Archive for November, 2008

100_6929_1.jpg Here’s hoping you had a happy US Thanksgiving this past fourth Thursday of November. My family in Canada celebrated that country’s Thanksgiving on Oct. 13; it’s the second Monday of October up north where the harvest comes earlier. As for my family down south in Guatemala, that long-suffering country gets no Turkey Day at all.

In Point Reyes Station, approximately 225 guests and 25 volunteers took part in the West Marin Community Thanksgiving Dinner. For the second year, the feast was held in the Dance Palace, with diners filling the main hall and most of the church space.

West Marin Community Resource Center organized the event, but numerous groups ranging from the Inverness Garden Club to the Marin County Fire Department helped with preparations. Here volunteers served a line that stretched around the room.
All fall I’ve been seeing wild turkeys along West Marin’s roads, but I hadn’t spotted any on my own property until this flock of eight hens showed up appropriately enough on the eve of Thanksgiving. Clucking contentedly, they dug small holes in my pasture before moving on.

Wild turkeys, of course, are not native to West Marin. Working with the California Department of Fish & Game, a hunting club in 1988 introduced the wild turkeys on Loma Alta Ridge, which overlooks the San Geronimo Valley. The original flock of 11 hens and three toms all came from a population that Fish & Game had established in the Napa Valley during the 1950s.

There’s not much turkey hunting in West Marin these days except by Point Reyes National Seashore staff trying to exterminate them where it can. On private lands, however, the turkeys can usually find a haven.

While on my deck enjoying the sun around 2 p.m. Saturday, I looked down and spotted something moving in the grass near the cars parked at the foot of my front steps.

After first using a pair of binoculars to confirm that the animal was a bobcat and not just a large housecat, I quickly got out my camera.

I’ve seen a bobcat hunting around my cabin before — and even shot a photo of it — but this was my first chance to photograph one at fairly close range. That was a thrill.


Although rabbit and hare are the primary fare for bobcats in other parts of the country, this member of the lynx genus also hunts small rodents, as well as insects, and even deer in some regions. Their numbers are fairly stable in most of the United States despite heavy hunting in some places.

The subspecies of bobcat common to this region is the Lynx rufus Californicus. The adult male averages three feet in length, including a 4- to 7-inch bobbed tail, and is about 15 inches tall at the shoulder.


In Point Reyes Station, which President-elect Barack Obama carried with 86.1 percent of the vote, brown hills quickly turned to green after the election.

It’s time for another installment in this blog’s occasional series Quotes Worth Saving, which, in fact, is the label on the file in which I save them. Here are a few gleaned from the press during the past three years.

SWANSEA WALES — When officials [via email] asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign [“No entry for heavy-goods vehicles. Residential site only.”], they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the email response [Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith I’w gyfieithu.] to Swansea council said in Welsh, “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” So that was what went up under the English version, which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket. “When they’re proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh,” said journalist Dylan Iorwerth. — BBC, Oct. 31, 2008

All official roadsigns in Wales must be bilingual, and this is hardly the first time confusion has occurred in translations:

VALE OF GLAMORGAN, WALES — Cyclists were left confused by a bilingual roadsign telling them they had problems with an inflamed bladder. The “Cyclists Dismount” sign between Penarth and Cardiff became “lld y bledren dymchwelyd” in Welsh — literally “Bladder Inflammation Upset….” The Vale of Glamorgan Council said new signs were being made. It is possible that an online translation led to confusion between cyclists and cystitis. — BBC, Aug. 15, 2006

And there are times when despite everything being clearly written, the reader is left wondering, “What the heck was really going on?”

FRESNO — Fresno County authorities have arrested a man they say broke into the home of two farmworkers, rubbed one with spices, and whacked the other with a sausage before fleeing…. The suspect, 22-year-old Antonio Vasquez of Fresno, was found hiding in a nearby field wearing only a T-shirt, boxer shorts, and socks.

The victims told deputies they awoke Saturday morning to the stranger applying spices to one of them and striking the other with an 8-inch sausage…. Money allegedly stolen in the burglary was recovered. The sausage was tossed away by the fleeing suspect and eaten by a dog.” — Associated Press, Sept. 8, 2008

She’s no paparazzi, but San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik features a “Public Eavesdropping” item in each column. Six weeks after Italy’s most-beloved opera singer died last year, Garchik quoted a tourist in Paris remarking, “I never understood why Pavarotti was chasing Princess Diana.” — San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 19, 2007

West Marin provides wintering grounds for a variety of migrating birds, and one of the first to arrive each fall is the Golden-crowned sparrow.


This one showed up on the railing of my deck a couple weeks ago. Besides having a yellow stripe down the middle of its head, the Golden-crowned sparrow has a distinctive, three-note song. The best description I’ve heard of it comes from horsewoman Connie Berto: “Three Blind Mice sung in a minor key.”


Golden-crowned sparrows’ summer breeding grounds are in Alaska and British Columbia. The birds migrate south to Vancouver Island and the West Coast of the United States each winter.


Illegal migrants? I spotted these Mute swans a week ago on La Laguna, the small lake along Chileno Valley Road near Laguna School. These are part of a larger flock that included a few Trumpeter swans. Despite Mute swans’ beauty, Oregon and Washington, as well as some Midwestern and East Coast states, have begun trying to kill them off. It’s the US Interior Department’s white-deer and Drakes Bay-oyster scandals all over again: nativism masquerading as science.

As an organization called Save Our Swans notes, “In 2004 a nationwide program in the United States was announced that would reduce Mute swan populations by 85 percent, with the remaining swans to be pinioned, neutered and placed in parks. This caused an outrage by citizens and was fought in court….”

