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Sheltering in place with only limited socializing definitely affects one’s thinking. It forces many of us to spend more time alone taking stock of ourselves and of our lives. It’s a humbling experience and may provide an inkling of why a prisoner behind bars cannot avoid thinking about his life. But, as I’m sure the prisoner knows, too much such thinking becomes tedious. For the moment, I’m trying to divert my attention to the creatures I find all around me.

A hummingbird a week ago enjoyed a few sips before the smoke from the Woodward Fire significantly dissipated. As of this writing, the fire, which a lightning strike started on Aug. 18, was 97 percent contained, having blackened 4,929 acres in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

A coyote wandered up to the greenhouse of neighbors Dan and Mary Huntsman on August 21. Had I been looking out my living-room window, this is what I would have seen. Alas, I wasn’t looking, but Dan was and from his home took this picture. (Photo by Dan Huntsman)

Buzzards on Sept. 13 feast on the carcass of a skunk presumably killed by a great horned owl. It was the second time in recent weeks buzzards dined on a skunk near Mitchell cabin.

A gray fox showed up on our deck after dark last week to dine on the last bits of kibble I had given some raccoons earlier.

A skunk goes eye to eye with Newy, the stray cat we adopted in late July. More frequently than the fox, skunks show up after the raccoons to pick through what remains of the kibble.

And in a weather vein: Whenever Lynn opened the bedroom window in recent days, I started sneezing and then coughing. “Do you think it’s pollen or smoke that’s causing the sneezing?” she asked me a couple of days ago. “The answer,” I told her, “is blowing in the wind.”

I’ll stop here. There’s a lot I’m tempted to write about our political situation, but I think I’ll save that for another week.

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Friends are continually sending me humor to brighten these dark days. It works, so I’ll use this posting to pass along a few laughs.

I wish the California vote alone could decide the presidential election. The San Francisco Chronicle noted last Sunday that in this state, “Republicans now account for less than 25 percent of registered voters.”

—   —   —

When news media in Western democracies inaccurately report something, most are quick to own up to their mistake, whether serious or simply ridiculous.  I belong to the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE), and its members of late have been laughing at some of their own bizarre goofs. Here are two.

Manitoulin is an island within the Province of Ontario, and the editor of The Manitoulin West Recorder sent in examples of bloopers caused by misplacing items. Notice what’s “for sale” in this page of classified ads.

“Thankfully the parents got a kick out of it,”  the ISWNE member reported.
 
The Canadian editor also recalled, “We once had a front page picture of the final service of a church in a community on our island’s most western end. The photo was of the oldest congregant leaving the church for the last time and chatting with the minister. This particular week was also the week of one community’s fall fair, and what’s a fall fair without oddly shaped vegetables? Sadly, one of the veggie pics’ cutlines (captions) was placed with the old-lady church photo and began with: ‘This crooked specimen…’ She ALSO had a good sense of humour, thank goodness.”
 
—    —    —
Until I read this headline in The San Francisco Chronicle last week, I’d always wondered how busy government officials could find time for hookups and courtship, let alone a wedding.
 
 

—    —    —

Coronavirus. As noted in US News and World Report on Sept. 8: “Over 400,000 motorcycle enthusiasts gathered for the annual rally from Aug. 7-16 [in Sturgis, South Dakota], and it was reported that social distancing and mask wearing at some of the events was not observed.” 

“The rally was officially linked to hundreds of coronavirus cases across more than 10 states and at least one death. But the study that relied on cell phone data to track movements estimates that over 250,000 reported coronavirus cases from August 2 to September 2 are due to the rally – nearly 20% of the national cases during that time period, according to Andrew Friedson, one of the authors of the report.”

A friend in Point Reyes Station, however, claims a correction is needed:

—    —    —
 
And finally: Why doctors don’t go on strike

 

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A Cal Fire helicopter on Thursday crosses Inverness Ridge to drop water on a containment line for the Woodward Fire in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Smoke from back-burns rises through the forest.

