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President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, walking up to the White House, their new home, after his inauguration.

Judging from what a number of West Marin residents told me afterward, the inaugural ceremony for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris earlier today cheered us not only politically but also musically. Before today, I could not have imagined singer-actress Lady Gaga, country-and-western singer Garth Brooks, and singer-actress Jennifer Lopez performing at such a formal event.

And I certainly couldn’t have imagined President Biden singing public notices, as per a CNN written report on climate crisis: “Biden will rejoin the Paris Agreement, singing a notice that will be sent to the United Nations later today.” I watched the day’s events but missed Biden’s operatic diplomacy.

As part of the ceremony, Amanda Gorman, 22, of Los Angeles, the youth poet laureate of the United States, read her poetry eloquently despite — like Biden — having needed to overcome a speech impediment. The New York Times called her presentation a “miracle.”

Kamala Harris being sworn in as Vice President of the United States. She is the first woman, the first Black person, and the first South Asian to hold the position.

Before the inaugural ceremony, Donald Trump left Washington, DC, in disgrace to spend some time at his Florida golf resort. However, because of a zoning agreement Trump previously signed, the City of Palm Beach is not yet not certain he can legally live permanently at the resort. (For that story, click here:  Mar-A-Lago.)

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Biden won the presidential vote has been disgraceful. Hoping to block the electoral college’s Senate vote to confirm the popular vote, he stirred up a mob (above) that a fortnight ago rioted in the Capitol. Trump supporters did major damage to — and stole property from — congressional headquarters. Five people died. Nor was that the last of the problem. Following today’s inaugural ceremonies, another crowd of violent protesters broke into and vandalized Democratic Party headquarters in Portland, leading to eight arrests with more expected. In Seattle, there was widespread vandalism downtown, and one woman was arrested on assault charges.

Most people — including some of Trump’s backers in high places — have become outraged. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been a sycophantic supporter of the President, has now accused him of feeding “lies” to the rioters, saying, “They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”

House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi has initiated an impeachment case against Trump that will be decided in the Senate. TV (seen above) printed her words as she spoke.

The mere fact that Biden is a decent person and experienced means a better day for America and the world has arrived.

Perhaps it’s just the newspaperman in me, but over the years I’ve collected numerous front pages reporting historic events. How events were covered as they unfolded often determines how they are remembered.

No other front page ever brought so much joy to my family as this San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 15, 1945, shortly before my second birthday.

The Berlin Wall is breeched.

“The fall of the Berlin Wall Nov. 9, 1989, was a pivotal event in world history which marked the falling of the Iron Curtain and the start of the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe,” to quote Wikipedia. “The fall of the inner German border took place shortly afterwards. An end to the Cold War was declared at the Malta Summit three weeks later, and the reunification of Germany took place in October the following year.”

It’s now mostly forgotten, but before the fall of the Berlin Wall, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that neither the United Kingdom nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany. She said they feared a revival of German imperialism, but the argument didn’t hold.

A new day in America.

Despite pockets of racism, the United States elected Barack Obama its first Black president in 2008 and reelected him in 2012.

Officers with guns drawn confront protesters breaking into the House chamber.

But now we have an insurrection with a pro-Trump mob breaking into the US capital building on Wednesday in an attempt to stop the Electoral College from confirming Joe Biden as our president-elect. Five people were killed, windows were broken, doors were smashed, vandals damaged the building’s interior.

The FBI is investigating, and it seems that the Trump crowd may be planning additional riots in each state on or around Jan. 20, when Biden will be inaugurated as our new president.

The violence has shocked the Western world but was gleefully reported in Russian and Chinese news media.

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Rather than end with news as dreadful as the pro-Trump insurrection, I’ll take a jump back to earlier times when deeds counted more than lies.

Henry Morton Stanley on the cover of Allgemeine Illustrite Zeitung, 1877.

“On March 21, 1871, Henry Morton Stanley set out from the African port of Bagamoyo on what he hoped would be a career-making adventure. The 30-year-old journalist had arrived on the Dark Continent at the behest of the New York Herald newspaper,” the website History relates. “He had been placed in charge of a grand expedition to find the explorer David Livingstone, who had vanished in the heart of Africa several years earlier.

“Dr. Livingstone was the most renowned of all the explorers of Africa. Among other exploits, the Scottish missionary and abolitionist had survived a lion attack, charted the Zambezi River and walked from one side of the continent to the other. In 1866, he had embarked on what was supposed to be his last and greatest expedition: a quest to locate the fabled source of the Nile River.

