Archive for September, 2011

Back when I owned The Point Reyes Light, we had a police scanner in the newsroom that continually squawked out the radio communications of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department, the Highway Patrol, the Marin County Fire Department, and West Marin’s seven volunteer fire departments.

Most of the time the radio chatter went in one ear and out the other, but we perked up when messages were of particular interest to West Marin, and one of the most interesting I ever heard was broadcast in the late 1980s.

A cow was stuck in a tree in Hicks Valley about a half mile west of the Cheese Factory along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. I immediately told reporter Sarah Rohrs to grab a camera and drive out there right away.

Although Sarah hurried, Hicks Valley firefighters had already gotten the cow down out of the tree before she arrived and could shoot a photo. Nonetheless, the incident was the lead story on Page 1 that week.

As it happened, the cow had apparently been leaning over an embankment for some grass when it fell into a tree below. The animal was uninjured but wedged between the tree trunk and a large limb. Firefighters merely pulled down on the end of the limb, and the cow rolled out.

AP Photo by Pers Johansson

I thought I’d never run into a story like that again, but three weeks ago something similar happened in Saro, Sweden. A moose standing on its hind legs fell into an apple tree and got stuck. Resident Pers Johansson, who discovered it, told CNN he had been coming home from work in a rainstorm when “in the wind I heard something screaming…

“At first I wondered if it was the crazy neighbors. But then I heard it again and went and checked. I saw something really big up in a tree in my neighbors’ yard, and it was a moose. It must have been drunk after eating fermented apples, and as it was reaching out for more fruit, it must have slipped and fallen into the tree.”

Johansson and the neighbors cut off some of the tree’s limbs, and here again firefighters came to the rescue, bending down the tree so the moose could slide out of it. A fire department spokesman told CNN, “Once free, the moose collapsed on the ground and fell asleep, so we let him sleep it off.”

Apparently the firefighters have an annual problem with moose eating fallen apples, which ferment in their bellies and get them drunk. Ending up in trees, however, is far less common.

Sow and piglet.

At first it seemed right out of the Old West. Around 1973 and 74 when I edited The Sebastopol Times, Western Sonoma County began having a problem with rustlers. Hundreds of sheep were stolen around Jenner, and steers were rustled in several places.

One night a rancher notified Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies that some men had just grabbed a calf along Coleman Valley Road and stuffed it in the trunk of their car, which the rancher described. A short while later, a deputy spotted a car matching the description and stopped it.

When the deputy looked in the car, however, he concluded the occupants could not be the rustlers. All of them were dressed in tuxedos and said they were going to a dance. So he sent them on their way, not realizing the rustlers had hurriedly changed into formal wear for just such an encounter.

Sonoma County sheep ranches and Midwestern hog barns, such as this, are now being targeted by rustlers.

Once again rustling is in the news. Sonoma County deputies this month arrested two brothers for stealing at least 20 sheep in recent weeks from ranches in Petaluma and Sonoma. Luis Ortiz Orea, 28, of Petaluma and Pedro Ortiz Orea, 30, of Santa Rosa are scheduled to be arraigned Monday for the alleged rustling.  The brothers sold the stolen sheep in another county, Sonoma deputies said.

Rustling on a much larger scale has also been occurring along the Iowa-Minnesota border where at least 1,000 hogs have been stolen — mostly from large operations but also from smaller farms — during August and September.

Until recently such rustling had been rare, local police note. The reason for the spike in hog rustling, The Wall Street Journal reported, is that market prices are at an all time high of approximately $200 per pig. “Hog and cattle prices are soaring on increased demand overseas. The high price of corn, driven in part by the ethanol industry’s appetite, has also made feed so expensive that many hog farmers have shrunk operations.”

According to investigators, at least 700 hogs have been reported stolen in Nicollet and Kandiyohi counties, Minnesota, and about 200 have been reported stolen in Mitchell County, Iowa. They add that the actual numbers may be even higher.

“The pig rustlers back trucks up to unguarded hog houses that contain thousands of pigs, according to police,” The Journal added. “They load up a few dozen animals at a time into a trailer and drive off under the cover of night.” The rustled hogs may then be taken to a crooked slaughterhouse or dishonest pig farmer.

Approximately 180 hogs will fit into a semi trailer, suggesting that the thieves have raided the same hog operations several times. Losing 180 hogs costs the owner $36,000, and in Iowa, where there are 19 million pigs, any theft of more than $10,000 can draw a 25-year jail term — confirming what a dirty crime it is to steal pigs.

What do you call a group of raccoons? They’re sometimes called a nursery, but the most common name is a gaze.

