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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.

 

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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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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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.

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.”

Creekside Birds, Jack Long’s exotic-bird-breeding operation along the levee road in Point Reyes Station, has fascinated me for more than 40 years. Although at 96 Jack has greatly reduced the number of birds he keeps, they’re still all around his home, and on Friday he gave Lynn and me a tour.

Jack Long, a retired plumber, keeps a couple of parrots company in his living room, and they, in turn, engage him in two-word conversations along the lines of: “Hello, Jack.”

A pair of cockatiels inhabit a roomy cage just outside Jack’s kitchen door.

Jack’s operation sits on a narrow strip of land between the levee road and Papermill Creek. When the record storms of 1982 struck, his home and his cages were sitting in water.

Parrots nuzzling each other in their cage.

A Dene goose, the state bird of Hawaii, lets loose with a chorus of squawks while two goslings circle their cage.

A family of swans paddle around a pond in their cage. Ten years ago Jack was in the news (click here to read) for nursing back to health an injured swan from the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts lagoon.

As Lynn, Jack, and I strolled round his facility, we got to talking about a news story I covered for The Point Reyes Light back when his late wife Betty Jean ran a hair salon on the bottom floor of their home. One night a skunk wandered into the salon and managed to get trapped in a garbage can. The next morning while a couple of women were in mid-shampoos, a maid unwittingly dumped a wastebasket in the garbage can, and the skunk cut loose. With coughing women scrambling out to the street, a deputy sheriff soon showed up and shot the skunk. Despite being a quiet little place, there’s often a bit of excitement brewing at Jack’s spot by the creek.

 

Praise be, Lynn and I managed to get our second covid-vaccine shots Wednesday. In less than a fortnight we should be safe from the pandemic, and the people we encounter will have nothing to worry about from us.

Up until now, social distancing has been a lonely practice:

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But just scheduling the vaccinations was hardly a simple matter. Luckily we’re old enough to qualify for senior-citizen priorities. Kaiser Permanente in Terra Linda administered the shots, not at the hospital but at the Terra Linda High gym, a few blocks away.

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Lynn called to me one morning last week to say the the light was out in the refrigerator. In fact, the refrigerator itself didn’t feel as cold as it should, she said. “Maybe it’s come unplugged.” So I pulled the fridge out of its corner. It turned out to be plugged in, but we couldn’t immediately tell; there was a barely penetrable jungle of spider webs behind it.

While Lynn was struggling her way through the cobwebs, I decided to check our breaker box in the hall closet. As soon as I tried to turn on the closet light, I immediately figured out our refrigerator problem. We were in a blackout. That was a bit of a relief, but it left a jungle of cobwebs that had to be cleared away before we put the refrigerator back in place.

Afterwards, we decided to drive downtown and see how widespread the blackout was. As soon as we started uphill on Highway 1, its source was evident. A PG&E crew had the highway reduced to one lane at Tank Road (the unsigned road that leads uphill to the town water tanks). A four-story crane with two buckets, each holding a worker adjusting the overhead lines, was taking up the southbound lane.

Lynn asked one of the workers if this was the source of the local blackout. He said it was and that a cross-arm on a power pole had broken, interrupting our service.

Our power was off only two or three hours, which we easily endured. And we got rid of all the spider webs behind our refrigerator! Yay!

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Once again this week, my cartoons were forwarded to me by Pat Mitchell, wife of my cousin Leck in Colorado, and judging from several friends’ comments on her Dec. 12  jokes, her humor rings true here too. Thanks, Pat.

I’ve been so busy with my broom this past week that I didn’t have much time to prepare this posting, so I’m going to borrow some humor from other writers. I wasn’t sweeping floors in Mitchell cabin, by the way, but cutting Scotch broom at the bottom of our driveway.

We’ll start with two competing looks at what Noah’s ark was like.

The New Yorker, 1979

The New Yorker, 1988

The New Yorker, 1988

Back in 1988, holes in the earth’s ozone layer were constantly in the news because they allow UV radiation levels to rise at the earth’s surface, increasing the amount of skin cancers, eye cataracts, and immune-deficiency disorders.

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Some humor from Rodney ‘I don’t get no respect’ Dangerfield (1922-2004)”:

• “My wife met me at the door in a sexy negligee. Unfortunately she was just coming home.”

• “I told my wife the truth. I told her I was seeing a psychiatrist. She then told me the truth: that she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers, and a bartender.”

• “I went to a fight the other day, and a hockey game broke out.”

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The New Yorker, 2004. Frustrating the bad guys in this modern era.

The New Yorker, 1979 — Said the rich guy.