“The mission was supposed to last two years, yet by 1871, nearly six years had passed with only a few scattered updates on Livingstone’s whereabouts. Many Europeans had given him up for dead.

“Stanley knew that Livingstone had last been spotted in the vicinity of Lake Tanganyika, but reaching the area proved to be a monumental task. Between March and October of 1871, the New York Herald expedition endured repeated setbacks as it trudged though endless miles of swampland and jungle. Crocodiles and swarming tsetse flies killed their pack animals, and dozens of porters abandoned the caravan or died from illnesses. By the time they arrived at Ujiji, a remote village in what is now Tanzania, they had crossed more than 700 miles of territory.

“On Nov. 10, 1871, after hearing rumors of a white man living in Ujiji, Stanley donned his finest set of clothes and entered the town with a small band of followers. As crowds of locals gathered around them, Stanley spied a sickly-looking European with an unruly beard and white hair.

“Sensing that he had found his man, he approached, extended his hand, and asked a now-famous question: ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ When the stranger answered in the affirmative, Stanley let out a sigh of relief. ‘I thank God, doctor, I have been permitted to see you,’ he said.

“After being resupplied by Stanley, [Livingston] parted ways with his rescuers in March 1872 and made his way south to Lake Bangweulu in modern day Zambia. His illnesses later caught up with him, however, and he died from malaria and dysentery on May 1, 1873.”

A Pacific tree frog after I rescued it from my hot tub.

When I opened the lid of my hot tub one day four years ago to check the amount of chlorine and other chemicals in the water, a tree frog that had been hiding between the lid and the top of the tub took a flying leap into the caldron.

At 104 degrees, the water is hot enough to quickly kill a frog. I’ve seen it happen. This time, however, I had a sieve with me and was able to scoop the frog out in time to save it.

A Pacific tree frog climbs a bamboo shoot growing near the hot tub. Lynn and I are fond of the little guys even though frogs aren’t exactly people. But as the Greek philosopher Bion (c. 325 to c. 255 BC) observed: “Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest.”

Tree frogs change their colors as they move between dry and damp places. This frog is sitting on a dry persimmon leaf on the deck beside the hot tub.

When I lifted the lid off the hot tub, I found these two fellows squeezed under it. Notice that they are starting to change colors.

Tree frogs hanging out around a hot tub and the people soaking in it can occasionally create unlikely juxtapositions. Twice in years past, lady friends obliged this photographer by posing with frogs that showed up dazed from immersion in the hot water.

The U.S. Postal Service also recognizes how alluring frogs can be and featured four varieties on its “forever stamps” a year ago. I wish I’d bought more.

For many of us, Christmas Day triggers memories of Christmases during childhood — our family traditions, the excitement of opening presents below the Christmas tree, guests joining us for Christmas dinner. Two boyhood Christmases in particular stand out in my memory: the year Santa brought me an electric-train set and the year he brought me a bicycle.

Alas, because the Covid-19 pandemic is requiring us to “shelter in place,” most of us have had to scale back our yuletide festivities this year. Lynn and I never left home Christmas day, nor did anyone visit us. We, however, did use the occasion to revive some yuletide practices.

Our Christmas tree in the loft as seen from the living room.

Unlike Christmas mornings in childhood, we slept late. Here Newy, the stray cat we’ve taken in, sleeps on top of my sleeping wife.

Also getting some rest on Christmas morning were these four deer in the grass near Mitchell cabin.

Enjoying a “presidential” pardon from becoming Christmas dinner, this gobbler takes in the view from the railing of our deck. Lynn isn’t happy with wild turkeys showing up on the deck. Not only do they eat seed we’ve put out for small birds, they leave large droppings.

In lieu of turkey, Lynn cooked kosher-style ham for our dinner while I poured champagne.

In keeping with my family’s traditions, I brought out my parents’ fine china, delicate glassware, and fine silver flatware, none of which we normally use, along with candlesticks my mother bought in Quebec.

The scene got even warmer when Lynn while clearing the table leaned over a candle and set her hair on fire. Luckily she was able to slap the fire out before much was burned, but it did add to the day’s excitement.