The Woodward Fire, which was started by a lightning strike Aug. 18, was 85 percent contained by this evening after having grown to more than 4,800 acres. Part of the containment has included setting back-burns along Limantour Road. Full containment is expected by Tuesday.

Smoke from the fire has at times made the air in much of West Marin unhealthy, and smoke from hot spots may last for months, the Park Service has warned.

Vidas Negras Importan

The Black Lives Matter movement is sometimes getting overshadowed by the chaos at just a very few of the hundreds of protests around the country. In these isolated cases, looters and vandals have taken advantage of there being crowds in downtown areas. On at least one occasion, however, a covert white supremacist damaged property during a protest to discredit the protesters. Despite all this, only 7 percent of all the protests nationwide have had such problems, The Washington Post reported this past week.

 In an effort to refocus public attention on what the movement is really all about — stopping the unwarranted killing of Black people by overly aggressive police officers in several cities — I came up with a sign in Spanish. Its intent is to show that criticism of the killings transcends the Black and Anglo Saxon communities.

Maddy Sobel, who often sell jams and jellies in front of the Point Reyes Station post office, is also an artist, and she illustrated one of my signs. Her thought is that if I make some copies of her illustration, she can give them to kids to color with crayons. Sounds good to me. I gave another copy to Toby’s Coffee Bar, and you can see it displayed there without illustration.

Bumping elbows but not shaking handsFrom left: Phil Jennings, yours truly, and Gordon Jones

Before the pandemic and sheltering in place, I went to the No Name Bar in Sausalito to listen to live jazz every Friday night. Sunday afternoon, two friends from the No Name dropped by for an outdoor visit. I gave them both copies of the sign, and Jones was so enthusiastic he said he may have it imprinted on t-shirts.

My own family’s efforts to get justice for Blacks date from before the Civil War. My great-grandfather Luke Parsons was a member of John Brown’s Army but did not take part in the debacle at Harper’s Ferry. Instead he went on to command a Union Army company of Native Americans fighting in the Oklahoma Territory.

My late father was a Republican who supported the NAACP.  I formally joined the movement in the spring of 1968 while I was teaching high school in Leesburg, Florida. At the time, Willis V. McCall was the sheriff of Lake County, Florida, where Leesburg is located. He had come to be called the worst sheriff in the US and in private bragged he’d “killed more n-ggers” than any other man.

When McCall came up for reelection in 1968, a well-regarded Leesburg police officer ran against him, and I signed up to canvass voters in Black neighborhoods for the challenger. Unfortunately, McCall again won but was defeated four years later after yet another cruelty: a mentally impaired Black man was kicked to death in the Lake County jail.

Civil rights activist Julian Bond (center) in 1970 with members of an Upper Iowa University group, the Brotherhood, who had invited him to speak on campus. While he was studying at Morehouse College in the early 1960s, Bond had established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a.k.a. SNCC (pronounced “Snick”).

In the fall of 1968 I began teaching English and journalism at Upper Iowa University and the next semester became a faculty advisor to the new Black student union. As the group explained in a flyer: “The Brotherhood was founded and chartered in February 1969. It is an organized group open to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of Black culture…

“Under the able leadership of our past president, Rick Weber, and the helpful assistance of our advisors, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. [Robert] Schenck, the Brotherhood has enriched campus life by promoting various social functions, such as the annual Black Night.” Besides that variety show, the Brotherhood has sponsored “an inter-racial forum, and a play, A Raisin in the Sun. Our biggest accomplishment was, of course, acquisition of a Black Cultural House.”

Half a century later, I still recall advising the Brotherhood as one of my most informative experiences.

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Last week’s drama of wildfire, politics, and coronavirus continues, and none of it is better.

