Archive for January, 2013

As was noted when I began this perspicacious series six years ago, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (1916-97) once wrote that he kept a file of items to use whenever he had space, so I began keeping a similar file, which I labeled “Quotes Worth Saving.” Here is the latest installment from it:

“A list of things that Americans judge more favorably than Congress, according to Public Policy Polling, a survey firm, includes colonoscopies, root canals, lice and France.” — The Economist, Jan. 19, 2013

“‘If you want to see my penis, you’ll have to fly to Britain.’ Ewan McGregor in Premiere magazine about a full-frontal scene in the forthcoming ‘Young Adam,’ which was cut out of the American versions of the movie.” — San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 5, 2003

We interrupt this program for an update on non-human animals. This Red-shouldered hawk was seen at Mitchell cabin on Sunday, Jan. 20.

“A very well-placed San Francisco city commissioner just had his lively little daughter bounced out of a very prim Catholic elementary school. Her crime? Calling one of the nuns ‘Mister Sister.'” — San Francisco Chronicle Feb. 20, 2011

“From a description of a 20-minute videotape of activity outside of bars in Hoboken, New Jersey. The video was shot in April by police in support of a proposed ordinance prohibiting local bars from admitting patrons after 1 a.m. • A man is leaning against the wall of a bar drinking. Next to him, a friend is undressing. • Two men leave a bar fighting. • Two men enter a bar fighting. • A young man and woman lean against a fence and begin kissing passionately. Another woman taps the man on the shoulder. He leaves and she takes over for him. • A woman leans on her boyfriend and vomits. • A woman urinates beside a parked car as her boyfriend acts as a lookout. • A man and woman walk down an alley together in zigzag patterns. Eventually they walk into a brick wall.” — Harper’s Magazine, September 1994

A Red-shouldered hawk along the levee road near White House Pool, which I photographed during a full moon back in 1985. Here is how the photo — unfortunately straddling the newspaper’s fold — appeared in The Point Reyes Light.

“After two days of testimony, a jury in Lake County, Ill., has convicted a woman who was painting her nails while driving when she struck and killed a motorcyclist at a red light. Lora Hunt of Morris Ill., was found guilty of reckless homicide in the death of Anita Zaffwe in Lake Zurich, Ill., on May 2, 2009.” — San Francisco Chronicle May 7, 2010

As psychologist Robert Leahy points out: the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” — Slate magazine, Jan. 31, 2011

“The sexual epithet beaming from the electronic billboard at the Marin County Civic Center was so alarming that at least one startled motorist called 911 early Sunday morning: ‘F–k! F–k! F–k!’ Somebody hacked the billboard after breaking a door and cracking a keyboard code, according to Jim Farley, head of the Cultural Services Department, which oversees the sign advertising Marin Center events. ‘They ripped open the door in the middle of the night, cracked the code and reprogrammed the message on the sign,’ Farley said. ‘It took brute force and computer skills….’ Chris Haeuser, Marin Center box office manager, ….speculated the caper was the work of teenagers, noting that adults might have caused more mischief by posting a message saying something like ‘Golden Gate Bridge closed.'” — Marin Independent Journal, July 26, 2011

“Police Commissioner Jamie Slaughter is married to Stacy Slaughter, vice president of communications for the San Francisco Giants, so baseball is a constant topic in the house. Slaughter says this week his son asked him if he knew what day it was. Dad was expecting to hear it was the first day of winter break, but no. ‘Position players report to Spring Training,’ 8-year-old Ben said.” — San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 19, 2011

A bobcat hunting gophers outside my kitchen window on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

MARION, Ala.—Members of two feuding families were in jail Tuesday after years of quarreling erupted into a small-town riot in which 150 screaming people hurled rocks and tools — and even struck the police chief. Five men named either Moore or Sawyer and several juveniles were arrested on assault charges after Monday’s violence, said District Attorney Michael Jackson. Authorities said a 2- or 3-year-old dispute between the two families prompted a melee that eventually swelled out of control to include friends and gang members. It wasn’t immediately clear why the families didn’t get along.” — Associated Press, Aug. 8, 2009

From an obituary for political activist Joseph Cannon Houghteling: “He had a wry sense of humor, [his wife] said, and got a kick out of the thought of someday having his ashes thrown upwind from a boat so that his remains would blow back into the eyes of his mourners, forcing them to shed a tear.” — San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 2009

“At the same time he was selling US secrets to the Soviet Union, former FBI special agent Robert Philip Hanssen was a key supervisor in a 1980s domestic-spying program…. The program, which lasted for more than a decade, monitored peace and anti-nuclear activists and other groups that the White House worried could be manipulated by Soviet propaganda…. As a result, the FBI invested thousands of hours collecting political intelligence, [and in one] instance it warned that Philadelphia was ripe for Soviet infiltration.” — Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2001

