Archive for January, 2009


A view of the coast range from the deck of my friend Karen Ward’s weekend home at Sea Ranch. In yet another reflection of the recession, Karen has reluctantly put the home up for sale.

Last weekend I enjoyed a clear day as a houseguest at Sea Ranch two hours north of here. When I went to take a shower, however, things became foggy. I found the shower stall stocked with skin-conditioning soap etc. but nothing I recognized as meant for shampooing hair.

I called through the door to Karen, asking if I could borrow some shampoo to wash my hair, and she directed me to a bottle of Neutrogena. The label on the bottle, however, said it contained a “body enhancing shampoo,” which sounded like a body wash that builds pecs and tightens abs. If it doesn’t contain steroids, I wondered, why don’t more men use it?

But then I remembered a New England Journal of Medicine report that washing with lavender soap may cause boys to develop breasts. What if this “body enhancing shampoo” was for women and likewise mimicked hormones? I never did learn the answer, and I still don’t know why Karen sounded exasperated when I asked if it had been safe for me to wash my hair with her Neutrogena?


The view of the Pacific from Karen’s living room and deck. Her home is near Sea Ranch’s Shell Beach (there must be a dozen strands around here called Shell Beach), and at night I could hear seals barking outside my window.

Karen’s three-bedroom, two-bath home has been listed for $799,000 by Coldwell Banker agent Lynda O’Brien, 707 884-3591. I’m telling you this as a favor to Karen, but because I’ve been promised another stay at the home sometime in the future, I’m less interested than she is in seeing it sell.

“So many daily newspapers are losing money that a bunch of them are planning another round of newsroom layoffs this year,” my friend Dave LaFontaine told me over the holidays. “That’s no bullsh-t.”

“Why is that noble sh-t?” I demanded. Dave, who’s an Internet media consultant from Los Angeles, calmly replied that several big papers are resigned to sacrificing quality in order to survive. “Do you really think their planning to sacrifice quality is noble?” I asked. Dave said he personally believed it was no bull, and we changed subjects.

I later suggested to Dave that some metropolitan papers’ financial troubles can be blamed on their too eagerly buying up other newspapers during the past 20 years. “The chains thought the good times would never end,” I said, “so they became spendthrifts.”

Having said that, I immediately wondered why we call people who recklessly spend money “spendthrifts.” You’d think we’d call them “extravagant spenders.” When I looked up the origin of the word, however, I discovered that “thrift” is being used in an obsolete sense which meant “accumulated wealth.” The word “spendthrift,” it would therefore appear, reveals something about the way the English-speaking world views wealth. For instance, we’re not much into potlatches.

We can, in fact, learn a considerable amount about different cultures from their vocabulary. For example, in Pashto, Afghanistan’s most-common language, the word for “cousin” is the same as the word for “enemy.” Doesn’t that tell us something about the turmoil there?

Similarly revealing is the German word “Scham,” for depending on the context, it can mean either “vulva” or “shame.” This may suggest it was more than coincidental that Freud grew up speaking German. And God with us, my friends, the correct response to “Gott mit uns” is not, “Yes, we’ve got mittens.”

For the most part, however, German is Greek to me. Or as they say in German, “Ich verstehe nur Bahnof,” which literally means, “I understand only train station.”

current_issueAs long as we’re on the subject of words, Amy Tsaykel of The West Marin Review has asked me to mention a fundraiser in Point Reyes Station for the journal. From 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21, in a private home, she writes, an “‘elder statesman of the Beat Generation,’ novelist, and prolific writer Herb Gold will read from his latest work, a memoir entitled Still Alive: A Temporary Condition.

“In the words of the man himself, the book is about ‘love and memory, why both are blessings and sorrows and a form of immortality.’ Our special guest welcomes questions and conversation following his reading. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.”

One of the original Beats, Gold (born in 1924) was attending college in New York when he first met two other luminaries of the Beat Generation, novelist Jack Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg. Kerouac unfortunately was anti-Semitic, and Gold later said, “I crossed the street to avoid him.” Gold and Ginsberg, however, became fast friends.

