Archive for July, 2010

A mother raccoon guards her two kits while they eat peanuts (cacahuates) off my deck.

My former wife Ana Carolina in Guatemala refers to raccoons as “mapaches,” which is the name the Spanish colonists gave them.

The word was taken from the Nahuati word “mapachitli,” meaning “one who takes everything in its hands.” Nahua was the language of the ancient Aztecs and is still spoken in Central Mexico.

The mother raccoon (right rear) comes to my kitchen door each evening and stands on her hind legs so I will see her and put out food. But when I open the door to do so, she quickly backs away and begins a low growl. Her message is obvious: “Make sure you don’t get too close to my kits!”

The English word “raccoon” comes from the Virginia Algonquian word “aroughcun,” which is also spelled “arathkone.” The language, a subgroup of the Algonquian language, died out in the 1790s.

The kits are are far less skittish around me than their mother is unless I make a quick movement.

Historical curiosity: The first written description of raccoons was made by Christopher Columbus, who in 1492 discovered them on his expedition to the New World.

Many  fledglings after first leaving the nest want to be fed as if they were still in it. On the railing of my deck, this young crow (“cuervo” en español) caws incessantly and holds its mouth open in hopes the parent will feed it birdseed — even though the youngster is standing in birdseed.

Crows are smaller than ravens although at a distance it’s hard to gauge their sizes. The most obvious difference is in their tails when the birds are in flight. The tail feathers of a raven form a wedge shape while the tail feathers of a crow are almost straight across.

Young bucks sparring next to my cabin. These young blacktails are not trying to hurt each other but to establish dominance. Does prefer to mate with the stronger buck. From an evolutionary standpoint, this passes along the genes of the hardier deer (“venado” en español), which helps ensure the survival of the species.

Así que ahora ustedes tiene la lección de esta semana sobre los mapaches, cuervos, venados y la lengua española. Estudien mucho y no gasten dinero en Arizona.

The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday published the latest in a series of out-of-town-media reports on the dispute between The Point Reyes Light and The West Marin Citizen. The report ran under the headline: “Newspaper War Rages in West Marin.”

With many West Marin residents wishing the “war” would end, more than 300 people as of Monday evening had signed a petition calling for both sides to get together and work out their differences.

The dispute went public a month ago when Citizen owner Joel Hack published an “Extra” edition accusing Marin Media Institute, the nonprofit that had just bought The Light, of attempting a “hostile takeover.” The edition said that MMI was trying to take advantage of Joel’s personal financial problems to gain control of The Citizen.

Joel is married to Kathie Simmons, an attorney in Sonoma County. Kathie, who does business as a one-attorney law firm, had to dip into her IRA several times in recent years to cover business expenses.

The problem, Joel told me, was that because she was under 59 and 1/2, she had to pay penalties for the early withdrawals. Without the  funds to pay the penalties and failing to file some tax returns in a timely manner, the couple saw their initial debt of $4,000 to $5,000 to the IRS and the State Franchise Tax Board balloon to $26,000.

On Feb. 26, Joel and Kathie filed for Chapter 13 protection (from creditors) under US Bankruptcy laws. They then began paying off their back state and federal income taxes at the rate of $600 a month. Under Chapter 13, they could do this over 36 months without incurring additional penalties.

However, MMI’s attorney Doug Ferguson then notified the bankruptcy trustee that the nonprofit had negotiated unsuccessfully to buy The Citizen and would still be willing to buy the paper if the trustee liked the idea.

Citing attorney Ferguson’s letter, the bankruptcy trustee last month recommended the bankruptcy court convert Joel’s and Kathie’s Chapter 13 (individual bankruptcy) to Chapter 7 (possible liquidation) or Chapter 11 (reorganization).

MMI now says it later told the trustee — when he asked — that the nonprofit was no longer interested in buying The Citizen. But the damage had been done. Faced with either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11, Joel and Kathie have now voluntarily dismissed their bankruptcy protection, and Joel told me he will dip into his own IRA to pay off their debts.

[Corey Goodman, chairman of MMI, on Aug. 3 offered a “mea culpa” for letting attorney Ferguson send out a letter that indicated MMI was ready to buy The Citizen. Corey said he should have “proofread” Ferguson’s letter but did not. In reality, Corey added, MMI by then was no longer interested in buying The Citizen.]