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As for the pandemic, a popular joke these days goes like this: Yesterday I purchased a world map, pinned it up, and handed my wife a dart. I told her to throw it, and “wherever it lands, I’ll take you for a holiday as soon as Covid-19 peters out.” Turns out we’ll be spending three weeks behind the fridge.

Located on a grassy hillside, Mitchell cabin is constantly in the midst of various wildlife — at least 40 species and subspecies of birds, along with various snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, deer, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, gophers, roof rats, field mice, squirrels, cottontails, jack rabbits (which are actually hares), bobcats, and the occasional badger.

I’m always impressed by how often the different species manage to get along with each other.

A flock of wild turkeys casually wander past a couple of grazing deer.

The turkeys, in fact, are so indifferent to the deer that when a young buck challenges a weary companion, they don’t even notice.

And even when the two bucks start actually sparring, the turkeys just continue their hunting and pecking.

A flock of Canada geese fly overhead honking as they go.

Add a domestic cat to this mix and the wildlife come to resemble zoo animals. Here Newy, the stray cat we adopted last summer, climbs a persimmon tree to take it all in. Last week’s posting showed her in the grass interacting with deer and wild turkeys.

Many of Newy’s wildlife displays, however, present themselves at our kitchen door. Here she studies a gray fox eating dog kibble left behind by raccoons.

The fox soon spots Newy but just gives her a quick glance.

Newy was traveling with several raccoons when she first showed up in late July. A veterinarian, who later spayed her and trimmed her claws, estimated her age as five to six months. While she enjoys keeping an eye on her raccoon friends, the unfamiliar skunks particularly fascinate her. Like the fox, a couple of skunks regularly show up to enjoy the last of the raccoons’ dinner. For her, the scene is all part of the zoo in which she finds herself now living

This posting is a bit late, but I’ve been having various problems with the computer program that loads the photos. Finally tonight a friend in Glenview, Illinois, David LaFontaine, over the phone helped me solve the problems, so now we’re off and running again.

This hurry-up posting, now that I can get back online, is simply a random mix of animal photos shot this past week, political cartoons, and religious humor that relatives have sent me.

A bonding experience. A blacktail doe near Mitchell cabin cleans her fawn’s ear last Monday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The bonding is complete as the fawn responds by nuzzling its mother. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

The stray cat we have taken in, Newy, joins a couple of deer grazing in our field last Sunday. Despite their close proximity, none of them seem at all nervous. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Newy, however, is a bit nervous as wild turkeys stroll past the cabin right behind the deer. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

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Goodnight, West Marin.

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And now for some religious humor that my cousin Leck Mitchell and his wife Pat sent me from Colorado.

A Sunday school teacher asked her class, “What was Jesus’ mother’s name?”  One child answered, “Mary.”

The teacher then asked, “Who knows what Jesus’ father’s name was?” 

A little kid said, “Verge.”

Confused, the teacher asked, “Where did you get that?” 

The kid said, “Well, you know, they are always talking about Verge n’ Mary.” 

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I had been teaching my three-year old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer.

Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer:

“Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us from email.”

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A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” 

One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”

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Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang, and talked outloud. Finally, his big sister had enough.

“You’re not supposed to talk outloud in church.”

“Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked.

 Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, “See those two men
standing by the door? They’re hushers.”

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It’s been a generally good week in this old man’s world. Old is the operative word here. I turned 77 on Monday. My gait is increasingly unsteady, but I’m still carrying about 75 pounds of firewood uphill to Mitchell cabin each day. Lynn took me out for a birthday lunch at River Front Cafe’s outdoor tables beside the Petaluma River. A beautiful scene, and everyone maintained proper distancing. On Thursday, Lynn and I celebrated Thanksgiving, with Lynn’s preparing along with the turkey, homemade stuffing, her own cranberry sauce, and squash raviolis.

And while all this was going on, the fields around Mitchell cabin began turning from brown to green thanks to the rains two weeks ago.

The green shoots attract blacktail deer, and as many as eight at a time have begun showing up for the feast. For dessert, they often dine on persimmons that have fallen from our tree on the other side of the cabin.

The rains also eliminated any further risks of a flareup from the Woodward fire. The fire, which blackened 5,000 acres in the Point Reyes National Seashore beginning Aug. 18, has taken firefighters two months to fully control. The rains should have doused almost all smoldering ashes, the Park Service reported this past week.

Thanksgiving eve raccoon lineup on our deck.

A mother raccoon with her four kits show up outside our window every evening hoping to be fed, and we usually give them a few handfuls of dog kibble.

