Photography


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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While sheltering at home, Lynn and I are taking even more photos than usual of the creatures around the cabin. Here are a few new shots.

Seen out our front window. A blackbird feeds birdseed to her chick as a Band-tailed Pigeon watches and a crow shows up to share in the birdseed.

A female Brewers Blackbird looks up from pecking birdseed off the railing of our deck to find a large, dark creature looming over her.

The creature turned out to be a Band-tailed Pigeon, one of the many who started showing up in numbers near Mitchell cabin in the past year.

A young Scrub Jay scans the hillside from a bamboo stick being used to prop up a young pine. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Probably the most-interesting bird hanging around Mitchell cabin this past week has been an immature Great Blue Heron, who has repeatedly shown up to hunt gophers. (Coincidentally, the previous posting here features an egret likewise hunting nearby.)

After standing poised above a gopher mound for several minutes, the young heron suddenly speared a gopher the moment it stuck its head up to look around. The alignment of a heron’s neck allows it to shoot its beak forward in a split second.

A Blacktail doe yesterday led her fawn on a walk around the cabin.

The fawn appeared to thoroughly enjoy the adventure, but when it got even a short distance ahead of the doe, it would look back to make sure its mother was close behind.

A moth caterpillar on our deck railing approaches an unrecognizable fellow insect. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Caveat lectorem: When readers submit comments, they are asked if they want to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people have said they do. Thank you. The link is created the moment a posting goes online. Readers who find their way here through that link can see an updated version by simply clicking on the headline above the posting.

The  previously announced closing of the Station House Café this coming Monday has been postponed until after July 4, owner Sheryl Cahill said this week. It could stay open through September if revenue is  keeping up with costs. Cahill dismayed West Marin three weeks ago when she said she would close at the end of May because new landlords planned to raise her $100,000 per year rent to $252,000, which she couldn’t afford.

For the next three months, however, her rent is frozen. Once she does close, Cahill hopes to find a new site, and landlord John Hural hopes to find a new restaurateur to rent his building.

This New York Times headline from 10 years ago still amuses me, for it implied that the Palestinian Authority considers indoor plumbing unacceptable in a Muslim country. As it turned out, Hamas was actually upset with women smoking hookahs.

A mother raccoon, who shows up outside our kitchen door every evening begging for kibble, brought four new kits with her the past two nights. They’re very cute and often climb the lattice to the railing but then have trouble climbing back down. They do it headfirst, so it’s a challenge.

Even more of a surprise was this blacktail doe who showed up on our lower deck two mornings ago and then went down some stairs to a still-lower level to inspect our hot tub. My wife Lynn already suspected that a deer had been venturing onto the lower deck at night because some buds in a flowerpot there were getting eaten. I was skeptical, but I guess she’s right.

A male red-winged blackbird repeatedly buzzes a raven drinking from our birdbath and eventually drives him away. Since ravens sometimes eat baby birds, the blackbirds don’t like ’em.

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Many of the blacktail deer around Mitchell cabin appear to have large sores on the inside of a back leg. If they were indeed sores, that would be worrisome. What is going on? Do their knees bump against each other when they run? As it turns out, all’s well. It’s just a matter of deer being able to do things we humans would never try.

In this photo of deer-turkey Siamese twins I posted a few weeks back, the spot on the deer’s left hind leg looks downright bloody. But as I have now read on a whitetail hunting website, what we’re seeing is not a sore but a tuft of hair whose purpose is to catch urine for the deer’s “tarsal gland”:

“Each hair is associated with an enlarged sebaceous or ‘fat’ gland that secretes an oily material that coats the hair. When a [squatting] deer ‘rub-urinates’ — allowing urine to soak the tarsal gland —  the oily secretions absorb certain compounds in the urine. Studies have shown a diverse population of different species of bacteria living in the tuft of hair that makes up the tarsal gland. These bacteria interact with the compounds from urine in a way that creates the characteristic color and odor.

“Does, bucks and even fawns rub-urinate year-round, but bucks do it more often in the breeding season, which is why the stain and odor of a buck’s tarsal gland is more prominent during the rut. Changes in the composition of a buck’s urine also likely contribute. Older, more dominant bucks tend to rub-urinate more frequently, so the stained area is larger. In some cases, the stain extends down the inside of each leg.

“The exact mix of bacteria is unique from deer to deer, which may give each deer a unique scent that other deer can recognize. This scent is likely deposited in scrapes when a deer rub-urinates and urine flows over the tarsal gland onto the ground. It is likely tarsal-gland scent carries information about the dominance status, sex, health condition and possibly other characteristics of the deer it came from.”

A tarsal gland on a whitetail deer.