[I’m willing to take Corey at his word on this, for he confirms what I’ve said from the start. In a June 23 posting about the newspaper war I wrote, “Whom do I blame? Attorney Ferguson, who seems to have been too clever by half…. Ferguson was clearly looking for the bankruptcy court’s help in getting Joel to accept MMI’s (previous) $50,000 offer for The Citizen.”]

The Wall Street Journal meanwhile quoted me as saying the dispute between the papers “is extremely bitter. We’re reaching the point where an awful lot of people would like everybody to just quiet down the fighting.”

Among those people is Nancy Bertelsen, who has long been active in West Marin civic affairs, especially those involving the arts. On Friday she emailed me a petition that was also sponsored by six other people who are likewise prominent around Point Reyes Station: Steve Costa, Chris Giacomini, Michael Mery, Claire Peaslee, Jonathan Rowe, and Murray Suid.

Prompted by the difficulties between our two weekly newspapers, those of us listed [above] met to discuss how we could encourage the owners of the papers to unite in some way for the good of the community,” the cover letter said.

“We’re writing to ask if you [the public] will support this effort by adding your name in support of the statement below. The intention is to bring the owners to the table to work out a solution that is acceptable to all. Use the following blog website to respond if you agree with the statement intent:

“We hope you will be joined by many other friends, readers and advertisers. The proposal along with all our names and the list of advertisers will be submitted to both papers, with a request that they publish the full list. If you support the initiative and would like to have your name appear with ours, consider signing by Tuesday, July 20th (we hope this will be published on July 22nd).”

The petition to both publishers reads as follows:

“There is broad interest in West Marin in the emergence of a single newspaper that serves us all. The current competition between two weekly papers is not working. It forces both to struggle—journalistically and financially — and it strains the loyalties and resources of advertisers, readers and contributors alike. We urge that you end this situation, which is depriving the community of the strong, stable paper we need.

“Both papers exist to serve the community. The owners of both are clearly committed to that purpose. But the current situation is working against what both papers want to achieve, and against the best interests of West Marin. Readers and advertisers are weary and do not want this fractured situation to continue. We want a unified community.

Specifically, we urge the owners of both papers and their representatives to begin an open discussion to work out a more positive relationship than is the case now. Using the services of a mediator would probably be helpful. A new relationship might include a merger of the two papers or any number of agreements that have not been imagined before now but that would be mutually beneficial.

“In any case, negotiations should be without conditions or preconceptions, and with neither recriminations nor need for apologies on either side. Instead, we call upon you to start fresh and seek a way forward, to restore the vitality and viability of West Marin’s local media.

“We know that resolving this will not be easy. But we feel that the task is important—and a responsibility of our local journalism establishment. We all look forward to supporting you and to helping in any way that we can. Something great can take the place of the current tensions: something can emerge that the whole community can support.”

The petition caught me by surprise, but I’ve signed it, and I urge other West Marin residents to do the same so we can quiet down the fighting. It’s easy. Just click on and type in your name and hometown. The web page includes a list of people who have already signed.

Update: On July 22, The West Marin Citizen printed the cover letter, the petition, the names of its sponsors, and the names of the more than 300 people who signed it. The Point Reyes Light the same day published the cover letter and names of the sponsors but neither the petition nor the 300 signatures.

As I drove down Campolindo Drive Tuesday morning, I spotted a gray fox ducking into a culvert under neighbors George and Earlene Grimm’s driveway.

A week ago, I spotted a fox — possibly the same one — sitting in a field next to my cabin and being dive bombed by a couple of crows. The crows have a nest high in a nearby pine tree, but I doubt the fox could ever climb up to the chicks.

All the same, it was yet another sign that young animals are everywhere around here at this time of year.

A female raccoon shows up on my deck almost every night, hoping I’ll put out bread or peanuts for her. Some of the raccoons on this hill are comfortable around me, but she isn’t and runs off a short distance whenever I open the kitchen door. Nonetheless, she chases off the raccoons that feel more at home at my place.

Last night she surprised me by showing up with two kits, which were even more skittish than she. Both spent much of their time hiding behind my woodbox, watching their mother dine in the open.

Raccoon kits are not always so timid. More than once I’ve had kits walk right into my kitchen when I left the door open.

