Archive for February, 2014

We’ll start this week’s episode with a few misunderstandings and corrections that are reprinted in The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

The Tomales Regional History Center published the book in December, and this week my co-author Jacoba Charles and I are pleased to report that it’s now in its second printing. But more about all that in a minute. For now, let’s get back to some misunderstandings and corrections that originally appeared in The Light.

Here’s a correction from the era (1970-75) when Michael and Annabelle Gahagan published the paper:


Last week in a report we received on the Bolinas-Stinson Beach School Trustees meeting an item slipped by our normally alert censors and copyreaders here. The article stated that the “last agenda item passed unanimously giving school board members $25 per meeting with an additional $5 for every successful motion proposed and $2 for a second.”

This information was completely erroneous. We know that the school board in Bolinas does a lot of innovative things and thought nothing of the accuracy of the proposal.

Our switchboard lit up with complaints. Did they really do it? Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t do such a thing; it’s against state law, said a school spokesman. Chuck Hancock, school board chairman, called to say that such a radical notion was discussed but not until after the meeting and only then as a humorous way of stimulating more interest in board meetings.

Judging from the response we have already received, people are watching Bolinas school board activities very carefully.

— February 2, 1973

Here’s a correction The Light published while I edited the paper:


Because of an extraordinarily involved typographical error, an account in last week’s paper of the “Miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe” became even more amazing. An English-language caption to a photo was supposed to have read: “According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared outside Mexico City to an Indian named Juan Diego, leaving her image on his cloak.” Instead the caption read: “leading her in on his clock.” An accompanying Spanish-language version of the caption was correct.

— December 27, 1985

Of course, people in the news can also be confused. Here’s an excerpt from a story that ran in The Light while Rosalie Laird and Ace Remas owned the newspaper:


As wrong numbers go, it was a big one. A fire had been reported in rural Marin. At the county firehouse in Woodacre, a radio dispatcher called on a substation to respond. Unbeknownst to him, the message also bounced across the country and was picked up by a rural fire department in Pennsylvania.

“They went out looking for it, too,” recalls Paul Hanson, a radio electrician for the Marin Sheriff’s Department. Relying on the Marin report for directions, the Pennsylvania firemen, needless to say, got hopelessly lost.

What happened was a radio skip, a meteorological phenomenon keyed by sunspots that crazily boost certain radio signals with power. North-South radio skips can be picked up around the year. East-West skips occur more frequently near the fall and spring equinoxes. With the equinox only two weeks away, the skips are increasing.

— October 8, 1981

Here’s a minor misunderstanding that lightened the news while I published The Light:


A surprisingly resilient wild turkey downed power lines in Tomales last week, causing a four-hour blackout. The turkey, by all indications, is still alive and at large.

Tomales residents Margaret Graham and Walter Earle were drinking tea and reading the paper shortly before 6:45 a.m. last Friday in their home when they were startled by a loud explosion and brilliant flash of light from outside their window.

Running outside, they discovered three downed power lines and a dazed-looking turkey [which had flown into the lines] walking in circles on Highway 1. The couple watched as the turkey ambled into the field across the road from their house, disappearing into the brush…

“Earle immediately reported the downed powerlines to the Tomales firehouse. “Some turkey just took out the power lines,” he recalled saying. Fire Captain Tom Nunes of Tomales told The Light he assumed at the time that Earle was referring to a drunk driver rather than a bird.

Now getting back to the party… Saturday will be the 66th anniversary of the first issue of The Baywood Press, as The Point Reyes Light was called from 1948 to 1966.

In honor of the occasion and to celebrate the publication of The Light on the Coast, the newspaper will hold a public open house in its new quarters behind the Inverness Post Office on Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. There will be book signings, a few readings from it, and a Q&A about the history it describes. Refreshments will be served.

A highlight of the event will be a reunion of roughly three dozen former staff and contributors who worked for the paper during the last 40 years. A number of them plan to come from hundreds of miles away, including from out of state, to attend the event.

After the party ends in the newspaper office, it will move around the corner and continue in the banquet room at Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant. In case of rain or cold weather, the banquet room will be available during the afternoon as well.

