Archive for March, 2013

Last Tuesday this blog published its 400th posting. In its nearly eight years of existence, SparselySageAndTimely has managed to inform, amuse, or irritate visitors each week without fail.

Moreover, the number of visitors it attracts keeps growing. I pay attention to which topics interest people, and like many other bloggers, I depend on Google Analytics to tell me how many readers I have and where they live. But suddenly strange things are happening at Google.

A Google Analytics graph indicates 3,335 people from around the world visited SparselySageAndTimely during March.

Google Analytics, which is supposed to tally how many people visit this blog each day, reported that on Saturday, SparselySageAndTimely drew 256 visitors from around the globe, up from 255 on Friday. For a blog that focuses on small-town life, those are pretty good numbers. [After this posting was already online, Google Analytics reported a whopping 428 people visited SparselySageAndTimely on Sunday.]

Google Analytic’s graph of how many visits this blog received from the Point Reyes Station area during March.

Google, however, seems determined to rain on my parade. SparselySageAndTimely’s highest number of visits (averaging about 10 a day) has traditionally come from Point Reyes Station, where this blog originates. Nonetheless, the Google Analytics’ graph for March suggests that everyone in town suddenly stopped reading SparselySageAndTimely three and a half weeks ago.

If Google were to be believed, this blog has received only one visit from Point Reyes Station since March 5 and no visits whatsoever from any other town in West Marin. I might worry that SparselySageAndTimely had somehow offended all its readers here or bored them to death except for the fact that West Marin residents continue commenting to me about postings they’ve just read.

I’m not enough of a computer techie to figure out at what point — along the Internet — Google Analytics lost track of West Marin. As far as this blogger is concerned, it’s annoying to receive obviously incorrect statistics; however, it’s also reassuring to know conclusively that the days when readership is reportedly high are, in fact, even better. And days when readership is reportedly low aren’t really all that bad.

Janine Warner of designed this website, and offhand she wasn’t sure what the problem might be or how to find out. One possibility, she said, is that residents of the Point Reyes Station area are now being counted in with residents of a neighboring community.

I checked the numbers for all the nearby towns and cities, and none of them appeared to have suddenly increased its readership. But then as I looked at the above list of the 10 communities in California with the most readers, something caught my attention. Sunnyvale.

Has Silicon Valley hijacked West Marin? With 118 visitors a month to this blog, Sunnyvale has now jumped to second place behind San Francisco with its 157 visitors. Until the first week of March, Google was consistently reporting that had more readers in little old Point Reyes Station than in those two cities combined. In less than a month, if Google’s statistics were to be believed, this blog’s hometown has dropped to sixth place in readership and will soon disappear from the Internet.

As Mark Twain wrote, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

All of this is, of course, just a curiosity of the Worldwide Web. The only real damage it does is to my ability to see what topics are of greatest interest to people in West Marin.

Far worse damage will occur at the end of June when Google eliminates its RSS feeds. RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or alternately Really Simple Syndication. RSS feeds notify readers by email when a new posting goes online, as well as provide a link to the posting.

More than 92 percent of this blog’s readers in Point Reyes Station visit more than once a month, and some of these readers have told me they use a Google RSS feed to alert them to new postings. When Google eliminates its RSS feeds come July 1, this blog might actually lose some West Marin readers.

It’s a dilemma, and at the moment I’m pondering alternative solutions. What a way to celebrate turning 400!




Tomales Regional History Center on Sunday held an opening reception for an engaging exhibition titled “Tomales Neighbors: Informal Portraits by Steve Quirt, Ella Jorgensen, and Others.” The people I spoke with at the opening likewise found the photos fascinating.

Frances Fairbanks and cat, circa 1920. Frances was the granddaughter of pioneer William Fairbanks, who settled in Tomales in 1864. She was also a niece of Ella Jorgensen. Photo by Ella Jorgensen ___________________________________________________

Using a box camera, Ella Frisbee Jorgensen around 1900 began shooting photos of townspeople, including Tomales pioneers who by then were already elderly. “In her pantry-turned darkroom, she developed and printed countless photographs,” the spring issue of the Tomales Regional History Center Bulletin notes.

“Photographer Ella Jorgensen spent nearly 50 years chronicling life in the village; much of what we know of early 20th century Tomales is because of Ella’s work.” Jorgensen died in 1945.

Steve Quirt using his iPhone is now shooting similar photos of current townspeople. “Steve’s portraits inevitably recall — not so much in style as in spirit — the casually shot but thoughtfully posed portraits by Ella Jorgensen,” observes the Bulletin.