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Comedian Red Skelton (1913-97)

• Recipe for a happy marriage: My wife and I always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.” — Red Skelton

• “I don’t need glasses, but I’ve reached the age where curiosity is greater than vanity.” — Red Skelton

• “I married Miss Right. I just didn’t know her first name was Always.” — Red Skelton

• “I know my limit. I just keep passing out before I reach it.” — Red Skelton

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The New Yorker, 1977

The New Yorker, 2004

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Comedian Bennett Cerf (1898-1971). He  was best known to me as a panelist on the popular TV program What’s My Line? when I was a boy 

• “The Detroit String Quartet played Brahms last night. Brahms lost.” — Bennett Cerf

• “Football season: The only time of the year when a man can walk down the street with a blonde on one arm and a blanket on the other without encountering raised eyebrows.”     — Bennett Cerf

• “Good manners: the noise you don’t make when you’re eating soup.” — Bennett Cerf                            

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Bob Hope (1903-2003)

• “A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove you don’t need it.” — Bob Hope

• “People who throw kisses are hopelessly lazy.” — Bob Hope

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Groucho Marx (1890-1977)

• “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” — Groucho Marx

• “A man’s only as old as the woman he feels.” — Groucho Marx

• “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them . . . well, I have others.” — Groucho Marx

This week we’ll look at some counter-intuitive observations.

Australia, for example, covers as much of the earth’s surface as the United States.

You could fit all of Poland into Texas and still be able to drive around it.

Each blue-colored state has less population than the County of Los Angeles.

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When I first heard the following admonition from some environmental-activist friends, I was skeptical.

If you lug a six-pack of sodas with you on a hike or a walk along the beach, the worst litter you can leave behind are the plastic rings that hold the cans together, or so my friends said.

The rings can entrap birds and other animals, such activists warn and often display photos of seagulls which had poked at something through one of the rings and then couldn’t get their heads back out. I’ve known of skunks getting into trouble the same way.

To avoid this, my friends say, we need to cut the rings apart before disposing of them.

So this apparently is the environmentally sensitive way to litter the countryside?

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Many of you classical-music lovers are probably familiar with Trois Gymnopédies by the French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925). The composition is so light and dreamy that one San Francisco radio station used to play it every evening at sunset. Click here to hear(Sorry about the brief introductory ad.) I never knew what the word Gymnopédies meant, however, until I finally decided to look it up this week after hearing the music once again.

A Gymnopedia as portrayed on antique Grecian pottery.

What  a surprise! Trois Gymnopédecian refers to the gymnopedia, or festival of naked young men, which was celebrated every year in ancient Sparta to honor the gods Apollo, Artemis et al. The day-long festival concluded with gymnastic exhibitions and frenzied dancing offered to Dionysius. So the next time you hear this relaxed yet dignified melody try to remember it’s all about naked young men dancing competitively in Greece a couple of thousand years ago.

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Perhaps the most unexpected of all:

The Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Marin County Office of Emergency Services, and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary all responded Friday to a grounded vessel along the shoreline north of Dillon Beach.  (Fish and Wildlife photo)

The Coast Guard at 8:45 a.m. Friday, March 5, received the first alert that a 90-foot vessel, the American Challenger, was in trouble near the town of Dillon Beach, according to a state reportThe Challenger had been getting towed south from Puget Sound by the tug Hunter, but the tug lost propulsion when a rope became entangled in the propeller.  At 1 a.m., Saturday, the vessel grounded on a rocky shoreline near Dillon Beach where it remains, Fish and Wildlife has reported.  At this point officials’ main concern is that the Challenger could leak enough fuel to create an oil spill.

All of the world’s domestic turkeys “come from the wild turkey Meleagris gallopavo, a species that is native only to the Americas,” notes the Cornell Lab website All About Birds. “In the 1500s, Spanish traders brought some that had been domesticated by indigenous Americans to Europe and Asia. The bird reportedly got its common name because it reached European tables through shipping routes that passed through Turkey.”

Wild turkeys are native to every US state except Alaska but are not evenly distributed, so in the 1950s, the State Department of Fish and Game released a bunch in Napa County because of their appeal to some hunters. In 1988, Fish and Game took a group of turkeys from the Napa flock and released them on Loma Alta Ridge between Big Rock and Woodacre. All the wild turkeys we see in West Marin are descended from that small group.

Wild-turkey hunting is not all that common, so the West Marin group keeps growing, and flocks are now found throughout this area. This 25-bird flock is pecking for bugs and seeds on the hillside below Mitchell cabin.

Peacocks, on the other hand, are native to Asia and not the United States; however, some have been imported and released. It was in the news awhile back that some had been released in Texas. As it happens, a few have reached California one way or another, and a lone peacock now lives not far from Mitchell cabin.

For company, the peacock hangs out with the local wild turkeys although it sometimes wanders off on its own. Here it wandered through our garden last weekend. For a moment, there was pandemonium. The peacock and our cat Newy were both startled when they spotted each other only a few feet apart. Both then fled when they saw running toward them a fawn that, in turn, had been startled when it spotted me.

