Archive for December, 2009

Christmas week was a roller coaster ride for me. Amid all the merriment, I hit a young buck a week ago while driving on Lucas Valley Road. The deer was fatally injured when it jumped in front of my car just as I passed. It’s an old story.

The only other deer I’ve ever hit was a fawn 30 years ago, and both times I’ve been saddened by the animals’ misfortune. This time, however, I also felt a bit sorry for myself. The collision did more than $400 damage to a headlight.

I hadn’t planned on having a Christmas tree this year, but one literally dropped from the sky and landed close to my front door. On Christmas Eve, I found a nicely shaped tip of a pine branch on the ground. It had probably been gnawed off by a squirrel high in a tree that’s near my front steps.

‘What the heck?’ I thought and stuck it in a stand almost as big as the “tree” itself. My little Tannenbaum had room for only a few ornaments, but that was fine. And when I took a picture of it, the camera’s flash serendipitously created a Star of Bethlehem on a window behind the tree.

Overheard at a party: A couple of modest means invited me to a boisterous celebration where one of the guests brought an uninvited man. After listening to the man hold forth about a recent trip to Europe and an upcoming return trip to Hawaii, the hostess sarcastically commented she wasn’t as “rich” as he.

“I’m not rich. I’m broke,” the man replied indignantly. “That’s just my lifestyle.” I wondered if his lifestyle might account for his being broke.

Early last week, I received a Christmas card from an older woman who once owned a business in Point Reyes Station. As of last fall, she was in an assisted-living facility over the hill.

The card, however, had been sent from the Cooperstown Medical Center. “I’m in Cooperstown, North Dakota,” she wrote, “but now I forget why.” It was a poignant admission, and I wish her well.

The day after Christmas is a public holiday in much of Northern Europe (where it coincides with St. Stephen’s Day) and in most of the English-speaking world other than the United States. Boxing Day, as it is called in English, originated in a tradition from the Middle Ages — perhaps from the days of ancient Rome — of giving gifts to household servants and the needy on a certain date.

Some people have theorized that the English name for the celebration originated in the practice of churches opening their alms boxes the day after Christmas and distributing the contents to the needy.

“What did you do for Boxing Day?” I wrote one cousin. “I spent mine celebrating Kwanzaa.” Also occurring the day after Christmas is the start of Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration of African culture. The celebration was launched 43 years ago by Black Power activist Ron Karenga.

The name comes from matunda ya kwanza, which is Swahili for first fruits of the harvest. The celebration, which has been commemorated with two postage stamps, has been becoming somewhat more mainstream, with a few million US citizens of diverse races and religions now observing it.

So I hope you enjoyed a happy Chanukah, or a jolly Winter Solstice, or a merry Christmas, or a beatific Boxing Day, or a convivial start to Kwanzaa — or all of the above. If you didn’t, there’s still New Year’s Eve to come, so get out there and party.

Former Point Reyes Light reporter Ivan Gale married Annalene MacLew Sept. 5 in Johannasburg, South Africa, and he is now briefly back in West Marin introducing her to friends and relatives.

Family gathering (back row from left): Ivan Gale, Annalene Gale née MacLew, Mike Gale, Sally Gale, Amy Culver née Gale holding daughter Izzy, Rohan Gordon, Katie Gordon née Gale. Front row: Brent Culver and daughter Sarah Culver.

After he left my newsroom in 2004, Ivan earned two master’s degrees at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. When he finished his second year at Columbia, Ivan was hired by The Gulf News, an English-language newspaper in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

A year ago, Ivan was hired away by a new daily newspaper, The National, in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE.

As it happens, Annalene works for Etihad Airways, which is based in Abu Dhabi.

The Gale ranch house in Chileno Valley.

Mike and Sally talk with Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey (right) during a party Saturday  for Ivan and Annalene.

Ivan is the son of Chileno Valley ranchers Mike and Sally Gale, and on Saturday a throng of ranchers, artists, local officials, journalists, relatives, and other friends showed up at Gale Ranch to wish the newlyweds well.

Of course, not everything at Gale Ranch has been warm and cozy of late. Today Mike told me it was so cold in Chileno Valley during the night that the cattle had frost on them this morning.

