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Our daily Rorschach test.

What we see in the clouds may sometimes reflect our feelings. This fiery sunset unfortunately brought to mind our crazed President and the danger he poses to world order, the environment, and social harmony.

Another sunset, but with a blacktail doe and no Rorschach test.

Looking at real creatures as opposed to those imagined in the sky is more certain to engender tranquility. Here’s a look at some of the ones I see virtually every day.

Two Arabian Adventures steeds in a feeding pen within a pasture next to Mitchell cabin. Since we haven’t succumbed to the national disaster yet, there’s nothing here for this buzzard.

Jackrabbits and towhees may have very different cultures, but they manage to coexist side by side peaceably.

There are more wild turkeys to be seen hereabouts than there were last year at this time.

Also abundant are blacktail deer, but that’s common. (Curiously, just now when I tried to type “blacktailed deer,” Spellcheck kept changing their name to “blackmailed deer.” This, in turn, raises the question: how would you blackmail a deer?)

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.

Silverfish are one of the oldest insects and may predate the dinosaurs by 100 million years. By now they’ve evolved into household pests that eat documents, photos, and clothes. So while I’m usually displeased at seeing a spider in the shower stall, I forgave this one because of his taste for silverfish.

Another encounter at home. A dove left its image when it crashed into the living-room window last week. Although initially dazed, the bird eventually few off.

A red-tailed hawk perches at sunset downhill from Mitchell cabin.

Waiting for the music at the No Name Bar in Sausalito a fortnight ago. Sitting from the left next to me are Friday night regulars Vivian and Ray, my wife Lynn, Paul Leclerc, and in recent weeks Billy Hobbs.

Sitting by the fire. Billy had been homeless for five years and was sleeping outdoors in Point Reyes Station when the rain and cold winds hit two months ago, so Lynn and I offered to let him wait out the bad weather in Mitchell cabin. Once he did, Billy was able to resume showering and getting his clothes cleaned regularly. Add to that a haircut and a beard trim, and he had dramatically cleaned up his act. 

Resting indoors by our woodstove. Being warm, clean, and well fed led to quite a metamorphosis for Billy, as regular readers of this blog know. Now his story has been read worldwide.

This week, his story reached journalists around the globe — not only throughout the United States and Canada but as far away as Ireland and Nepal —  when the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) republished my Dec. 10 posting. In short, Billy has now become an internationally known artist.

Caveat lectorem: When readers previously submitted comments, they were asked if they wanted to receive an email alert with a link to new postings on this blog. A number of people said they did. 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 that includes all photos by simply clicking on the headline above the posting. For the moment, no new comments are being posted as a result of international hacking.

Artist Billy Hobbs (left) and yours truly on the deck of Mitchell cabin. Billy was homeless for more than five years after his 25-year marriage broke up. For a year he spent his days sketching outside the Point Reyes Station Postoffice, which is where I met him. He had been sleeping outdoors when cold, wet weather set in. This prompted my wife Lynn and me a month ago to invite him to stay with us until the weather clears.

Billy is an intriguing artist, so this week I’m posting a small sampling of his drawings.

The Sacred Tree is Not Dead depicts the chief of the Northern Cheyenne, White Antelope, before he was killed by a U.S. cavalry charge despite having been assured he’d be left alone if he flew an American flag on his tepee.

Lao Tzu, a Sixth Century BC Chinese philosopher. Billy calls Lao Tzu one of his favorite philosophers because of his emphasis on slowing down to smell the roses.

How It Really Went Down. Making his last stand on June 25, 1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer runs out of bullets and is killed, along with all 200 of his men.

Holding Up a Skull and looking through it was inspired by artist Georgia O’Keefe. 

A Pretty Woman. Billy hasn’t quite finished this drawing, but she’s still haunting.

Donald Trump, one of Billy’s rare political drawings. The president bends over to perform another scene from reality TV.

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.

Billy Hobbs last spring impressed me with this self-portrait that showed his face collapsing in a landslide.

Billy Hobbs first showed up in SparselySageAndTimely.com (click here to read) at the end of May when he wrote a letter to Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, suggesting ways county government could help its homeless population. Billy, who will turn 62 at the end of this month, grew up in Lucas Valley. He has been homeless for five years following the breakup of his 25-year marriage.

For a year, he has spent his days sitting on a bench near the Point Reyes Station postoffice, drawing in sketchbooks. For awhile, he slept in the postoffice lobby but hasn’t in recent months, instead lying down at night outdoors under an overhang.

