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A mother raccoon and two kits on the deck at Mitchell cabin.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am fascinated by the raccoons that show up nightly on our deck, so as might be expected, I found an article in the Science section of last Thursday’s Washington Post to be particularly disturbing: ‘Caged raccoons drooled in 100-degree heat but federal enforcement has faded.’

The Post reported that “for two days running in the summer of 2017, the temperature inside a metal barn in Iowa hovered above 96 degrees. Nearly 300 raccoons — bred and sold as pets and for research — simmered in stacked cages. Several lay with legs splayed, panting and drooling, a US Department of Agriculture inspector wrote. 

“On the third day, the thermometer hit 100, and 26 raccoons were in ‘severe heat distress’ and ‘suffering,’ the inspector reported. Then a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists took a rare step: they confiscated 10 of the animals and made plans to come back for the others. 

The Ruby Fur Farm in Iowa. A USDA inspector during one check found the heat in the farm’s raccoon cages had reached 117.2 degrees. (Photo obtained by The Washington Post.)

“But after an appeal from an industry group to a Trump White House advisor, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials intervened, according to five former USDA employees. The inspectors and veterinarians were blocked from taking the remaining raccoons and ordered to return those they had seized.”

One inspector, who had worked 20 years for the Department of Agriculture, quit later that year, explaining to The Post: “It feels like your hands are tied behind your back. You can’t do many of the things you’re supposed to do when it comes to protecting animals.”

A mother raccoon sleeps comfortably in Point Reyes Station.

The Post article goes on to describe the Trump administration’s also easing bans against cruelty to horses. This particularly affects Tennessee Walking Horses, which compete in horse shows with high-stepping gaits. Some owners unfortunately short-cut their training of the horses by driving spikes into animals’ front hooves, burning away the center of the hooves’ bottoms with caustic chemicals, or tying chains tightly around their ankles. This “soring” makes it so painful for a horse to put much weight down on its hooves that it becomes used to quickly drawing them back up.

Here again, I have a personal interest in the topic. In 1970 while teaching at Upper Iowa University, I became a Fayette County delegate to the Iowa State Democratic convention where I advocated a ban on the soring of horses. Later that year, the ban became part of a new federal law that made soring a violation of USDA regulations. Sored horses could no longer be entered in competition.

Under Trump, however, the USDA has more compassion for horse owners than mistreated horses. The USDA now says that sored horses should no longer be disqualified from horse shows unless it can be demonstrated that they belonged to their current owners at the time they were sored.

I’m sure the owners of fur farms and Tennessee Walking Horses will be voting for Trump next year.


Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History on Sunday revived from a 1990 show a fascinating exhibit of some of the architectural styles notable in West Marin during the past 150 years.

Tocaloma — This farm house on Platform Bridge Road went up around 1865. As the display notes, it is “a simple Italianate house modified by a gable roof with dormers. The projecting architectural moldings supported on consoles at the head of the windows are typical [of the style].”

Southwest of Tocaloma  in Olema stands Druids’ Hall. It was built in 1885 as a social hall for the Ancient Order of Druids, a fraternal organization founded in London in 1781. It is now operated by Sir and Star inn and restaurant.

The museum display describes the building as “handsomely proportioned with details similar to the Olema Hotel” where Sir and Star is located. The design of both buildings is “attributed to Joseph Codoni, the carpenter craftsman who combined his skill in traditional building using local materials, with pictured details from pattern books.”

The first house in Inverness was built by Capt. Alexander Baily. About 1900 Baily enlarged it to accommodate children and other family members. “A wing with gabled roof was added, thus creating more attic and the name ‘The Gables,'” according to the exhibit. For years it was the home of historian Jack Mason, his wife Jean, and daughter Barbara. Jack left the home for use as a museum when he died in 1985. The exhibit notes that the late architect “Ted Boutmy skillfully did the architectural remodeling.”

Point Reyes Station — There are some surprises in the display. Most West Marin residents are familiar with the Mission Revival architecture of the derelict Grandi Building, which was built as Hotel Point Reyes after an earlier brick building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

The surprise is in Visalia, Tulare County, where the Hyde Business Block included this near-identical twin of the Grandi Building (as seen in a 1906 sketch). The architect is listed as B.G. McDougall.

Still standing at the corner of Third and C streets in Point Reyes Station is an old, brick structure which was built around 1907 as the Taddeucci Bakery with an adjoining house. The bricks and corrugated iron roof “perhaps … were there to make the bakery fireproof,” the museum display speculates.

Home on pilings over Tomales Bay —  “Since early days, over-water houses have been a characteristic feature in West Marin,” the exhibition notes. “Two types of construction are evident: buildings which rest partially on land above the high-tide line and extend over the bay on pile supports, and structures built entirely over the water at some distance from the shore and approached on oiled, wooden walkways.” This Inverness home built in 1955 was designed by architect Harold Wagstaff. The display comments this is “perhaps the last of the over-water houses because of coastal regulations.”

