills in the area. There will be so much debris, State Sen. McGuire predicted, that it will add “over a decade’s worth of garbage into the landfills.”

 

Folks in several West Marin towns today stepped forward to aid victims of two of the 16 massive fires blazing 30 to 50 or more miles away. The Dance Palace Community Center in Point Reyes Station and the San Geronimo Valley Cultural Center are providing shelters for tonight, as is Marconi Conference Center in Marshall. Lawson’s Landing in Dillon Beach is providing campsites while the Presbyterian church in Tomales is providing food.

West Marin School’s gym cannot be used as a shelter, as many had expected. School is in session, and the gym is needed because there is so much smoke in the air children cannot safely take recess outdoors. At the same time, numerous West Marin residents have offered the evacuees a bed. All told, more than 200 evacuees from Sonoma and Napa counties are receiving a night’s lodging in West Marin.

The Dance Palace Community Center, as did the others, provided food. It also offered clothing to evacuees. Since the majority are Spanish speaking, bilingual local volunteers have been assisting as translators. Other West Marin residents have told evacuees they can stay in their homes.

In Sonoma County, the Sheriff’s Office reported, seven people [later revised to 42] are known to have lost their lives to the fires, and hundreds more are unaccounted for. In Napa County, at least two lives have been lost. The fires have also destroyed more than 5,700 homes and businesses in the two counties. Eight people have died in Mendocino County fires, and three have perished  from fire in Yuba County.

At midday today (Monday), the California Department of Fire and Fire Protection reported that in neighboring Sonoma County: 1,500 acres were burning at Highway 37 and Lakeville Highway; 5,000 acres were burning north of Glen Ellen; and 1,000 acres were burning in Geyserville.

In nearby Napa County, Cal Fire also noted, fires that are still spreading had by mid-afternoon burned:  25,000 acres in Calistoga; 25,000 acres south of Lake Berryessa, and 3,000 acres west of the City of Napa.

Smoky sunrise — When I awoke this morning, the smell of smoke was in the air, and the rising sun glowing through the haze formed a red disk on the horizon. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

My fiancée Lynn is coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council, and although today’s fires aren’t technically Point Reyes disasters, she soon began getting phone calls from people wanting to know if shelters would be opened here? Where would supplies come from? Lynn has ended up spending her day as an intermediary between various organizations, numerous volunteers, and people staffing shelters at the Dance Palace Community Center and at Marconi Conference Center.

In the midst of all this, I set off for Kaiser in San Rafael where my new eye glasses were ready to be picked up. However, before I left town, I dropped off Lynn’s mail at the postoffice, which turned out to be closed for Columbus Day. The detour, however, let me see an unexpected mass of cars and trucks jamming Point Reyes Station. There were so many that Green Bridge Gas & Auto, the only gas station in the area, had run out of gasoline. 

Volunteering at the Dance Palace, where West Marin residents donated piles of clothing for survivors of the fires. Some evacuees had lost much of what they owned.

One of West Marin’s many wonderful qualities is how quickly community members volunteer to help when there’s almost any kind of dire need. Wearing my new eyeglass lenses while driving home, I began checking the passing scene and soon noticed another group of volunteers. A series of horse trailers was heading east on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I’ll bet those folks are en route to helping evacuate horses, I thought.

As it happened, not long after I got home, Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber called to speak with Lynn about a Disaster Council matter. I gave him her cell phone number, and while I had him on the line, I used the opportunity to ask about all the horse trailers. The chief said they’d probably be used to evacuate not just horses but other large animals as well. Mystery solved.

The Marin County Fire Department from the start was well represented on the front lines. The county reported dispatching 22 engines, 5 ambulances, 3 “chief officers,” 1 bulldozer, 1 hand crew, and 7 special firefighters to help neighboring fire departments. Eventually, almost 8,000 firefighters from all over were attacking the blazes, along with 550 firetrucks (including 170 from out of state), 73 helicopters, and more than 30 airplanes.

Meanwhile over at Civic Center, the Marin Sheriff’s Office and the Red Cross have opened a shelter in the Veterans’ Auditorium and report having served meals to 675 evacuees. Terra Linda High School has opened a shelter to house 49 people. Altogether, Marin County is sheltering at least 2,000 evacuees.

Olema Hill, Sept. 21. Nor is West Marin invulnerable to wildfires, having survived five in the past month alone. Thankfully, all of those were contained before they could do much damage. This fire was limited to eight acres. (Photo by Richard Dillman)

Still to be determined is why more than a dozen major fires broke out around the same time Sunday night in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. One hypothesis blames a combination of dry vegetation and high winds that damaged power lines and spread the resulting fires rapidly. Fire officials are investigating.