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My wife Lynn dealt with the tedium of the shelter-in-place lockdown in part by watching British murder mysteries in the evening. I myself seldom watch TV and instead endured the lockdown by watching the wildlife around Mitchell cabin. Here’s what I’ve been seeing.

 

A raccoon and a gray fox got together for an ecumenical dinner outside our kitchen door Monday night. Raccoons can be aggressive when other raccoons try to horn in on their kibble snacks, but foxes and skunks get a free pass.

 

Wild turkeys are regular visitors to our fields, often accompanied by a lonely peacock whose screams sound like a woman crying out for help.

 

 

A stinky trio, three skunks march around the field above Mitchell cabin in tight formation.

 

 

Jackrabbits are showing up more as summer approaches.

 

A squirrel stops by our birdbath for a drink.

 

A roof rat and towhee have an ecumenical dinner of their own, quietly snacking on birdseed atop our picnic table.

 

The local bobcat walked downhill toward Lynn Monday while she was transplanting nasturtiums in our garden. When the bobcat saw her, it didn’t abruptly flee but merely trotted off into a neighboring field. My homeless friend, Billy Hobbs, tells of having an unconcerned bobcat walk quite close to him while he was sleeping along Papermill Creek near the Green Bridge. “I’ll bet it’s the same one,” he said Tuesday when I told him of Lynn’s encounter. (For the moment, Billy is being housed in Motel 6 at county expense.)

 

Other predators that keep us company are coyotes who howl for our entertainment more nights than not.

During the pandemic lockdown, enough people were staying at home that coyotes began more freely wandering about in nearby San Francisco, with experts estimating there are 40 to 70 of them.

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.

Roof rats are a fact of life throughout West Marin, causing extensive damage by chewing on stored belonging and particularly on the wiring of automobile engines. A couple of times over the years, Cheda’s Garage has repaired rat damage to my cars.

Roof rats on Mitchell cabin’s deck eating leftover seeds scattered for the birds.

Of recent, the rats have annoyed my wife Lynn by eating the buds off a potted camellia I had given her as a Valentine’s present several years ago. On Tuesday, Newy, the stray cat we’ve adopted, went digging in a wine-barrel half that holds a clump of bamboo. Immediately an adult rat jumped out of a second hole on the other side of the barrel and ran off.

Newy kept on digging and soon caught a baby rat. Here she leans into the barrel to inspect a rat hole before sticking her claws into the creatures at the bottom. She had already snared one newborn (at left) and ultimately caught a total of four. 

The newborn roof rats were so young their eyes hadn’t yet opened. Nor had they grown fur coats. Nature red in tooth and claw reveals where Newy grabbed the first unlucky creature.

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Jesus to the rescue. As noted here last week, the grass around Mitchell cabin needed to be cut ahead of the fire season. In addition, the fields were becoming dotted with clumps of prickly thistles. As I’ve done in previous years, I called Jesus Macias who showed up Monday with a riding mower and two weed-whacking helpers.

They did a great job but had to leave a small patch of grass near the kitchen uncut because of a swarm of bumblebees there. Luckily I was able to cover myself up so completely two days later that I managed to weed-whack that patch without getting stung. A small swarm did form, but I left before they went after me.

Reader Mike Gale, a Chileno Valley beef rancher, responded to last week’s reference to the Mother Goose rhyme’s timing for cutting thistles: “Cut thistles in May,/ They’ll grow in a day;/ Cut them in June,/ That is too soon;/ Cut them in July,/ Then they will die.”

As was noted, however, Mother Goose rhymes were originally penned 300 years ago in the more-northern latitudes of England and France, where the growing season starts later. Thistles in West Marin need to be cut a month earlier. “Yes, this is the time for the attack mode,” Mike wrote me. “Unfortunately thistles are probably the last species to be affected by the drought.”

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Still swallowing. Another item in the last posting concerned cliff swallows building a nest in the eves above our kitchen door. We’ve now seen at least two adult swallows in the mostly completed nest, prompting me to read a startling fact about cliff-swallow nesting.

“Individuals often lay eggs in other individuals’ nests within the same colony,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports. “It has been observed that some [of these] parasitic swallows have even tossed out their neighbors’ eggs and replaced them with their own offspring.”

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Italian thistles in our field.

A clump of thistles in a field outside Mitchell cabin ambushed me this week. I tripped over one and fell into the clump. It was so painful I told myself, “I need Jesus’ help. He’s rescued me before.”

So I called Jesus Macias and asked him to bring his tractor mower and weed-whacking brethren over next week to chop the thistles. They’ll all be here Monday.

Cut thistles in May,/ They’ll grow in a day;/ Cut them in June,/ That is too soon; Cut them in July,/ Then they will die. — Mother Goose rhyme.