Turning to other oddities, I’ve had two recently at the Safeway in San Anselmo’s Red Hill Shopping Center. The first occurred around the beginning of the year on a day I was driving my backup car, a 28-year-old Nissan, to give it some exercise. I parked in Safeway’s lot, but when I later tried to drive away, the battery was dead. A neighboring driver let me attach jumper cables to his battery, but it did no good. I thanked the man and went looking for a phone to call AAA.

I don’t own a cellphone, and there was no payphone to be found. Luckily a friendly woman in a real estate office let me use their phone, and I called AAA but got a dispatcher in God knows what part of the world. After I explained I needed a tow operator to get my car started, I told her it was a white, 1992 Nissan with its hood open, parked in front of the Red Hill Safeway in San Anselmo.

“Is Safeway a store?” the dispatcher wanted to know. “Yes,” I told her. “It’s a supermarket.”

“What state is San Anselmo in?” I told her “California.”

“What’s the street address….?” The dispatcher went on and on like this as the woman in the real estate office rolled her eyes. Finally the dispatcher told me a tow truck would come by in 45 minutes to an hour and a half.  I groaned, thanked the woman in the real estate office, and the tow truck was there in 10 minutes. The call took almost that long.

More bizarre yet, while in the same store one day last week, I went into the men’s room and entered a stall only to have a metal panel that formed the main wall of the cubicle fall over on me. I was startled but not hurt, and I subsequently informed a store clerk that the men’s room needed attention.

The deer, at least, never have to worry about such mishaps.

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.

Needing a break from the political scene, I spent much of the past week photographing the critters that show up at Mitchell cabin.

Eleven blacktail deer grazing near Mitchell cabin last Saturday.

Following the deer up the hill were 21 wild turkeys.

Which led to an unusual stare-down.

For almost three years there’d been a dearth of possums around Mitchell cabin, but this past week two showed up on our deck after dark to nibble kibble.

Here a possum and raccoon dined together with no confrontations Sunday evening.

Raccoons, of course, are fairly comfortable around a number of other animals. Here four of them ate kibble alongside a skunk last fall.

And here a possum dined contentedly between two gray foxes just outside our kitchen door awhile back.

But the most integrated dining I have seen were this possum, fox, and raccoon, which I photographed together next to the kitchen door in 2011.

Monday morning Lynn woke me up so I could see this sharp-shinned hawk on the railing of our lower deck. The young hawk’s expression is mighty stern, and I fear it may be hunting the birds that show up on our upper deck to eat birdseed. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

In short, not all wildlife live in harmony around here.

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The big fundraiser every year for the Point Reyes and Inverness Disaster Councils is a pancake breakfast at the Point Reyes Station firehouse followed by a raffle. Unfortunately, the blackout two weeks ago forced organizers to call off this year’s breakfast. The food, refrigerated during the outage, was donated to our local food bank at West Marin Community Services.

The raffle was postponed until last Saturday when it was held at the firehouse. Displaying a photo Carlos Porrata of Inverness donated as raffle item are: (from left) my wife Lynn, coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council; Cindy Morris, a neighborhood liaison to the council and a member of the council’s radio-room team; firefighter Ben Ghisletta, senior captain at the firehouse.

Nora Goodfriend Koven of Inverness looks over some of the raffle items, which included gift certificates from various merchants.

Continuing on… It was a pleasant surprise to look up from the dinner table and find I had a gray fox for a dining companion.

Also a surprise but a less welcome one was looking out my living-room window into the eyes of a pair of roof rats, which were nibbling birdseed off a picnic-table bench. Around Mitchell cabin, the roof rats try to nest in everything, and we’re forever finding them in our car engines and in of the wine barrel halves we use as planters. Just this week it cost me $25 to have a large nest cleaned out of my car’s engine compartment and have the rats’ damage to the wiring repaired. I leave the rats in our woodshed alone but trap the ones that get into the basement.

At this time of year, sunset is often accompanied by the honking of flocks of Canada geese heading to Drakes Bay.

Come nightfall raccoons inevitably show up to drink from the birdbath on our deck and snooze atop the railing. As long as there are no blackouts or disasters in Point Reyes Station, life is pleasantly peaceful.

Finally, let’s take a closer look at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Is he really a serious adversary? All he wants is the Ukraine. Click here and see what you think of his rock’n roll offensive. Right off you’ll notice in his audience the French actor Gerard Depardieu (who has taken up Russian citizenship), American comedian Goldie Hawn, and American actor Kevin Costner. 

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.

One of the joys of living in West Marin is the abundance of wildlife that shows up in our yard and even on our doorstep. Here are some examples of critters we spotted in just the past two days.

Gopher hunting: A bobcat apparently heard a noise under the grass in front of our cabin Sunday and prepared to pounce. Unfortunately, the gopher remained hidden.

