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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.

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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.

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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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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. 

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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.

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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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Shoreline along Cannery Row in Monterey with a memorial to author John Steinbeck, who gave the area a special allure with his romanticized novel Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday.

As regular readers of this blog know, Lynn Axelrod and I were married April 27 at Civic Center. The following month, we drove 80 miles up the coast to Gualala, where we went canoeing on the Gualala River, for the first half of our honeymoon. This past week we drove (actually Lynn did the driving) 160 miles down the coast to Monterey for the second half of our honeymoon.

The second photo down shows the living room in our suite, the Borogrove, with its view of Monterey Bay.

We stayed at an inn with a storybook quality, The Jabberwock, which is located in a mansion built in 1911. I’m sure many of you remember The Jabberwocky. It’s a nonsense poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The Jabberwocky begins: 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.
 
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/ Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/ The frumious Bandersnatch!”
 
However, the young man armed with a vorpal sword  is able to slay the beast, and his father is ecstatic:
 
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?/ Come to my arms, my beamish boy!/ O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”/ He chortled in his joy.
 
 
Complementing our joy: we found red and white wine, sherry, and hors d’oeuvres set out each evening in the inn’s enclosed sun porch. We also found a bottle of champagne, a decanter of brandy, and a plate of chocolate-fudge-coated strawberries in our room when we arrived.
 
 
Part of the Monterey County shoreline is within Asilomar State Park, and Lynn and I enjoyed several strolls along the water.
 
 
Flocks of pelicans could be seen frequently as they glided above the shore break.
 
 
Since I wasn’t smoking in the inn, these walks also provided opportunities to enjoy my pipe.
 
 
An official sign in a public restroom in Asilomar State Park. I wonder how many dogs can read it.
 
 
A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium was one of the highlights of our trip. Probably the aquarium’s most popular exhibit is a tank of sea otters swimming casually around, typically on their backs.
 
 
Another particularly popular exhibit is a tank of puffins that paddle about seemingly oblivious of the crowds watching them.
 
 
A sea turtle swam above us.
 
 
As we wandered from one exhibit to another, schools of fish would sometimes give us the eye.
 
 
We saw exotic jellyfish and ….
 
 
…some of their luminescent cousins.
 
 
Throughout our stay in Monterey, we enjoyed sunny days, even when a few light sprinkles fell. What rain we had fell at night. At left a jet flies under a dramatic rainbow, which we could see from the inn for almost 40 minutes Wednesday late in the afternoon. From our perspective, we’d found the pot of gold.
 
 

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A line of wild turkeys advances on Mitchell cabin.

This week’s posting mostly concerns the unrecognized origins of everyday words. But it will be pun-tuated by lines of animals. My authority is the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. Computer techie Keith Mathews gave me his copy when he moved from Point Reyes Station to Augusta 11 years ago.

Let’s start with “hobnob.” Although it sounds like slang, it’s actually “a word of impeccable ancestry,” according to the dictionary. It first showed up at the time of Chaucer as habnab, meaning “to have and have not.” The word originated in the 14th Century as a term for “the social practice of alternating in the buying of drinks.” Eventually it came to mean having social exchanges with someone.

Or how about “boondocks?” After all, don’t we West Mariners live in them? “Boondocks” comes from the Tagalog word bandok, meaning “mountains.” During their occupation of the Philippines in World War II, US servicemen picked up the word and used it as a general term for “rough back country.” In time, “the boondocks” came to mean “the sticks.”

Deer tend to approximate a line when crossing fields while grazing. If one of them is alarmed by something, it inevitably alerts the rest.

Most Americans who use the word “ramshackle” know nothing of its origin. As the dictionary notes, it comes to us straight from Iceland, where the word is ramskakkr, meaning “badly twisted.” In English that term came to mean “about to fall to pieces.”

Horses in the field seem to line up only when walking on a trail in rough terrain.

Canada. My mother was a Canadian immigrant, but I never knew the origin of the name Canada until I read the Morris Dictionary: “According to the best authority, canada was originally a word in the Huron-Iroquois language meaning ‘a collection of lodges.'” The French explorer Jacques Cartier coined Canada when he wrote in 1535 that he had talked with an Indian chief who waved his arms about when he said kanata, apparently referring to all the land in the region. In fact, the chief was merely referring to a nearby village. But mistakes happen.