Two other book readings are also scheduled. At 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, in Point Reyes Presbyterian Church, Point Reyes Books will sponsor readings from The Light on the Coast and from Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls, Susanna Solomon’s book of short stories inspired by Sheriff’s Calls in The Light.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, April 27, in its Corte Madera store, Book Passage will sponsor readings from The Light on the Coast. Refreshments will be served.

Inverness’ Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History held a well-attended opening reception Sunday for Picturing the Point Reyes Peninsula, “an exhibit of historical photographs of people, places, and events in Olema, Point Reyes Station and Inverness from 1869 to 1960.”

The exhibit provides fascinating glimpses into life at the foot of Tomales Bay and on Point Reyes a century ago. The photos are mostly from the museum’s own collection although a few are from the archives of the Park Service and other institutions.

The images on display were originally assembled by Carola DeRooy for a 2008 book titled Point Reyes Peninsula.

The book’s coauthor was Dewey Livingston, historian for the Jack Mason Museum. His role was to provide the book’s text, he told me during the reception.

Captions for photos in the exhibition were mostly taken directly from the book.

As it happens, I have long been curious about a mysterious line of rocks on Pierce Point (aka Toms Point),  so I was pleased to see it getting attention in the exhibition.

“Today, hikers encounter this 820-foot-long row of granite stones (at right) about 1.5 miles along the Tomales Point Trail,” notes the photo’s caption.

“The boulders are aligned to Mount St. Helena in the east and run to the cliff edge, pointing toward the Farallon Islands in the west.

“They are named the Spirit Jumping-Off Rocks by the Coast Miwok tribe who believe when a person dies, their spirit walks west.

“The rock line is man-made and appears on an 1862 Coast Survey map. However, who built the wall, for what purpose and when, still remains uncertain.” ________________________________________________________________________

Mexican Land Grantee — “In 1836,” according to the caption, “Rafael Garcia (right) received Rancho Tomales y Baulenes, some 9,468 acres from the slopes of Tamalpais to Tomales Bay, as a reward for halting Native American rebellions at the mission [San Rafael Arcángel].

“The first Mexican land grantee on Point Reyes, Garcia moved to Olema, where he built a well-appointed adobe house for his large family.

“This sketch of the widely know patriarch Don Rafael was drawn by a Russian naturalist, I.G. Voznesenskii, on a visit to the rancho in 1845.” (Marin History Museum photo)

Olema was in its heyday during the 1860s and 1870s. Back then it had two hotels, a general store, six bars, bi-weekly stagecoach service to San Rafael, and weekly steamer service to San Francisco via Tomales Bay. __________________________________________________________________________

“Olema’s fine schoolhouse, with meeting hall upstairs, was named Garcia School after the original resident of the area. The schoolhouse, located on the lane to the Shafter Ranch, burned and was replaced in a different location in 1915.”

“The arrival of the North Pacific Coast Railroad in 1875 signaled the end of Olema’s growth and heyday. The narrow-gauge rail line originated in Sausalito (where ferries connected to San Francisco) and headed north via San Anselmo, San Geronimo Valley, and Tomales Bay,” the photo’s caption explained.

“The destination was the rich redwood timber of the Russian River area. Bypassing Olema through a trick of geography, the tracks met at the head of Tomales Bay at a wide, flat pasture two miles from town.”

Point Reyes Station had not existed before the railroad erected a depot in the pasture, but the town that quickly sprung up around the depot soon overshadowed Olema commercially. (Seen above) a train crosses an S-shaped trestle over Papermill Creek as it enters Point Reyes Station from the east.

“Train passengers could be met by a stage at Point Reyes Station and transported to the numerous attractions of the area. Here a group of women and their male companion have chosen bicycles as their mode of exploring Point Reyes.”

“Real estate agents attracted potential buyers to Inverness beginning in 1889 with camping trips and promises of a grand hotel.

“City people enjoyed setting up their tents on potential building lots, and a few actually bought; but Inverness was slow to take off. By the 1920s, it had established its reputation as a cozy summer resort, scattered with quaint cabins but sans first-class hotel.

