Archive for January, 2019

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Amanita muscaria growing beside our driveway.

Amanita muscaria, with its red cap and white flecks, can be hallucinogenic if eaten, but it’s also poisonous if not prepared correctly. Amanitas are native to this area, and the Miwok are said to have consumed these mushrooms for the visions they produced.

Without actually ingesting any amanitas, I’ll now attempt to conjure up the sort of hallucinations they might create, especially in West Marin.

Preserving possums. The late Seeva Cherms, daughter of Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, years ago noticed my interest in serving the local possum population, so one Christmas she created this sign for me. Unfortunately few possums have come around in the past three or four years, so the sign is now hanging in the basement.

Probably one reason I used to get more visits from possums is that back then, when I could afford it, I fed them honey-roasted peanuts. This possum so loved the snacks that he didn’t mind my petting him while he ate.

Fine dining. And since the same possum was becoming a regular dinner guest, I took time to teach him proper table manners, as has been noted here before.

Bodhisattva. One of the most popular photos I ever posted involved my using the same peanuts to encourage a bodhisattva possum along his path to enlightenment.

More amanitas. Another hallucination that ingesting amanitas might inspire is of civilizing raccoons too. There certainly are a lot more raccoons than possums around these days. 

A beautiful bouquet for your lady? My first raccoon-training dream was to teach this one the floral business. The raccoon learned customer service so well that its picture hung in Flower Power, the florist in downtown Point Reyes Station, for more than a year. Really.

More of a trick was teaching this raccoon bartending. The only watering spot I know where patrons can still smoke a pipe these days is at the back of the No Name Bar in Sausalito, so that’s the job for which he’s probably in training. “Drambuie, you say?”

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

For the fourth time in eight months a friend got me to read a book that turned out to be worth writing about. This time it was Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, who gave me the book Haunted Salem Oregon by Tim King. It was published last year by Haunted America, a Division of the History Press, Charleston, South Carolina. I don’t believe in the paranormal, so I wasn’t sure the book would interest me, but it did.

 

Tim King in his days as a motorcycle journalist.  (Photo by Tom King)

The publisher describes the author as: “a former marine [who] spent more than 20 years working for a variety of local TV news stations in Oregon, Arizona and Nevada, including ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates. Tim founded Salem-News.com in 2004.

“Later in 2006, he took an assignment with Oregon Guard’s 41st Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan, reporting for Portland, Oregon ABC affiliate, KATU. During the summer of 2008, Tim went to Iraq, where he covered the war. In addition to motorcycle journalism, Tim coauthored the book Betrayal in 2013. In 2015, Tim launched Salem Ghost Tours.”

Despite being an experienced reporter, King writes about “paranormal investigators” as if they need no explanation: “Experts explain that there are several different types of ghosts. Among the different categories are intelligent ghosts, residual spirits, poltergeists, demonic ghosts, and shadow people… Paranormal investigation [can become] highly addictive.”

Underground passageways found when an old building was demolished.

Salem is the capitol of Oregon, and along with tales of its ghosts, readers learn about the odd way the city was originally constructed. “A labyinth of tunnels snakes its way under Salem’s old downtown section,” King writes. “These underground passageways were used by the public to navigate between buildings in the late 19th century. There was a main tunnel system and numerous catacombs, many of which still exist…

“I would not be surprised if Salem qualified as a record holder for the largest number of underground tunnels in a US city.” Indeed, “the state hospital tunnels are notorious and long known for their ghostly presence…. Stories about ghosts in the old tunnels are rife. Employees of the state hospital still talk about tormented, lifeless spirits clinging to our world and roaming the grounds.”

A safe found under a demolished building.

“Today, quite sadly, much of Salem’s underground has been filled in,” King laments. “Long passageways that had access to spacious rooms only accessible through underground tunnels are now blocked off and filled in…. All efforts to preserve the tunnels failed.”

 

The Fairview Home for the Feeble Minded

“The Fairview Home for the Feeble Minded, as it was originally called, easily competes as one of Salem’s most haunted places,” according to King. That comes about because of the “tragic abuse people suffered…. In the beginning, Fairview’s patients were called ‘inmates.’ That word set the tone for a zero-tolerance environment.

“Over time more than 2,500 forced sterilizations took place…. Forced hysterectomies, tubal ligations, vasectomies and even castrations were requirements for discharge from Fairview through the late 1970s…. The place seems to hold or possess the spirit that loomed over people here, making them alone and fearful and often in pain over their own physical and mental shortcomings.”

