Archive for November, 2013

On Saturday I became a septuagenarian, having been born near the midpoint of U.S. fighting in World War II. There was no special celebration for my 70th, but Lynn and I nonetheless had a good time.

Lynn stands in the garden area at the entrance to Heidrun Meadery’s tasting room.

We started out the day at Heidrun Meadery, which two years ago opened across Highway 1 from Campolindo Road, where Mitchell cabin is located.

Despite its being so close, Lynn and I had not previously visited the meadery. Most of the time, guests need to make reservations for mead tastings, but on Saturday the meadery held a “holiday open house.” Another is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Heidrun owner Gordon Hull tells guests about the different varieties of mead he produces.

Mead is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey and water. In various parts of Europe, it has been popular for centuries. Heidrun’s meads are bubbly, having been made with the same method used to make champagne. Despite the honey content, Heidrun meads tend to be more dry than sweet.

Inside Heidrun’s tasting room.

The meadery was founded in Arcata, Humboldt County, in 1997 and moved to Point Reyes Station in 2011.

Avery Giacomini describes how one cheese differs from another.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese gave out samples of Point Reyes Original Blue cheese and Point Reyes Toma cheese during the mead tasting.

Cheese company owner Bob Giacomini grew up on his father’s dairy ranch in Point Reyes Station. In 1959, he purchased pasture land three miles north of town and went into the milk business on his own. In August 2000, the farm produced its first rounds of blue cheese, describing it as “California’s only classic-style blue cheese.”

The cheese, which is not as sharp as some blue cheeses, was immediately popular. In 2011, Point Reyes Original Blue won the gold medal for Outstanding Cheese/Dairy Product from the National Association for Specialty Food Trade. This year, Point Reyes Bay Blue won the gold medal for Best New Product while Point Reyes Toma was named the Outstanding Cheese/Dairy Product.

As it happened, musician Ingrid Noyes of Marshall (in the center talking with me) invited a number of other musicians over to play Saturday. Her friend, Víctor Reyes (upper left), who writes a Spanish-language column for The Point Reyes Light, is also a longtime friend of mine, and he made sure Lynn and I were included. (I brought my harmonica.)

Cake on a stick.

By chance, Saturday was the birthday for three of us at the party, and Lynn brought a chocolate-fudge cake. The cake contained so much fudge that I was able to pick up my piece with the long birthday candle stuck in it. So that was the way I ate it, calling it “cake on a stick.”

Shaili (at center) in Kenya.

I received birthday greetings from several friends and relatives, but by far the most distant greeting came from my stepdaughter Shaili, who is in Kenya taking part in a study-abroad program of the University of Minnesota.

Although our voices faded in and out, Shaili, Lynn, and I were able to chat by cellphone. Other than getting help from tech support in India, neither Lynn nor I had previously talked on the phone with anyone so far away. The time in Kenya is 11 hours ahead of the time in Point Reyes Station.

Shaili is working at an education center for Maasai girls, who too often are forced into marriage before getting schooling. Lynn and I are extremely proud of her, and I couldn’t hope for a better 70th-birthday present than hearing her good wishes from rural Africa.

As days grow cold with still no rain, I’m starting to see more and more of my wild neighbors.

A fortnight ago when I stepped outside, a bobcat was walking nonchalantly past Mitchell cabin. Unfortunately, my camera was in the car, and by the time I retrieved it, the bobcat — hearing me — hurried off. I managed to snap only one good shot of it as it retreated under my neighbor’s fence.

A fawn warily trots past Mitchell cabin, careful to avoid becoming dinner for the bobcat.

A Golden crowned sparrow pauses for a drink at the birdbath on my deck. The Golden crowned sparrow spends its summers in northern Alaska but heads south for the winter. Its song has been described as “Three Blind Mice in a minor key.”

SUNSET WITH A CRESCENT MOON OVER INVERNESS RIDGE — In preparation for landing, please return your seats and tray tables to their upright and locked position.

Trick or treat.

I’m pining for a conifer that for 37 years stood in a row lining my driveway but which died during the dry weather. Two weeks ago, Nick Whitney of Inverness dispatched his Pacific Slope Tree crew to cut down and chip the 25-foot-high Monterey pine. It took three men all of an hour.

A young doe (left) and buck blacktail deer graze just uphill from Mitchell cabin.

Two Golden crowned sparrows and a California towhee peck birdseed off the picnic table on the deck. Periodically, some towhee can be heard knocking on a cabin window. It turns out California towhees are prone to challenging their own reflections.