41t3ppqyhkl_ss500_1Following a divorce that left Gold a single parent with two daughters to support, he became what he called “a writing factory,” often contributing to Playboy and other men’s magazines.

Playboy — where young men of my generation were most likely to first encounter Gold — paid handsomely. “With a feature inside the magazine,” he now notes, “you could buy a VW, and with a lead feature you could buy a VW convertible.”

Tickets for the afternoon with Gold cost $30 for individuals, $50 per couple. One VIP ticket is available at $250, including: event admission, dinner for two at Café Reyes, one night’s stay at Olema Cottages, Point Reyes Vineyard wine, an autographed copy of Still Alive, and the West Marin Review Vol. 2 when it is published. Tickets are available online at West Marin Review and Point Reyes Books.

100_1379_11For nearly 500 West Marin residents watching TV inside Toby’s Feed Barn this morning, the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama carried the excitement of Prince Charles’ visit, mankind’s landing on the moon, and Western Weekend all happening at once.

Residents sat around a screen on which was projected CNN’s coverage of the ceremonies.

Other residents stood around those residents, and still more sat on piles of seed sacks or on towering stacks of hay bales.

Although the 2000 census found that whites account for 89 percent and Latinos for 10 percent of West Marin’s population, residents of all races and ages were on hand to witness together the swearing in of the first black president in US history.

100_1393_13Some adults brought children as young as toddlers to this historic celebration. Others brought dogs. However, no one that I saw brought both.

In November’s presidential election, President Obama had carried West Marin with 86 percent of the vote, and a number of people today celebrated the fact that bigotry can no longer control nationwide election results. Indeed, as soon as President Obama finished taking the oath of office, the woman standing in front of me began shaking hands with everyone around her, saying to each, “Congratulations, my fellow American.”


The center of attention at Toby’s was a projection screen intriguingly located under pallets piled with sacks of seed and fertilizer — and in front of a wall festooned with bunting, the Stars and Stripes, and President Obama’s call to action.


Feed Barn proprietor Chris Giacomini (foreground) and other celebrants clap during President Obama’s inaugural address.


Watching televised coverage of history being made.

Tuesday’s schedule of inaugural celebrations around Tomales Bay began with a sunrise swim at Chicken Ranch Beach in Inverness. I’m as enthusiastic about our 44th president as the next West Marin resident, but I wasn’t about to brave the cold or the hour.

100_1372Inverness tree trimmer Tom Kent, who did go, told me approximately 75 people were on hand, and others told me that most of those got in the water, including one young woman who braved the the chilly bay au naturel. Did Tom take a dip in the bay too? “I borrowed a wetsuit,” he replied. “It was the first time I’d ever worn one. Boy, do they take a long time to get into!”

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office. One hand is on a bible (held by First Lady Michelle Obama) that Abraham Lincoln used for his 1861 inauguration.

Today’s events are being hosted by: Point Reyes Books, Toby’s Feed Barn, Mainstreet Moms, The Dance Palace, and Point Reyes Nation. A breakfast including pastries, orange juice, coffee and tea was provided for the crowd that squeezed into Toby’s Feed Barn.

From 6 to 10 p.m., an inaugural ball will be held in the Dance Palace, $10 (“West Marin formal”). Soup will be provided (“bring your own beverages and bowl”).

When Sparsely Sage and Timely moved from The Point Reyes Light to online, readership dropped from the thousands to the hundreds but became global, as I have now discovered.

Internet media consultants Janine Warner, who used to report for The Light, and her husband Dave LaFontaine spent the holidays with me. Before they returned to Los Angeles, Janine installed on my computer some software that tells me which countries my hundreds of readers are in.

In the two weeks since the new software started its counting, this site has drawn readers from: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.

John Atta-Mills took office as president of Ghana last Thursday.

John Atta-Mills took office as president of Ghana last Thursday.