However, “not all Inverness families were summer residents from the cities.

“True locals included those who provided services, [such as] carpenters, plumbers, stonemasons, shopkeepers, and the Hom family, operators of the local laundry.

“The Homs raised a large family in Inverness, and many of the kids ended up going to a university or into successful trades.”

One of the Hom girls changed her name to Tong and became a “fan dancer” in San Francisco, Meg Linden from the museum told me Sunday. _________________________________________________________________________

Shipwreck — “Heavy fogs, dangerous surf, and the jutting and rocky Point Reyes headland itself posed hazards for the coastal sea captain during the 19th century.

“Dozens of ships went aground at Point Reyes, often in a dramatic fashion, while few lives were lost.

“The coastal steamer Samoa went aground at Ten Mile Beach in 1913, prompting a dramatic rescue by men at the nearby Life-Saving Station.

“The wreck drew curious visitors for many days until the ship broke up; the bow of the ship made an interesting landmark for many years before disappearing into the sand.” _________________________________________________________________________

“The US Coast Guard superseded the Life-Saving Service in 1915, and in 1927, an entirely new Point Reyes Lifeboat Station was built at a sheltered spot in Drakes Bay. The handsome boathouse-and-barracks building was constructed on pilings and features a marine railway from which heavier, motor-driven lifeboats could be launched.” (Point Reyes National Seashore Archives photo)

“This aerial view shows the entire Point Reyes Lifeboat Station, now a National Historic Landmark, and the neighboring commercial fish docks. At the bottom is the boathouse and in the trees near the center are the officer-in-charge’s house and auxiliary buildings.

“A radio tower, surrounded by a circular fence, is at the far left, and the barge in the foreground is the Navy paint-test barge, on which marine paints were tested.” _________________________________________________________________________

Point Reyes Lighthouse — “The handsome yet functional light tower was constructed of iron plats bolted and riveted together, all secured into the solid rock-and-concrete foundation 273 feet above the crashing surf.

“Inside the delicate-looking lantern room, an intricately assembled Fresnel lens was mounted on a meticulously balanced circular track.

“The entire First-Order lens and lamp assembly turned at a carefully geared pace to produce a flash every five seconds.

“Famed pioneer photographer Eadweard Muybridge took this photo of the newly constructed lighthouse in 1870 or 1871.”

Before the advent of refrigerated cargo, fresh milk from Point Reyes could spoil if it were shipped to San Francisco. Instead, the cream was skimmed off and churned into butter, which could be shipped without refrigeration.

“‘Modern technology‘ of the late 1880s brought the DeLaval separator, which skimmed cream instantly. Ranchers fed the skim milk to pigs, which provided a supplemental income.

“This photograph shows the Claussen dairy at E Ranch [on Point Reyes], where Henry Claussen (right) and his butter maker John Paulino show off the separator [and] the steam engine. The large churn is out of the picture on the right.”

“Point Reyes Station’s first school was built in 1879 on the hill above town. Named after the pioneer owner of the property on which the town school stood, the Black School District’s classroom soon overflowed as the town grew. This class included the children of dairy ranchers, rail workers, and merchants.”

“A fine new school, also called Black School, was built in 1905 on a flat lot in town. The impressive architecture illustrated the town’s prospects at the time.

“The 1906 earthquake damaged the schoolhouse but not until the 1950s was the venerable institution replaced by the modern West Marin Elementary School, located opposite the pioneer schoolhouse up the hill.”

This building, which no longer exists, was located on the site of the today’s firehouse. _____________________________________________________________________

“Bear Valley ranch owner Gene Compton, owner of a San Francisco cafeteria chain, opened his central pasture to the public for a fully accredited western-style rodeo in 1946-1948.

“Local cowboys joined professional circuit riders to the benefit of local charities.

“The new local newspaper, Baywood Press, covered the event,” the photo caption notes.

The Baywood Press, which was founded on March 1, 1948, changed its name to Point Reyes Light in 1966.

