Archive for March, 2011

The debacles began on Feb. 22 when I bought $3.67 worth of Asian chicken wings from the deli counter of the San Anselmo Safeway store. I thought the spicy wings would make a good snack on my way back over the hill to West Marin.

The fried wings seemed tender enough, but when I bit into one, I felt a sharp pain in my lower jaw. I checked and discovered the wing had been sitting in the warming tray so long that the bottom side had become rock hard. Biting into it was like biting into a pebble.

When the pain stayed with me, I went to my dentist, who took an x-ray and confirmed the tooth had fractured at the gum line. He removed the top half of the tooth and referred me to an oral surgeon to remove the root and start me on the way to getting a new tooth implanted. That will take about seven months and cost about $4,500, I was told.

On March 16, the oral surgeon removed the root and sent me home with a mouth full of gauze. The surgeon’s office is in Novato, and I decided to drive home by way of San Rafael. As I was passing the sound barrier just north of downtown, however, the engine on my Acura suddenly died. I managed to coast into the slow lane and turned on my blinkers.

My car had just enough momentum to reach the Heatherton Avenue offramp but not enough to make it around the corner at the bottom. Fortunately, a San Rafael policeman came along and used his patrolcar to push my Acura around the corner to a safe spot.

AAA then towed the car to Easy Automotive a few blocks away, but it was already closed for the day.

Unable to reach my girlfriend Lynn Axelrod by phone, I rented a car and drove home.

The next day Easy Auto called to say rainwater had gotten into the computer that controls the engine, and that, in turn, had also ruined the fuel pump.

Heavy storms are annual events in West Marin. Flooding from a storm three years ago blocked my drive down Mesa Road in Point Reyes Station.

Replacing the fuel pump was not a problem, but my 1992 Acura is so old replacement computers are not available from the dealership, and it took a week of calling around to find a wrecking yard that had one. For awhile I feared I might have to replace the entire car.

The repairs cost $1,600, and when they were done, I was still stuck with the problem of water getting to my engine. To solve that, I called Teeters & Schacht in Novato, a shop that specializes in such work, and the owner told me to bring in the car.

On Wednesday, I headed off to Novato but didn’t get beyond the bottom of my driveway. Something felt wrong, and when I stopped to check, a brand-new tire was flat. Fortunately, Greenbridge Auto in Point Reyes Station was able to fix it relatively quickly, and I resumed my trip.

After I left my car in Novato (with a $500 estimate for repairs), Lynn drove me home where I discovered that my computer was in its death throws. Steve Bowers, a computer techie from Inverness, made repeated attempts to revive it, and finally we agreed I needed a new computer.

Computer technician Steve Bowers installing my new iMac.

That required another trip over the hill, where I spent $1,600 at Best Buy for a new iMac. Yesterday evening, Steve began installing its software and transferring backup files from an external hard drive. He came back today to install more and is scheduled to return yet again to finish the job.

Meanwhile, my car is still in the shop. Including the cost of a computer technician, I’m spending more than $8,500 to get things back to normal. And — worst of all — my posting is late this week. My only hope is that Safeway will reimburse me for my dental work. The store manager said I will be “made whole” but was startled when I told him that will take more than $4,000. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

While all this has been going on, we residents of Campolindo Drive have gotten into a scrap with our garbage company, Redwood Empire Disposal. The garbage trucks have been doing so much damage to the turnaround at the end of our private road it looks like Libyan tanks have been maneuvering on the pavement.

Each week one or two large garbage trucks lays waste to the asphalt while turning around at the end of Campolindo Drive. In what seems like extortion to me, Redwood Empire Disposal is threatening to cut off garbage pickups along the road unless residents agree to let the damage continue while promising not to sue.

When one neighbor complained, Redwood wrote all of us, “Our trucks are quite heavy, and the maneuvering of the tires does sometimes cause damage to the roads.”

