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Hail hitting the deck at Mitchell cabin on Feb. 15. Nor was that the end of it. As recently as Saturday morning, spots on Inverness Ridge were hailed. As it turned out, the hail three weeks ago gave a strong hint that West Marin was heading into a spell of heavy weather.

Spring weather, so to speak. By Feb. 26, so much rain had fallen that an artesian spring bubbled up from a gopher hole near Mitchell cabin.

The rain created a much grimmer scene downtown that day. All the roads in and out of Point Reyes Station and other West Marin towns were flooded, mudslides caused structural damage, trees came down on houses, roads, cars, and utility lines, resulting in a series of blackouts.

And it was at least as bad elsewhere in Marin County that week. Three homes in Sausalito were destroyed by a mudslide. Multiple homes in the hills above San Anselmo were isolated by downed trees and mud. Highway 37 east of Novato was completely flooded for days.

Papermill Creek as seen from the Green Bridge on Feb. 26. Homes and businesses on the eastern end of the levee road in Point Reyes Station were flooded when the creek rose. One person was evacuated by canoe.

A doe takes shelter from the rain under a coyote bush in our field.

Even though larger wildlife are generally stuck outdoors when it rains, most animals handle bad weather amazingly well although I suspect that some of them don’t fully understand what’s going on. I was watching a nearby fawn today when light rain began falling. From the fawn’s reaction, it appeared that she at first mistook the droplets hitting her head for flies and tried to shake them off and brush them away with a hoof.

A bobcat goes on a gopher hunt in wet grass during a pause in the rain a week ago. The fields around our cabin are filled with gopher holes, making them a good hunting ground, for we’re seeing the bobcat almost every day now.

After the rains had subsided, I spotted 25 doves in a tree uphill from our cabin, and it almost seemed Biblical.

“Noah sent forth a dove from him to see if the waters were abated off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him in the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.” A week later Noah sent the bird out again “and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew the waters were abated from off the earth.” Nonetheless, Noah remained in the ark for another week and again “sent forth the dove which returned not again to him any more.” — Genesis 8

In the aftermath of the floods, a lot of repair work is needed around Marin County. People who lost homes or cars are suffering. And I keep trying to stop small-scale erosion in my driveway.

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 Valentine’s Day my wife Lynn gave me a book with an intriguing title. It’s Lust on Trial by Amy Werbel (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Dr. Werbel is associate professor of  the history of art at New York State University’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Her book explains how 40 years of misguided attempts to maintain New England Calvinism as America’s culture made it possible for almost any works showing a naked body — from fine art, to erotica, to medical texts — to be prosecuted as obscene. Unfortunately, some laws shaped by that era still haunt parts of our country today.

           Professor Amy Werbel 

At the center of her account is a Puritanical, anti-vice crusader from New Canaan, Connecticut, Anthony Comstock (1844-1915). He for 40 years wielded so much clout that the 1873 federal anti-obscenity law was named the Comstock Act.                                                  

Comstock helped found the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Working with police in the state, the NYSSV seized tons of supposed obscenities, which even included pictures from Paris that were regarded as fine art in France. 

“The leaders of the NYSSV all presumed the existence of a ‘racio-cultural hierarchy,’ with ‘Teutonic/Anglo Saxons at the top,'” Werbel writes. “Given their belief that Anglo-Americans already possessed the greatest culture on earth, it seemed natural to view French influences generally as a form of pollution.”

French Catholicism, in NYSSV eyes, failed to condemn all public exhibition of nude art whereas American Protestantism recognized a social need for enforcing Calvinistic standards of morality.

 

Anthony Comstock in his New York office around 1900. (All photos in posting from ‘Lust on Trial’)

For 40 years as an inspector in the post office department, Comstock “vigorously asserted his power to serve as a Christian censor of morals within a supposedly secular government position,” Werbel writes. Among the “obscenities” Comstock also sought to suppress as supposed threats to morality were condoms, dildos, and birth-control information. He also fought in court to prohibit abortion. Ironically, his opposition to birth control and abortion was largely to insure that couples indulging in illicit sex would pay the penalty of having a baby.

‘Nymphs and Satyr’ by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1873.

In Bouguereau’s “playful” painting, Werbel explains, “the satyr had been caught spying on a group of nymphs who are now taking their vengeance by dragging him into a nearby pond. Satyrs can’t swim, and so his lust has been swiftly transferred into mortal terror.”

The Grand Saloon in the Hoffman House.

Although photos of the painting were ruled obscene in New York in 1883, they continued to circulate. The original painting of Nymphs and Satyr meanwhile hung on the wall of “the Grand Saloon” in the Hoffman House Hotel. The large painting had remained in place despite Comstock telling the hotel’s owner in 1885 to remove it. This was an expensive establishment geared to the wealthy upper class, and Comstock would soon learn that such people could not be successfully prosecuted.

An 1896 cigar label was considered an example of yet another medium being used for disseminating “obscenity.”

Comstock’s primary goal in suppressing all erotic images seems odd today. In his mind, the greatest danger they posed was to inspire lust which, in the case of boys, could lead to masturbation, and he considered self-gratification the worst of sins. We know his thoughts on this because Comstock at the age of 19 made an apparent reference in his diary to masturbating: “I debased myself in my own eyes today by my own weakness and sinfulness, was strongly tempted today, and oh! I yielded…. What suffering I have undergone since, no one knows.”