By noon, however, the day was sunny and getting warmer. At least Annalene can now understand the old West Marin expression, “If you don’t like the weather here, just stick around a few minutes, and it’ll be different.”

As for the rest of you, happy holidays and try to stay warm.


Seen on many vehicles in East and West Marin these days are bumper stickers that joke, “Fairfax, Mayberry on Acid.” The one above was photographed in Point Reyes Station. Neither the joke nor the bumper sticker is new, but helping popularize them was a brief video with that title, which was entered in the 2007 Fairfax Short Documentary Film Challenge.

Fairfax (pop. 7,000) is, of course, a swinging little place with its own head shop and a cannabis buyers’ club located next to the Little League ballfield. The documentary included some shots of baseball players, but its focus was on older members of the counterculture.

But unlike these aging bohos, most motorists I’ve seen with the bumper sticker have been young adults, and I question whether many of them are actually familiar with the Andy Griffith Show, which was set in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C.

The show aired from 1960 to 1968, and its sequel, Mayberry R.F.D. (Rural Free Delivery), aired from 1968 to 1971. Perhaps some younger folks have seen reruns.

Picture 2

The original Andy Griffith Show, in which he played a widowed sheriff in Mayberry, included Ron Howard as his son Opie (center), Frances Bavier as Aunt Bea, his spinster aunt and housekeeper (upper left), and Don Knotts as Barney Fife, his well-intentioned but bumbling deputy (lower right).

The one-stoplight town of Mayberry had no major crime, just a little moonshining and the like, along with an occasional wrongdoer showing up from elsewhere.

griffith.article The sheriff often spent as much time going to The Fishin’ Hole as in upholding the law. (Those of you old enough to have ever seen the show need merely to click on the preceding link, and it should act like a taste of Proust’s madeleine.)

All this got me wondering: what in the world would the Andy Griffith Show have been like if the colorful characters of quaint little Mayberry were supposedly high on LSD?

As for Mayberry itself, the town is, after all, the creation of a 1960s sitcom about a couple of officers. “Fairfax, Mayberry on Acid” therefore raises the question: what if police in Fairfax were to drop acid? Is this how they might see the world? Or does the bumper sticker suggest this is how they already do?

Postal worker Kathy Runnion was sorting mail in the Point Reyes Station Post Office Thursday morning when she looked out a back window and saw something move on a roof at Toby’s Feed Barn next door.

Kathy in her off hours heads Planned Feralhood, which catches and spays or neuters Point Reyes Station’s feral cats. She tries to find a home for most of them; only those who have been wild too long to domesticate are returned to the street — at least unable to reproduce.


At first glance Kathy assumed what she was seeing was a feral cat that hangs out at Toby’s, but then she realized it was a gray fox. Fortunately she knew how to respond in situations such as this: she called me.

I rushed downtown with my camera and hustled into the post office. Just as Kathy was showing me where to look, a second fox appeared on the roof.


The roof is over a small wing of Toby’s that houses the garden room, and the foxes were roughly eight feet off the ground. Kathy had seen one fox hop onto the roof and told me it had first climbed through racks of pipe in the Building Supply Center lumberyard.


After casually looking around, the foxes in their winter coats curled up with each other apparently to warm themselves from the night.

This is hardly the first time foxes have taken an interest in downtown Point Reyes Station. In the early 1990s, there were so many foxes in town I’d see one trotting across a street around twilight every week or two.

Foxes frequented the gap between the Palace Market and the Building Supply Center. One evening in 1992 when I published The Point Reyes Light and Don Schinske was my partner, he was surprised to see a fox cross Mesa Road right in front of the office.

At my cabin, foxes would take shortcuts across the deck at night.

Unfortunately, outbreaks of canine distemper in 1994 and of an unidentified virus in 1996 killed off many of West Marin’s foxes and raccoons, and their populations remained low for the next few years.

fox_1_1_2By now, raccoons are back in full force, and it is not uncommon to see a fox along a West Marin road at night.

Foxes are again taking shortcuts across my deck, and last June I was lucky enough to photograph this one in his summer coat just outside the window.

What I fear is that fox and raccoon populations will again become so dense that distemper or something like it can easily spread among them, decimating their numbers.

Proliferation interrupted by periodic die-offs may be nature’s way of keeping the number of foxes and raccoons in check, but if so, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “vicious cycle.”