Sun 10 May 2015
The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light, has now sold out virtually all of its third printing. When I wrote the book a year and a half ago with Jacoba Charles as coauthor, I had no idea it would sell so well. Aside from a very few copies at Point Reyes Books, Toby’s Feed Barn, and Tomales Regional History Center, it’s no longer available in West Marin.
The History Center published it, and on Sunday Lynn and I drove to Tomales to drop off the last few copies still on hand. It would have been an easy jaunt were it not for all the bicyclists on Highway 1. Riding four abreast on a two-lane state highway would seem to be the height of either ignorance or arrogance, but at least on this trip we didn’t see any spandex-covered legs sticking out of the ditch.
While in Tomales, Lynn and I stopped at Mostly Natives Nursery to check out the posies, and Lynn found a giant verbena to add to the foliage on our deck. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Mostly Natives is a great little nursery right beside Highway 1 downtown. And as it happens, it’s also the setting of one of my favorite stories in The Light on the Coast.
In a March 3, 2005, news article headlined “Wild turkey blacks out Tomales,” Point Reyes Light reporter Peter Jamison wrote: “A surprisingly resilient wild turkey downed power lines in Tomales last week, causing a four-hour blackout. The turkey, by all indications, is still alive and at large.
“Tomales residents Margaret Graham and Walter Earle, owners of Mostly Natives, were drinking tea and reading the paper shortly before 6:45 a.m. last Friday in their home when they were startled by a loud explosion and brilliant flash of light from outside their window.
“Running outside, they discovered three downed power lines and a dazed-looking turkey walking in circles on Highway 1. The couple watched as the turkey ambled into the field across the road from their house, disappearing into the brush.
“‘He could have had a heart attack later on in that field,’ Graham said. ‘But I don’t know. There were some feathers in the road, but they didn’t look burnt.'”
“Earle immediately reported the downed power lines to the Tomales firehouse. ‘Some turkey just took out the power lines,’ he recalled saying. Fire Captain Tom Nunes told The Light that he assumed at the time that Earle was referring to a drunk driver rather than a bird.
“Arriving on the scene, Nunes and a crew of volunteer firefighters were baffled to find a mysterious scattering of feathers, but no turkey. After a search of the area yielded no dead or dying birds, Nunes could only confirm that the turkey had somehow survived a head-on collision with a 12,000-volt power line.
“‘You’d think where the power line broke there’d be a fried bird or something,” Nunes said, ‘but we couldn’t find remnants or anything.’
“The jolt of electricity administered to other birds — such as turkey vultures — that more commonly touch live power lines is so strong that the birds typically burst into flames, Nunes said. Typically this occurs when a vulture sitting on a line starts to take off, and its long wings touch two lines simultaneously. In one such accident in the summer of 1998, a flaming buzzard fell to the ground and ignited a 2.5-acre grass fire along Old Rancheria Road in Nicasio.
“Some 825 households and businesses in Tomales initially lost power when the blackout began at 6:45 a.m. Of these, 622 had their power back on by 8 a.m. All customers had their lights back on by 10:15 a.m., spokesman Lloyd Coker of PG&E said.
“Coker noted that he’s never heard of a bird surviving a brush with power lines, and he could recall only one instance when a wild turkey had flown into a power line, which happened about eight years ago in Sebastopol.
“‘I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a common occurrence,’ he added. The scarcity of such incidents is no surprise since wild turkeys can fly only short distances when they fly at all. ‘They don’t fly all that well, so we’ve had no [previous] cases of turkeys hitting the power lines,’ Nunes said.
“At the site of last week’s mishap, however, a steep hillside serves as a launching pad for the birds, which — frantically flapping their wings — can travel to the field across the road.
“Graham said she and her husband had often witnessed the birds in their short bursts of flight across the highway….”
This excerpt from Jamison’s news story is one example of why I as editor of The Light appreciated his craftsmanship. Nor was I the only editor who did. After he left The Light, Jamison went on to write for SF Weekly, The Tampa Bay Times, and now The Los Angeles Times, where he is the metro reporter.
Meanwhile, back in Tomales, nurseryman Walter Earle today shared his amused memories of that winter day 10 years ago when a wild turkey blacked out the town. In particular, he remembered firefighters preparing for a medical emergency when they thought the “turkey” he was talking about was a drunk driver.