Raccoons breed from late fall into early spring, with females sometimes having more than one short-term mate. The gestation period lasts about two months, and litters typically range from two to seven kits. Kits are born deaf and blind. They do not open their eyes for about three weeks, a couple of days after their ear canals open.

Raccoons around water often appear to wash their food. In Europe, where they have been introduced, the Germans call them “Waschbären,” meaning “wash bears.” However, researchers now believe they are not actually washing their food but their paws.

Just above their claws are stiff hairs called vibrissae, which have sensory cells associated with them. The vibrissae allow raccoons to identify objects before touching them with their paws. Washing keeps the hairs clean and sensitive.

A blacktail buck beside my cabin last Thursday. If you’ve every wondered about the difference between a “buck” and a “stag,” the word “stag” refers to the male red deer of Europe, which is also called a “hart” when mature.

In the past few weeks, I’ve also spotted a blacktail fawn on this hill, sometimes with its mother. Usually blacktail does have two fawns, but a couple of weeks ago, I saw a fawn, which had been killed by a car, lying beside Highway 1 near Campolindo Drive. I fear the worst.

A blacktail doe at my back fence Sunday. Does give birth from late spring to early summer. “Hind,” as in the Golden Hinde Resort, is another word for “doe.” The resort in Inverness is, of course, named after Sir Francis Drake’s ship, which was named after the deer, and the name of the ship is sometimes spelled “Hinde,” as in London’s Golden Hinde Museum.

Blacktails in the wild have typical lifespans of seven to 10 years while in suburban habitat where they feast on gardens, they can live for 17 to 20 years if cars or dogs don’t get them.

“All three major deer species native to North America (blacktail, whitetail, and mule) trace their ancestry back to a primordial, rabbit-size Odocoileus, which had fangs and no antlers and lived around the Arctic Circle some 10 million years ago,” Bay Nature reported five years ago,

Based on DNA tests, the magazine added, “researchers theorized that whitetails (Odocoileus viginianus) emerged as a separate species on the East Coast about 3.5 million years ago.

“They apparently expanded their range down the East Coast and then westward across the continent until reaching the Pacific Ocean in what is now California some 1.5 million years ago. Moving north up the coast, they evolved into blacktails….

“Columbian blacktail deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) are the subspecies of blacktails native to the Bay Area…. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, there are now approximately 560,000 deer in all California, about 320,000 of which are Columbian blacktails….

Near the end of the Pleistocene, some 11,000 years ago, as the glacial ice receded from the Sierra passes, blacktails moving east from their traditional homes in the coastal valleys of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia began to encounter a second wave of whitetails expanding their range westward across the Great Plains, Bay Nature added.

“It is now believed that subsequent back-and-forth crossbreeding resulted in the various strains of mule deer scattered across California and the western United States.”

Interestingly, Coastal blacktails and mule deer differ from whitetails in the way they run. As Mother Earth News has pointed out, “While the whitetail runs by pushing off alternately with its front and rear legs in long, graceful bounds, blacktails and mule deer typically launch themselves with all four legs at once in bouncing, pogo-stick jumps that verge on the comical — boing, boing — each bound gaining as much altitude as forward distance.”

At this time of year when there’s so many uncomprehending fawns boing boing-ing around West Marin, I urge drivers to slow down at night and use their high beams whenever possible. Hitting a deer is hard on your emotions, not to mention your car. I know; last winter I hit a young buck that jumped out in front of me on Lucas Valley Road.

As many West Marin residents recall, Linda Petersen, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, was severely injured a year ago when she fell asleep at the wheel and hit a utility pole in Inverness. Her popular little Havanese dog Sebastian died in the crash.

Linda suffered 11 broken ribs, a tear in her diaphragm, a collapsed lung, a broken neck, two fractured vertebrae, a broken wrist, a shattered femur, a fractured kneecap, and two broken ankles. She was hospitalized for three months, and last October a community fundraiser was held to help pay her medical bills.

In January, Linda got a new Havanese from the Marin County Humane Society and named him Eli. Sebastian had been 16 years old and was slow getting around in his last couple of months. Eli, however, is only 19 months and still puppy, as I learned all too well during the past three weeks when Linda left him in my care while she visited her mother in Sweden.

Linda with Eli in a KWMR listeners’ pets promotion.

