Archive for April, 2010

Cut thistles in May,/ They’ll grow in a day;/ Cut them in June,/ That is too soon; Cut them in July,/ Then they will die. — Mother Goose rhyme

Italian thistles in my field.

Mother Goose rhymes were, of course, originally penned 300 years ago in the more-northern latitudes of England and France, where the growing season starts later. Thistles in West Marin should probably be cut a month or two earlier. I know because I have spent much of the last week cutting thistles, as well as pulling and digging them up.

It has been an unpleasant task, and despite my wearing work gloves, my hands are now full of prickles. Yet I did manage to fill a green-waste container to overflowing, and I’ve already piled up more thistles for the next garbage pickup in two weeks.

There has to be an easier way to do this, I thought, so I did what everyone with an existential question does this days: I looked for the answer online. As it turns out, the Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office has a helpful website, which I used to identify the type of thistle I was fighting: Italian thistles.

“Italian thistle, from the Mediterranean, was accidentally introduced to California in the 1930s,” the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office notes. “The flower heads are small, pink, with five to twenty heads per cluster.”

Having identified these prickly invaders, my next question was how to easily get rid of them. Looking around, I found a Livestock for Landscapes website that said, “Cows eat distaff and Italian thistle.” The site included a link to a YouTube video featuring Chileno Valley ranchers Mike and Sally Gale.

The ranchers had been interviewed four years ago just as they began experimenting with cattle to control distaff thistles. The tall, woody thistle is rapidly spreading throughout Chileno Valley, ruining pastures.

A distaff thistle. (Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s photo)

“Distaff originated in the Mediterranean and is an aggressive rangeland pest, recognized by its spiny yellow flower heads,” the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office reports. “Their large, sharp spines can injure the eyes and mouths of livestock that are forced to graze within dense populations. Distaff causes lameness in animals whose hooves have been penetrated by its spines.”

Mike and Sally being old friends, I called them to find out how their experiment with using cattle to eliminate distaff thistles had gone. Not well, Mike told me. He and Sally had tried the Livestock for Landscape’s technique that began with cattle in a pen. The ranchers put cut thistles in a tub and poured molasses on them to get their livestock interested.

That part of the experiment worked, but when the cattle were put out to graze, they ignored thistles in their pasture, he said. So what was the solution? Mike said the Marin County Fire Department for the past two years has conducted controlled burns in the pasture, and that has greatly reduced the amount of distaff thistles.

My thistles, however, are Italian, and Mike said cattle will eat Italian thistles and even seek them out. That would seem to make my thistle problem easy to eliminate. All I would need to do is acquire a few cattle, as well as install a few fences and gates.

As for cutting thistles, Mike agreed with Mother Goose. If I cut them too early in the spring, they’ll grow back, but if I wait until they’re full grown, they won’t. The trick, I gather, is timing. Once thistles flower, they produce seeds that the winds disperse — even if the thistles have been cut down — so one needs to act fast if his thistles are starting to bloom. Which is why I’ve been cutting thistles in recent days and disposing of them in my green-waste container.

However, as I told Mike, even when I’m wearing work gloves, the thistle spikes manage to work their way through the back of the gloves and into my hands. The same thing had happened to Mike. The solution, he said, are gloves totally covered with tough leather: “They’re called welders’ gloves.”

“I think I have a pair,” I told him. “They’re from a World War II naval shipyard.” As it happens, my parents after the war had bought two pairs to use in gardening from an Army-Navy surplus store. And sure enough, when I looked in a basement cabinet, I found an old welder’s glove — but only one for the right hand.

After more digging around in the cabinet, however, I found a second glove. Unfortunately, when I went to put it on, it too was for the right hand. There was a bit of cursing, but then I resumed my search and eventually found a left-handed glove in a tangle of twine. More important, when I used these almost-70-year-old gloves in my next assault on thistles, I got through it unscathed.

So what’s the moral? It takes gear tough enough to defeat Prime Minister Hideki Tojo’s navy if one is to escape being wounded when attacking West Marin’s thistles.

A small but enthusiastic crowd showed up at Toby’s Feed Barn Saturday evening for a 29th annual benefit dance that will help pay for 50 handicapped children to go on a camping trip. The trip will include rafting on Rogue River in southern Oregon.

Playing for the event was West Marin’s acclaimed band Radio Fantastique featuring Giovanni De Morenti as lead singer. The virtuoso group has played nationwide, and I’m amazed it’s still available for local gigs. As for dancing, at least when I was there, most of those who took the dance floor were small children.

Organizing the event was Joyce Goldfield of Inverness Park, who for 20 years headed Halleck Creek Riding Club, which takes disabled children and adults on horseback rides in Nicasio. She stepped down as the nonprofit’s coordinator in 1997 at the age of 60.