The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service claims that Mute swans, which are smaller than Trumpeter swans, are non-native and eating up all the “native” swans’ food (mostly water plants, such as algae). But there’s no more evidence for this than there was for the Point Reyes National Seashore’s claim that white deer were out-competing blacktail deer for the park’s abundant forage.

Despite the nationwide policy of Fish and Wildlife, “the Mute Swan is protected in some states by state statute, for example, in Connecticut,” Save Our Swans reports. “Since swans eat algae, they can be very valuable in shallow bay areas, in rivers and ponds.”
100_0776.jpg Migrant swans in Chileno Valley, which was named after another group of migrants, Chilean ranchworkers.

Mute swans, moreover, are neither mute nor non-native. Save Our Swans explains that Mute swans are “circumboreal.” That is, they migrate around the far north, “including the Russian Maritimes and Kamchatka, a major staging area for millions of birds on migration to the American continent, a short distance away.”

Given their migration route, it is hardly surprising that cold weather sometimes forces migrating swans south to the Atlantic states, to the Upper Midwest, and on the West Coast as far south as California. Mute swans have been reported for centuries in what is now the United States. A 1585 scientific expedition on behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh brought back to England a detailed drawing of a Mute swan on the Atlantic shore.

In short, the Mute swan is a primarily Eurasian bird whose migration routes have always resulted in some members of the species living in the United States, where the Department of the Interior now wants to kill them off.

Meanwhile, “Trumpeter swans, native birds, have been ‘placed’ by wildlife management agencies — often in areas in which they never bred historically — to create a ‘trophy’ species for sportsmen,” Save Our Swans reports. “There has already been a trial hunting season on Trumpeter swans in the Pacific Flyway and suggested programs to expand the [current] program coast to coast.”

Like Tchaikovsky, I’ve always thought of killing swans as brutally misguided. If you agree, please check the Save Our Swans website to see how you can help stop this government-sponsored barbarity.

A healing this nation has needed for more than two centuries has just occurred, and like many of the people around me this past evening, I’ve found my eyes periodically filling with tears of happiness.

In West Marin, Barack Obama picks up 86 percent of the vote on his way to winning the presidency. Tuesday night in Point Reyes Station, a crowd at Café Reyes joins in as televised crowds of Obama supporters elsewhere cheer state-by-state election returns.

Back in the 1960s, I tried to do what I could for the Civil Rights Movement, assisting with a Civil Rights broadcast on KZSU, Stanford University’s radio station; taking part in a drive to register black voters in Leesburg, Florida, when it was still mostly segregated; and serving as faculty advisor to Upper Iowa College’s black-student union, the Brotherhood. In those days, this country’s racial divisions loomed so large I would never have imagined that within 40 years the United States would elect a black president. But Tuesday we did.

225px-barack_obama.jpgYet it is noteworthy that most Americans did not vote for Obama for the sake of electing a black president.

In exit polls, almost two thirds of Tuesday’s voters said their biggest concern was the US economic recession, and a majority thought Obama could cope with it better than Republican John McCain. In short, voters were more concerned with economics than with race, and that simple fact is a wonderful indication of our country’s having matured.

Exit polls found that overall a majority of whites, blacks, and Latinos favored Obama, but unlike white women, less than half of white men, 43 percent, preferred Obama. That statistic has been used to imply that many white men couldn’t overlook Obama’s being black.

In fact, it shows just the opposite. Democratic candidates for president seldom do as well as Republican candidates among white men. President Bill Clinton, for example, won only 39 percent of the the white male vote in 1992 and 43 percent in 1996. Obviously, Obama’s race didn’t hurt him among white male voters.

Tuesday’s election, of course, wasn’t all about race and economics. The United States is currently fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its international reputation has been shredded by the outrages at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. And its healthcare system is causing suffering for many Americans.

For a president of any race to take all this on would be an enormous challenge, but at least Obama begins with a mandate from his countrymen and the blessings of the rest of the world. While voters didn’t elect Obama primarily to restore America’s reputation abroad, that could be the election’s most-immediate effect, as news reports from around the globe confirm.

100_0814.jpg Watching television — Tuesday night‘s crowd at Café Reyes eagerly waits for the networks to declare Obama the winner, which occurs at 8 p.m. sharp, an hour after the polls close in Point Reyes Station.

Here are the results of local votes on the West Marin ballot (winners in boldface):

Congress: Democratic incumbent Lynn Woolsey, 73 percent; Republican Mike Halliwell, 23 percent. (Woolsey at the same time beat Halliwell 71 percent to 25 percent in Sonoma County.)

State Senate: Democrat Mark Leno, 75 percent; Republican Sashi McEntee, 24 percent. (Leno also bested McEntee 71 percent to 29 percent in Sonoma County and 87 percent to 13 percent in San Francisco.)

Assembly: Democratic incumbent Jared Huffman, 72 percent; Republican Paul Lavery, 23 percent. (Huffman likewise topped Lavery 66 percent to 26 percent in Sonoma County.)

Bolinas Fire Protection District: incumbent David Kimball, 40 percent; Sheila O’Donnell, 27 percent; Shannon Kilkenny, 24 percent; Donald Holmes, 8 percent.

Marin Healthcare District: incumbent Sharon Jackson, 30 percent; Hank Simmonds, 24 percent; Archimedes Ramirez, 23 percent; Frank Parnell, 21 percent; Peter Romanowsky, 2 percent.

Measure Q (Sonoma-Marin rail district, combined two-thirds vote needed): Marin County, 63 percent yes, 37 percent no; Sonoma County, 73.5 percent yes, 26.5 percent no.