Three raccoon kits squeeze into the birdbath on my deck to clean their paws after eating .

I’ve always been fond of raccoons, but I’m beginning to wonder if a surplus is developing around Mitchell cabin.

Of course, there are many raccoon tails in Marin County. The Marin Humane Society, for example, rescued a baby raccoon from a gutter’s drainpipe in the Hamilton area of Novato Thursday afternoon.

The trapped raccoon was discovered by children who heard its cries, The Marin Independent Journal and Bay City News both reported.

It took animal control officers, who used a plumbing camera, two hours to locate the approximately month-old raccoon and then pull it out to safety.

The baby raccoon is now at the WildCare wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael.


Here eight raccoons — two mothers, each with three kits — dine on honey-roasted peanuts on my deck. A ninth raccoon, a solitary male adult, will show up after this gaze has left.



Possums are found throughout West Marin wherever ponds, creeks, marshes, and even drainage ditches provide riparian habitat. West Marin’s possums originated in the Deep South where “common opossums” are commonly called possums, thanks to a linguistic phenomenon known as aphesis. Calling mosquitoes “skeeters” is another example of aphesis.

“The common opossum,” writes Point Reyes Station biologist Jules Evens in The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, is “the only marsupial native to North America [but] is not native to Point Reyes or the Pacific Coast. After the first known introduction into California at San Jose about 1900 (for meat, delicious with sweet potatoes), opossums spread rapidly southward: by 1931 they were common on the coastal slope from San Francisco Bay south to the Mexican border. Point Reyes avoided the onslaught until about 1968.”

Another introduced species often found in the fields next to Mitchell cabin, Equus caballus.

They’re called Arabians in the sign on the pasture gate, but I doubt a one of them has ever seen the Mediterranean. This being the Far West, “cayuse” (rhymes with “dye use”) would seem more appropriate. Surely you remember Willie Nelson singing Don’t Fence Me In: “On my cayuse let me wander over yonder/Till I see the mountain rise.”

“Cayuse” in reference to a horse comes from the name of the Cayuse people of the Pacific Northwest. Sort of like Belgian referring to both a people and a chestnut-colored draft horse.

Canada geese flying over the hill behind Mitchell cabin.

Hundreds of Canada geese winter annually on Tomales Bay, on Nicasio Reservoir, and at Bolinas Lagoon. Along with these snowbirders, a year-round population of Canada geese is developing in West Marin.

Many of the year-rounders are descendants of geese that people with a surplus goose or two dropped off at the pond in front of the Cheese Factory on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, beginning back in the 1970s.

A merry throng of West Marin residents turned out Friday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Dance Palace Community Center. Carol Friedman, who lived over the Dance Palace in its original location, was executive director for most of its history.

“The Dance Palace was established by seven young people who blew into town in 1971, looking for a personal and artistic home,” according to a history printed by the community center.

“One of the founders, Carol Friedman, was its executive director for 37 years and retired in 2008.” Dan Mankin, who had been among other things a juggler, acrobat, and clown, was then hired to take over her job.

“Another [founder], Nancy Hemmingway, West Marin’s community librarian, is still active in the life of the Dance Palace. According to Hemmingway, [the founders] were ‘seven idealistic dreamers who found we were capable of doing wonderful crazy things and getting people in cahoots with us.’

“Today the Dance Palace is run by full-time executive director Mankin and three part-time staff: Noele Kostelic, Jerry Lunsford, and Margarita Echeverria.” Originally located in the Point Reyes Emporium building where Cabaline is today, the community center moved to its present location in 1989. The new 4,700-square-foot auditorium and kitchen were built with donations, grants, and volunteer labor. The site was purchased from Sacred Heart Parish, which used the money on its new church in Olema. The original chapel is now a wing of the Dance Palace and is used for smaller activities. Soon after the Dance Palace got going in the 1970s, a group calling itself the Tomales Bay Explorers Club began entering elaborate floats in each year’s Western Weekend Parade. Many of the floats parodied news of the day — such as Imelda Marcos’ vast collection of shoes or the King Tut exhibit then in San Francisco. Local tap dancers calling themselves the Fabutaps accompanied the float, and on Friday they gave a reunion performance. However, soon after they started their routine — dancing to a CD of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes — the CD began sticking. Luckily, one of the Fabutaps had a backup disk, so after an amusing interruption, everything came off as planned, and the audience loved it. Parodying Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song, current and former directors, along with Dance Palace staff, sang: “Forty years and still going strong…. Dancing here is so much fun.” Scoby Zook, president of the board, received a kidding salute in the form of the Shangri-Las’ 1964 hit Leader of the Pack. A history of the Dance Palace displayed for Friday’s anniversary reveals how much of the community center’s early history consisted of coping with government regulations. In addition, some of the performances in the old Dance Palace building raised a few eyebrows. When the Palace Players gave the West Coast debut of playwright Sam Shepard’s Tooth of the Crime, Inverness historian Jack Mason and some Point Reyes Station merchants objected to its poster that included the phrase “No sh-t.” (See green box above.)