Highland Lodge, as seen in its “heyday,” on Callendar Way in Inverness was built in the early 1900s by Mary Florence Burris. She immediately set up the two story house as a full-board hotel, and in 1908, she had another two-story house built nearby for her home and as a residence for her staff, most of whom were relatives.

The lodge began attracting many prominent guests, including future President Warren G. Harding, and in 1909, Mary advertised that “Highland Lodge is open only to those who give satisfactory references.” 

Mary put her young niece Grace through teachers’ college in San Francisco, and Grace went on to teach for two years (between 1915 and 1917) at the one-room Marshall School. Grace later became a teacher and then principal at Belvedere School. “As Mary grew older, her niece Mabel took on more and more responsibility,” Meg Linden wrote in the exhibit’s program, and when Mary “died on Dec. 3, 1942, Mabel soon closed down the lodge.”

In recent years, it has been the home of former Marin County Planning Commissioner Wade Holland and his late wife Sandra.

Point Reyes Open Studios drew a crowd to artists’ workplaces around Tomales Bay over Thanksgiving weekend despite inclement weather. More than 25 artists took part in the biannual event, which will be held again Memorial Day weekend. This fall, I did most of my touring on Sunday to avoid Saturday’s rainstorms.


Camouflaged, Inverness Park photographer Richard Blair (right) managed to blend into one of his nature scenes while talking with a visitor.

Point Reyes Open Studios “was established in 1997 to promote the work of artists living around Tomales Bay,” its literature notes. “Realizing the wealth of talent in the communities of Point Reyes Station, Inverness Park, Inverness, Olema and Marshall, the group’s founders sought to bring local artists together to form a group with an identity distinct from artists living in the rest of Marin County. A key aspect of PROS identity is ….to act as a resource and support for group members and other artists.”

100_4643 Painter Sue Gonzalez of Point Reyes Station makes open water a thing of beauty.  She drew numerous admirers Saturday despite the rain.


Kathleen Goodwin of Inverness Park exhibited a variety of her paintings. She and her husband Richard Blair share a studio atop Inverness Ridge.

thumb_100_4648_1024Along with displaying his photography, Richard Blair offered a couple of his books of photography for sale at good prices. He told Lynn Axelrod (left) that Costco had ordered a large number of copies of different books. They had sold well, and these were the remainders.

Watercolor artist Mark Ropers of Inverness exhibited an engaging variety of landscapes and birds.



Laurie Curtis paints and does ceramics in her colorful studio behind the veterinary clinic in Point Reyes Station. thumb_100_4660_1024

The next time you hear some haughty person refer to the uneducated masses as “the hoi polloi,” you can take secret pleasure in knowing the person is revealing his own lack of education. Hoi polloi, which comes from Greek, means “the many,” so “the hoi polloi” is literally “the the many.” Thought you’d want to know.

When former Point Reyes Station computer techie Keith Mathews (right) in 2007 moved to Augusta, Georgia, where his son lives, he gave away some of his possessions. I was lucky enough to receive his venerable copy of the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins.

I’m fascinated with etymology (the study of how specific words evolved), and because I don’t know many people who have copies of William and Mary Morris’ reference book, I’m devoting this posting to some fascinating tidbits from it. For example:

When you hear someone exclaim, “Holy Toledo,” he’s not referring to Ohio but to Toledo, Spain, which became a center of Christian culture after the Moors were driven out in 1085.

I had always assumed that when a person referred to “the honcho” or “head honcho” (meaning big shot or boss), he was using a word derived from some European language. But I was wrong. According to the Morris Dictionary, “honcho” actually comes from the Japanese word hancho meaning “squad commander.” American servicemen picked it up during the occupation of Japan following World War II.

More puzzling yet is the Japanese word banzai. “The war cry ‘Banzai‘ meant, ‘May you live 10,000 years,'” the Morris Dictionary notes, adding, “The Japanese, with a logic incomprehensible to Western minds, used to shout it when launching a suicide attack.”

My parents (at right in 1945) occasionally referred to stylishly dressed women as “fashion plates,” but even though my father was in the printing business, I doubt he knew where the phrase comes from.

I just learned myself. To quote the Morris Dictionary, “The original ‘fashion plates’ were the printing plates from which illustrations were printed in early magazines of fashions.

“Then came the expression, to describe someone who dressed in the latest mode, ‘She’s an animated fashion plate.’ The final step, to the point where the person herself was described as a ‘fashion plate,’ is obvious.”

Apropos the albino robin photo that neighbor Jay Haas contributed to last week’s posting, here are some connections I never would have imagined without the dictionary. “The robin, the traditional harbinger of spring, bears little resemblance to a German soldier — but the word has much to do with soldiers.

“It is derived from the Old High German heriberga, which meant ‘shelter for soldiers.’ Originally, a harbinger was one who went ahead of any army or a royal party to arrange for lodgings and other accommodations.