At the bootery — Carrie Jensen, Jorgen Jensen, Sille Jensen, and Walter Jensen (left to right). Carrie Jensen was a native of Copenhagen who arrived in Tomales in 1857. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

Bakers — Charles and Vesta Stone. Photo by Ella Jorgensen. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Zilla Ables Dickinson. Photo by Ella Jorgensen

Zilla Ables Dickinson was postmaster in the Tomales Post Office for 35 years. After Zilla and her husband Leon were married in 1886, they bought the general store in Tomales (now Diekmann’s). In 1936, their son Bray took over the business.


A. Bray Dickinson. Photographer unknown

Bray Dickinson took over his mother’s position as postmaster in Tomales after she died. He is now best known for his book on the North Pacific Coast Railway, Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods.      _________________________________________________________

Today’s postmaster, Julie Martinoni (right), and Liz Cunninghame of Clark Summit Ranch open a shipment of baby chicks in the Tomales Post Office. Photo by Steve Quirt _______________________________________________________________

Annette Winn Wilson. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

Ranchers Loren (left) and Al Poncia. Photo by Steve Quirt _______________________________________________________________

Bea (McCulla) and V.L. Phillips. Photographer unknown















Dan Erickson accompanied by his lambs on John Street. Photo by Lisbeth Koelker





























Edith Bonini, former owner-operator of the William Tell bar. Photographer unknown ________________________________________________________

Lois Parks and Smokey. Photographer unknown _______________________________________________________________

Three girls on Main Street, May 1917. Mercie Wilson at far right with two unidentified girls. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

George Dillon (left) and Thomas Ables. Photo by Ella Jorgensen

Dillon, a native of Ireland, crossed the Great Plains in 1856. In the 1860s, he bought a 644-acre ranch at the mouth of Tomales Bay and “threw his beach open to his friends,” according to the late historian Jack Mason. “In 1888, as near as can be determined, [he] built an 11-bedroom hotel.” The building “is still there,” Mason wrote in Earthquake Bay (published 1976). When Dillon in his later years sold the property in 1903, he stipulated that the area would forever be called Dillon Beach.

Thomas Ables (standing with Dillon) was a bank cashier who went on to become the Marin County Superintendent of Schools. _______________________________________________________________

Norman Meyers (left) and Fred Jorgensen. Photo by Ella Jorgensen _______________________________________________________________

Hazel Guldager (Martinelli). Photo by Ella Jorgensen ____________________________________________________________

When the History Center’s curator, Ginny MacKenzie Magan, wrote an announcement of last Sunday’s opening for The West Marin Citizen, she noted it would be a 50-photo exhibition of Tomales neighbors over the past 150 years.

“These people, along with many others, have contributed some subtle essence of their character to the town,” she explained. “For over a century and a half, a few hundred at a time, neighbors have participated in this mysterious alchemy, contributing their intellects and their emotions, their talents and their eccentricities, coloring this place and adding to the ever-changing essence that is this small assortment of humanity….

“The exhibit celebrates these neighbors — those among us today, those we remember, and those we never knew.”

In the 1970s and earlier, the West Marin Lions Club owned the Red Barn on Mesa Road in Point Reyes Station and used it for a community center large enough to hold huge gatherings. All that changed when Rip Goelet of Inverness Park bought the building, painted it green, and began hosting smaller events.

One of the large events which used to be held there was the annual St. Patrick’s Day barbecue, a benefit for Sacred Heart Church in Olema. These days, of course, the barbecue is held at the Dance Palace as it was on Sunday.

On St. Paddy’s Day in 1979, one of the fundraising events at the barbecue gave youngsters a chance to win a goldfish — such as Louis Ptak of Inverness (center) has just won — by throwing a ping pong ball into a bottle. — Point Reyes Light photo

This story is also set in 1979 although it began a year earlier. As it happened, young Michael Leighton of Inverness Park won a baby chick at the St. Patrick’s Day barbecue in 1978.

His parents, John and Darlene, were not altogether delighted, but John found an old chicken coop at the dump and fixed it up for Michael’s new pet. (This was back before the county closed the West Marin Sanitary Landfill in Point Reyes Station.)

The chick grew into a chicken, and the chicken, alas, turned out to be a rooster. As a pet, it couldn’t be eaten, but by itself in a cage, it was worthless. It required care and feeding and because of its enforced celibacy developed into an irascible pet.