I’ll finish with a highly educational news story. The marching band director for the University of California at Davis, Tom Slabaugh, complained in a memo to school officials that “on the band’s fall retreat in 2007, four drunken band members were caught urinating in a dormitory elevator, and at band practice the next day, four others took their uniform pants down and simulated the incident for a photographer. At outdoor rehearsals, male members dropped their pants to get a laugh while women sometimes stripped to their bras, he wrote, and one evening practice was disrupted when a bass drummer began performing lap dances…. In his memo and in meetings, Slabaugh urged UC Davis to give him the power to remove bad actors from the [student-run] band.” — San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 6, 2008

The Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History in Inverness on Sunday held a grand opening for a new exhibition, “Hometown: Growing Up in Point Reyes Station.” The exhibition consists of fascinating photographs from the Codoni family, whose patriarch Quinto Codoni immigrated to West Marin from Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino 140 years ago.

Clara and Quinto Codoni on D Ranch. The driftwood porpoise (in background at left) had Coca Cola caps for eyes and bailing rope for whiskers.

Quinto Codoni (1855-1940), part of a wave of immigration to West Marin from Ticino, was 18 years old when he joined his brother Joe in Tocaloma.

“This was 1873,” the late Jack Mason wrote in the Winter, 1980, issue of The Point Reyes Historian. “There was no train. The little schooners then in use were equipped to carry butter, not hogs.

“It was young Quinto’s job, on behalf of Charles Howard’s tenant ranchers [on Point Reyes], to get their pigs to the nearest scow for San Francisco [which landed in Drakes Estero]. On foot this took up to three days.

“Once at the Ferry Building, the hogs were put aboard wagons and taken to a slaughterhouse on Sansome Street. A commission merchant paid them later in gold.

“Thus Quinto got his Big Chance in America.”

Lucy Codoni (at right) was a daughter of Quinto and Clara.


Lucy Codoni’s granddaughter Sharen Hicks Schrock of Petaluma (center) loaned albums of family photos to the Jack Mason Museum, so they could be copied and exhibited. Enjoying the grand opening with museum curator Dewey Livingston (left) and their mother are Marley, 11, and Jaden, 14, two great-great granddaughters of Quinto Codoni.

“The Codonis’ cabin at Drakes Beach was the site of relaxation and entertainments for two or three generations,” according to the exhibit. “Quinto and his friends built the cabin, located at the entrance to Drakes Estero, and hosted family and friends alike. At least once, waves damaged or destroyed the place, but it was faithfully repaired. It was eventually reestablished farther inland, the site today marked by a cypress tree and ranch road near the Drake Monument at Drakes Estero.”

At right: Quinto, which means fifth-born in Italian.

“When a railroad, the North Pacific Coast, began serving the Point Reyes-Tomales Bay community in 1875, Quinto availed himself of it, [and] had a hogpen at trackside to which he now brought hogs as well as calves by wagon….

“By the age of 55, he was the chief hog and cattle buyer on the Point,” wrote Mason.

“Moustachioed and personable, Quinto was a force to contend with in town as well as country.”

The Codoni home on B Street in Point Reyes Station, Mason added, “was one of the town’s nicest. [It] had a marble fireplace and electricity. Quinto’s Delco plant furnished lights not only for his own house, but for Lucy Silverfoot’s around the corner, Dr. Cavanaugh’s on B Street, and two other houses Codoni owned.”

Quinto Codoni on a wagon at Schooner Bay, an arm of Drakes Estero from which he shipped hogs to San Francisco.

“In 1910, Quinto sold the Tomales Bank and Trust Company a lot on A Street for its branch office, which opened in 1913,” Mason wrote. “Not surprisingly, Quinto became a director and vice-president. Bank patrons came to respect Mr. Codoni as a conservative in money matters; he had made his when it wasn’t easy to come by.”

“Around 1910,” according to Mason, Codoni  “went in with some Point Reyes ranchers to buy the schooner Point Reyes,” which “could accommodate a deckload of 200 hogs.”

Unloading hogs at Schooner Bay for shipment to San Francisco.

Mason noted that Codoni “and Tom Marshall owned a slaughterhouse on Paper Mill Creek which supplied Point Reyes Station with steaks and chops. Tom’s butchershop was on B Street.”

A caretaker’s cabin at the landing in Schooner Bay. High waves eventually destroyed it.