The photos here are only a sampling of what the exhibition contains, and the exhibit itself is basically a sampling of the many historic photos in Point Reyes Peninsula. The 128-page book is available from Arcadia Publishing for $21.99.

Approximately 15 inches of badly needed rain fell in drought-stricken West Marin during the past week, with much of it falling last weekend.

Although the rain flooded numerous roadways, including sections of Highway 1, roughly 50 people showed up at Tomales Regional History Center Sunday to hear Jacoba Charles and me read a few selections from our book, The Light on the Coast: 65 Years of News Big and Small as Reported in The Point Reyes Light.

In December, the History Center published the book, which draws upon news coverage in The Light to tell the post-World War II “history of West Marin’s lively little towns and their Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper.”

Jacoba and I looked through more than 3,300 back issues in choosing representative selections of writing, photography, and political cartoons to include in the book. We then wrote background narratives for many of the news stories.

The crowd filled the History Center’s conference room, where awards and other mementos from the newspaper’s past were on display. After our readings, Jacoba and I signed copies of the book while directors of the History Center served refreshments. (Photos by Lynn Axelrod)

Jacoba started the readings with Wilma Van Peer’s 1998 account of working for the paper’s founders, Dave and Wilma Rogers, half a century earlier. Mrs. Van Peer described Dave as a “little man” with a “nose for news” who liked to “tease” people.

The Light, which was called The Baywood Press for its first 18 years, has had 10 sets of owners in the past 65 years. I published the paper for 27 of those years and wrote the chapters covering news from the first eight ownerships.

Jacoba reported for The Light during its previous ownership and is on the paper’s board of directors under today’s owner, Marin Media Institute. She compiled the chapters dealing with news coverage under the last two sets of publishers.

I unexpectedly found myself getting choked up while reading aloud an item from a June 22, 1950, column of social news:

“Mr. and Mrs. Anton Kooy and sons Peter, 13 years, and Walter, 11 years, have arrived at Blake’s Landing ranch from Amsterdam, Holland. They have come to join their friends Herbert Angress and Bill Straus, and Anton is going into business with Bill and Herbert. The Kooys will live at the Clark home, which the Harold Johnstones now occupy, near Marshall.

“During the last war, Mr. and Mrs. Kooy took Herbert Angress in to stay with them, thus saving his life from the Nazis. The two boys will be attending the Tomales schools — Peter being of high school age.”

While reading this short item to the crowd, I was once again struck by the horrendous danger in which Herb Angress had found himself and by the Kooy family’s heroism in putting themselves at risk to shelter him. Then — five years after World War II ended — they followed him to West Marin.

What choked me up was the sudden realization that when this potentially tragic drama came to a happy ending in Marshall, it made West Marin seem like part of a wartime miracle.

Jacoba reads the late historian Jack Mason’s account of former publisher Don DeWolfe changing the paper’s name from Baywood Press to Point Reyes Light in 1966. Full of wry humor, the story is set in the Station House Café, which Mason operated for awhile after he retired from an editor’s post at The Oakland Tribune.

Víctor Reyes, who writes a Spanish-language column for The Light, filled in for Dewey Livingston during the readings.

The book’s designer, Dewey Livingston, lives in Inverness where he is the historian at the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. He had been scheduled to take part in the readings but had to bow out at the last minute. Second Valley Creek behind his house was flooding and undercutting his bedroom, forcing Dewey to stay home and deal with the rising water.

The Light on the Coast reprints the paper’s entire series on the five waves of ethnic immigration to West Marin during the past 160 years. To research the series, the newspaper sent reporters abroad four times in nine years — to Croatia, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino, Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores, and the Jalostotitlán region of Mexico.

Víctor, who was one of the reporters on the immigration stories from Mexico, described Jalostotitlán and two neighboring towns. Most of West Marin’s Mexican-immigrant families hail from that area.

He stressed how traditional and conservative people are in Jalos (the city’s nickname) although it is only a 90-minute drive from Guadalajara. The priest virtually runs the city, Víctor said.