I had taken care of Sebastian from time to time when Linda was away. Usually I was scarcely aware he was in my cabin. Eli’s stay was totally different. If he didn’t get at least a couple of long walks a day, he pooped indoors (this happened three times) or peed (once). Worse yet, it was never on a wood floor but always on a carpet, which probably reminded him of grass.

Eli has a number of toys and likes to play fetch, but sometimes he lightly nips the people playing with him. I discouraged this but didn’t worry about it. My guests were merely patient. Neighbor Jay Haas was visiting a couple of weeks ago when Eli drew blood while playing with him.

Some of Eli’s antics were both comic and irritating. While sitting on my couch, Nina Howard of Inverness tried throwing toys for Eli to fetch, only to find that when he returned with them, he often jumped onto the couch and stood on her bosom with all four feet. Eli’s a small dog, but this was too much for Nina.

Eli sleeping while balanced on the back of the couch.

But it was his puppy-stage chewing when unattended that gave me the most problem. He chewed on a couple of houseplants, one of which was a philodendron. Unfortunately, philodendrons are poisonous for dogs and people. The plant can cause lips to burn and throats to swell, so when I caught Eli chowing down on a vine, I had to hold him over a sink, pry his mouth open, and run water through it. Boy was that a struggle!

The time I became most concerned for his well-being, however, was the night he spotted a raccoon on my deck, slipped out the kitchen door, and took off into the dark after it. Luckily the raccoon chose to run rather than stand its ground or that could have been the end of Eli.

When Eli became too exuberant, I initially tried to distract him with chewable dog treats, but that proved to be a terrible idea. Rather than chew on them, he tried to “bury” them — in corners of my loft, behind furniture, or in the furniture itself. I was more than a little annoyed when I discovered that in digging a hole to bury a treat, he had shredded a quilt covering a futon.

Eli at White House Pool.

Most of the time, however, Eli was a good companion and well behaved. I took him for daily walks at White House Pool, and we both enjoyed the outings. For me, it was a chance to take in the scenery. For him it was a chance to run without a leash and poop whenever he felt like it. (I, in turn, always carried the disposal bags Marin County Parks and Open Space provides, and diligently cleaned up after him.)

Eli and I quickly became buddies, and I liked having him sleep on the bed beside me at night. He was too small to get in my way, and often he’d affectionately nuzzle me under the chin before falling asleep. During the day, he followed me from room to room, and I took him with me in the car everywhere I went.

This, in turn, led to an unexpected encounter at The Point Reyes Light. Last weekend, the Jack Mason Museum held an opening for an exhibit on Jack, who died 25 years ago. Dewey Livingston of Inverness, who has taken over Jack’s mantle as the historian of this area, had suggested I write a profile of Jack in advance of the event, and editor Tess Elliott had said The Light would like to publish it.

On a hot day three weeks ago, I dropped in at The Light to check its clipping file for stories I’d written over the years about Jack. Because of the heat, I didn’t want to leave Eli in the car, so I brought him in with me on a leash.

Eye to eye, Eli and I discuss whether a dog’s legendarily sensitive nose can distinguish between the Turkish and the Virgina in Camel’s blend of tobaccos. But the young boulevardier’s sense of smell proved too sophisticated to be tricked. “That’s Gauloises Brunes,” Eli sniffed,not a Camel.”

No sooner had I located The Light’s file on Jack than a couple of staff members asked me to leave. Why? Because Eli was with me, and he belongs to the ad manager of The Citizen. A few days earlier, The Citizen had published a special issue that accused Marin Media Institute, the nonprofit which owns The Light, of attempting “a hostile takeover.”

MMI had this day fired back with a dismissive rebuttal, but The Light staff’s feelings were still too “raw” to have Eli in the office, I was told. To them he “symbolizes” the other camp, the staff said. I explained about the hot car but left. Later that day I was invited back to check Jack’s file, which I did and wrote an article that ran in The Light last week.

I’m not criticizing the staff at The Light. Tess wrote me afterward that she felt bad about Eli, and I took the staff at their word when they said their emotions were raw at the moment. Indeed, MMI vice chairman Mark Dowie that week said The Light’s staff were catching hell from townspeople over board actions the staff had nothing to do with.

Both Eli and MMI’s leadership need to exercise self-restraint. At least in Eli‘s case, he’ll be receiving training in this during an upcoming class at the Dance Palace.