The Woodward Fire in the Point Reyes National Seashore had grown to more than 2,800 acres and was only 8 percent contained as of this morning despite more than 10 days of ground and aerial (seen above) firefighting. Residents south of Inverness Park on Silverhills Road, Fox Drive, and Noren Way have been ordered to evacuate.

Because the fire started near the Woodward Valley Trail on the ocean side of Inverness Ridge, it was named the Woodward Fire. And where does that name come from? In 1890, some members of San Francisco’s Pacific Union Club formed what they called “the Country Club” in the area for hunting, fishing, and socializing, Inverness historian Dewey Livingston told me this week. The hunting club building was at Divide Meadow. As it happened, two of the original members were brothers, Henry and Robert Woodward, and the trail is named after them.

A red moon rose through the smoke Monday.

A pin given to me by Inverness friends Sunday takes note of a serious national security problem.

And while the fire raged,  Republicans again nominated Donald Trump as their presidential candidate although on Sunday night he retweeted misleading Russian propaganda about his Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s communications with the Ukraine. Significantly, the US intelligence community had already identified the propaganda as part of Moscow’s ongoing effort to “denigrate” the Democrat ahead of the November election.

“The President of the United States should never be a willing mouthpiece for Russian propaganda,” responded Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

More bad news. Osteria Stellina on Point Reyes Station’s main street served its last meals Tuesday. Lynn and I had one last dinner there Monday. (She’s placing her order with a masked waitress at left.)

In the midst of the pandemic, with customers having been relocated to tables set up in a parking lane of C Street, owner Christian Caiazzo announced that for financial reasons he was closing the upscale Italian restaurant. He will now operate a pizzeria in Petaluma.

Deer Naked Ladies. In front of Mitchell cabin Saturday, two does, each with a fawn, grazed beside a patch of Naked Ladies, as Belladonna Lilies are commonly called. They were all very cute.

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There’s certainly been a lot going on this past week, some of it very good and some of it very bad. On the good side, I would count the Democratic convention with its focus on education, empathy, reducing racism, stopping climate change, raising working-class wages, and expanding healthcare.

On the bad side, I would count the coronavirus pandemic, which in less than six months has killed 175,000 Americans and sickened 5.6 million. In West Marin, the most unavoidable bad side is the huge wildfire in the National Seashore, which was only 5 percent contained at 6 p.m today after four days of firefighting.

The Woodward Fire as seen from Mitchell cabin in Point Reyes Station Tuesday. The fire west of the Point Reyes National Seashore’s Bear Valley Visitor Center and just south of the Woodward Trail, broke out Tuesday following lightning strikes, which ignited numerous wildfires around the Bay Area.

What was first spotted as a three- or four-acre fire….

quickly grew to hundreds of acres and then thousands. The fire more than doubled in size Thursday night to 2,260 acres. (Marin County Fire Department photos)

While all this was going on here, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden halfway across the country in Wisconsin eloquently addressed his party’s convention, earning praise from even conservative news media.

The Woodward Fire was ominously reflected in the clouds over Inverness Ridge at sunset Tuesday.

Meanwhile the Covid-19 pandemic continues to keep almost everyone on the streets in West Marin six feet apart and wearing masks. The pandemic has taken a terrible toll on many small businesses. The Bovine Bakery on Point Reyes Station’s main street is remaining open by selling its pastries out the door to mask-wearing customers.

Likewise donning face masks at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee Thursday were (from left): Dr. Jill Biden and her husband, presidential nominee Joe Biden; vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff. The importance of safe, loving families was a major theme of the convention.

An air tanker approaching the Woodward Fire Friday. Air support for the ground crews was late in arriving because most planes were being used to fight the many other lightning-caused wildfires elsewhere in Northern California. Cal Fire aircraft finally began showing up Thursday, and more arrived Friday. With the fire grown to more than 2,260 acres, residents of Olema, Bolinas, Inverness Park, and Inverness were alerted that a mandatory evacuation might be ordered.

