Archive for June, 2013

If you’ve ever been around a pile driver sinking the steel supports for a big building into the ground, you know what a racket that can be. But I bet you don’t know the origin of the term “pile driver.”

According to The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Harper Collins, 1962), “In the colorful language of the West, a pile driver is a horse that, in bucking, comes down to earth with all four legs stiff.” ______________________________________________________________

No pile drivers here. (Photo by Scott Stine)

My neighbor Scott Stine and I two weeks ago hiked up a hill next to Mitchell cabin to photograph the foot of Tomales Bay and the landscape around it. The scene was stunning, but the real wonderment occurred when I sat down to pull some stickers out of my socks.

Immediately a herd of horses moseyed over, probably hoping I was carrying something to feed them. They took turns nuzzling me, sometimes two at a time, and before long one was scratching the top of its head on my back.

It was a carefree lovefest until one horse went too far and began nibbling on a cuff of my pants. I then had to play coy and tuck the leg under me. _______________________________________________________________

Mostly hidden by tall grass, a fawn grazes on another part of the hill. As the year wears on and the fawn gets larger, it strays further and further from its mother but returns to her side every few minutes.

Deer can also be dear. In Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare uses deer as a metaphor for lover. Speaking to the ancient Greek god of attractiveness and desire, Venus tells him: “I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;/ Feed where thou wilt, on mountain, or in dale:/ Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,/ Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.” _____________________________________________________________

Two mother quail and four chicks. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Another of the bard’s sensual creatures.

“For reasons not entirely clear,” The Morris Dictionary notes, “the quail has long had a reputation for what one source calls ‘an inordinately amorous disposition.’

“In Shakespeare’s time harlots were known as quails and he refers in Troilus and Cressida to Agamemnon as ‘an honest fellow enough who loves his quails.’

“A variation on this sense was common in mid-century US slang.

“A San Quentin quail referred to females below the age of legal consent. Misconduct with one such might lead to jail, San Quentin being one of the most notorious of the federal prisons.” _______________________________________________________________

A foxy lady takes a nap on our deck. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

In one of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, The Wedding of Mrs. Fox, a fox pretends to have died to test his wife’s fidelity. When suitors then show up, the vixen rejects them because they aren’t foxes but bears, wolves, and so forth.

Finally a fox shows up who looks like her supposedly dead husband, arrangements are made for a wedding, but her husband appears and drives off the groom and wedding guests. ____________________________________________________________

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), meanwhile, has gone the furthest in promoting a loving compassion for animals.

In its campaign against wearing animal fur, PETA has enlisted numerous celebrities to pose in the buff, albeit with their strategic parts covered.

Celebrities taking part in PETA’s campaign range from retired NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman to these former Miss USA winners — Alyssa Campanella, Shanna Moakler, Shandi Finnessey, and Susie Castillo.

Their message is always a version of: enjoy your own skin and don’t wear an animal’s. Who can resist entreaties such as these?

A coyote walked past Mitchell cabin five minutes ago, which brings up the question: what other critters are around at this time of the year? Summer will begin Friday, but on this hill some creatures still have quite a bit of spring in their step, as these photos from the past week illustrate.


A female gray fox has become a daily visitor to Mitchell cabin.

Foxes are tricksters, as many cultures realize.

And the expression “crazy as a fox” has been around far longer than any of us have.

So it was no accident when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp decided to call its off-the-wall reporting “Fox News.” ____________________________________________________________

Finding dinner ready on the picnic table.

This vixen shows up in late afternoon shortly after Lynn and I put out birdseed for our cage-free aviary, which at the moment includes: red-winged blackbirds, tri-color blackbirds, scrub jays, stellar jays, sparrows, finches, towhees, doves, crows, ravens, quail, ring-tailed pigeons, juncos, chickadees, and doves. We call their feeding time “the evening bird show.”

Foxes love birdseed as much as birds do, and I recently witnessed the vixen licking birdseed off my deck while a white-crowned sparrow just overhead pecked birdseed off the railing. _____________________________________________________________

By now the vixen sort of trusts Lynn and me. Here Lynn hands her a couple of slices of bread. It’s a friendly exchange. This particular fox’s table manners are surprisingly dainty — no snapping at the hand that feeds her. ____________________________________________________________

After receiving her bread, the vixen usually foxtrots off a short distance to eat, apparently preferring to do her chewing in private. ________________________________________________________________

A second fox, a male, visits us after dark.

However, that’s also the time when two or three raccoons show up to be hand fed their own slices of bread.

If the raccoons aren’t fed immediately, they often doze by the kitchen door, waiting to be noticed.