Also hunting: A young Cooper’s hawk sat on a fence post near the cabin yesterday to scan the field for small birds. The Cooper’s hawk captures birds with its feet and kills them with repeated squeezing. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod Mitchell)

Deer fight? Well sorta: Two young black-tailed bucks provided entertainment yesterday near our parked cars as they practiced head butting.

The sparring was so non aggressive, however, that it sometimes looked more like nuzzling.

The antlers of black-tailed deer develop under a layer of skin called velvet. Once the antlers are fully grown, the velvet dries and peels off. We had seen one of these bucks earlier use a post for scraping off dead velvet, and the locking of antlers almost seemed like a continuation of the process. Come winter, the bucks will shed their antlers and next year grow bigger ones.

Raccoons and a skunk will now provide this posting with a familiar coda. The raccoon mother (second from right) showed up on our deck last night with four kits in tow, and we gave them a bit of kibble. One of the four (probably the kit at right) was featured in an Aug. 15 posting about a kit getting separated from this mother for a day.

A skunk has taken to watching the raccoons and following them up onto the deck to share their kibble. As seen in several photos in previous postings, the skunk sometimes shoulders the raccoons out of the way but doesn’t spray them. For awhile last night, one raccoon was eating nose to nose with this stinker.

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.

Separated mother and kit find each other after a day apart.

Two or three families of raccoons show up on our deck each evening, hoping we’ll reward them with some kibble, which we usually do. The families range in size, and the kit seen here with its mother is one of four siblings.

Last Sunday around 6:30 a.m., Lynn heard a kit’s usual gurgling calls sounding more like screeches. This was a bit past the time raccoons begin heading to their dens unless they’re still searching for a last bit of food. Lynn watched the kit for a while as it circled Mitchell cabin, calling for its mother and sniffing the deck where the family had been the night before. The call became increasingly shrill and prolonged as early morning turned into bright day. At some point, Lynn took pity on the kit and set out water and sliced grapes. The kit soon popped out from its temporary shelter in the dark under our lower deck and gobbled up the grapes. Then came more circling and calls until the tired youngster went silent under the lower deck for more than an hour.

Around sunset Sunday, Lynn noticed the kit was on the upper deck peering out between the rail posts. Shortly thereafter, the mother showed up. After they thoroughly sniffed each other to confirm identities, the kit became increasingly excited, even crawling under the mother and trying to suckle. She not only nursed it but gave her little one a good overall licking as it stretched out underneath her. The kit’s suckling may have been as much for emotional reattachment as milk, for it’s probably close to fully weaned.

Blue Fish Cove Resort at Clear Lake consists of a cluster of cottages on the shore of the lake. I first discovered this well-worn gem of a resort back in the 1990s while researching an article for The Coastal Traveler, which was then a supplement of The Point Reyes Light. What I found were unpretentious rooms looking out into glorious scenery, so when Lynn and I a few weeks ago started discussing our taking a short trip, Blue Fish Cove immediately came to mind.

Our cottage came with a cozy deck where I could escape the 100-degree weather thanks to cooling breezes off the water.

The view from our deck as well as from the decks of several other cottages was so beguiling we briefly discussed staying an extra day. We didn’t, but Blue Fish Cove is only a 2+ hour drive from Point Reyes Station, so we’ll probably go back again before long.

In its joy at having its mother back, a kit nuzzles her, and she returns the affection.

Wednesday night after we had returned to Mitchell cabin, Lynn anxiously watched to see if the traumatized kit and its mother were still together. Yes, they were! In fact all four tiny kits were on hand. It was the perfect ending to our trip.

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Junior grand marshal. Heidi Gonzalez, a junior at Tomales High, was named junior grand marshal of Sunday’s Western Weekend parade. She earned the title in competition with two other young women by selling the most raffle tickets; half the proceeds were allocated to nonprofits and the other half to furthering their education.

The bagpipers in Sunday’s parade carried placards that read: “What’s on Our Streets Flows into Our Creeks” and “Please Pick It Up — Every Little Bit Helps.”

 

Dancing down the parade route was a group from Esforço Carnival, San Francisco.

Also dancing in the street were Aztec dancers, a highlight of every parade.

At the head of the parade was a procession of fire engines, as is also traditional.

The parade entry of KWMR FM won first place in the adult-float category of the parade. Four baby goats owned by truck owner John Roche Services, which uses goats to trim grass, were in the cage at right. In the center clapping is my wife, Lynn, a member of the community-owned radio station’s board of directors.

Coco McMorrow, 14, of Inverness was one of two deputy junior grand marshals of the parade.

Deputy junior grand marshal Hana Cassel.

The weekend was so packed with public events that I’ll spend a moment now showing snapshots of the main ones.

Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club members get training Saturday for the rabbit-show competition in Toby’s Feed Barn where most of the festivities were centered. Back in the 1970s and 80s when there was more ranching in West Marin, horses and livestock were a major part of the “4-H Junior Livestock Show,” as the celebration was then called. No more.