A “super scooper” collects Tomales Bay water to drop on the fire. (Marin County Fire Department photo)

A Cal Fire helicopter over Mitchell cabin Friday en route to the Woodward Fire. The heavy air traffic low over Point Reyes Station went on throughout much of the afternoon.

Aside from the fire, the convention, and the pandemic, life around Mitchell cabin also had its tranquil moments this past week. Here a jackrabbit contentedly grazed beside the cabin Sunday.

Also relaxing. The stray cat we’re sheltering had been roaming with raccoons when we brought her into the cabin three weeks ago. Here she watches one on Tuesday eating kibble with a skunk on our deck. She’s five to six months old and in need of a good, permanent home. A veterinarian has confirmed her good health.

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Uphill of Mitchell cabin.

Live Oak trees have grown up all around Mitchell cabin in the 43 years I’ve lived here. I’ve planted several pines and a palm on the property, but the oaks arrived without my help.

A Scrub-jay arborist on our birdbath last Friday. As it turns out, Scrub-jays planted (literally planted) most, if not all, of the oaks. 

“California Scrub-jays…. are an important part of the natural oak-woodland ecosystem of our area,” Lisa Hug, a naturalist and ornithologist, wrote in the Sonoma County Gazette this month. The magazine notes she has been an interpretive ranger in the Point Reyes National Seashore, a research assistant with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and also one with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Ms. Hug currently teaches birding classes.

Live oaks that have sprung up downhill from the cabin.

“The Scub-jay’s favorite food is acorns,” Ms. Hug explained. “In the fall, the Scrub-jays collect acorns and bury them in various places. One jay can hide up to 5,000 acorns annually and remember exactly where it has hidden most of them. They will also watch each other bury acorns and steal each other’s treasures.

“If a jay thinks it was watched when it buried an acorn, it will re-bury it later. This acorn-burying behavior is very important for the regeneration of oak forests in California.”

Scrub-jay funerals. Ms. Hugs also points out, “Scrub-jays are very intelligent, social and even sensitive [and] are known to have funerals. If one bird finds a dead jay, it will call loudly and other jays will gather around the dead bird and caw loudly for up to half an hour.”

Too tired to eat. A mother raccoon with four kits in tow showed up at our kitchen door Saturday night looking for kibble. Apparently they’d spent the evening wandering around, and no sooner did the group start eating than two kits fell asleep.

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Redwing blackbirds waiting for a dinner of birdseed at Mitchell cabin maintain proper social distancing (relative to size).

They say the Covid-19 pandemic is especially bad for older people. As a 76 year old, I can vouch for that. Like a lot of others my age and older, I wear hearing aids. Unfortunately, part of each aid sits outside the ear, and anti-virus masks are usually secured around the ears. As a result, our hearing aids sometimes get pulled off when we remove our safety masks. Goddamn virus.

Jackrabbit behind Mitchell cabin last Saturday.

“Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits,” according to National Geographic. “Hares are larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears. Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which initially caused some people to refer to them as ‘jackass rabbits.’ The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.”

A fence lizard with part of its tail missing.

Most of us are aware that lizards can lose a big piece of their tails and survive. To quote a Washington State University online explanation: “Lizards have a series of small bones that run down their back… called vertebrae. Along the tail are several weak spots called fracture planes… They are the places the tail can detach.

“The main reason a lizard loses its tail is to defend itself [and not only if a predator has seized its tail. A detached tail can also distract the predator]. When a lizard detaches its tail, the tail whips around and wiggles on the ground… Sometimes the tail will keep moving for upwards of half an hour.”

Lizards can regrow their tails in three to five weeks, but the new tail is usually shorter, has a different pattern of scales, and is made with cartilage rather than bone.

Another fence lizard, also warming itself  this week on our railroad-tie front steps, has regrown most of its original tail. The dark section where it broke off can easily be seen. It’s important to male lizards to get their tails back. Female lizards aren’t interested in them until they do.