The company acknowledged, “Redwood Empire Disposal does have small garbage trucks. However, these trucks are reserved for use on county-maintained roads that are too small to handle our regular trucks…

“If possible, we will offer private roads the service of the smaller truck for a special service fee. Unfortunately, at this time we do not have a small truck available to service your private road.” Assuming Redwood someday gets around to buying another garbage truck, doesn’t this sound like protection money? Pay a special fee or we’ll damage your road!

Redwood concludes by saying that unless all eight homeowners along Campolindo Drive sign letters saying they won’t sue the company for the damage it has caused and is causing, it won’t pick up our garbage — unless we haul it to Highway 1.

Not only would that be a long haul for most of us, it could result in a line of 24 garbage bins along a section of highway that has no shoulder. In West Marin, it’s common to see recently emptied garbage bins that have blown over. In this case, they could easily be blown into a traffic lane of Highway 1. The situation would be neither safe nor sightly, and Redwood Empire’s financial liability for any traffic accidents its row of bins causes could be hundreds of times greater than the cost of fixing its damage to our road.

Since the Marin County Board of Supervisors franchises Redwood Empire to pick up garbage around here, we’re waiting to see if our supervisor, Steve Kinsey, will help us out. I doubt residents along Campolindo Drive are alone in having this problem with Redwood Empire Disposal. I’ll keep you posted about this too.

All this could get a person down, so the trick is to appreciate its absurdity. Write a wry posting or entertain the crowd at the Old Western Saloon.

Writer Jonathan Rowe working at an open-air table in the  front of Toby’s Coffee Bar in January 2008. I took the photo just after The Columbia Journalism Review published an article he had written about the ongoing faux pas of Robert Plotkin as publisher of The Point Reyes Light. He was now beginning a socio-economics commentary for Harpers.

Point Reyes Station writer Jonathan Rowe, 65, died unexpectedly Sunday morning after being taken to a hospital Saturday.

He leaves his wife Mary Jean Espulgar-Rowe and his son Joshua, a 3rd grader at West Marin School, both seen at right.

His was a life of achievements: in writing and editing for major publications; in Washington, DC, politics; and in helping guide civic affairs here in West Marin.

Mr. Rowe was a new member of the board of directors of the Marin Media Institute, which owns The Point Reyes Light.

A 15-year resident of West Marin, he was also known here as the host of KWMR’s America Offline program. Mr. Rowe’s being an on-air interviewer was especially impressive because he had a severe speech impediment while growing up but overcame it as an adult.

In addition, he co-founded the Tomales Bay Institute and its successor, the West Marin Commons project in Point Reyes Station.

He had been a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly and YES! magazines and had been a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor.

Mr. Rowe also contributed articles to Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, Readers Digest, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Point Reyes Light, The West Marin Citizen, and many other publications.

Last year, he contributed a thoughtful essay, Fellow Conservatives, to the Fall 2010 issue of the West Marin Review. In the article, “conservative” is used in the sense of conserving both nature and community traditions.

A 1967 graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Rowe also earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. In the early 1970s, he was one of Ralph Nader’s “Raiders.”

He served on staffs in the House of Representatives and the Senate, where he was a long-time aide to US Senator Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota). He also served on the staff of the Washington, DC, city council.

Mr. Rowe’s sudden death has shocked many of us. “I am grieving a lot myself like many of you,” wrote Elizabeth Barnet on the West Marin Soapbox website. “He was a mentor, a friend, an editor of my writing, an inspiring writer. We co-founded West Marin Commons.”

Jim Kravets, former editor of The Citizen and before that The Light, wrote that Mr. Rowe’s death is “an incalculable loss, absolutely devastating.”

Linda Petersen, advertising manager of The Citizen, wrote, “I counted Jonathan as a dear friend and mentor with a wonderful sense of humor. I would like to see his dream come true of a united community with one newspaper, which we talked about all the time. I will miss him terribly.”

Already, even before the cause of Mr. Rowe’s death has been made public, townspeople are talking of creating a memorial to him. A more civic-minded member of the community would be hard to find, and many of us are thinking of his family in this painful time.