After some negotiations, Mason and the merchants dropped their objections, and in his Point Reyes Light column Funny Old World, Mason said he liked the play but was puzzled by an actress’ baring her chest. Nor was it the only time an actor or actress made a brief appearance in the buff at the Dance Palace. But that was back in the good old days.

The Dance Palace Kids Musical Theater performed two songs Friday. The masters of ceremony for the anniversary party were Claire Peaslee and Josh Espulgar-Rowe, a 4th grader at West Marin School. Fourth graders from West Marin School, who were coached by Dolores Gonzalez of the school staff, provided a great rendition of the Mexican Hat Dance. Performing the Russian Hand Jive were (from left) Dan Mankin, executive director of the Dance Palace; director Loretta Farley; former executive director Carol Friedman; and musician Ingrid Noyes.

Tomales held its annual Founders Day parade and picnic Sunday. Steve Rosenthal, superintendent of the Shoreline School District and principal of Tomales High, was honored as parade marshal. Bert Crews and Dru Fallon O’Neill, both of Tomales, were the parade announcers.

Seen here passing a lineup of motorcycles at the main intersection in Tomales, a noisy caravan of fire engines led the parade, their sirens drowning out this cell-phone call.

Slide Ranch, which is located between Stinson Beach and Muir Beach, provided a contingent of two goats and a llama.

Indian Valley Carriage from Novato carried a jug band. At the very back sat Ingrid Noyes of Marshall playing an accordion and kazoo.

The Sanchez family in a 1950 McCormick Farmall. Three generations of the family took part in the parade.

Maryann Diaz-Romero, vice president of the board of the Tomales Regional History Center, wearing a pink blouse from its collection, with the Martinelli family and a wagon that promoted the historic dairying exhibit currently at the center.

Antique cars driven by the Traversi and Simoni families, with three generations from each family, were among the highlights of the parade. From front: Myrna and Al Traversi with their grandchildren Matthew and Jacob in a 1928 Model A Ford, Steve and Michelle Traversi in a 1913 Model T, Wayne and Kimberly Simoni in a 1912 Studebaker EMF, and Troy and Mary Ellen Simoni in a 1931 Ford Model A roadster pickup.

Among those riding in the line of antique cars were a family of five who showed up from Dubai. Troy and Mary Ellen Simoni have lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past year and were home on vacation with their children — Olivia, 12, Nathan, 10, and Sophia, “nearly 8.” The children rode with their grandparents, Wayne and Kimberly Simoni of Sebastopol.

The Tomales High cheerleaders drew heavy applause from bystanders.

Anna Erickson, a 5th generation member of a local ranching family, drove the Hands Full Farm float. The farm is in the Valley Ford area.

The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Western heritage, has memorialized events in Tomales history. As the organization, which is known for pranks, paraded up Highway 1, a Clamper broke away from the group. To bystanders’ amazement, he grabbed a spectator, whose name is Debbie, and gave her a passionate kiss on the lips. When she laughed, so did everyone else. It turned out that the Clamper, Kevin Dixon of Vallejo, is married to Debbie. The kiss, he told me later, was a spur-of-the-moment idea.

An All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) driven by young people pulled the Tomales Elementary School PTA’s float.

Marissa Thornton of Tomales drove a float promoting the Tomales Farm and Flea Market, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 23.

Redwood Empire Harley Owners. The parade contingent said their 300-member group has collected $1 million for the California Council on Aging’s “meals on wheels” program.

Dan Norwood of Dan’s Auto Repair in Tomales drove a wobbly car that kept coming apart only to be reassembled by clown mechanics.

DT Motor Sports of Bodega Bay with Miss Bodega Red, Tia Minto, 11.

The crowd picnicking in Tomales Park enjoyed a variety of fare, as well as beer and wine. Crafts and used books were also on sale. Madam Zublatsky (Roberta Vinck, a marriage and family therapist in Tomales) read palms, with all proceeds going to the park.

The Greg Rocha Band provided entertainment for the picnic. From left: Chick Petersen on guitar, Greg Rocha on drums, Lyn Carpenter-Engelkes on vocals, and Steve Christoffersen on guitar

The Tomales Elementary School PTA raised funds with face painting.