—    —    —

I’ll close with a couple of my favorite poems, both set in pre-shelter-in-place times. They’re by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Alan Dugan (1923-2003).

 

On a Seven-Day Diary

Oh, I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate and talked and went to sleep./ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ from work and ate and slept./ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate steak and went to sleep./ They I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ and ate and fucked and went to sleep./ Then it was Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!/ Love must be the reason for the week!/ We went shopping! I saw clouds!/ The children explained everything!/ I could talk about the main thing!/ What did I drink on Saturday night/ that lost the first, best half of Sunday?/ The last half wasn’t worth this “word.”/ Then I got up and went to work/ and worked and came back home/ from work and ate and went to sleep,/ refreshed but tired by the weekend.

Tribute to Kafka for Someone Taken

The party is going strong,/ The doorbell rings. It’s/ for someone named me./ I’m coming. I take/ a last drink,/ a last puff on a cigarette,/ a last kiss at a girl,/ and step into the hall,/ bang,/ shutting out the laughter. “Is/ your name you?'” “Yes.”/ “Well come along then.”/ “See here. See here. See here.”

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Stray cat. Does anyone around Point Reyes Station recognize this small, black cat? It started showing up at Mitchell cabin three days ago. I assume the owner lives somewhere in the vicinity of Highway 1 north of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. It seemed weak from hunger when we first saw it, and Lynn gave it some tuna.

Geraniums on our deck. Lynn and I spent a couple of hours yesterday rearranging pots of flowers, succulents, and a small tree on our deck to give some of them more sunlight. Three large pots of geraniums were part of the mix, and that brought to mind a poem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963).

The Geranium

When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,/ She looked so limp and bedraggled,/ So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,/ Or a wizened aster in late September,/ I brought her back in again/ For a new routine — / Vitamins, water, and whatever/ Sustenance seemed sensible/ At the time; she’d lived/ So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer/ Her shriveled petals falling/ On the faded carpet, the stale/ Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves./ (Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)

The things she endured! — / The dumb dames shrieking half the night/ Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,/ Me breathing booze at her,/ She leaning out of her pot toward the window.

Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me — / And that was scary — /So when that snuffling cretin of a maid/ Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,/ I said nothing.

But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,/ I was that lonely.

—   —   —

As we get into summer, I’m seeing more and more young wildlife around the cabin.

A black-tailed doe leading her two young fawns, all three of them on full alert, across a field downhill from us last Friday.

A blackbird feeds two of her young as they noisily compete with mouths wide open for seeds she’s pecked up. This repast yesterday was enjoyed in a pine tree just outside our window.

A flock of hungry red-winged blackbirds began flying in yesterday when they saw Lynn and me spread birdseed on the railing of our deck while right below them….

two does, each with a fawn, grazed where the grass was a tad greener.

I’ll sign off with  a whimsical poem by the 1970 US poet laureate William Stafford (1914-1993). It provides a bit of humor to brighten these sad times.

Adults Only

Animals own a fur world:/ people own worlds that are variously, pleasingly, bare./ And the way these worlds are once arrived for us kids with a jolt,/ that night when the wild woman danced/ in the giant cage we found we were all in/ at the state fair.

Better women exist, no doubt, than that one,/ and occasions more edifying, too, I suppose. But we have to witness for ourselves what comes for us,/ nor be distracted by barkers of irrelevant ware;/ and a pretty good world, I say, arrived that night/ when that woman came farming right out of her clothes, by God,/ At the state fair.

 

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Six buzzards landed on the hill above Mitchell cabin last Saturday, immediately letting Lynn and me know that something had died.

We could see one buzzard tearing away at a carcass. But of what?