West Marin’s non-Latino residents that are familiar with large Mexican municipalities, such as Mexico City, may think they understand the culture of Mexican-immigrant residents here, Víctor said, but Jalos is a world apart, and the difference can sometimes lead to confusion.

Two more readings and book signings are scheduled in West Marin. From 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 1, there will be a reading, a public open house, and a reunion of former Light staff in the newspaper’s new office behind the Inverness Post Office.

Point Reyes Books will sponsor a third reading and book signing at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 9, in Point Reyes Station’s Presbyterian Church.

When I awoke Sunday morning, skies were overcast. A light rain was falling. Never before had a gloomy day looked so good. Just maybe the present drought won’t be quite as severe as we Californians have been fearing.

Sunday afternoon Lynn and I drove through through the drizzle to Marshall, where there was an opening party for an exhibition of art by Jon Langdon of Point Reyes Station.

Jon Langdon with his Cubist painting “Oops!”

The show is titled Beyond Geometry, and the subjects for all the works displayed are geometric shapes. This painting, in which the fourth cube appears to be falling off the plane, is called “Oops!”

Notwithstanding the rain and its being Super Bowl Sunday, Art by the Bay Weekend Gallery was packed for Jon’s opening, and a number of people who showed up were other artists. I immediately spotted Russell Chatham, Martha Borge, Toni Littlejohn, Chuck Eckart… I’m sure there were others whom I lost track of in all the coming and going.

Jon was a well-known contractor in West Marin for many years, and in January he gave another artist, Christine DeCamp, an interview in which he explained why he took up painting eight years ago. (The interview can be heard by clicking here.)

“I was recently divorced, and I had retired,” Langdon told Christine and then added with a laugh, “I thought, ‘I got to do something to keep myself out of the bars.’ I had done a little bit of art throughout my life. My dad was an artist, so I feel I have sort of a genetic background… It all just fell together.”

The exhibition at Art by the Bay Weekend Gallery will continue through March 30. The gallery is located at 18856 Highway 1, across the road from Tony’s Seafood.

Saturday morning brought its own special news. When I looked down into the field below my deck, I saw mounds of freshly dug dirt.

My fields are pocked with gopher holes, but I quickly realized I wasn’t looking at gopher mounds.

If that’s all they were, I reasoned, I wouldn’t notice them at that distance.

“There may be some new badger holes in our field,” I called to Lynn and went down to take a look.

Badger holes in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what I found. Five large badger holes, each about a foot in diameter. The only creature I’ve seen around here that digs a hole that big is a badger, and I haven’t seen many of them — just their setts, as badger burrows are called.

In the classic children’s story The Wind and the Willows written by Kenneth Grahame in 1908, when Ratty (a water vole) and Mole get lost in an English forest during a snowfall, Mr. Badger shelters and feeds them in his spacious sett with its long and wondrous chambers.

There’s no mistaking the entrance to a gopher hole for an entrance to a badger’s hole.

Unlike storybook badgers in Edwardian England, Point Reyes Station’s badgers eat moles and voles. Badgers are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs. They generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows. It is not uncommon for badgers to take over the burrows of prey they’ve eaten.

A mother badger (known as a “sow”) and her cub (sometimes called a “kit”) sunning themselves on the mound of dirt around their sett near Mitchell cabin five years ago.

Two “Gypsy cob” horses. Their owner, Kim Daniels of Point Reyes Station (in green jacket at left), says cobs originated in the British Isles and Europe where they were once used to pull wagons.

Although bystanders were surprised, everyone agreed it was perfectly appropriate for these two long-haired horses to show up at the main street door of Point Reyes Station’s saddlery, Cabaline, on Jan. 15.

Even the name of the day was a bit of a surprise, at least to me. As it happened, the Full Wolf Moon occurred on Jan. 15. That’s what some people call it, The Old Farmer’s Almanac says. That name for January’s full moon originated with Native Americans in the northeast, according to the almanac. Apparently wolves howled in hunger outside Indian villages during the full moon of mid-winter.

I’m going to remember that for next year when the Full Wolf Moon occurs on Jan. 5. Ahoooo!