The raccoons around here appear to be thriving although further south around Muir Beach and inland to Mill Valley distemper has begun showing up in raccoons and foxes, WildCare warned this week. Coyotes and skunks, as well as domestic dogs, are also susceptible to the disease.

The organization noted, “Wild animals with distemper may exhibit a lack of coordination or balance, approachability, seizures, and/or discharge from eyes and nose….

“Concerned residents who see an animal in distress should call WildCare’s Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-7283 or contact Marin Humane at 415-883-4621.”

Canada geese — heading to Drakes Estero for the night — fly over Mitchell cabin around sunset daily. They don’t wear masks, but they do maintain social distancing.

Also flying over head.

Something many of us said thanks for yesterday occurred in Washington. Donald Trump, who keeps denying he lost the Nov. 3 presidential election, finally said he will leave the White House by Jan. 20 if Democratic president-elect Joe Biden wins the electoral college vote on Dec. 14. Biden racked up 306 electoral college votes three weeks ago and needs only 270 to win. Trump in comparison picked up only 232 votes, which may account for his hair turning gray in the week after the election (see photo in Nov. 19 posting).

We’ll start out with the bad surprises — including one of President Donald Trump’s tweets to his backers — so that we end on a happy note:

America’s “all-time favorite President?” Is he simply dishonest or also delusional?

One sign of the President’s worrying: in the first week after his Nov. 3 election loss, which he refuses to admit, Trump’s famously blond hair turned gray.  As The New York Times reported in September, Trump paid no federal income taxes for 15 years and only $750 in 2016 and 2017. Among the “business expenses” he’s been claiming among his tax deductions are the $40,000 per year he pays for hair styling, The Times reported. Given this huge annual investment in the look of his hair, we can assume he was in favor of the color change. 

With many Americans ridiculing his behavior as juvenile, perhaps he wanted to look more mature.

Now a couple of local surprises:

Olema House. Last month Condé Nast Traveler named the local hostelry the “Best hotel in the US for 2020.” The magazine credited “its spectacular dining” for the hotel’s earning the top award. “If you eat at the hotel (and you should), the local seasonal menu at Due West pulls from the bounty of nearby ranches, farms, and the bay.”

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Oct. 13 reported, “Formerly called The Lodge at Point Reyes, Olema House has 24 rooms, including two cottages, on four acres of land.”  I myself have never stayed there, but I read in The Press Democrat that “each of the rooms is decorated in a modern Americana style.”

 Another local surprise. Travel and Leisure magazine has declared the Marshall Store (pictured above) one of “the top 30 seafood restaurants in the US.” It’s, of course, a store too, but it’s even more of a dining establishment. Here my stepdaughter Anika Zappa Pinelo, her husband Carlos, and my wife Lynn enjoy barbecued oysters seated outside overlooking Tomales Bay.

Not surprising:

Rac-communal bathing. Lynn and I see it almost nightly: a mother raccoon and her four kits all trying to squeeze together into our birdbath. They bathe in the water as well as drink it. The surprises occur when they manage to get almost the entire family into the bowl at one time.

It’s been a chaotic week. Former Vice President Joe Biden with Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate won last week’s presidential election by 5 million votes, but President Donald Trump kept filing lawsuits in an attempt to hold onto his office.

America has long been the guiding light for democracies around the world. Our elections are fair. We have a free press. We cooperate with our international allies for the good of the planet.

For the past four years, however, we’ve had a president who tries to run this country as if he were a dictator in a banana republic. Our president often insults the leaders of allied countries; frequently insists the American press is full of “fake news”; and has begun claiming our elections are easily rigged. Not surprisingly, respect for the US has plummeted around the world.

Many West Marin voters were exuberant last Tuesday as they lined up outside the polls in Point Reyes Station to help decide local, state, and national elections.

Other voters who live around town, myself included, voted in advance, using a dropbox in front of the Health and Human Services office where Tuesday’s voting was held. Still others voted by mail. Trump, meanwhile, criticized absentee voting as unreliable even though he himself has often voted by mail. 

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris spoke out for racial harmony in their public appearances.

In California, which has twice as many Democratic voters as Republican voters, the Biden-Harris victory had particular significance. Harris “has been the first person like her to hold every office she has ever won,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday. “She was the first woman and person of color to serve as San Francisco district attorney. She was the first woman and first person of color to be attorney general of California. She was the first Black senator from California.”