Mother Goose rhymes were, of course, originally penned 300 years ago in the more-northern latitudes of England and France, where the growing season starts later. Thistles in West Marin need to be cut a month earlier.

Eleven years ago I published a posting titled the Mother Goose Method for Getting Rid of Thistles (click here to read), and to my surprise it continues to garner readers every year, making it one of my best read ever. Somehow people keep finding it.

However, I don’t know how much you can infer from that. The best-read posting by far on this blog is A Chat with the Trailside Killer (click here to read). which I also posted 11 years ago. The fact that mass murders continue to haunt this country may explain readers’ continued interest.

Blacktail doe hidden by tall grass. Important as it is to cut back our thistles it’s probably even more important that Jesus’ crew will be cutting the grass just ahead of the fire season.

A cliff swallow sits in mud nest it’s helping build.

Last week I wrote about the various creatures that sleep at Mitchell cabin. Now we’re adding another. A family of cliff swallows is building a nest above our kitchen door. It happens every year, and other swallows will probably soon build neighboring nests.

They’re fun to have around, but it’s always sad when one of the nests comes loose, falls off the wall, and shatters on our deck below. For now we’re being careful to avoid shutting the kitchen door hard enough to shake the nest.

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.

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This week we’ll take a look at who’s been sleeping around Mitchell cabin besides Lynn, me, and our previously stray cat Newy. These days it’s not just a matter of sheltering in place but also of finding shelter.

A tranquil doe. My wife Lynn found this blacktail deer sleeping on our front steps Tuesday morning. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Snoozing raccoon. Early Tuesday evening I was surprised to find this raccoon sleeping on our deck quite close to our front door.

Sleeping place invaded. A short while later, another raccoon began snoozing a few feet from our kitchen door only to have two skunks show up to finish off the handfuls of kibble I’d given the raccoon. It appeared to pay only drowsy attention to the skunks and stayed put.

Two raccoons asleep on our front deck still later Tuesday evening. Mitchell cabin has obviously become a secure enough retreat that a variety of wildlife nap here.

Billy Hobbs (left).  Aside from his hair on a windy day, Billy is not exactly wild, but he has been homeless for more than seven years since the breakup of a 25-year marriage.

When I first met Billy, an artist, he was living on the street in Point Reyes Station. After the weather got bad in the winter of 2019-20, Lynn and I offered to let him stay in our basement. Last year I let him sleep in my second car, which I parked on Mesa Road downtown, moving it every 72 hours to comply with the law.

At present, Billy, 63, is being sheltered at Motel 6 in San Rafael, with county government picking up the tab. Wednesday afternoon, his friend Gaspar drove Billy out to Point Reyes Station so he could visit his onetime hangouts. Thank God, Billy at least for the moment has a secure place to sleep. Society too often treats the homeless as if they were all wild animals.

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.

Cartoonist William Hamilton, 76, (above) died five years ago last month in Lexington, Kentucky, when he ran a stop sign near his home and his car was hit by a pickup truck. “I don’t know whether he had a malaise or was distracted,” his widow Lucy said at the time.

This being near the fifth anniversary of his death, it seems an appropriate time for a retrospective look at several of his cartoons, most of which were first published in The New Yorker.

One of his more popular books, Money Should Be Fun (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1980) “lovingly satirized high society,” The San Francisco Chronicle commented at the time of Hamilton’s death.

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The expressions on the two faces say almost as much as the caption.

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The themes of alcohol and adultery run through many of Hamilton’s cartoons, not altogether surprising in parodies of the wealthy.

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Here the eaves-droppers’ expressions tell much of the story.

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William Hamilton started drawing for The New Yorker in 1965. His drawings also appeared in Newsweek, The New York Observer, Town and Country, and other publications.

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.

Humor in newspapers and magazines goes far beyond straightforward jokes such as this. In fact, some of the funniest items in print were not intended that way.

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• Often the humor results from unintended double entendres. If “condemned” in the headline below is read as a noun, it refers to all people condemned to death in Utah. If it is read as a passive verb, it would seem to refer to all the people in Utah.

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 • Some of the most hilarious humor results from the juxtaposition of different news events. In the case below, President Ronald Reagan’s visit to a school unfortunately was published alongside an unrelated story about child molesters.

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• Similarly, this woman pictured with her prize piglet has nothing to do with the story about sexual misconduct at city hall.

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Say what? Just who is doing the trampling, crowds or the Pope? A change in word order could have avoided this absurdity.

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Likewise if you reverse the order of the two lines above, the absurdity of 18 years in a checkout line would be eliminated.

