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A bobcat seen last week from a kitchen window. The cat has taken to showing up in the fields around Mitchell cabin, hunting gophers several times a month. Our fields have so many gophers that I’m always happy to see him.

A male American kestrel perching on the railing of our deck a couple of days ago as it likewise scanned the field below for prey. The falcon eats small birds, mice and insects.

A California scrub jay perched on an oak tree near our deck. These jays feed on insects, small animals, the eggs and young of other birds, grains, berries, and nuts. They’re among the most intelligent of all animals, according to some biologists.

Displaying her impressive spurs, a wild turkey walks along the railing of our deck pecking at seeds put out for other birds. The turkeys eat so much seed and leave such large droppings that they soon became unwelcome guests. During the day when they’re out and about, Lynn closes the gate where they walk onto the deck to discourage their getting used to it as their territory.

Turkeys march uphill near Mitchell cabin. We’ve had as many as 30 at a time in recent weeks. Wild turkeys have a Goth-like drabness when seen at a distance, but when they’re seen up close, they….

are dramatically colorful. With multi-hued feathers, a bright-red wattle, and jutting spurs, they probably could be rated among the more colorful local wild birds.

And while we’ve all heard that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey as our national symbol instead of the bald eagle, the Franklin Institute says the story’s “a myth.” It apparently grew out of a letter to his daughter in which Franklin wrote that in comparison to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.”

A week of cold winds with several wet days has made downtown feel so bleak that I’d been thinking of filing a complaint with county government. However, as Lynn got out of our car in the Palace Market parking lot Monday, she called back to me that there was an impressive rainbow overhead. I then got out and saw the rainbow framed by overhead lines, dangling running shoes, a utility pole, treetops, and a chimney. Indeed I was impressed by the scene’s complexity.

 

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.

Capturing the interplay of light and shadow in nature is a specialty of Point Reyes Station photographer Marty Knapp, who just unveiled a new exhibition at the gallery in Toby’s Feed Barn. Called One Place Deeply, Knapp’s show of black and white photographs highlights nature’s beauty around the Green Bridge, Lagunitas/Papermill Creek, and the Giacomini wetlands in Point Reyes Station.

Marty Knapp in his small photo gallery, which is across the street from the feed barn with its much larger gallery.

On his own website, Marty tells this story: “In 1988, I quit my day job and became a self-employed photographer. I survived using only my camera and my darkroom. I did portraits and weddings, copied photographs and made slides for artists. In my darkroom, I developed films and made custom prints for clients.

“In my spare time I pursued my own creative work, capturing dramatic moments of light in the Point Reyes Seashore landscape, and then printing editions for collectors. My long-term goal was to follow my passion and support myself through the sale of my photographs.

“Sales of my creative work began growing in the 1990s, so by 2000 I opened the Marty Knapp Photo Gallery on Highway 1 in Point Reyes. Today, my wife Jean and I show my work there, welcoming visitors from around the world.”

Christmas Walk, 2018. Marty’s focus is so precise that intricate details of trees, water, and clouds become visible, creating a romantic aura.

Describing this photo, Marty wrote, “Jean and I had just returned from a Christmas Day drive through the backroads of Sonoma County. The light was beautiful as we returned home, so I grabbed my camera and immediately walked through the wetlands toward the Green Bridge. The last light of the sun was streaming from across Lagunitas Creek through the winter branches.”

The exhibition at Toby’s is “the culmination of over eight years of walking the trails behind town, very near to where Jean and I live. Access is key to photographing places like the Green Bridge Trail and White House Pool area….

“Being nearby, I walk there almost every day. The light isn’t always wonderful, but with enough time and many visits, photographs like [those in the exhibit] present themselves to me and my camera.”

“I’m drawn to the places where light emerges from a darkened background,” Marty says. “There are several of these kind of photographs I’ve made along the Green Bridge Trail. I call them ‘portals.’”