“Since then it has come to mean anyone who goes ahead to announce the coming of others — or a person or thing which hints of coming events. That’s how the robin got into the act.”

To “smell a rat” is to suspect something devious is going on. But what does the phrase literally mean? It turns out to be an allusion “to a cat’s ability to smell a rat it cannot see,” according to Morris. Makes sense.

We’ll end with the expression “knock off work,” which I’m about to do. According to the Morris Dictionary, the phrase originated back when galleys were rowed by slaves. “To keep oarsmen rowing in unison, a man beat time rhythmically on a block of wood,” the dictionary explains. “When it was time to rest or change shifts, he would give a special knock on the block, signifying that they could ‘knock off work.'”

Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins is still available online and probably in some bookstores. Any writer with the ambition of rising above the level of Wikipedia ought to have his own copy.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny headed to Irvine, Orange County, Tuesday to speak before the National Academy of Sciences, which is reviewing a Park Service environmental report on his operation.

He left with the understanding he would receive only three minutes to present his case for continuing to do business in the Point Reyes National Seashore after his present permit expires Nov. 30. When he got to the NAS meeting, however, Lunny received about half an hour to answer questions.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Lunny bought the business from its former owner, Tom Johnson, seven years ago. At that time, Lunny and his lawyer negotiated a “statement of principle” with Interior Department attorneys and Jon Jarvis, then Pacific West Regional Director of the Park Service.

The agreement signed by both Jarvis and Lunny guaranteed the oyster grower that he would have plenty of input if an environmental-impact statement were required when the permit was up for renewal. Nonetheless, when the Park Service began preparing an EIS a year and a half ago, Lunny found himself excluded from the scoping process.

He brought up the legal document he and Jarvis (now national director of the Park Service) had signed only to have the Park Service tell him it was “unenforceable,” he noted this week. “If you don’t like it,” the Park Service added, “take it to court.” It was not the first time the Park Service had used that tactic.

Six years ago, former National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher began a campaign of falsehoods — later exposed by the Inspector General of the Interior Department, among others — regarding the oyster operation in an effort to create opposition to renewing its permit. Lunny at the time reported that when he objected to the way he was being treated by the park, Neubacher’s response was, “You’ve got to remember, I don’t have to pay my lawyers.”

Retail sales building at Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

Neubacher’s political reason — aside from what turned into personal antipathy — for wanting Lunny to shut down operations in Drakes Estero is that Congress in 1976 had declared the surrounding area “potential wilderness.” The park, however, has chosen to ignore the congressional testimony of the legislation’s sponsors who said the proposed potential-wilderness designation would not affect oyster growing in the estero.

Although the Park Service has made no secret of being ready to ruin Lunny with legal bills if he stands on his rights, the stratagem hasn’t worked so far. Already, he has received “over $1 million worth of pro bono legal help” from one law firm, and two others are also joining in, Lunny said.

“The San Francisco Bay Area,” the oysterman explained, is “a tight-knit community, and people have been good to us. All are liberal Democrats, green-minded people, non-corporate. They care about honesty in government.” The unpaid legal representation could prove invaluable to Lunny should he need to legally challenge an adverse decision by the Park Service on his permit.

The Park Service has put forth various claims — each debunked in succession — that oyster growing in the estuary is bad for the environment. In contrast, an earlier National Academy of Sciences review found that oyster cultivation is not causing significant environmental problems and may well be benefiting the estero’s ecosystem.

The estuary used to be rich in native, Olympia oysters, but they were harvested to virtual extinction by the 1950s and 60s. The former oyster-company owners, the Johnson family, then began raising Pacific oysters, which have restored the ecosystem, the first Academy of Sciences review noted. Oysters are filter feeders that clean the water.

The Park Service in response has claimed there never were native oysters in the estero despite millions of Olympia oyster shells found in the middens (shell heaps) of Native Americans who lived beside the estuary.

Carbon dating has now determined the shells in the middens are prehistoric, prompting the Park Service to claim — without evidence — that Native Americans must have caught these millions of oysters in Tomales Bay and for unknown reasons hauled them all the way to Drakes Bay to eat them. To Lunny, the scenario seems ridiculous.

Larvae for today’s Pacific oysters, which are the variety grown on the West Coast, come from “carefully controlled” hatcheries in Oregon and Washington, Lunny said.

Growing oyster larvae into seed oysters (Photo by Janine Warner).

He raises the larvae in tanks until they are large enough to attach themselves to old shells and then start growing their own shells. Only when these “seed oysters” are large enough not to fall through mesh growing bags are they hung from racks in the estero. In other cases, shells holding the seed oysters are hung in a line from the racks.

In response to EIR-related questions from the Park Service, Lunny on July 5 wrote to National Seashore Supt. Cecily Muldoon:

“Approximately 40 percent of Drakes Bay Oyster Company income is from onsite retail sales, 40 percent is sold directly to local markets and restaurants — all delivered by DBOC directly, 18 percent is sold to Tomales Bay shellfish growers, and 2 percent is sold through a wholesale seafood distributor based in San Francisco.”