Salem’s Reed Opera House which opened in 1870.

“The man who built this immense brick structure,  a former Civil War general, Cyrus Reed, has reportedly been seen for decades in his military uniform, greeting people and welcoming them into the building before disappearing,” King writes. “Similar stories tell of a striking woman in a red dress. Like the general, she welcomes guests and then disappears. Like the general, she is noted for her armless and legless appearance,” King reports.

“The stories about ghosts on the second floor, the site of the old theater, abound. People talk about a pair of poltergeists that cause endless mischief. They are believed to be the spirits of two teenage boys who, in the early years of the theater, learned to draw a reaction from the audience with their vaudevillian antics. They enjoy hiding items that the maintenance crews are searching for.

“Today the second floor of the three-story building is probably the most active. A shadow figure of a man who reportedly wears a top hat is the topic of regular discussion among the councilors who primarily occupy the floor. The shadow man is disturbing, though the figure does not approach people.”

Of course, there are no photographs of any of these ghosts, although King writes that several people have recorded the sounds they make. And that is the essence of Haunted Salem Oregon. If readers are willing to momentarily suspend disbelief, they’ll read some fascinating tales.

Tim King in a recent photo.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

Los Angeles policeman Richard Grotsley shows the 4.5-foot rattlesnake that the Synanon cult, then based in Marshall, used in its attempt to murder attorney Paul Morantz in October 1978. Two members planted the snake with its warning rattles cut off in Morantz’s mailbox. The snake bit the attorney and likely would have killed him were it not for a swift response from paramedics. (United Press International photo)

NBC Sports Bay Area next week will air a documentary titled Split End: the Curious Case of Warren Wells. It should be of special interest here. Wells was an All-Pro wide receiver who played four seasons for the Oakland Raiders. After alcoholism led to his receiving  two drunk-driving convictions and an assault conviction, a judge in 1971 ordered him to enter Synanon in lieu of going to jail. Wells spent only six months in the cult, but he never recovered from having his spirit broken there and was unable to play professional football again. Wells, who died last month at the age of 76, was interviewed for the documentary. In it, he is clearly confused at times as a result of serious dementia.

The showing will be at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24.

Were it not for his legal problems and time in Synanon, Wells might have been one of the greatest wide receivers in history. In 1969, for example, he led the American Football League in yards received (1,260), yards per catch (26.8), and touchdowns (14).

Synanon founder Charles Dederich

Charles Dederich, a recovering alcoholic, started Synanon in 1958 in a rented storefront in Santa Monica, touting it as a rehabilitation organization for drug addicts; however, it soon turned into a highly profitable corporation which avoided taxation by calling itself a religion.

In 1964, Synanon began buying its three properties in Marshall. Those three are now the state’s Marconi Conference Center overlooking Tomales Bay plus the S-2 Ranch and the Walker Creek Environmental Ed Center, both on the Marshall-Petaluma Road. At various times Synanon also owned properties in Santa Monica, Oakland, Badger and Visalia (both in Tulare County), and Lake Havasu (in Arizona). 

Members lived at Synanon where no alcohol or drugs were available and Dederich could direct their lives. When they recovered from their addictions, members were often convinced not to leave but to remain as employees. In addition, more and more non-addict “squares” began moving into Synanon for the lifestyle, often cajoled into turning over their houses, bank accounts, and cars. Synanon justified this with a promise to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Many members became low-paid salesmen for Synanon’s highly profitable Advertising Gifts And Premiums business.

ADGAP was a distributor of promotional souvenirs to merchants such as car dealers. The souvenirs were often keychains, cocktail glasses, or other knickknacks inscribed with the merchants’ names. Synanon’s sales pitch was essentially: ‘You’re going to buy this stuff anyway, and if you buy it from us, your money will help cure drug addicts.’ The ploy was so successful that ADGAP eventually grossed $11 million a year.

Meanwhile Dederich was becoming increasingly authoritarian and demanding. Synanon already prevented members from having much contact with family members on the outside. To insure that members were totally committed to Synanon as it had evolved, Dederich launched what amounted to a series of conformity tests.  In 1975, all members — male and female — were required to shave their heads. In early 1977, Dederich coerced men who had been in Synanon five years or longer to have vasectomies and pregnant women to get abortions. Later that same year, virtually all couples, married or not, were required to “change partners.” Members who objected to any of this had to get out, leaving the more zealous members as the core of the cult.