Those interested in reading any of Mr. Rowe’s writings on a variety of topics can find them by clicking here.

One of the great pleasures of living in West Marin is the variety of wildlife I see around my cabin every day. Here is a sampling of the creatures I saw last Friday, beginning with a salamander. These amphibians have more of a history than one might think.

The second salamander I found on  firewood in one week. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

As someone who heats his cabin with a woodstove, I go out of my way to insure no bugs are sent to a fiery death in the inferno. I’ve gone so far as to dislodge a hibernating yellow jacket before sticking its log in the fire.

A week ago, I was about to toss a piece of firewood into my woodstove when I spotted a salamander hiding in one of the log’s cracks. Much relieved that I had discovered the hapless amphibian in time, I naturally put it back outdoors.

Many ancient Greeks and Romans believed that salamanders are born in fire. Some salamanders inhabit rotting logs, and when the logs were put in a fire, the salamanders would try to escape, leading people to believe that salamanders were created by the flames.

Salamander in my hand. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Finding a salamander in my firewood a week ago made me doubly alert for others, and on Friday I found a second.

I placed the second salamander among some flowers growing in a wine barrel on my deck, only to have a woodrat jump out of the barrel the moment I did so.

Immediately I worried that I had saved the salamander from fire only to feed it to a woodrat. The salamander, however, quickly crawled out of sight, and there was nothing to be done.

A woodrat on the leg of my picnic table last Friday.

A gray  fox on the railing of my deck Friday night. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Foxes and raccoons have become regular nighttime visitors on my deck, as has been noted in several postings.

Also on the railing Friday night was this raccoon.

The two are not fond of each other, but after I spent several weeks conditioning them, they learned to get along in order to share in the peanuts I scattered outside my kitchen door. My technique was one I’d previously used in convincing a possum and raccoon to dine together.

Initially I put out two piles of peanuts several feet apart — one for each species — and over the course of several nights moved the piles closer together until the critters were eating nose to nose.

A possum,  fox, and raccoon share a nighttime snack.

On Friday night, this conditioning reached new heights when a possum, fox, and raccoon all showed up. By placing peanuts fairly close together, I was able to get all three critters to eat nose to nose without squabbling.

Afterward I wondered if they were as amazed as I at what had just occurred. It was the perfect culmination of a single day spent watching my smaller neighbors.

With so many crises underway around the world, writing a less-than-grim posting about current events seems almost impossible. But that won’t stop me from trying.

As was first reported here four years ago, soot on the glass door of my woodstove sometimes creates an apparition of either Jesus or Moammar Khadafy. Back in 2007, I wasn’t sure which one, but with the the flames in my woodstove now resembling the fires burning throughout Libya, the ghostly image must be Khadafy’s.

By the way, Khadafy is fairly easy to write about because, as my friend Dave LaFontaine pointed out last week, it’s virtually impossible to misspell his name: Khadafy, Qaddafi, Qazzafi, Qadhdhafi, Qaththafi, Gaddafi etc.

The variety of spellings results from Arabic having letters and sounds that aren’t found in English, from differences between various dialects of Arabic, and from differing transliterations (the way words originally written in one language are written in another).

Members of Japan’s Self Defense Force hunt for survivors of Friday’s magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunami. The disaster has killed more than 14 thousand people, destroyed ships, roads, buildings, and crops, and has caused explosions and fires at four nuclear reactors. Photo by Yoichi Hayashi of  Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

There is certainly nothing funny about the crisis in Japan, but some of the reporting on the disaster has sounded absurd.

Remember your high school English teacher warning you about misplaced modifiers? For example: Walking around a corner, a tall building came into view.

It’s an easy mistake to make, and India’s national daily newspaper, The Hindu, happened to make it last Saturday in reporting on the disasters in Japan: “The coastal city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture was also devastated by a tsunami wave,” The Hindu reported.

“Traveling inbound at speeds upwards of 500 kilometres per hour, the city was completely engulfed.” That sounds like one fast-moving city.