“Quinto Codoni acquired the old Shafter-Howard D Ranch dairy through foreclosure in 1927,” according to the exhibition. “This ranch is seen on the road down to Drakes Beach. He took to the ranch life (although he leased out the dairy operation) and decorated the ranch house yard with an outdoor kitchen, interesting sculpture, and a massive flagstaff, seen here during installation.

“Codoni’s daughter Alice married Petaluma dairyman Bill Hall, and they ran the dairy from 1936 until turning it over in the 1960s to their daughter, Vivian Horick.”

From the depot in Point Reyes Station, Clara and Quinto Codoni (at right) took the narrow-gauge railway north to the end of the line in Cazadero.

Ernie Grandi (1907-87) relaxes beside a rail car. A lifelong resident of Point Reyes Station, Ernest Grandi served in the Army during World War II and for 22 years worked as a carpenter here. He was also chief of the former Point Reyes Volunteer Fire Department and a member of several civic groups. Like Codoni, Grandi’s parents Agostino and Olympia were immigrants from Ticino. They spoke only Italian until he went to grammar school.

“Thrift and hard work got [West Marin’s Ticinese] a large slice of the American pie,” Mason wrote, and in the case of Quinto Codoni earned him the historian’s sobriquet “Mr. Point Reyes Station.”

In his 1938 novel Scoop, the British writer Evelyn Waugh portrays a young journalist sent by a London newspaper, The Daily Beast, to cover a civil war that’s brewing in the fictional African country of Ishmaelia. (Tina Brown, by the way, took the name for her news-aggregator website The Daily Beast from the novel.)

Evelyn Waugh (left), 1903-66.

Scoop, which is based on Waugh’s own experience writing for London’s Daily Mail, satirizes the foreign correspondents who rush to wherever big news is supposed to be happening.

Even if they find nothing much going on, they still must satisfy their editors by filing stories, so they create news, Waugh suggests.

One of the book’s more colorful characters, Wenlock Jakes, provides a facetious example of what can happen. The character is based on Chicago Daily News correspondent John Gunther (1901-70). As another character comments, “When [Jakes] turns up in a place, you can bet your life that as long as he’s there it’ll be the news center of the world.

“Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong [train] station, didn’t know any different, got out, went straight to a hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window.

“Well they were pretty surprised at his office, getting a story like that from the wrong country, but they trusted Jakes and splashed it in six national newspapers. That day every special [correspondent] in Europe got orders to rush to the new revolution. They arrived in shoals. Everything seemed quiet enough, but it was as much as their jobs were worth to say so, with Jakes filing a thousand words of blood and thunder a day. So they chimed in too.

“Government stocks dropped, financial panic, state of emergency declared, army mobilized, famine, mutiny — and in less than a week there was an honest to God revolution under way just as Jakes had said. There’s the power of the press for you.”

One of the best-known newspaper correspondents of all time was Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who was born in Wales, emigrated to the United States, and ultimately settled in England.

Henry Stanley (right). Drawing from my own copy of Allgemeine Illustrirte Zeitung, 1877.

Although Stanley was a courageous newsman and explorer who faced down danger in the Ottoman Empire and various parts of Africa, he is best known for one utterance.

In 1869, The New York Herald sent Stanley to find Dr. David Livingstone, a Scots missionary and explorer, who disappeared for six years in Africa while looking for the source of the Nile River.

When Stanley found Livingstone in a village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in 1871, there were no other white men for hundreds of miles around, which presumably inspired the journalist’s tongue-in-cheek, formal-English greeting: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Gun controlled.

Point Reyes Station residents can set their watches by a loud, recorded moo from the top of the Old Western Saloon at noon and 5 p.m. daily. In Scotland, this gun at the top of Edinburgh Castle is fired at 1 p.m. every day but Sunday. The One O’Clock Gun allows “citizens and visitors to check their clocks and watches,” the castle’s website explains.

“The origin of the tradition lies in the days when sailing ships in the Firth of Forth were able to check and reset their chronometers in the days before accurate timepieces were available.” (For those of you not familiar with the Gaelic, a firth is an estuary, in this case of Scotland’s River Forth, Black River.)

Now here’s chance to test your Scottish brogue with a bit of Gaelic humor:

A wee Glesga wumman goes intae a butcher shop, where the butcher has just came oot the freezer, and is standing haunds ahint his back, with his erse aimed at an electric fire. The wee wumman checks oot the display case then asks, “Is that yer Ayrshire bacon?” “Naw,” replies the butcher. “It’s jist ma haun’s ah’m heatin’.”

Scots writer Alasdair Gray, whose wife’s resolute thrift saved their family more than $8,000.

More tidings from Scotland, as reported in the London Times Literary Supplement. Last year the Scots writer Alasdair Gray “refused the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year award for his book A Life of Pictures. Not to be outdone, the judges refused Mr. Gray’s refusal and sent him a cheque for £5,000.