In September 1979, matters got even worse. The rooster was outgrowing its cage. The Leightons, who were building a house on top of tall, wooden poles rather than on a cement foundation, were living in a trailer on the property during construction. They didn’t have time to build a new cage for the rooster, which only their son liked anyhow.

Before long, the rooster took to crowing every sunrise for an hour, beginning shortly after 5 a.m. “That’s it,” said John one morning. “That rooster has got to go.” Darlene agreed but worried how her son would react.

Later that day, John and Darlene were working on their new house when a family of tourists from Reno dropped by to admire the pole construction. The tourists also had a son, and he wandered over to the rooster’s cage. Impressed by the surly bird, he called his parents over to look.

“Would you be interested in selling that rooster?” the father asked Darlene. “We have a flock of 40 hens in Reno, and our one rooster has gotten too old to take care of them.”

The ancient Greeks and Romans called such turns of events “deus ex machina.” When a playwright had written his actors into such a tangle that only the intervention of the gods could straighten things out, a god (deus) would be lowered onto the stage by a machine.

From the bird’s eye view, this drama in Inverness Park must have seemed to have a deus ex Reno. Instead of ending up in a stew pot while his young owner wept, the randy rooster found himself en route to Reno where a harem of 40 hens awaited him.

As for John and Darlene, the tourists gave them $5 for the rooster and cage. Michael, who was off playing while this miracle on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard occurred, was left an invitation to visit his former pet the next time he got to Reno.

This world may have been going to hell in a handbasket, but for one September afternoon in Inverness Park, all was well.

The discovery of bobcat traps set along the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park has angered “thousands of people,” The Los Angeles Times reported March 4. (The park straddles the Riverside County-San Bernardino County border.)

In response to the public “fury,” California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has introduced the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 (AB 1213) to “ban trapping of bobcats for commercial purposes.” Even though a similar bill was defeated in 1993, I’m betting this one will be successful.

A bobcat pauses while strolling past Mitchell cabin last Thursday.

“Trappers are keenly interested in bobcats today because the price of a pelt has risen from $78 to about $700 since 2009 in China, Russia, Greece and other foreign markets,” The Times explained.

“Assemblyman Bloom’s bill is a critical step in bringing California’s antiquated wildlife laws into the 21st century,” Brendan Cummings, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s wildlands programs and a resident of the community of Joshua Tree, was quoted as saying. “Right now, it’s legal for trappers to line the boundary of a national park with traps, kill the park’s wildlife and ship their pelts overseas.”

Bobcats are becoming so common around homes in Point Reyes Station that a few have been trapped  for preying on people’s animals, and at least one or two have ended up as roadkill. There have been no signs of anyone trapping bobcats for their pelts at the fringes of West Marin’s parks, thank God; however, without the Bobcat Protection Act, there will always be the potential for commercial trapping — if done quietly so as to avoid a fight with the neighbors.

“Although bobcats are trapped primarily for their fur, existing state law classifies them as ‘nongame mammals,’ and provides no limit on the number of bobcats that may be taken by a licensed trapper,” The Times added.

“Bloom’s proposal would reclassify bobcats as ‘fur-bearing mammals’ and make it illegal to trap them or to import, export, or sell any bobcat part or product.” Currently, trappers can get a license for $111.50, but they must check their traps daily and annually report their take to the state.

“Body gripping traps are already illegal in California,” The San Francisco Chronicle added, “so the bill would ban the use of wire mesh cages that trappers generally bait with cat food or carrion to lure the cats inside, causing the door to close.”

Lynx rufus shows off its bobbed tail.

An estimated 1,813 bobcats were taken in California during the 2011-12 license year, an increase of about 51 percent over the previous season, The Times quoted state wildlife authorities as saying. “Trappers took 1,499 of those bobcats, with hunters taking the rest.”

Assemblyman Bloom’s proposed legislation would not ban sport hunting of bobcats; however, it became illegal to use dogs to hunt bobcats or bears in California under a law that took effect Jan. 1. The law was authored by State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last September.

Bobcat outside my window.

“Bobcats can kill prey much bigger than themselves but usually eat rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels, and other smaller game,” according to the National Geographic. “The bobcat hunts by stealth, but delivers a deathblow with a leaping pounce that can cover 10 feet.”

I can’t imagine much opposition in West Marin to Assemblyman Bloom’s Bobcat Protection Act. Even the agricultural community can live with it since the proposed law would not prohibit killing bobcats that start preying on chickens or other farm animals.