Oysters from racks in Drakes Estero are unloaded from a barge at the oyster company’s onshore site.

In a very good year, DBOC might produce 850,000 pounds of oysters, Lunny wrote. Those numbers would suggest that if the full 18 percent of DBOC’s total production in a very good year were to go to to Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies, the total would be a whopping 153,000 pounds.

“The Tomales Bay growers have a huge demand they can’t meet,” Lunny said Monday. If Drakes Bay Oyster Company were shut down by the park, the effect on Tomales Bay growers would be significant, and those growers have supported DBOC’s efforts to renew its permit.

“We like to work with neighbors and colleagues,” Lunny said, and want the oysters sold locally to “come from locals.”

Washing freshly harvested oysters.

Nor is there any opportunity for Drakes Bay Oyster Company to relocate to Tomales Bay.

In his July 5 letter to Seashore Supt. Muldoon, Lunny wrote: “It is important to note that in late 2008 through early 2009, the National Park Service (NPS) seriously misled the public by telling US Senator Dianne Feinstein, the DBOC, and the public that NPS had a plan and an offer to relocate DBOC to Tomales Bay.

“In fact, NPS did not consult with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) prior to making this assertion and did not have a plan to relocate DBOC.

“After NPS made the claim that it had a plan to relocate DBOC to Tomales Bay, NPS was informed by CDFG that this relocation was impossible for several reasons:

• “NPS has no authority over the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and CDFG leases and has no say over how shellfish leases are issued by the FGC.

• “Tomales Bay shellfish production is already maximized to the extent practicable.

• “There were no available leases in Tomales Bay to relocate DBOC.

“DBOC, in good faith, participated in discussions, committed to negotiations, and was willing to evaluate a proposal. It was only later that it became clear that the NPS did not have a relocation plan or proposal when it told Senator Feinstein and DBOC that it did. The NPS promised a relocation that was impossible.

“Nevertheless, the public remains misinformed about this relocation proposal. Members of the public known to be working closely with NPS staff continuously criticize DBOC for failing to negotiate with NPS regarding relocation.

“NPS has certainly heard these misrepresentations from the NPS supporters yet NPS has failed to correct the public record.”

A check on Tuesday with Kirsten Ramey, who is in charge of marine aquaculture for Fish and Game, found that while it technically might be possible to get a new shellfish-growing lease in Tomales Bay, in practical terms, it could not be done. The permits and studies necessary would be overwhelming.

Among the agencies that would have to study the proposal and approve it, she said, would be state Fish and Game, the County of Marin, the California Coastal Commission, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and possibly others. Virtually no one can afford the cost, which is why no new leases have been issued for years, she explained.

Lunny had not received a response to his letter to Supt. Muldoon before his trip to Irvine Tuesday, but DBOC critic Gordon Bennett had read it thanks to the park’s having quietly posted the letter online.

Ramey noted that Bennett — citing the letter — had called her asking about oysters from Drakes Estero being sold at Tomales Bay. His apparent concern, she said, was that organisms or pathogens could be transferred from one bay to the other this way.

However, that is not possible, Ramey said, because Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies sell the DBOC oysters from tanks and do not place them in their bay. Tank water is not discharged into the bay, she added.

By now, Lunny’s fight to get his oyster company’s permit renewed has gone on for years, and if the dispute ultimately lands in court, the fight could go on a good deal longer.

This has been a terrible year for thistles in West Marin. Or perhaps I should say it has been a good year for the thistles and a terrible year for landowners doing battle with them.

By now I’ve had to spend seven full days slashing thistles and then bagging them lest their seeds get picked up by the wind. Even so, new thistles are constantly appearing.

All this made me curious about the identity of the thistles on my property. When I then happened to take several walks through federal parkland just downstream from the Green Bridge in Point Reyes Station, I could immediately see the Park Service has its own thistle problem.

This area is part of the former Giacomini dairy ranch, which the Park Service bought, and is immediately east of the wetland-restoration project. Most of the Park Service’s thistles were the same as mine, so I asked Stacy Carlsen, the county agricultural commissioner, about West Marin’s thistles.

Three of the photos I shot on parkland and emailed Commissioner Carlsen turned out to be Bull thistles, Cirsium vulgare.

Bull thistle,” he wrote back, “is associated with disturbed soils and shaded areas, with moist conditions being preferred.” Bull thistles, he added, are “native to Europe.”

Different stages of Common teasel, Dipascus fullonum, on federal property.

The teasel, Carlsen noted, is also “native to Europe. It is not classified as invasive in California, but some counties take action against the weed.

“Teasel is often associated with moist conditions [and] shallow soil…. The seed heads were [at one time] used to process wool as a combing structure.”

Part of a sizeable thicket of Italian thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus, on Park Service land.