A year later having joined Connecticut’s Company H in the Union Army, Comstock saw the pornography that other soldiers had ordered through the mail, and he “again recorded giving into the same vices that plagued him in New Canaan.” His diary, two other biographers have noted, was “filled with confessions of guilt and outbursts of bitter remorse during these years.” Nor did “Comstock’s obsession with lust and masturbation” ever change, the book notes.

In the case of girls, as he saw it, the main danger of any lust resulting from obscenities was not that it would lead to masturbation but that it tended to make the girls indecent. When a short-lived American Student of Art magazine published nude pictures of both men and women, Comstock put it on trial for influencing girls to “turn to lives of shame,” insinuating that the arousal of girls “might lead them to prostitution.”

Although Comstock seized hundreds of dildos, they confused him. He believed respectable women were “passionless” and that for any female, arousal depended on “male impetus.” When his investigations turned up a dildo which was somewhat expensive by standards of the times, he wondered who the customers were? “Prostitutes don’t use them,” he reasoned. “The married do not. Their cost being about $6 would seem to preclude their use by the poor and the low.” Werbel writes that Comstock was “entirely unable to fathom that an unmarried woman of means might want to take pleasure from masturbation using an artificial penis.”

Ironically, as the author notes, “one of the most common diseases serious doctors diagnosed among women in the mid-nineteenth century was ‘female hysteria’…. Many recommended curing the problem with induced orgasms, either produced by physicians who massaged the vulva by hand, often on a weekly basis, or hydrotherapy that directed a strong stream of water onto the clitoris.” This was time-consuming, Werbel adds, and ultimately led to doctors inventing the electric vibrator.

 

Figure in Motion by Robert Henri.

Since the reason displays of nude bodies were obscene, as Comstock saw it, was that they inspired lust, arousal was his personal test for obscenity; if something turned him on, it was obscene. When it came time for his defendants to go on trial, juries for their own protection were for years not allowed to see the “vile” evidence that had been seized, and even when defendants were acquitted, they often didn’t get their goods back.

By 1900, however, Comstock’s judgment was being increasingly challenged. After he led a string of raids on “vendors of improper photographs” in Philadelphia in 1886, the vendors argued in court that the photos were high art or were pictures to be used by artists who couldn’t afford a live model.

Even though Comstock argued that the New York Court of Errors and Appeals had found the same pictures to be obscene, the Philadelphia judge quickly threw out the cases. “It seems absurd for New York detectives to come over here and try to demonstrate that recognized works of art are obscene,” he remarked.

When the American Society of Artists publicly protested seizures of art, it declared, “We believe that the study of the nude in art is not only innocent, but is refining and ennobling.”

After Comstock seized art from the Knoedler gallery in New York, The Evening Telegram responded by printing on Page 1 the pictures that he didn’t want the public to see. Comstock then tried to get the district attorney to indict The Telegram but was abruptly turned down.

Other newspapers were also beginning to mock Comstock’s censorship.  Commenting on all this, The New York Times wrote that Comstock exemplified “persons of a low grade of intelligence and a prurient turn of mind.” The Springfield Republican called him “the most preposterous ass that walks on two legs.”

‘Anthony Comstock: The Village Nuisance’ by Louis Glackens was published as a cartoon in a humor magazine called Puck. “While he holds up his hands in protest, Comstock at the same time fixes his gaze firmly at his enticement,” Werbel points out. “The scene is a clear reference to his ineffective campaign to rid shop windows of such suggestive displays.

“At the upper left, Comstock leads clothed horses down a park path, and below that he attempts to serve a warrant on ‘a shameless French poodle.’  On the right… we see Comstock bathing fully clothed and, finally, in the last scene he ‘gets what is coming to him,’ tormented by winged devils in the fiery abyss of hell — in which he wears only a peek-a-boo carnival mask across his ample posterior.”

In his prosecutions, Comstock typically cited England’s Hicklin test for obscenity. If something erotic could disturb even the most vulnerable people, such as small children, it was considered obscene. Not until 1957 did the U.S. Supreme Court finally stop the use of the Hicklin test for determining obscenity. From now on, it ruled, Congress could ban only material “utterly without redeeming social importance.” What mattered was “whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest.”

It seems significant that when Comstock died in 1915, there was far more sexual material in the country than when he began his anti-vice campaign. Indeed, he “had helped to make figure painters, sculptors, and nude models extremely sexy,” the author observes. Moreover, his prosecutions frequently proved to be valuable publicity for whatever was on trial.

By our standards, some of Comstock’s own standards would be considered immoral. For example, “he viewed child sex trafficking as largely the fault of the victims,” according to the author. He “placed the blame for ‘White Slavers’ squarely on the girls who had ‘already been dragged down to perdition by the perverted imagination.'”

Over several weeks in 1899 alone, a series of girls, who were caught in the nets of traffickers, out of desperation committed suicide (using poison) in one particular tavern, McGurk’s saloon in the Bowery. “Comstock,” the book says, “ascribed their deaths to ‘reading light novels.'”

Werbel quotes Christine Stansell, who also writes about art, as saying one of Comstock’s great unintended accomplishments was to make the opposition coalesce: “The battle to protect free speech linked artists, writers, and professionals of  progressive bent to working-class militants.” These factions Werbel adds, “disagreed on many subjects, but they all wanted the opportunity to be heard, to be read.

“In the following decades, that right waxed and waned both in law and custom, but it has never again been as diminished as during the reign of Anthony Comstock.”

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.

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.

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.

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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