She’ll be missed. Thursday was the last day of February, which also meant it was Kathy Runnion’s last day working in the Point Reyes Station Post Office. With the Postal Service eliminating employees, closing post offices, and stopping Saturday deliveries to save money, Kathy accepted an early retirement offer.

Kathy on Thursday said her goodbyes while serving refreshments in the post office’s lobby. One of the reasons for doing so was to assure postal customers she was in good spirits and hadn’t “gone postal,” she joked. With her are Oscar Gamez from Toby’s Feed Barn (at left) and David Briggs from The Point Reyes Light (at center).

Kathy, who lives in Inverness Park, worked 24 years for the Postal Service — 14 years as a clerk in the Point Reyes Station Post Office, four in the Bolinas Post Office, and one in the Inverness Post Office plus five years as a rural carrier in Glen Ellen.

It’s not that Kathy had been angling for early retirement. Seated at a Toby’s Feed Barn table near the post office, Kathy (at right) in November 2011 distributed American Postal Workers Union literature. The flyers urged the public to back a congressional measure, House Bill 1351, so that the Postal Service would be saved rather than savaged.

“The problem,” the APWU explained, “is that a bill passed in 2006 is pushing the Postal Service into bankruptcy. The law imposes a burden on the USPS that no other government agency or private company bears. It requires the Postal Service to pay a 75-year liability in just 10 years — to ‘pre-fund’ healthcare benefits for future retirees… The $20 billion in postal losses you heard about doesn’t stem from the mail but rather from [the] congressional mandate.”

Unfortunately, Congress as usual wasn’t up to protecting the public interest once politics got involved.

Another lost cause. Kathy (right) in May 2008 joined other West Marin residents in trying to dissuade the Vedanta Society from letting the Point Reyes National Seashore use Vedanta property as a staging area for slaughtering a herd of fallow deer. Estol T. Carte (center), the Vedanta Society’s president, listened to the polite group of demonstrators but promised nothing and delivered just that.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, then-Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, then-Lt. Governor John Garamendi, famed zoologist Jane Goodall, and the senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, John Grandy, PhD, were likewise on record as opposing the impending slaughter, but the Park Service was out for blood.

Nearly all the fallow and axis deer in the park were gone within months despite recent assurances from the National Seashore that the killing would be carried out over 11 years, which would allow time to take another look at whether to get rid of all the exotic deer. It was one more frustrating flip-flop by the Park Service, which in 1974 had insisted the deer belonged in the National Seashore because they were “an important source of visitor enjoyment.”

Kathy feeding denizens of a Planned Feralhood enclosed shelter at a Nicasio barn.

Retiring from the Postal Service will not take Kathy out of the public eye, however. For 12 years she has headed Planned Feralhood, an organization that traps and spays or neuters feral cats.

More than 700 of them have been adopted for pets. Some of those which could not be domesticated were let loose but with feeding sites established so they don’t have to fight over scraps of food and garbage. Others are being cared for in Planned Feralhood shelters.

Planned Feralhood recently became a non-profit corporation after operating for years under the fiscal umbrella of other nonprofits. Donations can be sent to Box 502, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

Two gray foxes basking in the sun as seen from a rear window of the Point Reyes Station Post Office. The foxes are on the roof of a shed that’s part of Toby’s Feed Barn and adjoins the Building Supply Center’s lumberyard.

In December 2009, I was at home one morning when I got a call from Kathy at the post office. I’d probably like to get a photo of a pair of foxes sleeping just outside a post office window, she said. I grabbed my camera and rushed into town, managing to get there in time to record the scene.

Two days before she retired, I received a similar message from her: “I’ve got a downtown wildlife story for you that needs investigation.” Naturally, I asked what was up. Kathy said she had seen some kind of hawk — although not a red-tailed or a red-shouldered hawk — walking on the cement floor  just inside the Feed Barn next door.

People were at the coffee bar in the entranceway, but they didn’t seem to worry the hawk, which was surprising because hawks tend to avoid humans. Kathy added that all the small birds that used to nest among the rafters of the Feed Barn had disappeared.

I asked Feed Barn owner Chris Giacomini about this, and he confirmed the birds had disappeared, but he didn’t know about the hawk. It seems a hawk had discovered good hunting at Highway 1 and Second Street. All the pigeons that used to perch on top of the Grandi Building also disappeared for awhile, Kathy told me, but a few have returned.

With Kathy’s retirement from the post office, Point Reyes Station is losing not only a first-rate postal clerk but also a first-rate observer of the wildlife to be found in the town’s commercial strip.