I’ve known Marty and admired his work for almost 30 years. Because his photos are so sharp, he can get away with printing them as small as notecard size, which is the format which people often get to see. In the show at Toby’s, however, some of the prints are far larger, more than three by four feet, and the results are dazzling.

Marty will give a talk on his photography and answer questions during a second reception set for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. His talk will start at 2:30 p.m. The display at Toby’s will remain up from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Feb. 26, so if you haven’t yet seen the exhibition, you still have time.

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.

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?”

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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 raven 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.

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A raccoon looking down on my front steps keeps an eye out for non-family members invading his territory.

Happy New Year! As longtime readers know, I’ve periodically started off the new year with a look at the wildlife around Mitchell cabin. This year I’m  going to do it in two postings, the first focusing on the mammals I’ve seen and managed to photograph. The second will feature amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

Begging for food at our door. This raccoon was missing its left front foot. Lynn took pity on the creature, dubbed it “Peanut,” and tried to make sure it got to eat without more-robust raccoons driving it away from the food.

Several raccoons show up on our deck every night hoping to get kibble or food scraps. Outside our front windows, they try to catch our attention, sometimes making noise by dragging the pads of their feet down the glass.

They bathe in our birdbath as well as drink from it. We’ve seen as many as four young raccoons crowd into it at one time it although its far side is 15 feet off the ground.

By now most of them are comfortable on our deck, and a few show up some evenings to take naps, especially those who are pregnant and need sleep.

We also see jackrabbits on this hill quite often but they’re not as punctual as raccoons.

The jackrabbits manage to get along easily with our local blacktail deer. The only time I’ve seen a rabbit particularly wary around these deer occurred when a fawn wandered over to the edge of a field to sniff it. The rabbit hopped off a few yards but stuck around.

Two young bucks, the far one with an antler missing perhaps from butting heads with another buck.

A fawn hiding in the grass. It’s fun to have blacktail deer around the cabin, but they tend to eat our roses and persimmons.

Even more of a problem in the garden are the scores of gophers that live in this hill. Their mounds perforate our fields.

But the gophers don’t have total free run of the place. Here a bobcat pounces on a gopher leaving its burrow near our cabin.

Bobcats have been far more common on this hill in recent years than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

A gray fox occasionally suns itself on our picnic table. Fox populations around here regularly rise only to fall during distemper outbreaks.

A coyote beside our parking area.

Coyotes can be seen in our fields every two or three months, but Lynn and I hear them howling several nights a week. There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because sheep ranchers regularly poisoned them. After the poisoning was banned during President Nixon’s administration, coyotes began showing up here in 1983. They had spread south from northern Sonoma County, where they never disappeared.

A mother badger with her kit. The most ferocious predators near the cabin are badgers. Even a bear would be no match. Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs.  Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows. We occasionally find badger burrows in our fields, but we rarely get to see the animals themselves.

Lest I leave you with the impression that on this hill it’s all “nature red in tooth and claw,” to quote Tennyson, I’ll end this posting with two examples of the many peaceful mammals living here.

A gray squirrel drinking from the birdbath. As I photographed it through a living-room window, the squirrel began eyeing me but didn’t run off.

Skunks are another species that increasingly populates our yard. They’re a bit worrisome, but so far they haven’t caused a stink here.

And may you too have a stink-free new year.

 

 

Prompted by President Trump’s intemperate rhetoric, the word fanatic kept coming to mind, so I decided to look up the word’s origin. “Fanatic comes from the Latin word for temple, fanum, and meant mad as if inspired by a god,” or so I read in the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, which I’ve quoted here before. Perhaps the most scathing definition of fanatic, however, is Winston Churchill’s: “One who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

The dictionary’s explanation of cold shoulder is a bit of a surprise: “When knighthood was in flower, a wandering knight would be received at any castle with a sumptuous hot meal. However, the common traveler would do well to be offered a plate of cold meat. Since mutton was a common food of the times in England, he would be likely to get the cold shoulder. Today when we turn the cold shoulder to anyone, we treat him with disdain bordering on contempt.”

