Archive for August, 2011

On Feb. 11 while a crowd of 100,000 people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were celebrating the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, a group of men grabbed CBS correspondent Lara Logan and sexually attacked her. The men stripped her, stretched her vagina and rectum with their fingers, tried to pull off parts of her scalp, and attempted to tear her limb from limb.

Someone in the crowd shouted, “She’s an Israeli, a Jew,” which she isn’t, and the attack intensified.

Logan (left), who was ultimately saved by a group of Egyptian women, had felt certain she was going to die. During a 60 Minutes interview on April 30, she described the ordeal and how the thought of her two small children kept her determined to live.

Some snide commentators, however, used the brutal incident as an occasion to criticize CBS for sending an attractive blonde into a crowd celebrating a revolution’s success. For these critics, it was also an excuse to slam Islam. Ignored by the critics were Logan’s being an experienced war correspondent and the fact that atrocities against women occur in almost every culture. Two years ago, for example, in the primarily Christian community of Richmond, at least five assailants raped and severely beat a 15-year-old high school girl.

It should be noted that there is a long and honorable tradition of newswomen covering wars and revolutions.

In 1995, my former wife Cathy published a book titled Margaret Fuller’s New York Journalism. It concerns a prominent editor and reporter who in the 1840s became the first female foreign correspondent for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.

As such Fuller (right) covered Giuseppe Mazzini’s revolution for the establishment of a Roman Republic. In 1850, however, she was forced to flee Italy after France intervened in the struggle.

She, her husband, and child set sail for New York City on a freighter. After two months at sea, they were within 100 yards of New York’s Fire Island when their ship ran aground and all three drowned.

One of the best-known women photojournalists of our time was Lee Miller (1907-77), who covered World War II for Vogue magazine.

Miller photographed the London Blitz, concentration camp victims, children dying in a Vienna hospital, the first use of napalm, and the execution of the prime minister of Hungary. Accredited to the Army as war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications, she traveled with Allied troops across Europe during its liberation. Miller was never injured in the fighting, but the horrors she documented caused her to suffer severe episodes of clinical depression, along with post-traumatic stress syndrome, when the war ended.

Besides being a photojournalist, Miller had been a model and a fashion photographer. When she took a bath in Hitler’s bathtub after the fuhrer’s death, David E. Scherman, a photographer for Life magazine, shot what is probably the best remembered picture of her.

Thirty years ago, which was around the time I was reporting on the insurrections in El Salvador and Guatemala for the old San Francisco Examiner, photojournalist Susan Meiselas’ pictures of the nearby Nicaraguan revolution were the envy of the rest of us. The Magnum photographer’s shots of Anastacio Samoza’s soldiers and the Sandinistas, who defeated them, provided Americans with many of the images we had of the conflict. This is the cover photo for Meiselas’ book Nicaragua, which is among the best collections of war photos I’ve seen. Although the book was originally published in 1981, new and used copies can still be found.

At the moment, the woman photojournalist who is dazzling the world is Amy Weston of the London-based WENN photo agency. Her photos of a woman leaping from a burning building during the London riots have been called the “iconic” images of the Aug. 6-to-10 violence.

The woman, Monika Konczyk, 32, was trapped above the first floor after rioters set fire to a furniture store. Hearing people on the street yelling, Weston stopped her car and found this desperate scene. Konczyk had climbed out a window onto an awning but was too frightened to jump into the waiting arms of police and firefighters below. Finally, she did and immediately ran away, traumatized but physically uninjured.

After snapping her shots, Weston became alarmed by a group of young thugs who showed up. She tucked her camera under her sweater to hide it and sprinted to her car, bringing back photos that virtually every daily newspaper in Great Britain ran on its front page. Almost immediately the pictures could seen in print or online around the world.

My admiration for the present crop of female journalists is hardly unique. “Women led the way in the coverage of the rebel advance into the Libyan capital of Tripoli,” Jack Mirkinson wrote in the Huffington Post two weeks ago.

Among them have been Sara Sidner of CNN, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of National Public Radio, and Missy Ryan of Reuters.

But the woman reporter who in particular has caught my attention is Zeina Khodr of Al Jazeera (right). She too is a veteran of combat reporting.

In recent weeks I’ve watched Khodr in helmet and flak jacket advancing across Libya with the rebels, taking cover when bullets came her way and remaining calm and articulate through it all.

You can see Khodr in action by clicking here.


Monday morning I was watching several Juncos and Bushtits in the grass outside my kitchen window when I noticed some other little creatures scurrying around among them. At least three or four gophers were having a field day.

The fields around Mitchell cabin are honeycombed with gopher tunnels, but I seldom get to photograph the inhabitants.