Soup and an abundance of baked goods fed Saturday evening’s crowd, with enough delicacies left over to have saved the Donner Party.

Cartoon in the April 12 New Yorker: Cheerful old lady saying to priest, “Of course, my confessions probably aren’t nearly as interesting as yours.”

In 2002 alone, the Catholic Church removed 450 US priests from parish duties because of allegations of child molesting. Two years later, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops reported that during the previous half century, 10,667 Americans had come forward to complain of molestations by church clerics, with the number of complaints peaking in the 1970s.

However, most priests accused of child molesting were never prosecuted. Many were merely reassigned to other parishes where some kept right on molesting. Referring to one such case, The New York Times last month reported, “The Vatican’s inaction [was] not unusual.

“Only 20 percent of the 3,000 accused priests whose cases went to the church’s doctrinal office between 2001 and 2010 were given full church trials, and only some of those were defrocked, according to a recent interview in an Italian newspaper with Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the chief internal prosecutor at that office.”

Until recently, most allegations against priests had come from the United States, Canada, and Ireland, but in recent months the scandal has mushroomed with reports of molestations also pouring in from all over Europe and Mexico. Equally disturbing have been new revelations about members of the church’s hierarchy covering up the crimes.

With a growing number of Catholics acknowledging they’ve been victimized, many other victims have come to realize they’re not alone, and this has given them the courage to seek counseling. Here’s an example.

A “Help and Law” line established by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference in 1995 had until this spring been getting an average of 10 calls a year regarding molestations, but in the past three weeks alone, it has received 1,300 new reports, a spokesman told the press.

So what are we to make of legislation proposed in Sacramento that would establish even harsher sentences for child molesters? Does it not target four or five percent (according to church estimates) of our Catholic clerics?

Many people including some prominent Protestant clergymen blame the thousands of molestations on the Vatican’s insistence on priestly celibacy, its ban on openly gay priests, and its refusal to admit women to the priesthood.

In September, the Vatican responded that the percentage of child molesters in the priesthood is no higher than in society as a whole. But the defense sounded disingenuous, for what animates the abuse is sex, not statistics.

Lest we become too focused on one religion, however, let’s also look at a religious movement that frequently seems even more irrational regarding sex: Islamic fundamentalism.

Take the disintegrating country of Somalia where the most-powerful insurgent group is al Shabab, which has ties to al Qaeda. At the moment, al Shabab fighters appear close to seizing control of the capital, Mogadishu.

On Thursday, The Times reported that as al Shabab tightens its grip on Somalia, it is enforcing an ultra-conservative version of Islam that among other things prohibits brassieres because they supposedly create a deception. Women caught wearing bras are being publicly whipped.

Meanwhile across the Arab Sea, conservative Islam’s dress code for women resulted in yet another absurdity earlier this year. As the Huffington Post reported in February, “An Arab ambassador in Dubai has had his marriage annulled after discovering that his bride, behind her veil, was bearded and cross-eyed.

“The couple had only met a few times during their courtship. Each of these times the woman had worn a niqab, an Islamic veil that covers most of the face.

“After the marriage contract was signed in Dubai, the ambassador tried to kiss his new wife. However, as he removed the veil, he was shocked at what he saw. The unnamed ambassador went straight to court to annul the marriage…leaving his wife in tears….

“The Islamic Sharia court annulled the marriage but refused to compensate the ambassador for the estimated 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) in gifts he had bought the woman.”

Appearance is obviously playing too large a role in human society. Here’s another example, this one from the Florida Keys. On March 2, a 37-year-old woman caused a two-vehicle crash by trying to shave her privates while driving. Her ex-husband sitting in the passenger’s seat had been doing the steering.

Why? quoted Florida Highway Patrol trooper Gary Dunick as explaining, “She said she was meeting her boyfriend in Key West and wanted to be ready for the visit.” The trooper went on to comment, “If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

In an April 2 column, Chip Johnson of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the closing of the Nummi automotive plant in Fremont, a 28-year joint venture by General Motors and Toyota. A headline on the column, however, created some confusion.

The column had nothing to do with the closure reviving memories of a flood in the Midwest although an unfortunate break between the two lines of the headline made it appear that way. The intended message? Nummi’s closure caused memories of a Midwestern plant’s closure to come flooding back to the columnist, who was affected by it.

In other news, The Chronicle on April 3 reported that San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón made a formal apology to the Bay Area’s Muslim community for remarks he made a week earlier.

The problem, The Chronicle noted, started with “comments he made to a 150 City Hall officials and members of the building trades regarding a June 8 seismic retrofit bond.