The Ohio River four feet above flood stage in Pomeroy, Ohio. Photo by WSAZ.

Meanwhile, some areas in the United States, particularly along the Passaic and Raritan rivers in New Jersey and along the Ohio River in Ohio and Kentucky, have also been underwater this past week.

In Covington, Kentucky, the Ohio was so high that a riverside restaurant, the Waterfront, which is on a barge, pulled away from its moorings. “One cable remained in place and kept the restaurant from colliding with the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge,” Yahoo News reported.

The mishap required “everyone on board to be rescued using ladders and ropes for a makeshift gangplank,” Yahoo noted. Another news site, however, quoted a customer who seemed to be thinking of 1969 when an abundance of pollution in Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caused it to catch fire.

Said the diner, “I was so happy when we got wedged under the bridge, certainly saving us from the toxic waste and the fire.” Say what?

Amanda Weisal and John France on the Today Show.

And now for an update on the household dangers of Facebook. A Jan. 25 posting here described how Facebook led to a wife in Cleveland accusing her husband of bigamy.

As was revealed last August, the wife, Lynn France, had suspected her husband John was having an affair with another woman, Amanda Weisal, so she logged onto Facebook and typed in Weisal’s name. Not only did she find photos of her husband with Weisal, the pictures showed the two of them getting married.

My posting about Facebook went on to discuss the case of Craig Carlos-Valentino (right).

Last November, the 51-year-old Antioch man halted westbound traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge for an hour when he stopped in the slow lane and told officers via a cell phone that he was armed with guns and explosives.

Carlos-Valentino also threatened to jump off the bridge. Eventually he surrendered to authorities. No explosives or guns were found in his car, and his 16-year-old daughter, who had also been in the car, was unharmed.

What was going on? Carlos-Valentino told officers he was upset that his wife was going to leave him. And why did he think that? She’d revealed it on Facebook.

Two weeks ago, Carlos-Valentino pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment and making a false bomb threat. He is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of this month, and prosecutors have said he faces one year in jail.

One might think that couples would realize the problems inherent in dealing with their disputes via Facebook, but many obviously don’t.

On Feb. 28, Hernando Today, an online version of The Tampa Tribune, reported that a couple living in Brooksville, Florida, got into a physical fight over Facebook.

Following the fracas, Hernando County sheriff’s deputies arrested Thomas Gannon, 35, and his girlfriend Tina Cash, 31, (pictured above) at their mobilehome. Both of them were charged with misdemeanor domestic violence.

Gannon said Cash while drinking had become upset and removed their relationship status from her Facebook page. She also “unfriended” him on Facebook.

When Gannon confronted Cash about this, she began throwing things, he said, and hit him in the face with a picture frame. She denied it and claimed he punched her. He denied that.

The incident was bad enough, but because it involved Facebook, it gave the Internet world an opening to snicker. One reader wrote, “White trash at its finest.” Another quipped, “He was framed.”

With so much misery in Japan and Libya these days, it’s easier to endure flooding in New Jersey and Ohio, a breakaway restaurant in Kentucky, accusations of bigamy in Cleveland, a distraught husband stopping traffic on the Bay Bridge, and a Facebook fight in a Florida mobilehome.

These are all serious matters, but they’re not all equally grim.

Artist Sue Gonzalez of Point Reyes Station stands at one end of a large oil painting of hers. The painting is part of a new art exhibition that opened Saturday at the Bolinas Museum.

Sue’s paintings might best be described as impressionistic realism. As has been said of the style of artist Gustave Courbet (1819-77), hers “is not photographic; it shows a keen sense of selection of what to paint among the details of nature to give the essentials of [the] subject.”

Sue’s subjects are inevitably large expanses of water. Although most painters would be challenged to make the unbroken surface of a tranquil bay interesting, Sue is such a master of light and shadow she is able to reveal the subtleties of seemingly simple scenes.

While “there is minimal but recognizable reference to place, Tomales Bay here in Coast Marin,” the museum comments, “this art is about planet water.”