When the weather is good, I usually have my morning mocha at Toby’s Coffee Bar, sitting at a picnic table not far from the postoffice, and that juxtaposition led to Billy’s and my getting to know each other.

Billy last May drawing pictures inspired by Native American, Buddhist, and Greek history while sitting next to the Point Reyes Station postoffice.

He may have looked scruffy, but I came to realize that despite his dirty hands and clothes, Billy was worth talking to. Previously, he had lived and worked (primarily as a carpenter) in Montana, Mexico, Novato, Tiburon, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax, San Rafael, and San Francisco, which gave him insights into a variety of cultures. Nonetheless, because of his appearance, aggressive men occasionally demanded he leave town, but of course he never did.

Then came the last couple of weeks of cold winds and rain, which made Lynn and me worry about his sleeping outdoors, so we invited him up to Mitchell cabin.

The new Billy.

Staying here not only let Billy sleep warm and dry, it gave him a chance to resume taking regular showers and getting his clothes cleaned. Then Danny at the Point Reyes Barber Shop cut Billy’s hair and trimmed his beard. Voila, suddenly there was a new gentleman in town, and more than one person complimented him on his appearance.

For Lynn and me, watching it all happen has been heartwarming, but it’s also been another demonstration of how appearance alone can determine how people fare in society.

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.

Thanksgiving dinner. Lynn (right) and I (left) with Inverness architect Jon Fernandez, his wife Patsy Krebs, and his son Michael enjoying dessert following a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday at Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant in Inverness. Beforehand, a couple of friends at different times expressed surprise that we’d choose Czech food on turkey day, but it turned out to be a good decision. In fact, it was the start of a series of social adventures.

The Michael Aragon Quartet

The next day, Jon and Patsy, Lynn and I headed to Sausalito’s No Name Bar where the Michael Aragon Quartet played its last performance after 36 years of Friday night gigs there. Drummer Michael Aragon, the bandleader, is retiring at 75 for health reasons. Sax player Rob Roth has been there with him 25 years, and keyboardist KC Filson has been there for 10 of them. The regular bass player, Pierre Archain, unfortunately was ill and guitarist Rob Fordyce filled in for him.

Michael is known throughout the Bay Area jazz scene, and the bar was packed with admirers who wanted to catch his last show.

Billy Hobbs

Saturday was wet and cold, which made Lynn and me worry about Billy Hobbs, the homeless man often seen sketching outside the Point Reyes Station postoffice. He sleeps outdoors nearby under an overhang, and periodic gusts of wind can blow the rain in a bit.

So we invited Billy to spend the day with us, and Lynn fixed a second Thanksgiving dinner, this time with turkey. With the storm not abating, we urged Billy to bed down here for the night, and he did.

On Sunday, the storm only got worse. When I drove to the bottom of our fairly long driveway in heavy rain to get our morning Chronicle, I found that the wind had dropped a large, dead limb across our driveway. Thankfully, no car was hit. Several pieces had to be moved, and I got a full baptism doing so.

Lynn, who was fighting a cold, put all of our clothes through the wash while much of my energy was spent carrying armloads of firewood up 50 steps to our house. Now that will get you warm. Billy meanwhile spent most of the day sitting by the fire arranging his sketches, which he hopes to make into greeting cards. 

Another get-together: While we stayed warm indoors, two blacktail bucks with no show of rivalry showed up to dine outside. The deer at left has a deformed right rear leg (probably hit by a motor vehicle) but manages to get around fairly well. And so in the end, it appeared that everyone had a reason to be thankful.

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.

Holding my step-granddaughter Cristina in Toby’s Coffee Bar. Last week was the first time we’d met, and we quickly hit it off.

My nuclear family (back row): Kristeli Zappa, Shaili Zappa, and Anika Pinelo with her two daughters, Lucia and Cristina; (front row): my wife Lynn and me. The young ladies all showed up last week for an end-of-summer visit.

Despite five marriages, I’ve never sired any children of my own; however, my fourth wife, a Guatemalan named Ana Carolina Monterroso, arrived with three daughters in tow. Although our marriage ended after a few months, I have remained close with those three stepdaughters. At least one of them visits me almost every year.