Italian thistle is “native to the Mediterranean region,” the agricultural commissioner noted.

I had written him, “My guess is that with the late dairy rancher Waldo Giacomini — as well as his family and cows — no longer keeping the area clear, thistles have begun moving in.” In his response, Carlsen wrote, “Livestock will eat this plant in the early stages of growth — assuming they have access to it.

“Italian thistle is the most common of the [above] three in Marin County…. The three thistles are not native and — by nature of their wide distribution in the state — are not clearly defined as invasive.

“However, they can be a nuisance and interfere with best use of both agriculture and open-space areas, including your walking trails.”

Wooly distaff thistle.

“Our biggest problem species in Marin County,” Carlsen added, are “Wooly distaff, Purple and Yellowstar thistle.”

Yellowstar thistle (at right).

Yellowstar thistle is especially harmful to horses. If a horse does not have enough feed in its pasture, it may turn to yellowstar thistles.

And if horses eat a large amount of yellow star thistle over one to three months, they can “develop dysfunction of facial, mouth and throat nerves and muscles,” the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine online newsmagazine reports.

Horses reach the point where they can chew but not swallow, which is why the poisoning is often called the “chewing disease.” They have trouble drinking and breathing and often become dehydrated, malnourished, lethargic, and depressed.

Horses next develop lesions, some of which damage the brain and can lead to starvation. There is no treatment for chewing disease, and even if horses partially recover on their own, they never again have their full faculties.

Purple thistle.


Plumeless thistles (at left).

“We have eradicated Plumeless thistles from the Point Reyes National Seashore, but it pops up from time to time from residual seeds,” the county agricultural commissioner wrote.

Some thistle seeds can, in fact, lie dormant for years if buried.

“There are some native thistles in California,” Carlsen reported, “but the vast majority of prickly and spiny types were introduced with feed and livestock from Europe and the Mediterranean areas.”

When thistles began regrouping near Mitchell cabin last month, I warned them in the words of General MacArthur, “I shall return.” True to my word, I have once again engaged the enemy.

With a parade, music, historical exhibits, and sunny weather, Nicasio residents on Saturday celebrated the 150th anniversary of their township’s founding on May 12, 1862, and of their school district’s founding a day later.

An antique paddy wagon in Saturday’s parade.

Although only 96 people live in Nicasio, according to the 2010 census, a variety of businesses have always faced the town square, which is surrounded by prosperous ranches.

The town is at the geographic center of Marin County, and this led its merchants in the 1860s to press for Nicasio to become the county seat with the square to be the site of its Civic Center. Luckily (as is obvious in hindsight) Nicasio lost out to San Rafael because the little town was not easily accessible from the rest of the county.

Its square was subsequently used as “a hayfield, a baseball field (semi-pro and Little League), a pasture, and sleeping quarters for one Nicasio resident, Louie DiGeorgio,” notes Around the Square, an historical pamphlet compiled for Saturday’s celebration.

DiGeorgio “lived there with a bed and other pieces of furniture until the parish priest told him it was inappropriate.”

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1867 of redwood cut and milled in Nicasio.

St. Mary’s suffered a “near catastrophe” (above) on Christmas Day 1921 when “a severe windstorm blew the church off its foundation and toppled the steeple,” Around the Square notes. However, “repairs were made promptly.”

These days the quaint little church is the subject of more photographs and paintings than any other building in town.

In 1867, construction of the Nicasio Hotel began. It was to become the grandest building in town.

“The hotel in its early days,” notes Around the Square, “was equipped with the latest and best in furnishings for the guests’ use in all areas, including the bar, parlor, dining room, ballroom and guests rooms.” It had “an outdoor dance floor and picnic area.”

On Dec. 15, 1940, a discarded cigarette in the parlor started a fire that destroyed the hotel. “John Mertens, who had purchased the hotel just three months prior to the fire, built the Nicasio Ranch House Restaurant in 1941 on the old hotel’s site.” In 1943, it was renamed Rancho Nicasio.

Taft House on the south side of the square was built around 1867 by William Miller, who also built the Nicasio Hotel.

Hiram Taft and his family were apparently Miller’s first tenants. Around the Square says, “On April 18, 1870, the “Nicasio Post Office was established with Hiram as the first postmaster.” He also worked as stage driver and Wells Fargo agent from this house.

The Wells Fargo stagecoach in Saturday’s parade.

“When the narrow-gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad was completed from Sausalito to Tomales [in 1875], a station was established in San Geronimo Valley called Nicasio Station, and stage driver Hiram Taft would now meet trains in his wagon to bring people, mail, and freight to and from Nicasio….

“The house has been owned and occupied since 1943 by four generations of the Dinsmore family.”

Unfortunately for Dave Dinsmore, who now lives in there, the house has periodically had to contend with speeding southbound vehicles. Coming at the end of a long straightaway into town, Nicasio Valley Road’s 90-degree turn in front of the house has sent nighttime speeders flying off the road and into his fence and porch.