“During that event, Gascón reportedly said that the Hall of Justice is susceptible to terrorist attack by members of the city’s Middle Eastern community, including an Oklahoma City-style explosion caused by a van parked out front.

“Gascón [later] denied lumping Middle Easterners or Arab Americans together, saying he referred specifically to those from Yemen or Afghanistan as potential threats….

“[Nonetheless], community outrage was immediate, with members of San Francisco’s Arab American organizations calling the remarks degrading an inappropriate.”

On April 2, Chief Gascón told a gathering of  Muslims: “I’m sorry that I’ve offended you, that I’ve offended the Afghan community and other Middle Eastern communities.” His apology was warmly received.

“I really respect him now,” said Iftekhar Hai, president of the United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance, after the apology. Reading about all this, I too felt reassured about the police chief — until I had one of those Clark Kent/Superman flashes. Has anyone ever seen Chief Gascón and comedian Steve Martin in the same room together? Is it possible the apology was merely a Steve Martin stunt?

More from The Chronicle. I hope you read Jon Carroll’s March 31 column, for it was set in Point Reyes Station. At dusk. With the evening growing cold. And Jon locked out of his car which was parked in front of the Tomales Bay Foods Building.

Jon had just given a public interview at the Dance Palace, where townspeople laughed at his jokes and “lauded” him “in a gentle, West Mariny sort of way.” But then they went home. “I was the visiting celebrity, and yet I was all alone,” he wrote. “It teaches a person something about the nature of fame, but it’s not something that a person did not know already.”

It’s an engaging column, so if you haven’t read it already, you ought to take the time.

Looking around West Marin, what else is in the air? How ’bout these three hang gliders above Stinson Beach?

Or the Point Reyes Arabians herd atop the hill above my cabin?

When hay is put out for the Arabians, the wild turkeys rush over faster than the horses, apparently because they like to eat mites that are found in the hay. Or so a stableman told me.

Paul Reffell, the longtime POSSLQ of Marshall artist-activist Donna Sheehan, threw a surprise 80th birthday party for her Thursday evening at Toby’s Feed Barn. Scores of her friends and relatives, along with a few politicos, showed up. Everyone told her she looked great.

The oft-repeated comment prompted Donna to tell the crowd, “There are three stages of life: youth, middle age, and ‘you look great,’ which those of us over 70 hear a lot of on main street.” And as a matter of fact, she added, “I’ve never been happier.”

The receiving line was so lengthy that Donna took it sitting down. Most of the guests brought food or drinks for a potluck table.

“It’s hell being born on April Fool’s Day,” Donna said, noting that she and Paul “just came from the St. Stupid’s Day parade in San Francisco.”

Providing entertainment, Ingrid Noyes of Marshall sang and accompanied herself on the accordion. Singer Tim Weed accompanied himself on the guitar.

Donna meanwhile reminded guests that Paul, her paramour, is 20 years her junior.

In short, he’s not old enough yet to have people automatically telling him he looks great.

Margie Boyle (left), an old friend from Lakeville, invited Donna to dance, and before long much of the party was dancing too.

Photo copyright Art Rogers 2002

During a chilly rain on Nov. 12, 2002, Donna gained worldwide attention when she assembled 50 “unreasonable women” at Point Reyes Station’s Love Field. Lying naked on the wet grass, the women spelled out PEACE with their bodies while Point Reyes Station photographer Art Rogers recorded the event.

Donna at the time explained she got the idea from a similar protest in Nigeria earlier in the year. Women fighting corporate exploitation stood nude in a vigil that lasted several days outside of Nigeria’s parliament, she noted. “[The Nigerian women] shamed the men and won their cause,” she said.

As can be seen in photos on Donna’s “Baring Witness” website, the Point Reyes Station demonstration almost immediately inspired many similar demonstrations throughout the United States as well as overseas.

I owned The Point Reyes Light at that time and asked my former wife Ana Carolina to cover the Love Field demonstration for the paper. Donna, who must be the Pied Piper of West Marin, convinced Ana Carolina to join in despite my ex-wife’s conservative Guatemalan background. Here’s the story Ana Carolina wrote about the event. As for Art’s photo, as soon as it appeared in The Light, the wire services picked it up and sent it out worldwide.

I was first aware of Donna’s skill at political organizing  roughly 30 years ago when she became upset with Caltrans plans to spray weeds along Highway 1 rather than cut them. Forming a group called MOW, Donna organized protests and to my surprise managed to stop the spraying.

(MOW, which is short for Mow Our Weeds, is the only acronym I know where one of the words the initials stand for is the acronym itself.)

More recently, Donna and Paul again garnered widespread attention with a book titled Redefining Seduction, which says women should take the lead in courtship.