She is also the first Asian American to be elected vice president. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalanwas born in Madras, India. The mother was a biomedical scientist who had worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Research Laboratory and other medical-research institutions.

The vice president-elect’s father, Donald Harris, is a Jamaican-American born in Browns Town, Jamaica. He’s a professor emeritus in Stanford University’s Economics Department.

Trump supporters display a “Black Lies Matter” sign while parading across the Golden Gate Bridge. (Chronicle photo, Aug. 29, 2020)

During the campaign, both Biden and Harris talked about the need to improve the criminal-justice system in locales where Blacks encounter noticeably more-aggressive police behavior than whites.

The Trump campaign in contrast played to his supporters’ racism. Trump spoke of the Black Lives Matter movement as “terrorism.” 

He referred to Mexicans who had fled to the US to escape violence at home as “rapists and murderers.” On the other hand, he said he’d like to see more immigration from (white bread) Norway.

In Point Reyes Station, candidates of all stripes created their own form of chaos by flooding the public with political mailings. There is no home delivery of mail in town, so postal customers have to check their boxes in the post office every day. Many postal customers immediately threw out — along with ordinary junk mail — much of the political mail they received during the lead-up to election day.  

As a result, the three trash cans in the post office lobby began overflowing daily onto the floor, so the post office removed them and posted this sign. 

Now that the election is over, the sign is down, and trash bins have returned to the post office lobby where they’re receiving normal amounts of unwanted mail.

Most townspeople I’ve spoken with are hoping to see the rest of their world also return to normal now that the election is over and Trump is proving to be the loser.

Nor is the relief limited to West Marin. Prominent heads of state throughout the world — with notable exceptions in Russia and initially in China — quickly congratulated Biden on his victory.

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. All other readers already have an updated version.

Midway through Thursday night’s debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, I became so offended I walked out of our TV room. That unfortunately left Lynn to watch the debate alone.

I mentioned this the next day to a woman who works in town, and she responded, “That’s just what happened in our house.”

Why were we offended? When people know that someone is lying to them, most folks feel insulted. The liar apparently thinks they aren’t well enough informed to recognize the lie. Nonetheless, that was Trump’s repeated tactic, even though much of his audience saw through at least some of the lies.

The orange liar. (Reuters photo by Leah Millis)

As The San Jose Mercury News reported after the debate: “Trump’s performance was riddled with false claims, on topics ranging from the coronavirus to foreign policy to immigration. And while former Vice President Joe Biden made some missteps and stretched the truth at times, his comments essentially hewed to the truth.”

Despite what Trump said, his administration did not respond well to the Covid-19 pandemic, initially discounting its seriousness. By today more than 8.5 Americans have been infected and 224,000 have died, with the number of cases currently spiking. Yet Trump insisted the worst is almost over. He also promised that vaccinations for millions of Americans will be available far sooner than experts say is possible.

Vice President Joe Biden in 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

While offering no evidence for the claims, Trump repeatedly said Biden had received $3.5 million from Russia and was making money in China. Biden, as I would have expected, flat-out contradicted the falsehoods, and The Wall Street Journal subsequently determined that Biden is not doing any business in China.

As for the candidate’s getting the $3.5 million from Russia, The Mercury News pointed out: “Trump was seemingly trying to raise an allegation previously made against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, but there’s no connection to Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden

“Hunter Biden also denies the allegation he received $3.5 million. Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, told CNN that Hunter Biden was not an owner of the firm Senate Republicans allege received the $3.5 million payment in 2014.  A partisan investigation conducted by Senate Republicans, whose report was released this month, alleged that Elena Baturina, a Russian businesswoman and the wife of late Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, sent $3.5 million in 2014 to a firm called Rosemont Seneca Thornton, and that the payment was identified as a ‘consultancy agreement.’ The report did not provide any further details about the transaction.

“Hunter Biden was a co-founder and CEO of the investment firm Rosemont Seneca Advisors. But Mesires said Hunter Biden did not co-found Rosemont Seneca Thornton. It’s not clear what connection exists between Rosemont Seneca Advisors and Rosemont Seneca Thornton. Neither the Senate report nor Trump have provided any evidence that the payment was corrupt or that Hunter Biden committed any wrongdoing.”

I suspect that, like me, quite a few Americans are offended by Trump’s repeated attempts to mislead the country.

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