The building that once housed the Druid’s meeting room was built in 1885. It included on the ground floor a general store that sold “groceries, clothing, over-the-counter remedies, buttons, ribbons, tobacco, cigarettes, candy, soft drinks, and in later days ice cream,” Around the Square notes. The Druid’s meeting room was on the second floor. “There was a very small but active saloon in the back of the first floor,” the historical pamphlet adds.

This photo of Hank LaFranchi in the general store was among dozens of historic photos on display Saturday.

Nicasio Post Office operated in a phone-booth-sized room at the front door of the store from 1885 to 1952. The telephone switchboard for the Nicasio area was on the opposite side of the door. In 1952, a fire that resulted from a short circuit in a fuse box razed the store.

By then, the Druids had (in 1934) built a separate building for themselves next to the store. It was damaged in the fire but was quickly repaired.

A retreat for Ladies of the Night — just north of the square on the west side of Nicasio Valley Road is Madame Labordette’s House mostly hidden by foliage.

Madame Labordette’s house was built in the 1860s, and for “many years around the early 1900s, this was the country home of Madame Marie P. Labordette, a French woman who owned a ‘house’ [brothel] in San Francisco,” Around the Square says.

“According to locals who remembered her, Mme. Labordette would bring her ‘girls’ to Nicasio for a rest, arriving with her entourage, which included a cook, servants, and her business manager.

“Her Nicasio country home was a proper, prim place, and she was a very proper and well-liked heavy-set woman, elegantly attired and covered in diamond rings.”

Saturday’s sesquicentennial celebration was a project of the Nicasio Historical Society. Around the Square: a Walking Tour of Historic Nicasio Town Square was written by Joe McNeil with Elaine Doss and Dewey Livingston.


New software is allowing me to track the countries where this blog’s readers are located, and as was noted in a Jan. 13 posting, people in 23 countries found their way here in the first two weeks after the tracking began.

In the two weeks since then, readers in an additional 24 countries visited this site. They came from: Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Guatemala, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Morocco, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, and Thailand.

Of course, some visitors didn’t stick around long, but some did. The average visit lasts more than two minutes and 20 seconds. Among the foreign readers who first visited this site in the past two weeks, those who spent significant time reading it came from Belgium, China (Shanghai), Guatemala, Morocco, and Thailand.


Finding the door open, three young raccoons consider exploring my kitchen but think better of it when they hear, “Scat.” A Sept. 16 posting on raccoon scat continues to bring visitors to this blog.

What interests visitors? There are lots of ways to find this blog, and Google is obviously an important one. Nor is it surprising that the same Google Analytics software that can track readers’ cities and countries can also track what words people Googled to reach this blog. The top 10 “keywords,” it turns out, were: raccoon scat, dave mitchell the light point reyes, dave mitchell editor, west marin sheriff’s citizen, sparselysageadtimely.com, tony ragona reyes, bolinas clinic, dave mitchell blog, tomales bay association ken fox president, “didi thompson.”

Didi Thompson is my neighbor and has been mentioned in postings. Tony Ragona, a Point Reyes Station innkeeper, is a friend and has also been mentioned. The rest are fairly self explanatory although “west marin sheriff’s citizen” is a bit confused.

But it is downright bizarre that “raccoon scat” tops the list of terms that people around the world Googled last month to end up at this blog with its Sept. 16 posting, Telling the Raccoon ‘Scat.’ The posting discusses the unsightliness of some raccoons’ elevated latrines and the danger of raccoon excrement’s containing eggs of the parasite Baylisascaris procyonis.

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors has reprinted the posting, and I suppose that might explain some interest in the original. In any case, this blog’s Sept. 16 entry has now risen to fifth place in Google’s compendium of 113,000 “raccoon scat” postings. Try Googling the term. You’ll see for yourself.

Bemused by all this, I sent Tony an email congratulating him on ranking almost as high as “raccoon scat” and higher than “dave mitchell blog” in drawing people to this site. “Thanks,” he wrote back, “I guess.”


The “wildland/urban interface.” One afternoon last week I took care of Sebastian, a 15-year-old Havanese that belongs to Linda Petersen of Inverness. At his age, Sebastian is deaf and legally blind, so when the dog wandered over to this deer, he didn’t see her, and the doe immediately realized he was no threat.

In directing my neighbors and me to make our properties safe from wildfires,  Marin County Fire Chief Ken Massucco last September wrote us that we live in a designated “wildland/urban-interface area.” Despite that being firefighter jargon, the “interface” could as easily describe our interactions with wildlife as our risk of wildfires.

I’ve found it striking how much more wildlife I’m seeing around my property now that I’m retired and at home more. Just by staying alert, I’ve been able to shoot photos for this blog of a coyote and a bobcat, deer and raccoons, foxes and possums, snakes and salamanders, frogs and roof rats. All this wildlife has no doubt been around my home for 30 years, but until three years ago when I stopped editing The Point Reyes Light, I was too busy to see it.