Sue attended the University of Wisconsin and graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute. She also took classes at Sonoma State and Indian Valley College.

Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon (circa 1902) by Arthur William Best. Also on display through April 17 at Bolinas Museum is a selection of art from the museum’s permanent collection.

View of Mountain Cottage by Ludmilla Welch, 1890. From the permanent collection.

The Dreamers. Photo by Kevin Brooks from the permanent collection.

Classic Torso with Hands by Ruth Bernhard.

The photographer (1905-2006) is best known for her nudes of women. “If I have chosen the female form in particular, it is because beauty has been debased and exploited in our sensual twentieth century,” she wrote. “We seem to have a need to turn innocent nature into evil ugliness by the twist of a mind.

“Woman has been the target of much that is sordid and cheap, especially in photography. To raise, to elevate, to endorse with timeless reverence the image of a woman has been my mission.”

Krishna and Radha by Gajari Devi.

Also showing at Bolinas Museum is an exhibit titled Sacred Walls, Dieties and Marriages in Mithila Painting.

“For centuries, perhaps for thousands of years, women in the ancient cultural region of Mithila in Eastern India, have been painting on their floors and the inner and outer walls of their family compounds,” the museum explains.

“With vibrant color and complex design, their art celebrates, protects and makes sacred or auspicious space in their homes for family rituals and events. Though there are a few male contemporary painters, this is primarily an art tradition handed down through women from generation to generation…..

“Encouraged to expand their creativity to painting on handmade paper, their art has become a source of desperately needed income and attracted international attention to their work.”

Fresh Killed Poultry by Lewis Watts. Part of the permanent collection.

Salud Compadre, Peru. By Steven Brock.

The photography in the current exhibition is from the Helene Sturdivant Mayne Photography Gallery, which is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Bolinas Museum may be small, but it represents some of the best art in the world, as the current exhibition attests. It will continue through April 17, so you still have plenty of time.

The ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, Linda Petersen, a week ago asked Lynn and me to take care of her Havanese dog Eli for three days while she was away. Lynn and I had done so before, and since Eli is a fun dog, we readily agreed to take him again.

Eli is always happy to see me and often hops into my lap when I sit down — perhaps because I give him an excessive amount of petting and scratching. Eli reciprocates by frequently cleaning my beard. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Although he’s almost always inside the house when foxes arrive on the deck each evening, for three days Eli managed to drive them off with his barking. The raccoons, however, were more nonchalant and stood outside the kitchen’s glass door looking him in the face.

Eli’s big adventure of the weekend occurred after I had let go of his leash and he discovered a flock of wild turkeys in my pasture. Barking as he ran, Eli scattered the flock. Most of the turkeys flew across a small canyon while several others flew to the top of a fairly tall pine tree. I had never before seen a turkey on the wing make such a steep climb.

Once Eli was gone, the foxes felt safe in returning. Ironically, eating nose to nose on my deck with one or more raccoons bothered them less than being on the deck when Eli was inside this glass door.

Most wild animals on this hill act as if my cabin were my cage. The moment I get out of it, they get skittish — the foxes more than the deer, as can be seen.

When I’m inside, however, foxes feel comfortable coming up to the door even when it’s open.

A fox sits on a woodbox outside my dining-room window and surveys the dinner table.

The raccoons around my cabin often do the same thing. (Photo by Linda Petersen)

Is a fox shy or fierce?

It’s ironic that we tend to think of foxes as shy. Their reputation was much fiercer in the past. There is a legend about a hungry boy in ancient Sparta who stole a fox he intended to eat.

When the boy encountered some soldiers, he hid the stolen fox under his tunic and answered their questions. Although the fox was chewing into his stomach, the boy endured the pain without flinching to avoid being exposed as a thief.

Sparta, of course, had its own code of conduct. In Greek legend, the boy was not dishonorable for stealing the fox but admirable for his stoicism.

Unlike Eli, I’m on generally good terms with the foxes. I can hand feed them slices of bread, but I’m not about to scratch their bellies or let them clean my beard.