Another surprising phrase is the toast chin-chin. It comes from Italy, where it is spelled cin-cin and means something like to your health. I heard the expression in Italy and France while traveling as a college student and started using it instead of cheers. Recently in both Point Reyes Station and Sausalito, however, I used chin-chin with a friend who had lived in Japan and with an acquaintance from there, and it got each woman laughing. Turns out that in Japanese, chin-chin means penis.

I doublechecked online and read this account: “One of our Japanese engineers had once told us a story about … a Japanese business man [who] goes to a dinner event. During the course of the dinner, an Italian raises his glass and toasts ‘Chin-chin!’ to the Japanese man. At first, the Japanese looks stunned. He looks at the Italian, and apparently detecting that the Italian meant no harm, he raises his glass and sips his drink sharing in the toast. He smiles broadly.

“Later in the evening, someone who noticed his facial expressions during the toast, goes to the Japanese man and asks him about his reaction. He smiles and explains: ‘I had not heard this particular toast before. In Japanese, the word chin means penis. So when he said ‘chin-chin‘ to me, I thought at first he was insulting me. Then I thought about it, and decided if this man wants to toast my penis, who am I to argue? So I accepted the toast gladly.'”

 — From a 1933 New Yorker magazine

The Morris Dictionary gives two alternative explanations for the origin of the phrase bring home the bacon. One is that the winner of greased-pig contests at county fairs often got to bring the porker home. The other, which I prefer, goes back to 1111 A.D. in the town of Dunmow in England: “A noblewoman, wishing to encourage marital happiness, decreed that ‘any person from any part of England going to Dunmow and humbly kneeling on two stones at the church door may claim a gammon [side] of bacon, if he can swear that for twelve months and a day he has never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried.'”

However, judging by these standards, such happiness was rare. “Let cynics make what they will of the record,” Morris Dictionary commented, “in a period of five centuries (1244-1772), there were only eight claimants of the prize.”

Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy of the dictionary when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago, and I remain indebted to him.

 

 

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We are in the midst of holiday crafts fairs from the community center in Muir Beach to the community centers in Bolinas, the San Geronimo Valley, and Point Reyes Station. 

And that is in addition to last Friday’s Christmas-tree lighting in Point Reyes Station and an exhibit that opened Sunday in Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. It focuses on key women in early Inverness and on Point Reyes.

Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell

Point Reyes Station celebrated its 20th annual Path of Lights Friday. Many stores stayed open late, and luminarios lined the sidewalk in front of them. West Marin Senior Services sponsored the lighting of the town Christmas tree beside the bank.

Also in Point Reyes Station, the Dance Palace Community Center held its 48th annual artisan craft and holiday market all weekend. Terry Aleshire (center) confers with his elves.

Working the table at the Dance Palace fair’s raffle were (from left):  Allie Klein, Amelia Aufuldish, Bella Schlitz, Zoe Rocco-Zilber, and Melissa Claire.

Cannabis-based remedies for various ailments were on sale.

Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell

San Geronimo Valley’s community center held its 49th annual holiday crafts fair on the portico and inside the building, 89 years since it first opened as a public school.

Amy Valens, left, talks with local vendors Rebecca Maloney (center) and Denise Jackson. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell) 

Richard “Santa” Sloan determines who’s been naughty or nice.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Suzanne Sadowsky sits behind the Hanukah menorah. The holiday commemorates the oil that miraculously lasted eight days, lighting the Temple recovered by the Maccabees in 165 B.C. The holiday begins tonight.  (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Sarah Riddell Shafter (1823-1900) married Oscar Lovell Shafter in 1841 and bore him 11 children.