And there’s another noteworthy difference between running a newspaper office and maintaining a blog from home. Once a newspaper article is in print, you can’t change it. I can remember times when I lamented this as a curse; now, however, I think it might have actually been a blessing.

Upgraded WordPress software now counts how many changes I make to a posting after I first put it online. The changes are usually very small, rearranging a sentence or substituting one word for another, but they can add up. A few days after last week’s posting went online, I became curious how many times I’d taken it down and changed it, so I checked: 107 times!

Add this attention to detail to humanity’s natural concern with raccoon scat, and you can see why SparselySageAndTimely.com has caught the attention of some serious readers around the globe: from Bangalore, India, and Palmerton North, New Zealand, to Sandefjord, Norway, and Riga, Latvia.


A view of the coast range from the deck of my friend Karen Ward’s weekend home at Sea Ranch. In yet another reflection of the recession, Karen has reluctantly put the home up for sale.

Last weekend I enjoyed a clear day as a houseguest at Sea Ranch two hours north of here. When I went to take a shower, however, things became foggy. I found the shower stall stocked with skin-conditioning soap etc. but nothing I recognized as meant for shampooing hair.

I called through the door to Karen, asking if I could borrow some shampoo to wash my hair, and she directed me to a bottle of Neutrogena. The label on the bottle, however, said it contained a “body enhancing shampoo,” which sounded like a body wash that builds pecs and tightens abs. If it doesn’t contain steroids, I wondered, why don’t more men use it?

But then I remembered a New England Journal of Medicine report that washing with lavender soap may cause boys to develop breasts. What if this “body enhancing shampoo” was for women and likewise mimicked hormones? I never did learn the answer, and I still don’t know why Karen sounded exasperated when I asked if it had been safe for me to wash my hair with her Neutrogena?


The view of the Pacific from Karen’s living room and deck. Her home is near Sea Ranch’s Shell Beach (there must be a dozen strands around here called Shell Beach), and at night I could hear seals barking outside my window.

Karen’s three-bedroom, two-bath home has been listed for $799,000 by Coldwell Banker agent Lynda O’Brien, 707 884-3591. I’m telling you this as a favor to Karen, but because I’ve been promised another stay at the home sometime in the future, I’m less interested than she is in seeing it sell.

“So many daily newspapers are losing money that a bunch of them are planning another round of newsroom layoffs this year,” my friend Dave LaFontaine told me over the holidays. “That’s no bullsh-t.”

“Why is that noble sh-t?” I demanded. Dave, who’s an Internet media consultant from Los Angeles, calmly replied that several big papers are resigned to sacrificing quality in order to survive. “Do you really think their planning to sacrifice quality is noble?” I asked. Dave said he personally believed it was no bull, and we changed subjects.

I later suggested to Dave that some metropolitan papers’ financial troubles can be blamed on their too eagerly buying up other newspapers during the past 20 years. “The chains thought the good times would never end,” I said, “so they became spendthrifts.”

Having said that, I immediately wondered why we call people who recklessly spend money “spendthrifts.” You’d think we’d call them “extravagant spenders.” When I looked up the origin of the word, however, I discovered that “thrift” is being used in an obsolete sense which meant “accumulated wealth.” The word “spendthrift,” it would therefore appear, reveals something about the way the English-speaking world views wealth. For instance, we’re not much into potlatches.

We can, in fact, learn a considerable amount about different cultures from their vocabulary. For example, in Pashto, Afghanistan’s most-common language, the word for “cousin” is the same as the word for “enemy.” Doesn’t that tell us something about the turmoil there?

Similarly revealing is the German word “Scham,” for depending on the context, it can mean either “vulva” or “shame.” This may suggest it was more than coincidental that Freud grew up speaking German. And God with us, my friends, the correct response to “Gott mit uns” is not, “Yes, we’ve got mittens.”

For the most part, however, German is Greek to me. Or as they say in German, “Ich verstehe nur Bahnof,” which literally means, “I understand only train station.”

current_issueAs long as we’re on the subject of words, Amy Tsaykel of The West Marin Review has asked me to mention a fundraiser in Point Reyes Station for the journal. From 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, in a private home, she writes, an “‘elder statesman of the Beat Generation,’ novelist, and prolific writer Herb Gold will read from his latest work, a memoir entitled Still Alive: A Temporary Condition.

“In the words of the man himself, the book is about ‘love and memory, why both are blessings and sorrows and a form of immortality.’ Our special guest welcomes questions and conversation following his reading. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.”

One of the original Beats, Gold (born in 1924) was attending college in New York when he first met two other luminaries of the Beat Generation, novelist Jack Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg. Kerouac unfortunately was anti-Semitic, and Gold later said, “I crossed the street to avoid him.” Gold and Ginsberg, however, became fast friends.

41t3ppqyhkl_ss500_1Following a divorce that left Gold a single parent with two daughters to support, he became what he called “a writing factory,” often contributing to Playboy and other men’s magazines.