Not all readers stuck around very long, of course, but on average they spent more than two minutes per visit. The three visits from Switzerland averaged almost eight minutes each. Readers who spent more than fleeting time on this site came from: the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Italy, Qatar, and Ghana.

Those last two surprised me for a moment. Why would someone in Qatar or Ghana care about events in Point Reyes Station?  At first glance, we’re as different in culture as in climate.

Or are we? Like Marin County, Qatar and Ghana are considered more progressive than most of their neighbors, and maybe that explains why at least a couple of people in those countries read this blog. Qatar, which is has been westernizing and liberalizing for the past 13 years, is likewise well off, boasting the highest GDP per capita in the world.

A former British colony, Ghana is better off than its neighbors on the west coast of Africa but nonetheless remains poor and dependent on foreign aid. However, it is a stable country. On Jan. 2, John Atta Mills was declared the new president of Ghana after two rounds of voting. Mills unseated Nana Akufo-Addi, candidate of the ruling party, by “the smallest margin of victory in Africa’s electoral history,” The Economist reported.  Yet there was a minimum of disturbances during the campaign and runoff, and Akufo-Addi conceded gracefully, prompting The Economist to call the election “a fine example to the rest of Africa.”

So congratulations to my reader in Ghana, regardless of which candidate you voted for.

Perhaps this blog’s foreign readership before long will catch up with its West Marin readership. In December, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors reprinted my Sept. 16 posting about raccoon scat, disseminating it among members in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

And last week’s posting that told The bittersweet tale of a hardy little tree was reprinted in The West Marin Citizen, much to my surprise. In fact, there’s a lesson in all this. If you read a story here, you can retell it without worrying that your listeners will have already read it on their own — unless, of course, you’re in an Internet café in Ghana.


As many other West Marin residents had already done, today I hauled my Christmas tree to the dumpster behind the Point Reyes Station firehouse. Old Christmas trees become highly combustible when they dry out, so the Marin County Fire Department each year provides free disposal.

Enjoying the woodland niche in my loft created by the little tree. Photo by Janine Warner, founder of

Photo by Janine Warner, founder of

While I appreciated the firefighters’ program, saying goodbye to the tree was the culmination of a bittersweet story. At eight feet tall, it had created a cozy niche of woodland (above) in a corner of my loft. Decorated branches jutting through the loft’s railing had over overhung the dining-room table a floor below, turning guests beneath the tree into colorful gifts.

But even before the little pine served so loftily as a Christmas tree, I had become fond of it. The Monterey pine was a volunteer that had sprung up next to my propane tank and was rooted more in rock than soil. When I first noticed the then-weed-high tree, I doubted it would survive.

But survive it did until this Christmas. When the still-tiny tree became half choked by a fungus-caused goiter, I performed surgery. Unfortunately, I later performed some unnecessary surgery, twice accidentally chopping off branches with a weed whacker.


By this year, the little tree’s branches had begun to engulf the propane tank, which annoyed the DeCarli’s driver because the foliage made it difficult to open the hood of the tank to refill it. Finally, I agreed I’d trim the tree back a bit come winter, and the driver seemed satisfied.

Late last summer, however, the tree’s fate was sealed when the same county fire department that disposed of the tree wrote homeowners around here, ordering us to undertake 10 precautions against wildfires. One of the precautions was to eliminate any combustible vegetation within 15 feet of our propane tanks.

The fire department also ordered us to return a form within 30 days, saying that we had completed these precautions. I immediately set to work making my property safe from wildfires and returned the form on time. However, where the form asked whether I had cleared all vegetation back 15 feet from my propane tank, I penciled in that a small pine tree remained, but it would be cut down at Christmastime.


Photo by Joel Hack

The tree had only three months to live, and I felt guilty every time I looked at it, which was every time I got in or out of my car at home. Finally, on Dec. 19, I took a chainsaw to the little tree and cut it down.

For two weeks, the tree sparkled with colored lights and shiny ornaments. Now as I park my car and see the empty space where the little tree once grew, I pine for it — dead and abandoned in a dumpster behind the firehouse.