Critics, including lawyers suing the cult, were considered “enemies” and now could be marked for violence. Initially violence had been forbidden by Synanon, but Dederich soon dropped the ban.

Atty. Paul Morantz being interviewed for ‘Split End.’

After atty. Morantz won a $300,000 judgment against the cult for a Southern California woman who had been brainwashed and wrongfully imprisoned in Marshall, Dederich went on a rant recorded by Synanon itself. On the recording, which was seized by police, Dederich can be heard growling: “I’m quite willing to break some lawyer’s legs, and then tell him I’m going to break your wife’s legs, and then we are going to cut your kid’s ear off. Try me. This is only a sample, you son of a bitch. And that’s the end of your lawyer. And that’s the end of him and all his friends. It’s a very satisfactory and humane way of transmitting information.”

Yours truly being interviewed in the documentary.

In 1978 with Synanon violence becoming increasingly common in West Marin and elsewhere, editorials in The Point Reyes Light, which I published at the time, began criticizing law enforcement’s failure to see the pattern. Each incident was treated as unrelated to all the others until ……… the rattlesnake in Morantz’s mailbox. That crime was so bizarre that California’s criminal justice system was finally forced to pay more attention to the group.

Dederich and his two snake handlers were soon arrested and in court made no claim of innocence but instead pled no contest to charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The two were sentenced to a year in jail. After he complained of frail health, Dederich was not jailed but sentenced to five years probation and ordered to stay away from Synanon. In fact, he lived 17 more years, dying at the age of 83 in 1997.

By then, Synanon was no more. In 1991, the IRS had taken away the cult’s tax-exempt status, which forced it to disband. After viewers of Split End see the damage Synanon did to Wells, most will agree that Synanon should have been disbanded long before then. I’d recommend the documentary even if I didn’t have a cameo in it.

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

This is the second of two postings that show some of the animals which thrive around Mitchell cabin. The first posting focused on mammals I’ve seen and managed to photograph. Part 2 will feature amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

We will begin with some of the amphibians.

A Pacific Tree Frog chirps and then takes a rest on our deck.

An Arboreal Salamander crawls away from a tree.

A California Newt beside our front steps.

And now for reptiles

A male Western Fence Lizard, commonly known as a ‘Blue Belly,’ performs pushups to attract females and to warn off other males.

A Gopher Snake basking in sun near our driveway.

A Rubber Boa with a tick just below its left eye. Rubber Boas, which can measure more than 2.75 feet, are extremely docile with humans and will give off a stench rather than bite. They feed on young mice, snake eggs, lizard eggs, and young birds.

A Pacific Ringneck Snake that I found in a rotten log.

Birds

We put out birdseed on our deck every day, but what turns out to be almost as important to some birds is our birdbath, from which they regularly drink and in which they periodically bathe — and even prepare dinner, as you’ll see.

Two sparrows immodestly bathing together.

A crow uses the birdbath for skinning a caterpillar.

Two California scrub jays stop by the birdbath for a drink.

A crow gracefully hops over another crow to get to the birdbath.

A Golden-Crowned Sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window. The Golden-Crowned Sparrow’s distinctive, three-note song is essentially Three Blind Mice sung in a minor key.

Redwing Blackbirds eating birdseed on the railing of our deck.

A Brewer’s Blackbird feeds seeds to its young. Along with seeds, Brewer’s Blackbirds eat insects, spiders, and berries.

A (Tom) Wild Turkey near Mitchell Cabin. In 1988, a hunting club working with the State Department of Fish and Game introduced non-native turkeys into West Marin on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. By now there are far more turkeys than turkey hunters, and their flocks have spread throughout West Marin.

A (hen) Wild Turkey leads her offspring uphill outside our kitchen window.

Seven Wild Turkeys forage with four Blacktail deer near our woodshed.

Wild turkeys, at least on this hill, have remarkably easy relations with several other species, including this lonely peacock that sometimes hangs out with them.

A White-Tailed Kite hovers over our field hunting for rodents. (They rarely eat birds.) Eighty years ago, the White-Tailed Kite was on the verge of extinction in California as a result of shooting and egg collecting, but White-Tails have now recovered to where their survival is no longer a concern to government ornithologists.

A turkey buzzard dines on carrion just below our deck. As for how the cat died and how it got there, I have no idea. Everything has to end somewhere, I suppose, and I guess this is the time and place to end this posting.