‘Those Shafter Women’ is the name of the exhibit that just opened in the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. “It focuses on the wives and daughters of the original six children born to Mary Lovell Shafter and William Rufus Shafter,” the museum newsletter notes. The eldest was named Wealthy Loretta Shafter Edminister…” Yes, her first name really was “Wealthy.”

Emma Shafter Howard married Charles Webb Howard in 1861. In 1890, they separated, and he agreed to support her for life and to leave half of his extensive West Marin holdings to her. However, he left her only Bear Valley Ranch, as Emma discovered when he died in 1908. Emma, who was known as “a strong woman,” sued to get her half of the property and was successful. This, however, caused bad feelings with some of the other heirs, her children and younger sisters.

Emma took part in numerous social causes. She was a lifetime member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She founded the Women’s Agricultural and Horticultural Union of California. 

The exhibit is in large part a genealogical presentation with history told as it relates to members of the Shafter family.

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Friday was like no other day in my lifetime.  I turned 75, which makes me an official oldster. I was born on Nov. 23, 1943, roughly halfway between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945, which made me a “war baby.”

It was a different reality then. Our windows in San Francisco’s Marina District were hung with blackout curtains at night. This was mandatory since it was feared that too many lights could allow a Japanese bomber to pinpoint his location. A submarine net was strung across the Golden Gate, and my parents for years talked about the night a whale got caught in the net and set off alarms all around the bridge.

In 1946, my family moved to the Berkeley hills, where I grew up. That was a long time ago, as I keep remembering when I drive past our old home nowadays. I hardly recognize the place. When I was a kid, our hillside property with all its eucalyptus trees and brush seemed huge. I could build forts and tree houses and go exploring. Since then, our former property has been repeatedly divided, and houses now fill much of my childhood’s adventure-land.

Dinner at Avatar’s —  From left: Lori Granger, restaurateur Ashok Kumar, David Fisher, Patsy Krebs, her husband Jon Fernandez, yours truly, Libby Colman, my wife Lynn, and Libby’s husband Paul Kaufman.

My birthday party Friday started at Avatar’s Restaurant in Sausalito, where the dishes are from India, sometimes fused with recipes from Mexico. I had two curried-sweet-potato enchiladas. Without exception we all came away praising our meals.

Lynn and I celebrating at the No Name.

Sausalito’s No Name Bar, a fun venue for serious jazz, was our next stop.  It’s a cozy spot, and I go there every Friday, often with Jon Fernandez or Lynn, as well as other West Marin friends. 

Friends we first met at the No Name long ago — (from left) regulars Diane Johnson, Paul LeClerc, and Ray Smith —  joined our celebration. Diane showed up from another event with slices of  pumpkin pie, which she topped with whipped cream provided by a bartender. As bars go, it’s an unusually friendly place. 

As we were leaving at the end of the evening, sax player Rob Roth congratulated me, and the Michael Aragon Quartet — with another drummer sitting in for Michael, who took the night off — played ‘Happy Birthday.’

The fact that I’m beginning my 76th year has been causing me to take stock of where I’ve been and where I am. I certainly don’t see, hear or walk as well as I once did. Peripheral neuropathy, which has desensitized areas on the bottoms of my feet, sometimes makes it feel like I’m walking on a corrugated-steel roof. However, I can still get around and carry loads of firewood uphill to the house.

What really bothers me about aging is my declining memory. When I encounter people I haven’t seen in awhile, I often can’t remember their names. Although I was a journalist for 35 years and taught English at Upper Iowa University for two years before that, I frequently can’t think of some word that I want to use in a conversation. It’s extremely frustrating.

But aging has not been a totally downhill slide. I’ve learned my tastes in art, music, books and periodicals, and this results in fewer false starts. Probably some of my decisions are better informed than they might have been years ago. Life is for learning, I’ve heard said.

Ironically, back when Sparsely Sage and Timely was my column in The Point Reyes Light, I referred to myself in it for several years as “the old man” although I was only in my 30s at the time. Now at 75, I’m twice as old as my “old man,” so to speak.

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