While it’s fun to watch gophers pop out of the ground, dart around like field mice, and then dive back down their holes, they can be a nuisance. For a couple of years I tried to cultivate a vegetable garden, and while I could keep the deer out, the gophers were unstoppable. More than once I noticed a carrot top shaking inexplicably only to then be pulled underground root first.

In February 2009, rainwater flowing downhill through a gopher tunnel near my cabin created this artesian well where it surfaced.

For me, gophers are merely an annoyance, but for West Marin ranchers, gopher tunnels are a major problem. Tomales rancher John Jensen this week told me that according to agricultural authorities, there are 50 to 250 gophers per acre around here.

The problem is that in heavy rains, hillsides riddled with gopher tunnels act like sponges, which can result in mudslides. In January 1995, gopher tunnels triggered a huge slide on Gary Thornton’s ranch in Tomales.

So I wasn’t at all upset by this bobcat’s hunting gophers outside my window three years ago.

While I watched, the bobcat pounced and caught one as it emerged from its burrow. With the gopher in its teeth, the bobcat trotted uphill to dine in a patch of coyote brush.

In other wildlife news, the raccoon family which showed up on my deck in late July have now become nightly visitors. When the mother raccoon first brought the kits onto my deck (above), the youngsters had very little fear of me but kept looking around in puzzlement as to why they were there.

Mrs. Raccoon, of course, knew that my deck provides good hunting for bread and peanuts. Momma likes both, and the kits immediately took to honey-roasted peanuts. For awhile, however, the young showed no interest in bread, which was unfortunate because white bread is much cheaper than honey-roasted peanuts.

Eventually my girlfriend Lynn figured out the problem. The kits didn’t know how to eat a full slice of bread. Without picking up the bread on the deck, they would try to gnaw at it but would get nowhere. Lynn eventually started tearing the slices into small pieces, and the problem was solved. Their biggest problem now is getting our attention. Here Mrs. Raccoon and her three kits stand on a woodbox outside my dining-room window, hoping we will see them and put out food.

And what if Lynn and I are not to be seen when the raccoons look in the downstairs windows? Some of them have learned to climb onto the roof and peer in an upstairs window, much to the amusement of Lynn.

Several of my cat-owning friends have found gophers in their homes brought in as feline presents. Unpleasant but not worrisome. Other people I know have come home to discover a raccoon has found a way inside — typically through a cat door — and left their kitchens in shambles. More of a problem.

But I don’t know anyone who has ever found a bobcat in their house. In their hen house, yes, but not their own house. If you or anyone you know has had experience with Lynx rufus in your domicile, please send in a comment and tell us about it. It should make for a good story.

Afterward: As it turned out, two readers did have fascinating stories to tell about about bobcats — one in a house and one in a truck. The stories can be found by clicking on the comments section above.

Celebrants at Saturday’s Inverness Fair picnicked outside the firehouse on fare that ranged from hot dogs, to beer, to burritos, to ice cream.

The Inverness Fair came when it was needed most. It was a dose of fun in wretched times: fighting in Libya, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan; terrorism in Norway, England, and Pakistan; famine in Somalia; financial chaos in the United States and Europe.

It would be easy to succumb to Weltschmerz during periods such as this. (A useful word that English borrowed from German, Weltschmerz — pronounced velt shmerts — refers to weary sadness brought on by the evils of the world, a sort of romantic pessimism.) Thankfully, for six hours Saturday on the Inverness Firehouse green, no Weltschmerz was allowed.

Among several musical groups performing were Kit Walker and Mariana Ingold. Born in Uruguay, Ingold is a composer, singer, and musician. She has made award-winning educational videos of Uruguay, Brazil, the United States and Spain. In addition, she has worked on environmental and educational projects. Ingold has released numerous albums and at present is recording with Kit Walker (left). Walker, who lives in West Marin, has recorded for Windham Hill and others. His jazz and neo-classical recordings are particularly well known. Walker and Ingold will perform again in Inverness’ Blackbird Café at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20.

Inverness Garden Club had rows of plants for sale, along with a table for selling alpaca “poop.” A section of herbs was labeled “THYME SQUARE.”

Outside the Inverness Library, tables overflowed with used books. Throughout the day, a constant stream of fairgoing investigators showed up to inspect the books. Further up Inverness Way, a flea market was similarly popular.

Former Shoreline School District trustee Gus Conde sold notecards to raise funds for West Marin School in Point Reyes Station.

Families ate ice cream and listened to the music while Michael Mery of Point Reyes Station manned a Marin Agricultural Land Trust table.

Sue Taylor of Point Reyes Station, selling her handwoven rugs, was one of several vendors who took part in the fair and added to its color.

A day without Weltschmerz! Wunderbar!


A fascinating exhibition of collages by Elisabeth Ptak of Inverness opened Saturday with a reception at the Dance Palace. The exhibition will run through Sept. 15.