The fox and raccoons never fight, but they’re leery of each other.

The more-nimble fox, however, always finds a way to avoid confrontations with them. And I’ve sometimes watched while the quick gray fox jumps over the sleeping coon.

I learned a few years ago that I can get them to eat side by side by putting out two handfuls of peanuts in close proximity on the deck. The lure of honey-roasted peanuts is obviously stronger than their suspicion of each other, as this photo from last week demonstrates. ___________________________________________________________

One critter that no doubt is pleased we’re feeding the foxes is the jackrabbit that hangs out in my fields. I’m sure a hungry fox would be delighted to dine on hare — if it could catch one. But it would find it far easier to catch the jackrabbit’s slower-footed cousin, the cottontail rabbit.

Well, that’s our fair and balanced fox news for this week. Stay tuned for Sean Hannity’s harangue against these atheists in foxholes.

Remember the New Age movement? In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, it was a whole subculture “drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology [clairvoyance], consciousness research and quantum physics.”

Or so Nevill Drury effusively wrote in The New Age: Searching for the Spiritual Self, Thames and Hudson publishers, London, 2004.

Well, the paradigm has apparently shifted, as Lynn and I discovered Wednesday while driving through the San Geronimo Valley.

Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Lagunitas.

In front of a sign threatening $1,000 fines for littering the roadside, someone had dumped a large pile of rubbish. The contempt for the county sign was so blatant I assumed the culprit was some anti-social moron, and we stopped so I could snap a few photos.

Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View in a discarded basket leans over Writing Spiritual Books in a nearby trash bag.

When Lynn and I then took a look at what was in the refuse heap, we were startled by what we saw. Along with bedding, a table lamp, women’s clothes, and cosmetic bottles, there were numerous New Age books.

Among the books in one cardboard box were New Age Tarot: Guide to the Throth Deck and a volume about “Universal Peace… Within and Without.”

Lying on the ground was Freud and Man’s Soul by Bruno Bettelheim, “the author of The Uses of Enchantment.” The latter book, by the way, argues that children’s fairy tales help us understand the meaning of life.

In short, we had found an amazing trove of enlightenment or psychobabble, depending on your paradigm. But in either case, how in the world could someone who’d read all these “touchy-feely” tracts feel right about dumping them beside a public road?

The closest I personally ever came to the New Age movement was to buy a few Windam Hill records by pianist George Winston, guitarist William Ackerman, and others back in the 1970s.

Ackerman, who once owned the record label, hated the fact its music was frequently described as New Age, which to him meant wimpy. Before becoming a record label executive, Ackerman had dropped out of Stanford to work as a carpenter, and to emphasize he was no wimp, he one day growled to an interviewer, “I’d like to find the guy that coined the phrase New Age and punch him in the nose.” Or words to that effect.

I’m more pacific. I’d merely like to see the New Age apostate who dumped the trash beside the road caught and fined $1,000. But is there any chance of that happening? Actually it just might — if we are to believe county government. At the bottom of the “$1,000 Fine for Littering” sign are two small, yellow stickers warning that the site is under video surveillance.

I’m now waiting to see whether the surveillance videos are produced with scientific technology or with New Age parapsychology. The problem with clairvoyance, of course, is that it doesn’t hold up in court.

Western Weekend, West Marin’s annual salute to its agricultural heritage, was held Saturday and Sunday in Point Reyes Station with a parade and 4-H animal competition.

Pete Tomasetti and his wife riding a 1941 Farmall Tractor followed by a 1938 Allis Chalmers tractor driven by Ben Wright together took first place in the parade’s Farm Vehicle category. _____________________________________________________________

The Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club’s animal show in Toby’s Feed Barn Saturday. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Hugo Stedwell Hill of Inverness holds an American blue rabbit, which is a heritage breed.

Dorothy Drady of Nicasio, who was watching over the exhibit, gave this account of the rabbit’s evolution:

The American blue was originally bred in Pasadena in 1917 and became the most popular breed in the country because of demand for its fur and meat.

By the 1970s and 80s, the breed was almost extinct. In the 1990s, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy placed the American blue rabbit on its “endangered” list. Nonetheless, there are now fewer than 500 worldwide.

The animal show was smaller than in previous years because some 4-H members who usually take part will instead compete in the Tri-Valley 4-H Fair Sunday, June 9, from 9 a.m. to noon. It will be held at the Pomi Ranch on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road near Union School.