Kristeli, 30, Shaili, 26, and Anika, 32, all have dual US-Guatemalan citizenship since their natural father is an American. Shaili works for a finance company in Mexico City. Kristeli lives in New York, where she’s a clinical social worker providing mental-health therapy. Anika lives in Minnesota and before becoming a mother worked for a manufacturer that periodically sent her to South America to sell tanks. Those tanks, by the way, were not military but rather industrial vats.

My step-granddaughters, Cristina (four months) and Lucia (two years) turned out to be delightful young ladies.

I still have many of my childhood storybooks, and while she was here, Anika accepted them as gifts for her daughters. Although she can read only a few words, Lucia (at left) has already developed a fascination with books.

All three stepdaughters have led adventurous lives. Kristeli studied in France and then Taiwan before getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in New York. Shaili studied for several months in Kenya before graduating from the University of Minnesota. Anika, who also graduated from the University of Minnesota, took up skydiving before giving birth to two children.

At the kitchen door after dark.

Also getting together here last week were two other families; a mother raccoon and a mother skunk, both showed up with their kits. The skunks muscled in on the raccoons’ clumps of kibble, but they didn’t spray, and neither creature seemed afraid of the other.

Shaili leaned out a window to photograph them although she naturally worried about getting sprayed. She wasn’t, and the whole end-of-summer visit had a most pleasant air to it.

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.

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.

A Buddhist monk in Mandalay, Burma, admires a classic car back in 1986 when there were no new cars on the road. In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name to Myanmar because Burma was the name the British used when the country was their colony. Some citizens, however, question the military’s right to change their country’s name, and many continue to use the name Burma. The name comes from the name of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Bamar.

As a journalist I’ve always enjoyed photographing unexpected scenes. Here are a few I’ve found in the past 45 years.

A tired maid in Paris heads to work to prepare her employers’ dinner oblivious of the carefree billboard that merrily offers: “My blouse for a beer.” (circa. 1977)

“I clothed her for nine months. Now it’s Cleyeux.” The French company sells clothing for infants. (Paris, circa. 1978)

Enjoying themselves? Salvadoran soldiers in 1982 guard a Coca Cola bottling plant in San Salvador against leftist guerrillas. Ironically the Coca Cola sign looming in the background is headed “Disfrute,” which translates as “Enjoyment.”

Another ironic sign: The “Modern Pharmacy” in rural Guatemala, 1982.

When a high-speed highway from Guatemala City to Antigua was built in the 1970s-80s, Guatemala’s strongman, General Lucas Garcia, saw it as a chance for political propaganda. The sign says “One More Work of the Government of General Lucas.” However many local workers, like this pedestrian, couldn’t afford to drive it.

How a Third World country dealt with refugees. After America’s Southeast Asian wars ended in 1975 and the communist Pathet Lao took full control of Laos, at least 375,000 Laotians (more than a tenth of the country’s population) fled into neighboring Thailand. The Thais working with the UN lined up third countries — including the United States — to provide new homes for 250,000 of them. About 50,000 surreptitiously settled in Thailand, and another 3,000 returned to Laos. The Thai government housed the rest in a variety of camps. This refugee woman is sewing in a camp along the Mekong River, 1986. Many refugee men farmed small plots within the camp.

A Laotian refugee girl keeps an eye out for her mother, who has gone to the camp’s well.

Three other refugee children were clearly having a good time. 

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.

Friday was like no other day in my lifetime.  I turned 75, which makes me an official oldster. I was born on Nov. 23, 1943, roughly halfway between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the Japanese surrender in August 1945, which made me a “war baby.”

It was a different reality then. Our windows in San Francisco’s Marina District were hung with blackout curtains at night. This was mandatory since it was feared that too many lights could allow a Japanese bomber to pinpoint his location. A submarine net was strung across the Golden Gate, and my parents for years talked about the night a whale got caught in the net and set off alarms all around the bridge.

In 1946, my family moved to the Berkeley hills, where I grew up. That was a long time ago, as I keep remembering when I drive past our old home nowadays. I hardly recognize the place. When I was a kid, our hillside property with all its eucalyptus trees and brush seemed huge. I could build forts and tree houses and go exploring. Since then, our former property has been repeatedly divided, and houses now fill much of my childhood’s adventure-land.

Dinner at Avatar’s —  From left: Lori Granger, restaurateur Ashok Kumar, David Fisher, Patsy Krebs, her husband Jon Fernandez, yours truly, Libby Colman, my wife Lynn, and Libby’s husband Paul Kaufman.