Playboy — where young men of my generation were most likely to first encounter Gold — paid handsomely. “With a feature inside the magazine,” he now notes, “you could buy a VW, and with a lead feature you could buy a VW convertible.”

Tickets for the afternoon with Gold cost $30 for individuals, $50 per couple. One VIP ticket is available at $250, including: event admission, dinner for two at Café Reyes, one night’s stay at Olema Cottages, Point Reyes Vineyard wine, an autographed copy of Still Alive, and the West Marin Review Vol. 2 when it is published. Tickets are available online at West Marin Review and Point Reyes Books.


Nick’s Cove restaurant and cottages, which Croatian immigrants Nick and Frances Kojich originally opened on the east shore of Tomales Bay in 1931, reopened last week after being closed seven years for remodeling.

This past Sunday, owners Pat Kuleto and Mark Franz held a benefit party for the Tomales Volunteer Fire Department and invited the West Marin community to be the resort’s guests. For me, it was a pleasant reminder of how many oysters I can eat when I’m not paying for them.

The restaurant, bar, and cottages had gone unused for seven years because of an exhausting permit process. The five-year process ran up the cost of refurbishing Nick’s Cove from an initial estimate of $3.5 million to an eventual total of $14 million, investors Pam Klarkowski née West and her husband Rick Klarkowski told me during the party.

When I had a moment to chat with Pat Kuleto, I commented that given all his permit hassles, I suspected there must have been four or five time times when he wished he’d never bought Nick’s Cove from Ruth Gibson (at a cost of $2 million back in 2000). “More like 400 or 500 times,” Pat responded. The restaurateur said that during his career (of more than 35 years) he has designed 190 restaurants. (Among them is San Francisco’s “beloved” Fog City Diner, which opened in 1985, the Nick’s Cove website notes.)


Pat Kuleto with his girlfriend Sarah Livermore, a singer who performed at Sunday’s party.

With 34 government agencies and citizen groups each wanting its own concerns addressed in the permit process, remodeling Nick’s Cove was “three times harder” than even the most difficult of his other restaurants, Pat said. In a sarcastic commentary, the Nick’s Cove menu this week facetiously included red-legged frogs on its list of appetizers. The frogs, which are a “threatened” species because non-native bullfrogs here eat them, supposedly were served with plenty of red tape and cost $2 million apiece.

It’s worth noting that the same county, regional, and state bureaucracies, as well as citizen groups, have managed to intimidate potential buyers from trying to restore the historic Marshall Tavern south of Nick’s Cove. Very few people can afford the red tape Pat encountered.

I asked Pam how many investors Nick’s Cove has. She didn’t know but said there were definitely more than 20. “Even a winery wanted to invest,” she said. “We’re not expecting to make our money back the first year,” her husband added.


Little Rock cottage on pilings over Tomales Bay rents for $975 a night on weekends in August.

Nor is the restaurant alone expected to repay investors. If all goes as planned, more than a third of Nick’s Cove’s income will come from overnight guests staying on both sides of Highway 1. The lodgings include four waterfront cottages, and July and August are high season. On weekends during July, the two-suite cottages rent for $680 per night while the two smaller cottages go for $595. In August, the weekend rates will be $850 per night for the smaller cottages and $975 for the two-suite cottages. On the other hand, the mid-week rate in July for the smaller cottages is a mere $440 per night.

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The bar at Nick’s Cove

Prices in the restaurant at Nick’s Cove range from $7 for a mixed-lettuce salad, to $12 for a gourmet hamburger, to $16 for fish and chips, to $24 for a grilled pork chop with peach chutney, to $32 for a 16-ounce, rib-eye steak.

visionaries_collage.jpgNick’s Cove executive chef Mark Franz (on right with his partner Pat Kuleto), has been on the “culinary scene” for 26 years, notes the resort’s website.

In 1997, Mark opened San Francisco’s Farallon restaurant, which was designed by Pat. Mark’s “coastal cuisine” at Farallon has received acclaim in Bon Appetít, Food & Wine, and similar magazines.

Several hundred guests showed up for Sunday’s party at Nick’s Cove, a lively event with a band and dancing in an outdoor dining area. Singing with the band was Pat’s girlfriend Sara Livermore. Chef Alex Klarkowski (below at right) and his older brother Ben barbecued oysters beside the bay all afternoon. Tomales firefighters, who parked two firetrucks outside the front door, sold raffle tickets while Marshall activist Donna Sheehan worked the crowd, trying to get people to complain to Caltrans about the lack of mowing this year along Highway 1.


Standing at the end of Nick’s Cove’s long dock and looking back at the restaurant and cottages, I remembered happy times when I used to keep a boat in Inverness and would periodically sail to Nick’s Cove for a meal, sometimes sailing home after dark. Thanks to Pat, Mark, and innumerable investors, a new generation of sailors can enjoy the same wonderful outing.

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