(Before going further, I should acknowledge the “buzzard” v. “vulture” dispute I occasionally get into with a few readers who apparently prefer British English to American English. For them, vulture is the only correct name for the species, and buzzard means only Buteo hawk. I disagree, and my authority is The American Heritage Dictionary. It defines the word buzzard as: “1. Any of various North American vultures, such as the turkey vulture. 2. Chiefly British. A hawk of the genus Buteo, having broad wings and a broad tail. 3. An avaricious or otherwise unpleasant person.”)

Upon closer inspection (despite the stench) I could see the deceased was a skunk. My guess is that it was killed by one of the great horned owls on this hill. Because of the likelihood of getting sprayed, coyotes and foxes reluctantly hunt skunks only when no other prey is available. Great horned owls — whose weak sense of smell is limited to supplementing their sense of taste — like to hunt skunks.

A great horned owl. (Missouri Department of Conservation photo)

Female skunks typically raise four to six kittens in a season, with the males leaving the females before the young are born. Skunks were once widely hunted for their pelts, but they now have far more to worry about from motor vehicles; skunks are so near-sighted they can’t see things clearly that are more than 10 feet away.

This buzzard arrived a day late for Saturday’s feast but still found enough skunk flesh to nibble on. Buzzards are fond of dead skunks, but they leave the skunks’ scent pouches intact.

Raccoons, like dogs, identify each other by sniffing bottoms, and (as seen here before) they also sniff skunk bottoms but for some reason don’t get sprayed. Two nights ago I saw a very young kit repeatedly sniff a skunk’s rear end. The skunk didn’t like it and kept moving away, but the kit persisted in nosing around back there until the skunk finally walked away.

At least it didn’t get killed and partially eaten by an owl with most of the leftovers consumed by a flock of buzzards.

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“Do you see that blonde over there?” a friend asked me in town today. “She’s a little hottie.”

“A little haughty?” I replied in confusion. “That’s too bad.” Then it was my friend’s turn to be confused.

—        —         —

 A livestock-feeder bowl on the railing of Mitchell cabin’s deck is used as a birdbath where numerous birds both bathe and drink. Here a towhee takes a bath.

Other critters also use the birdbath, including raccoons such as these yesterday. Almost every evening, a mother raccoon and her four kits try to squeeze into it together. And like the birds, they’re not at all squeamish about drinking their own bathwater.

The kits’ struggles for space in the bowl sometimes worry me a bit, for one side of the bowl is about 20 feet off the ground. Ironically, another side is above Mitchell cabin’s hot tub, and more than once while in the tub, I’ve been surprised by sprinklings of cold water that turned out to be splashes from a bird taking a bath.

A skunk or two also show up on our deck virtually evening to eat any kibble the raccoons leave behind. This one showed up Wednesday. They raise their tails when disturbed but never spray, at least while on the deck.

A lonely peacock, which mostly hangs out near Highway 1 a quarter mile away, occasionally wanders over to our yard, but we’re mostly aware it’s in the vicinity because of its cries at night. During the breeding season, peacocks scream to attract peahens and sometimes merely because they hear other peacocks.

Got him. Two weeks ago this blog published photos of a young great blue heron hunting gophers near our cabin, and a few days later neighbor Dan Huntsman snapped this great shot of the heron holding a gopher it had just caught.

A bobcat made one of its periodic visits to Mitchell cabin this week. Like the heron, bobcats like to hunt gophers here.

—        —        —

As has been in the news a lot lately, some police actions warrant special scrutiny — both in the US and abroad. Here’s a incident reported in the June 17 San Francisco Chronicle:

A man in Vienna was fined $565 for breaking wind loudly in front of a group of policemen on June 5. The man had behaved provocatively during an encounter with officers, according to police, and when he got up from a bench, he “let go a massive intestinal wind apparently with full intent.” The man was cited for offending public decency. Police later commented online, “Of course no one is reported for accidentally letting one go,” but “our colleagues don’t like to be farted at so much.” The Chronicle headlined its account: “Farting fine,” which it clearly wasn’t.

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