BOBCAT ON THE PROWL — The bobcat was back hunting in my pasture Saturday. Bobcats’ favorite prey are rabbits and hares, but they’ll eat anything from insects to rodents to deer. Adult bobcats range in size from 2 to 3.5  feet long and have been clocked at up to 34 miles per hour.

There’s good news for California’s bobcats.

California legislators passed the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 last September, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law Oct. 11. The bill, AB 1213, was authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica).

“The Legislature,” notes the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, “finds that a rise in the demand for bobcat pelts in China and other foreign markets has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of trappers taking bobcats as well as in the number of bobcats taken for commercial purposes in California.”

As of Jan. 1, 2014, bobcat hunting and trapping will be prohibited on lands around Joshua Tree National Park. In addition, “the bill would require the [California Fish and Game] Commission to amend its regulations to prohibit the trapping of bobcats adjacent to the boundaries of each national or state park and national monument or wildlife refuge in which bobcat trapping is prohibited.”

“Body gripping traps are already illegal in California,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported in March, “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.”

Equally important, the Fish and Game Commission commencing on Jan. 1, 2016, must “consider whether to prohibit bobcat trapping within, and adjacent to, preserves, state conservancies, and any other public or private conservation areas identified to the commission by the public as warranting protection,” the Legislative Counsel’s Digest notes.

“The commission, as necessary, shall amend its regulations… to prohibit bobcat trapping in any area determined by the commission to warrant protection.” The Digest adds that the Fish and Game Commission “may impose additional requirements, restrictions, or prohibitions related to the taking of bobcats, including a complete prohibition on the trapping of bobcats.”

Suspect Roberto Barreda, who allegedly murdered his wife Cristina Siekavizza in Guatemala in 2011 and then disappeared with their two children, was arrested Friday in Merida, Mexico. Perhaps because he knows some English, Guatemalan news media had originally speculated he might have fled to the US.

As I wrote at the beginning of 2012, I became interested in the case because my former wife in Guatemala (who asked that her name not be used here) is a friend of Cristina’s relatives. My ex and Cristina’s brother Pablo notified me at the time that roughly 25,000 people were currently using social media to track down Barreda.

His arrest followed an anonymous tip to Fundación Sobrevivientes — which has been supporting Cristina’s family — from a man who had just seen a TV special on the case. Barreda was first sent to Mexico City for interrogation before being extradited to Guatemala.

BARRADA’S ARREST in the State of Yucatan was a joint effort by Mexican and Guatemalan law enforcement. Barreda (center) was wanted by Interpol, and the Guatemalan Interior Ministry had offered 50,000 quetzales (approximately $6,360) for information leading to his arrest. Yucatan Times photo

The couple’s children, Roberto José, 9, and María Mercedes, 6, had been with their father.

Cristina with Roberto and María (right).

Guatemalan President Pérez Molina told the press they are in good health.

He also said that Barreda had changed his hair color and hairstyle while on the lam.

In addition, Barreda had changed his name to Carlos Roberto Barreido Villarreal. He led the children to believe they were younger than they are and that their mother had run off with another man.

The murder is believed to have occurred on July 6, 2011, but Cristina Siekavizza’s body has never been found. Right after Cristina’s disappearance, however, Barreda and the children moved to his parents’ house. The family’s house worker said she saw a lot of blood in one room of the Barreda home and was told to clean it and to wash bloodied sheets.

The house worker (above) also told authorities she saw Barreda and his mother washing out his car and that the water was bloody. The mother had threatened the worker to keep silent about what she’d seen. Roberto’s mother, who is a former president of Guatemala’s Supreme Court, was subsequently jailed for 10 months. She has now been released but cannot leave the country. Photo from Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation)

“The house was cleaned with special liquids, but the chemical luminol, [which is used in police investigations], found blood stains,” my former wife writes. Blood was also found on the skylight of a balcony, where Cristina may have gone to call for help from neighbors — “which she did not get.”

For two years, protesters organized by Voces por Cristina have been marching to demand that authorities give serious attention to Cristina’s case.

Roberto Barreda in custody. Prensa Libre photo

My ex, who is a member of Voces por Cristina, writes, “Many women have said that after hearing about Cristina, they have gotten out of bad relationships where they were hurt in different ways.  Some say it has saved their lives and that of their kids.

“We have learned a lot.  A lot of [comments] have been posted on our [Voces por Cristina] web page, and it coincided with the creation of Feminicide and Violence against Women Courts.  So we feel this has raised awareness of a great problem in Guatemala.

Protestors in another Voces por Cristina march demanding that a transparent investigation be carried out and that justice be done.