Corduroy is an especially sturdy fabric, which is one reason I usually wear cords. But despite its workhorse connotation in English, the word originated in French as corde du roi, meaning “cord fit for the king.” In fact, corde du roi was once used exclusively by kings as part of their hunting regalia. Quant à moi, je suis ce que je suis, as Popeye says when in Paris.

A great believer in marriage, I got married for the fifth time on April 26. My bride is my longtime partner/girlfriend Lynn Axelrod, known to many in town as the coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council. As such, she works with the county fire department. She’s 68 and from New York and Boston. For many years, she worked as an attorney in San Francisco. I’m 74 and from the San Francisco Bay Area. I worked in journalism for most of my adult life.

Our wedding was in the bluff-top garden beside the 3rd floor of Marin County Civic Center. (Photo by Kathy Runnion)

The garden is right outside the County Clerk’s Office, and conducting the ceremony was (at center) Olga Lobato, a supervisor in the Clerk’s office.

The office’s wedding schedule is a busy one. We had to settle for getting married on a Thursday because Friday was booked up well in advance.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife,” supervisor Lobato told Lynn and me with a flourish. (Photo by Kathy Runnion)

Acting as official witnesses were Tony Ragona of Point Reyes Station and Paul Kaufman of San Rafael (formerly of Marshall).

I must say being married is fun although it’s had some prickly moments. For the past three weeks, I’ve been digging up, pulling up, and cutting up thistles in the fields around Mitchell cabin.

Now that’s not fun.

The night after the wedding we headed down to Sausalito’s No Name Bar for our weekly ration of jazz, which is inevitably fun.

Inside the bar, the bride spotted one of the regulars, the prominent Sausalito artist Steve Sara, sketching her as she listened to the music. Obligingly she moved a bit closer to his sketchpad and was rewarded with an attractive drawing.

The big news in my life since I temporarily stopped maintaining this blog last December is that my longtime partner, Lynn Axelrod, and I have finally become engaged. No wedding date has been set yet. On the other hand, half the people we know only casually — workers in local businesses, for example — assume we’re already married and refer to Lynn as my wife.

Lynn, as many readers know, is the Coordinator of the Point Reyes Disaster Council. As such she’s an independent contractor for the Marin County Fire Department. She is a retired attorney who had specialized in land-use issues, having earned her doctorate of law from UC Hastings. While she was still practicing law, Lynn volunteered at a few environmental groups — the Tamalpais Conservation Club, Wildcare animal rescue center, and others. After she stopped practicing law, she became a jewelry maker for the late jeweler Anne Dick. More recently she canvassed for progressive candidates.

 

Lynn with me in our living room. (Photo by Sarah Rohrs)

We first met when she was hired to work in advertising and typography for The Point Reyes Light back while I still published the newspaper. We’ve now been living together for eight years, and therein lies this story. As I’ve aged my hearing has become less sharp. Most of the time I hear well enough, and I sometimes wear hearing aids — but not to bed at night.

Our bed is king size, so there should be plenty of room for two people, but at times Lynn’s been known to jestingly grumble that I’m “encroaching” into space she needs for sleeping. One morning last winter Lynn awakened me with a laughing accusation, “My encroacher!” In confusion, I responded, “What about Mayan culture?” Then it was her turn to be confused.

A month or so ago, two East Marin friends dropped by with their dogs, and we all went for a walk at White House Pool. The dogs were wonderfully playful, and they impressively obeyed their masters’ commands. We all enjoyed them. The next morning as we were waking up, Lynn mumbled, “I was dreaming I had my arms around a doggy.”

“A donkey?” I asked in astonishment. 

“No, a doggy.”

“Why would you have your arms around a donkey?” I persisted, still not hearing her clearly. It took a while to straighten this one out.

Weird but also true. Wasn’t last weekend a scorcher, even without the fires burning in other parts of the state? At Mitchell cabin, the hottest day was Friday. At 10:30 a.m., the thermometer outside our kitchen window registered 105 degrees. One hundred five degrees! We could have taken a dip in the hot tub to cool off. And we escaped the worst of it. The Light reports that in neighboring Olema the mercury hit 117 degrees.

 

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