Elisabeth (at right), who is seen talking with Lynn Axelrod of Point Reyes Station during the reception, has an amazingly diverse resume. For almost 20 years while I published The Point Reyes Light, she wrote a weekly column titled Homeward Bound, which focused on small town life.

For 15 years she was the associate director of Marin Agricultural Land Trust before retiring in April 2010. She is the author and editor of Ranches & Rolling Hills—The Art of West Marin, A Land in Trust plus several other books. In addition, she has been an on-air essayist for KQED-FM.

Many of Elisabeth’s collages bear Dada-like names. Dada, in which titles often had little to do with subject matter, was an art movement that peaked between 1916 and 1924. Perhaps the best-known example is Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. Without the title, the painting is basically a series of geometric shapes.

In Elisabeth’s collage Here Come the Elis!, the name can be found in the art, but the surprising title is, nonetheless, strongly reminiscent of Dada. However, when I mentioned this to Elisabeth, she was surprised.

The title of Pig in the Poppies, may be more conventional, but the incongruity of pink poppies towering over a small pig is Dadaistically jaring.

My favorite collage in the exhibition is Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, which is the French national motto. (It translates as “Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood” and was originally a motto of the French Revolution.) While all elements of the collage are instantly recognizable, the viewer is inevitably compelled to wonder: now just what is Elisabeth getting at here?

Elisabeth’s collage  A Day in June borrows a boy playing a fife from Edouard Manet’s 1866 painting The Fifer. The boy is supposedly a member of the French Imperial Guard.

A Day in June could refer to many things, but some people who see the collage may be reminded of poet James Russell Lowell’s line: “What is so rare as a day in June?” The following line, by the way, is: “Then, if ever, come perfect days.” And that’s just what we’re enjoying at the moment.

In researching his 2008 book Vital Diversities: Balancing The Protection of Nature and Culture, Inverness writer Mark Dowie later recounted in the West Marin Review, “A Yupik native scientist [in Alaska] told me, ‘We have no word for ‘wilderness.’ What you call wilderness, we call our backyard.'”

This mother raccoon brought her three kits to my deck for the first time a week ago.

The Yurik concept of wilderness makes perfect sense to me. My backyard — even my deck — could easily be called “wilderness.”

My wilderness includes deer in my fields on a daily basis. On rare occasions I’ve seen coyotes, bobcats, and badgers, and every night a group of smaller animals shows up on my deck.

The critters at night are usually foxes, raccoons, and possums looking for bread or peanuts.

It’s often easy to hear the call of the wild in my backyard. Some alpha males — especially among red-winged blackbirds and raccoons — seem more intent on driving other males away from food than with getting some for themselves.

The second time the three kits showed up (right), their mother was not with them.

Before long, an adult raccoon began growling at them, and they took refuge in a narrow gap between my woodbox and the wall of my cabin. When the adult stuck around, they were too frightened to leave, so I finally went outside. This caused the adult to run off a short distance and provided the kits with a chance to escape.

After all, someone has to keep order on my deck, and it’s fallen to me to enforce the law of the wild.

The foxes get along with each other better than the raccoons do, and because they’re not intra-species rivals, the raccoons will often eat side by side with foxes when I put out peanuts. I’ve even had a possum join in, creating an ecumenical dinner for local wildlife.

Red-winged blackbirds look over my deck prior to landing on it.

Every day in the late afternoon I put out birdseed, which attracts pigeons, doves, quail and juncos, but most of all it brings in bluejays, towhees and red-winged blackbirds.

The birdseed also attracts roof rats. These cute little critters with long tails are amazingly good at climbing walls and railings, jumping onto the picnic table, and squeezing through tiny openings.

A fortnight ago, Linda Petersen of Inverness, ad manager of The West Marin Citizen, took a week’s vacation and left her Havanese dog Eli in the care of my girlfriend Lynn and me.

Late one afternoon, he, Lynn and I were sitting on my deck at sunset when Eli spotted one of the roof rats, which spotted Eli at the same time. I grow flowers on my deck in wine-barrel halves, and the rat scurried under one of the barrels. Immediately Eli was sniffing under the barrels, barking and growling.

It was pandemonium. While Eli would try to drive a rat out from under one barrel, another rat would pop out from under a nearby barrel and dash across my deck to safety. Before he was done, Eli had flushed seven roof rats. It was an exciting drama, but it made me glad that — at least for the moment — I’ve been able to seal off my basement against the rats. For now, they show up only when the birdseed is first scattered.

Quietly watching the drama but staying out of it was this Western fence lizard on my wall. It moved very little, depending on its coloring for camouflage. Fence lizards, I should note, are often dark when they first get up in the morning and become lighter as the day grows warmer. Kind of like the rest of us.