Inside the Feed Barn’s gallery was a display of children’s arts and crafts. The caption on this display explains, “DeeLynn Armstrong’s 1st grade class at Inverness School, alongside Esther Underwood’s 5th grade class at West Marin School, created a rainbow mosaic using recycled plastic bottle caps.”

“Melissa Reilly’s kindergarten class at Inverness School studied animal habitat and made snakes from felted wool. The process starts with raw, unspun wool which is wetted with soapy water,” explained the caption. “The snakes are shaped by hand and once dry, the wood fibers contract and become felted. This project was facilitated by Jillian Moffett.”

A Saturday evening barn dance was held in — appropriately enough — Toby’s Feed Barn. With a band and a caller setting the pace, children and adults took part in a variety of line dances.

Angelo Sacheli (center) describes the low-cost-housing accomplishments by Mark Switzer (left) in naming him grand marshal of Sunday’s parade. Avito Miranda prepares to translate the remarks into Spanish.

Competitors in the junior grand marshal ticket-selling competition were (from left): Coco McMorrow, Heidi Gonzalez, and Hana Cassel. Miss Gonzalez ended up junior grand marshal while Ms. McMorrow and Ms. Cassel were named deputy junior grand marshals. Last year’s junior grand marshal, Mollie Donaldson (in back), hung the sashes on the three.

Ms. Gonzalez’s junior grand marshal recognition came with both flowers and a trophy.

After the awards ceremony, the dancing resumed.

Waiting for Sunday’s parade proved tiring for at least one youngster.

Mainstreet Moms, political activists who meet weekly at St. Columba’s Church in Inverness, carried placards urging people to vote.

Straus Dairy’s entry is always a hit because it gives out free cartons of ice cream. Dairyman Albert Straus is at left.

Petaluma dairy princess Amanda King and first alternate Camilla Taylor.

Bill Barrett leads the parade entry of the Coastal Marin Fund, which benefits local nonprofit organizations by selling artistic brass coins to use for local purchases and for tourists to take home.

West Marin Community Services, which runs the food bank and the thrift store in Point Reyes Station while also providing many other forms of assistance to low-income people.

Vern Abrams, who has been living in his car in Point Reyes Station, used a musical parade entry to remind parade goers of the needs of West Marin’s homeless residents.

The Inverness Garden Club, which maintains several public flowerbeds in Inverness and Point Reyes Station, handed out flowers as it proceeded down the street.

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.

Photographer Marna G. Clarke of Inverness (at left) on Saturday opened an exhibit of portraits of older West Marin residents. The display at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station is called Autumn, and Marna explains: “In 2010 I turned 70 and wanted to document that stage of my life. I photographed myself, my partner and both of us in our daily lives…. Surrounded by fascinating, vital and active seniors, I began taking portraits of them as well….

“These portraits are of people I know, some well, others tangentially. They are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, with one in his 60s…. Our youthful ‘Summer’ bloom has moved into ‘Autumn,’ for some more than others. We’re all having to adjust to the changes happening to our faces and bodies. A distillation of our life experiences has been gurgling away for years leaving a wisdom that now informs and guides us.”

Here are a few of the 20 portraits Marna is exhibiting, along with her notes identifying them:

‘ANDREW. Born 1923 in London. Grew up at Grace & Favor House, Windsor Great Park, England. Came to West Marin in 1974. Photo taken in 2010.’

‘SANDY. 1924-2015. Born in Chicago. Grew up in Evanston, Illinois. Came to West Marin in the 1950s. Photo taken in 2006.’

‘JOE. Born 1935, Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa. Grew up in Johannesburg. Came to Inverness in 1971. MO. Born 1934, Belgian Congo, now Lubumbashi. Grew up in Johannesburg and Belgian Congo. Came to Inverness in 1971. Photo taken in 2019.’

PAUL. Born in 1951, London. Grew up in London. Came to West Marin in 1993. Photo taken in 2010.’

MURRAY. Born 1942, Cleveland, Ohio. Grew up in Cleveland Heights, Hollywood, Florida, New England. Came to West Marin in 2001. Photo taken in 2006.’

NED. Born in 1947, Cincinnati, Ohio. Grew up in Menlo Park, California. Came to West Marin in 1993. Photo taken in 2019.’

LAURE. Born in 1931, Paris. Grew up in a small village in the middle of France. Came to West Marin in 1972. Photo taken in 2018.’

VAN. Born 1949, New Orleans, Louisiana. Grew up all over (father was a US naval officer). Came to West Marin in 1976. Photo taken in 2019.’

Marna’s photography is straightforward but intense, which makes her portraits quietly dramatic. Visitors this past weekend were fascinated by the exhibition, which will hang in the gallery through June 16.

 

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