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And who’s the foolish person, the Garden Grove resident or the judge?

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Lake Henshaw offers opportunity “to” goose hunters or “for” goose hunters?

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And then there is the humor most readers never get to see. A book titled The Best of the Rejection Collection 10 years ago published 293 cartoons The New Yorker had rejected, many of them from regular contributors. For example:

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The Best of the Rejection Collection consists of cartoons that “were too dumb, too dark, or too naughty for The New Yorker.”

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A row of flowerpots now parades down the raised section of sidewalk on the main street of Point Reyes Station (between C and D streets). The story behind this array of flowerpots is intriguing.

The town was born in 1875 when the North Pacific Coast Railway opened a narrow-gauge line from Sausalito to Cazadero with a stop in Point Reyes Station. What started as a whistlestop in a cow pasture owned by Mary Burdell became a town subdivided by her husband Galen, a dentist. Soon there was a depot on the main street, but it was turned 180 degrees when tracks east of town were converted to standard gauge in 1920. 

Back in the days of the narrow-gauge trains, the building housing Cabaline Saddle Shop and the Bovine Bakery housed a general store, the Point Reyes Emporium. The train tracks went up the the middle of the main street, which was not yet paved, meaning that in wet weather, workers transporting cargo from a boxcar to the store had to slog through mud.

The raised sidewalk with two people sitting on its edge in the way many did until recently.

Their solution was to build a sidewalk as high as the floor of a narrow-gauge boxcar. When a train stopped in front of the Point Reyes Emporium, workers stuck sawhorses in the mud, laid planks on top of them, and then had a level, dry passage from the floor of the boxcar to the door of the store.

The narrow gauge up the coast shut down in 1930, and the standard gauge east of town closed in 1933. The line had never been profitable, and the Great Depression, along with the advent of competition from trucks, brought about the end of West Marin’s railroad era. The former Point Reyes Station depot is now the town post office.

The raised section of sidewalk flowered this year. The Bovine is to the left of Leona’s. 

The town was left with a raised section of sidewalk which became an unexpected problem during the pandemic. The already-popular Bovine Bakery became even more so as out-of-towners escaping the monotony of sheltering at home frequently chose West Marin for an escape, stopping by the Bovine for a snack. In order for the bakery to maintain proper  social distancing, customers for now don’t go inside but get their pastries at the door.

Many of them had taken to eating their pastries sitting just outside on the edge of the raised section, and as inevitably happens when people eat pastries beside the street, birds show up for the crumbs some folks throw them. Before long, Leona’s next door began finding an overabundance of people and birds nibbling at the door. Messy. The solution? Flower pots so folks can’t use the edge of the raised section for a bench.

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.

The reaction around Marin to Dereck Chauvin’s conviction in Minneapolis says good things about this county.

Last May 25, Chauvin, an aggressive, white, Minneapolis police officer, killed a Black man, George Floyd, for no legitimate reason. Chauvin had arrested Floyd on suspicion of making a purchase with a counterfeit $20. When Floyd initially refused to get out of his van but put his hands out the window, Chauvin dragged him from the vehicle, handcuffed him, made him lie on his chest in the street, and then kneeled on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. All was recorded on videos taken by witnesses. On the videos Floyd can be heard repeatedly pleading for his life: “I can’t breathe.”

Yesterday, a jury in Minneapolis convicted Chauvin (seen here in a prison jumpsuit) on two counts of murder and one of manslaughter. He is expected to appeal but could spend the next few decades in prison.

Chauvin (seen here during the trial) did not testify and showed little emotion when the verdict was read.

I happened to be buying some Chinese food in San Rafael when the news was announced on the restaurant’s television. A Black man near me grinned and praised the decision. The restaurant staff not surprisingly were Asian, and they too sounded pleased. When a Black couple came in and sat down, I told them what had just been reported. Both chortled at the news, and the woman clapped.

Back in Point Reyes Station, whenever I mentioned the decision, folks were equally pleased. As for me, I’m pleased that 62 percent of Americans believe Chauvin’s behavior was criminal; only 12 percent reject the ruling,  according to a USA Today poll taken in the hours after the verdict. Some 85 percent of Democrats said Chauvin committed major crimes; 55 percent of Republicans agreed; so did 71 percent of independents.

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With so much nightmarish activity in the news — mass shootings, for example, are continuing — this would seem a good time for a break.

Groucho Marx, therefore, is here to now introduce a few puns forwarded to me by Pat Mitchell of Colorado, wife of my cousin Leck Mitchell

• A vulture boards an airplane carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

• A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

• A soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

• A sign on the lawn at a drug rehabilitation center says, “Keep Off the Grass.”

No matter how much I push the envelope, it will still be stationery, so that’s enough for now.