My birthday party Friday started at Avatar’s Restaurant in Sausalito, where the dishes are from India, sometimes fused with recipes from Mexico. I had two curried-sweet-potato enchiladas. Without exception we all came away praising our meals.

Lynn and I celebrating at the No Name.

Sausalito’s No Name Bar, a fun venue for serious jazz, was our next stop.  It’s a cozy spot, and I go there every Friday, often with Jon Fernandez or Lynn, as well as other West Marin friends. 

Friends we first met at the No Name long ago — (from left) regulars Diane Johnson, Paul LeClerc, and Ray Smith —  joined our celebration. Diane showed up from another event with slices of  pumpkin pie, which she topped with whipped cream provided by a bartender. As bars go, it’s an unusually friendly place. 

As we were leaving at the end of the evening, sax player Rob Roth congratulated me, and the Michael Aragon Quartet — with another drummer sitting in for Michael, who took the night off — played ‘Happy Birthday.’

The fact that I’m beginning my 76th year has been causing me to take stock of where I’ve been and where I am. I certainly don’t see, hear or walk as well as I once did. Peripheral neuropathy, which has desensitized areas on the bottoms of my feet, sometimes makes it feel like I’m walking on a corrugated-steel roof. However, I can still get around and carry loads of firewood uphill to the house.

What really bothers me about aging is my declining memory. When I encounter people I haven’t seen in awhile, I often can’t remember their names. Although I was a journalist for 35 years and taught English at Upper Iowa University for two years before that, I frequently can’t think of some word that I want to use in a conversation. It’s extremely frustrating.

But aging has not been a totally downhill slide. I’ve learned my tastes in art, music, books and periodicals, and this results in fewer false starts. Probably some of my decisions are better informed than they might have been years ago. Life is for learning, I’ve heard said.

Ironically, back when Sparsely Sage and Timely was my column in The Point Reyes Light, I referred to myself in it for several years as “the old man” although I was only in my 30s at the time. Now at 75, I’m twice as old as my “old man,” so to speak.

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 Axelrod Mitchell holds a glass of tea at the No Name in Sausalito.

The latest Marin Poetry Center Anthology (Volume XXI  2018) includes a poem by my wife, Lynn Axelrod Mitchell. Titled Our year in four, it draws upon the nature around our home. I like the poem enough to share it, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too:

I
Bird-call makes us break
our solitude and sleep
to slip within this risen day.
The water bowl’s resurgent lake
clear enough for sparrow-sip
this warming day.
Bird-track stars in snow crystals
deliver us this glistening day.
Prints recede as skimming seeds
hail this breath of day.

II
Emerge from where we go,
hopeless captives
who fail at hobbling dreams
that make us quake at what we keep
from what we may release
like birdsong calling in the day.
Gaping redwings, shoulders back,
slingshot notes around the meadow,
our neighborly divide their forum.
Swainsons’ swirling flutes
swizzle ‘cross the treetops.
We cast our husks of tribute
—sunflower, millet, suet—
to charm the scrubland gods:
While time is light as breath is air,
send them here, these newborn days.

III
Indigo sky.
No shoes, no shirt.
No rules need apply.
Berries lie in beds we made,
testifying to our pride,
our lustful spring ambition.
Luscious unclaimed virgins
no one ate or tried
        jumped
—or were they pushed—
from overcrowded vines,
juices caking in the dust.
Laboring emmets carry off the spoils
clamber up the stalks;
roving antennae fondle aphid rears:
honeydew!—like cheap, sweet beer.
Crusading leagues of ladybugs
arrive to save the plants
from habituated ants
who fight to keep their hooch.
Skirmish on the ragged green,
lunges, bites, maneuvers.
Biology is destiny, we say—
irrelevant to the sun devouring the day.

IV
Bring the tools inside, lay them sharp,
always clean, at rest in the dark.
The turned earth settles cool above,
warming continents below.
Give us time to think goodbye
sit on cushioned chairs
puzzle birds their silent pluming flights
wonder how they are.
Which tilt was final; setting sun decisive?
We try to reason when they knew: ‘now’ not if.
Storing wood for the annual surrender
we stake the ground on tremors
unbuckling chasms, bargaining again
we’ll hear the faintest notes return
sometimes through a murmur—raucous, rising.
Earth heaves, shudders in its own oscillation.

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