4-H Club members taking part in the animal show included, front row from left: Ashley Winkelmann, Nicole Casartelli, Ellie Rose Jackson, Phoebe Blantz, Rachel Stevenson, Eva Taylor, Katie Stevenson. Onstage from left: Ruby Clarke, Willow Wallof, Brinlee Stevens, Nina von Raesfeld, Point Reyes-Olema 4-H Club president Audrey von Raesfeld (with clipboard), Olivia Blantz,  Camille Taylor, Caroline von Raesfeld, Marlowe Ural, Gabriel Ural, Stran Stevens, and Max Muncy. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod) _____________________________________________________________

4-H member Olivia Blantz won a top poultry award for her Mille Fleurs type hen of the Belgian d’Uccle Bantam breed.

Mille Fleurs, which is French for 1,000 flowers, refers to the many white spots of feathers.

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)



Point Reyes Station’s main street was lined with almost 2,000 parade watchers by starting time at noon Sunday. For the hundreds of children on hand, it was a grand party. _____________________________________________________________

Elise Haley Clark sang the National Anthem acapella just before the parade began. Despite her youth, she sang with poise and drew warm applause from the crowd. _____________________________________________________________

The Marin County Sheriff’s Posse had one of three color guards in the parade, along with the Coast Guard and the National Park Service. ____________________________________________________________

A procession of county and Inverness fire engines followed the color guards at the start of Sunday’s parade. _____________________________________________________________

Western Weekend Queen Sara Tanner, 16, a sophomore at Tomales High, earned her crown by selling the most Western Weekend raffle tickets. ____________________________________________________________

Western Weekend Princess Camille Loring of Marshall, is a senior at Tomales High. She was the runnerup in ticket sales. _____________________________________________________________

The entry from “Return to the Forbidden Planet, Shakespeare’s Forgotten Rock ‘N Roll Musical,” took first place in the parade’s Adult Music category. Singer Phillip Percy Williams (standing with microphone) wowed the crowd with his cover of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap’s song “Young Girl.” The musical is scheduled from June 20 to 30 in Tamalpais High’s Caldwell Theater. _____________________________________________________________

The Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Western Weekend Parade was Jim Patterson, who is retired after having been principal at different times of West Marin School and Tomales High. ____________________________________________________________

Papermill Creek Children’s Corner marched and rode down the parade route to publicize the preschool’s upcoming summer camp. ___________________________________________________________

Main Street Moms, who each year have a political entry in the parade, this year called on California Governor Jerry Brown to join the fight against fracking. Fracking, which uses water under pressure to force petroleum and natural gas from underground rock formations, has been blamed for polluting groundwater. _____________________________________________________________

The Nave Patrola, which spoofs the Italian army in World War I, as always was a hit of the Western Weekend Parade. This year the bumbling marchers took second place in the Adult Drill category. _____________________________________________________________

Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, which is fighting a court battle to renew its permit to operate in the Point Reyes National Seashore, entered a large float that carried company workers followed by a band. As the National Academy of Sciences and others have shown, the Park Service has repeatedly faked scientific data in trying to make a case for evicting the more than 80-year-old company.

A man at center in the foreground holds up “Want a Sign?” — inviting parade watchers to join the entry and carry a “Save Our Drakes Bay Oyster Farm” sign. _____________________________________________________________

(Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

Having supported the oyster company’s cause for several years, I decided I ought to carry a sign.

All went well as we marched semi-rhythmically down the main street to the beat of the band. When we reached the finish of the parade, however, I personally had a bit of excitement.

I was handing my sign to someone sitting on the lowboy behind Lunny’s stopped truck when the truck slowly started up and one of the trailer’s wheels rolled onto the outside edge of my right shoe.

Lowboys are designed to carry heavy equipment, so the weight was substantial. For a couple of moments, I couldn’t move my shoe, but although the wheel was pinching my foot, I didn’t feel any great pain. As it turned out, I had somehow managed to squeeze my toes to the other side of my shoe.

The truck continued to slowly roll forward and soon freed my foot. Nancy Lunny, wife of oyster farm operator Kevin Lunny, saw what had happened and hurried over. “Are you all right?” she asked anxiously. In fact, I was exhilarated from having survived the close call unscathed and told her with a laugh, “I’m perfectly okay.”  ____________________________________________________________

A the conclusion of the parade, the Marin County Farm Bureau put on a well-attended barbecue outside of Toby’s Feed Barn. The Doc Kraft Band (under the blue canopy at right) performed country rock ‘n roll music.

Later that afternoon while thinking back to the parade, it occurred to me that my experience with the trailer wheel  just might be a metaphor for the oyster company’s fight for survival. The Lunnys may be getting squeezed, but they’re not going to be crushed.