“Mrs. Gray, refusing to believe what her husband had done, refused to accept his refusal of the judges’ refusal of his refusal, and cashed the check.” Such refusals are hardly new. In 1964, the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre refused the Nobel Prize for Literature on grounds it could change him and get him involved in East-West politics.

Sir Arthur Charles Clarke (1917-2008).

I’ll close by noting that the late British science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and I were alike in at least a couple of ways. As he once acknowledged: “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.”

From a butterfly to a pair of badgers, from a newt and a salamander to a bobcat and a coyote, this posting is a collection of some of my favorites from among the photos I’ve taken of wildlife around Mitchell cabin.

A Buckeye butterfly atop a chrysanthemum on my deck.

Closeup of an amphibian — an arboreal salamander.

Lying low — another amphibian.

A Pacific tree frog’s color depends on where it is at the moment. Unlike chameleons, whose colors change to match background colors, tree frogs’ colors change (between brown and green) depending on how dry or moist their surroundings are.

A poisonous amphibian.

The skin of a California newt such as this secretes a neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, that is hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide.

A macho reptile.

Male Western fence lizards do pushups to intimidate other males. In the process they reveal their blue undersides, which is why they’re sometimes called Blue-bellies.

A colorful but seldom seen reptile.

I found this Pacific ring-necked snake in a rotten log while splitting firewood. The snake eats very small creatures — tadpoles, insects, and especially salamanders. It has just enough venom to immobilize them but is not dangerous to humans.

A beady-eyed garter snake warms itself in the sun on my driveway.

Garter snakes are the most-common genus of reptile in North America. Although they are venomous, their venom is too mild to harm humans. However, when they’re disturbed, garter snakes emit a foul-smelling secretion from a gland near their anus.

Common garter snakes come in innumerable variations and are found in fields, forests and wetlands nationwide. Like this snake, adults average about four feet in length. In West Marin, their diet typically consists of tadpoles, slugs, and earthworms. But unlike other snakes, they don’t eat insects. When first born, the snakes are prey for bullfrogs. Hawks and foxes eat adults.

Gopher snakes are non-venomous although they don’t want you to know it.

“When disturbed, the gopher snake will rise to a striking position, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly and shake its tail at the intruder,” the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website notes. “These defensive behaviors, along with its body markings, frequently cause the gopher snake to be mistaken for a rattlesnake.”

Golden-crowned sparrow disguised as a stained-glass window.

Heading for a drink at the birdbath on Mitchell cabin’s deck, a crow hops over a second crow, which stays put at their birdseed buffet.

A great blue heron hunting gophers in my field.

Chipmunks visit Mitchell cabin only occasionally, so I felt lucky to snap this photo of one.

A Western gray squirrel as seen from my bedroom window.

Every morning the ground around Mitchell cabin is littered with the freshly cut tips of pine branches because of this squirrel and his clan. Squirrels like to feed on pine trees’ cambium layer, which is immediately under the bark, and in the process they gnaw off twigs.

Trying not to be noticed.

West Marin’s large jackrabbits, which some people call black-tailed hares, are often seen in the late afternoon and evening around Mitchell cabin. To avoid catching the eye of predators, jackrabbits typically sit motionless unless the danger comes too close. Then they suddenly spring away, making sharp, evasive turns as they flee.

A gray fox on Mitchell cabin’s deck.

Young raccoons retreat to a tree when they feel threatened by other animals.

A blacktail doe nurses one of her two fawns.

Relying on its spots for camouflage, a newly born fawn tries to be invisible in tall grass by lying absolutely motionless even though I was leaning over it to take a photo.

A buck and two fawns bounding across tractor-mowed grass.

A mother badger and her cub sun themselves on the mound of dirt around their burrow (known as a “sett”).

A bobcat hunting outside my kitchen window.

A coyote heads for cover in — appropriately enough — a patch of coyote brush.

Besides photographing the wildlife around Mitchell cabin, I also enjoy having a bit of fun with it. My posting about encouraging a bodhisattva possum on her path to spiritual enlightenment has proven to be one of the best-read I’ve ever put online.

I take each species’ disposition into account when determining what it is best suited to learn. Raccoons, as you might guess, are natural bartenders.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in training wildlife has been convincing different species to get along with each other.

I felt a bit like a miracle worker when I finally got a possum, a fox, and a raccoon — none of which traditionally like each other — to dine nose to nose just outside my kitchen door.

I did it by setting out well-separated handfuls of peanuts for them and over time moving the handfuls closer and closer together. Now why can’t diplomats do that in the Middle East?