“Cristina’s mother has said that if Cristina’s passing has saved lives, her death is not in vain,” my ex writes. “I have seen women coming to her, asking for help/guidance in their cases, while we have been out as a group.  She has directed them to Fundación Sobrevivientes. Some have returned to thank her for her help.”

“I saw a lady [who]…was able to get custody of her granddaughter because the foundation helped her,” my ex added. “The father had killed the wife and wanted to keep the little girl.  We need more of awareness and education, and I believe this situation has helped a lot.”

Roberto and María are reunited with their grandparents, Juan Luis Siekavizza and Angelis Molina. Guatemalan Interior Ministry photo

Meanwhile, the social media are still on the story. My former wife writes that people can keep up with the case in Facebook at Voces por Cristina.

“The language of the news, like Latin or C++ [a programming language], has no native speakers,” columnist Lauren Collins writes in the Nov. 4 New Yorker.

Nonetheless, she adds, reporters are “sufficiently well versed in it” that British journalist Robert Hutton has written a guide to “the strange language of news.” It’s titled Romps, Tots and Boffins. A boffin, Collins explains, is British newspaper jargon for an egghead.

In the United States, such journalese typically appears in headlines when there is a lot of information to convey but little space to do it. Additionally, as Collins writes, US newspapers use words that rarely appear in the British press, such as coed (a female student at a coeducational college) and to mull (to consider).

At The Point Reyes Light, we used both “eye”and “mull” as shorthand for “consider.”

When I edited and published The Point Reyes Light, we had our own headline vocabulary, most of which we borrowed from newspapers elsewhere. When the word dispute didn’t fit, we’d write flap. When meeting, discussion, or conference was too long, we’d write confab. (It’s a legitimate variation of confabulation.)

Most other headline words had more obvious meanings: supe for a member of the Board of Supervisors; nix for reject; prexy for president (of an organization but not of the country); and probe for an investigation as well as to investigate.

In a Light headline, a cop would nab the suspect when there was no room for a deputy to arrest him. It was also common in Light heads, so to speak, for someone to either slate or set an event rather than schedule it.

And although the ampersand (&) had just about disappeared from formal writing, we at The Light often used it in headlines. After all, an & is neither informal nor slang. In fact, it once was the 27th letter of our alphabet. It originated around 100 AD in Roman handwriting and started showing up in written English during the 1830s.

Often misunderstood is the practice of spelling night as nite and light as lite or through as thru and though as tho. Many folks assume these nonstandard spellings are creations of Madison Avenue, but they were primarily popularized by the Chicago Tribune.

Joseph Medill, the paper’s publisher in the second half of the 19th century, became swept up in a small movement that wanted English spelling reformed to make it simpler.

His grandson, publisher Robert McCormick (left), was so enthusiastic that from 1934 to 1975 he had the Tribune use simplified spellings in an attempt to get them into general use.

Many readers were agast.

Prior to that, a few luminaries such as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie had also become advocates for simplified spelling.

President Theodore Roosevelt for several months in 1906 required the government printing office to use reformed spelling.

He rescinded his order, however, following protests from Congress and the public.

Recently while paging through a 1957 issue of The Baywood Press, as The Light was called for its first 18 years, I was surprised to find drought spelled as drouth, which was the way the Chicago Tribune was spelling the word at the time. But not all the Tribune’s spelling reforms were widely accepted. One failure was frate, which many readers didn’t recognize as freight.

Of course, the Tribune for more than a century was weird in many ways. For years it called itself “The World’s Greatest Newspaper” although its motto was “An American Newspaper for Americans.” Traditionally a mouthpiece for ultra-conservative politics, the Tribune under Medill regularly editorialized against Roman Catholics and the Irish.

In his 1947 history of Tribune publishers, An American Dynasty, author John Tebble writes, “Joseph Medill did not let his educational lacks restrain him from taking a bold position on scientific matters.

“At one time or another he rode a half-dozen scientific or pseudo-scientific hobbies, such as simplified spelling, the sunspot theory and the blue-glass theory [a belief that people are healthier and crops grow better under blue glass]….

“Medill (right) attributed all natural phenomena to sunspots until one day he heard of the existence of microbes and immediately adopted this new explanation.

“Soon after, an unfortunate reporter writing according to Tribune policy asserted that the plague in Egypt was caused by sunspots. Medill went through the copy, crossed out the word ‘sunspots’ wherever it occurred and substituted ‘microbes.'”

Altho the Tribune in the last six years, has changed ownership, filed for bankruptcy, and is now only a fantom of the operation it once was, its influence on spelling can still be seen in newspaper headlines, as well as neon signs. And as ur now seeing on the Internet, social media are taking yet another toll on common English spelling.