 

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I unknowingly carried a Western Fence Lizard, which had been hiding in our woodpile, indoors on a log last week. Unfortunately, our fireplace cost the lizard its tail and ultimately its life.

After I added a log to the fire one night last week, I noticed something squirming near it in the gray ashes. I checked. It was a lizard, and after several tries with gloves on my fingers, I managed to flip it out of the fireplace onto the floor — along with one red ash that singed a small spot on the carpet.

This species of lizard is known as a Blue Belly or Western Fence lizard, and the Blue Belly I’d just removed from the fire appeared to be dead. No movement whatsoever even when I picked it up. Since its flesh wasn’t burned, I guessed the lizard had passed out from the heat. I carried the creature to our kitchen sink and ran cold water over it. After a minute or so, the lizard seemed to be trying to move its legs. However, it couldn’t move them very much, so I treated it to some more cold water, laid it down on the counter, and gently straightened out its legs. After that the Blue Belly took a few steps before passing out again.

With no other ideas for resuscitating the poor critter, I  put its lifeless body beside a geranium in a flowerpot on the deck. When I checked back the next day, the wretched reptile hadn’t left.

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This vulpine-raccoonish ecumenical dinner was celebrated Sunday at Mitchell cabin’s kitchen door.

Raccoons show up at Mitchell cabin’s front and kitchen doors every evening begging for kibble, and we normally give them a few handfuls. Skunks and foxes occasionally show up to share their repast. 

Elsewhere in Marin, foxes can be suspect. The Marin Humane Society awhile back had to put down a rabid fox near Novato. As for raccoons: “Although raccoons suffer from rabies more than any other mammal in the United States (about 35 percent of all animal rabies cases),” the national Humane Society reports, “only one human death from the raccoon strain of rabies has been recorded in the United States.” 

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A croaker on a bench at Mitchell cabin Wednesday.

An easy way to tell a raven from a crow is that ravens croak whereas crows caw. Easier yet, the tails of ravens are wedge shaped while the tails of crows are fan shaped. Easiest of all, only the ravens squawk, “Nevermore,” if you call out the name Lenore.

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Lynn at Taps Restaurant beside the river in Petaluma.

A friend this week was telling my wife Lynn on the phone that she’s looking for a job. “What are you looking for?” Lynn asked and was startled by her friend’s answer: “It could be any of several possibilities. I’m trying to keep a fuck-the-bull attitude for the moment.”

“What’s a fuck-the-bull attitude?” Lynn asked with trepidation, wondering if it were some new slang, and it was then her friend’s turn to be startled: “I said a flexible attitude.” Laughter ensued. (Lynn’s hearing was tested recently; it’s almost perfect.)

Yours truly reading the Taps menu before ordering a Belgian ale and pulled pork. (Photo by Lynn Mitchell)

A poetry journal, The Advocet, just published two of Lynn’s poems, Birdwatching and Between Tides, and both of us received our second Covid-19 vaccinations three weeks ago, so last Friday we decided to celebrate both accomplishments with an outdoor meal at Taps Restaurant and Tasting Room. The food is first rate, and the restaurant’s location beside the Petaluma River is enchanting despite being downtown.

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Photo bombing?

Actress Paris Hilton shows up during the 2013 kangaroo-mating season in Australia.

Photobombing — the mischievous trick of injecting oneself into someone else’s picture by unexpectedly popping up just as the photo is snapped — is hardly new. Holding up two fingers behind an unwitting subject’s head is a longstanding prank. The question in this photo is who was photobombing whom: Paris and a companion imitating two amorous kangaroos or the two photobombing Paris’ affection for her marsupial companion?

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Time Zone Politics

 

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with dreaming up the idea of the Daylight Saving Time in 1784 — as a joke.

This year’s Daylight Saving Time has now been in effect three weeks, which brings up a few odd facts about it.

• As our schoolmarm taught us, it’s Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight’s Saving Time, although the latter is widely misused. Think of it this way: the word Saving is being used as a noun, and Daylight is, in this case, an adjective modifying it. The same would hold true in the phrase “a money saving plan” where money is being used as an adjective describing the type of saving plan.

• Some odd exceptions: The March 2019 Old Farmers Almanac noted, Daylight Saving Time is observed nationwide except in “American Samoa, most of Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands….

• “The Germans were the first to officially adopt the light-extending system in 1915 as a fuel-saving measure during World War I. The British switched one year later, and the United States followed in 1918, when Congress passed the Standard Time Zone Act, which established our time zones.” In 1920, the law “was repealed due to opposition from dairy farmers (cows don’t pay attention to clocks). During World War II, Daylight Saving Time was imposed again.”

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