A Black Lives Matter demonstration came off peacefully in Point Reyes Station Saturday on the Wells Fargo Bank corner. A week earlier, some onlookers from out of town  and wearing Trump’s MAGA caps had yelled insults at a previous group and thrown a water cup at them.

Such demonstrations have been held nationwide in recent months to protest a pattern of unwarranted killings of black people by racist officers. Some people interpret the BLM slogan  “defund the police” (seen above) to mean “eliminate the police.” In fact, it was coined to mean reduce police department budgets and distribute the saving among social-service programs.

(Addendum: One nearby example occurred the day after this posting first went online. “The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to direct staff to design a pilot program to dispatch counselors and paramedics from the city’s fire department to mental-health crises instead of police officers,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported March 3.)

The Giacomini wetlands between C Street and Papermill Creek drew a few visitors last weekend but managed to remain a tranquil place for a stroll. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

With its wild turkeys and anti-racism demonstrations, Point Reyes Station is staying busy even as the rest of this stricken country slows down.

 

This week we’ll look animals, both domestic and wild, in the eye to get a sense of what they see.

Newy, the stray cat we’ve taken in and who has been mentioned here before, can have an intense gaze when she’s looking off at something. It’s noticeable enough that it prompted me to look into, so to speak, the eyes of not only cats but other animals as well. A cat’s vision is not as all-powerful as it appears. A cat is most sensitive to blues and yellows and does not see colors like red, orange, or brown.

A blacktail doe looks up from grazing outside our bedroom window. The pupils in a deer’s eyes are horizontal, not round, and a flash camera makes them look blue.

A coyote displays his predatory nature as he stares into a field. As it happens, just now as I type this, coyotes are howling outside Mitchell cabin. (Photo by neighbor Dan Huntsman)

The no-nonsense look of a bobcat in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Foxes too are predatory, but their gaze makes them appear more curious than vicious.

Possums have good night vision but don’t distinguish between colors very well. Overall, their vision is so weak they must depend on smell and touch to find food.

Skunks, like possums, have very poor vision and navigate largely via their senses of smell and hearing.

Wild turkeys, on the other hand, see in color and “have an excellent daytime vision that is three times better than a human’s eyesight and covers 270 degrees,” according to ‘Facts about Wild Turkeys.’ “They have poor vision at night, however, and generally become warier as it grows darker.”

‘Livingbird Magazine’ reports that “Great Blue Herons can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.” Near Mitchell cabin, a gopher with the baleful stare of death hangs from the heron’s beak.

Buzzards have such “keen eyesight,” Seaworld claims, that “it is believed they are able to spot a three-foot carcass from four miles away on the open plains.”

A stern stare. Coopers Hawks are skillful hunters and like other hawks have excellent vision.

The smirk of a Western Fence Lizard (also known as a Blue Belly for obvious reasons). It’s one of the most common lizards around Mitchell cabin. As for their vision, most lizards have excellent eyesight, and some can see into the UV spectrum. 

Somehow my work glove hand ended up on the persimmon, and my bare hand on the barbed-wire fence. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

This moment became a test of my vision — and not in looking at the persimmons growing between the fields of Mitchell cabin and Arabian Horse Adventures. After some staring, I concluded that the Arabian waiting patiently for a persimmon is, in fact, a female mule. Nonetheless, I eventually gave her some fruit.  Later I found out the mule had arrived in the pasture not long ago after its owner died. So far I’ve never seen any of the stable’s trail riders on it. Arabian Mule Adventures? 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Canada Geese at Mitchell cabin.

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The behavior of a crazed loser did not originate with Donald Trump, as this 1982 New Yorker cartoons illustrates.

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Formal debate had already begun replacing aggressive prosecution in another 1982 New Yorker cartoon. I had considered the gladiators-versus-lions in the Roman Coliseum the ultimate high-stakes event. It never occurred to me a lion might have to to impeach a histrionic gladiator who had overindulged his sense of entitlement.

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As noted here before, my obligation to encourage wildlife a few years back led me to teach this possum dining etiquette. You could safely invite him in for your Valentine’s Day dinner. He’s certainly no Covid-19 carrier.

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Is this a Senate committee hearing or just another hungry-and-thirsty American in search of sustenance?

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From a 1958 New Yorker

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As part of my program to refine wildlife, I once mentored a bodhisattva possum on its path to enlightenment.

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What was Édouard Manet picturing in Le Déjeuner sur l’herb’? Lunch on the grass.

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And a hearty “Happy Valentine’s Day!” from the raccoon I’ve trained to work as a flower vendor and who, I might add, would be only too happy to provide the bouquet for your celebration.

I hope all this provided a ray of sunshine in these semi-dark times.

 

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