Archive for March, 2015

A guy is driving through Chileno Valley when he sees a sign in front of a ranch house: “Talking Dog For Sale.” He rings the bell. The owner answers and tells him the dog is in the backyard.

The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there. “You talk?” he asks. “Yep,” the Lab replies. After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says “So, what’s your story?”

The Lab looks up and says, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA. In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country. I was able to sit among spies and world leaders because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.

“I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running. But jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals.

“I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog. “Ten dollars,” the rancher says. “Ten dollars!” the guy exclaims. “This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?”

“Because he’s a liar,” the rancher replies. “He never did any of that crap.”

More canine lore. Even after the brick Grandi Building in Point Reyes Station was reinforced a few decades ago by putting a steel frame inside the building, some concern remained that bricks would pop out of the wall during a major earthquake. That resulted in a warning being painted on the building, but within weeks, pranksters changed “PARKING” to “BARKING.” Nowadays motorists routinely ignore it. This year, the vacant building will turn 100.

Earthquakes are not the only threats to bricks in Point Reyes Station. Here a Western gray squirrel gnaws on a brick outside of Mitchell cabin. Why? “Because they have rootless teeth that keep growing, they must gnaw continuously to wear them down,” explains the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. “Otherwise they would be unable to close their mouths and their teeth would continue to grow and eventually prevent them from feeding.” — Photo by Lynn Axelrod

Lynn and I were enjoying a couple of mocha coffees at Toby’s Coffee Bar Sunday, as we often do, when she noticed this sign on the front of the building. I had no idea what “orse” means, so I looked it up. Turns out its most common meaning in British English is “not comparable.” In short, there’s no stable that can compare with Five Brooks.

Further down the main street I spotted this small sticker on a steel beam that’s part of the Palace Market’s external frame. Chu is a Chinese surname, but that doesn’t explain the sign. I was laughing at it when a woman walked past, read the sign, and with a laugh remarked, “Well, it’s not me.”

A hummingbird flew into Toby’s Feed Barn Sunday and apparently lost its way among the skylights high overhead. There would be no practical way to get to it or catch it, so I’m just hoping it finds its way out soon.

More avian mishaps. Two red-winged blackbirds with injured legs have begun showing up at Mitchell cabin. Neither Lynn nor I could figure out what happened to them, so Lynn asked Dave DeSante, president of the Institute for Bird Populations in Point Reyes Station. His only guess was that they’d gotten their legs tangled in something unknown. So far, at least, they’re surviving. — Photo by Lynn Axelrod

•        •        •

A passenger in a taxi leaned over to ask the driver a question and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb and stopped just inches from a large, plate-glass window.

For a few moments everything was silent in the cab. Then, the shaking driver asked, “Are you OK? I’m so sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me.” The badly shaken passenger apologized to the driver and said, “I didn’t realize that a mere tap on the shoulder would startle someone so badly.”

The driver replied, “No, no, I’m the one who is sorry. It’s entirely my fault.
Today is my very first day driving a cab. I’ve been driving a hearse for 25 years.”

A crowd of Tomales Bay area residents showed up at West Marin School Thursday to look over Caltrans plan to replace the Green Bridge in Point Reyes Station. The bridge carries an average of 3,000 vehicles on Highway 1 over Papermill Creek daily.

Caltrans would like to spend approximately $5.8 million to replace the 100-foot-long bridge, beginning in 2018 or 2019 and finishing three or four years later.

A team of Caltrans representatives were on hand Thursday to explain diagrams of four alternative designs for the replacement: a short, steel-truss bridge; a long, steel-truss bridge; a precast, concrete girder bridge; and a suspension bridge.

The underside of the Green Bridge.

“The current bridge was determined to be seismically deficient, and retrofitting the bridge was deemed infeasible due to limitations caused by the nature of the original structure,” Caltrans reported earlier. The bridge was built in 1929.

The alternative designs differ in: how the piers will affect the creek channel, affect neighboring properties, and alter the approaches to the bridge. They also differ in bridge height and in the thickness of the deck.

The short-steel-truss design is “very similar” to the present bridge, Caltrans says. ________________________________________________________________

The long-steel-truss design would be taller than the existing bridge.

It would have overhead bracing, which would put a limit on the height of vehicles that could use it.

Approximately 120 of the vehicles that now cross the bridge each day are trucks.



Under this alternative, the bridge deck would be two feet thicker than it presently is. It would also cover more land and water, and this would have “moderate impacts to adjacent properties,” Caltrans noted.  _______________________________________________________________

The suspension-cable design under consideration would have towers at each end, anchoring the cables supporting the bridge deck.

There would be “no piers” in the creek and there would be “no change to the current road alignment,” according to the state.





A spot check of residents attending Thursday’s meeting found many  people skeptical of the need to replace the bridge but resigned to it.

The hot-button issue was what will happen to traffic on Highway 1 and the intersecting levee road during the estimated 18 to 24 months of rebuilding. Caltrans has two alternative proposals for a temporary bridge, but each would be able to accommodate only one direction of traffic at a time.

Provision would be made for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, and a stoplight would be installed to regulate vehicle traffic. Vehicle delays would be “about five minutes,” the highway department predicted. The traffic jams on a summer weekend would be huge, numerous people warned.

A bridge too far?

Coming in for virtually no discussion was a smaller bridge about 60 yards north of the Green Bridge. This Highway 1 bridge was also built in 1929, but no mention was made of its condition.

Another bridge too far?

Also left unmentioned was a second small bridge, which is about 50 yards south of the Green Bridge near Marin Sun Farms. What’s the condition of its piers? I wasn’t about to wade around in the muck to find out.

A “draft environmental document will be made available for public review and comment in mid-2016,” according to Caltrans. “The final environmental document is expected to be issued by early 2017, and design completion will be in late 2018.

“Construction is expected to begin in three to four years and last approximately two to three years.”

People wanting to have their concerns considered in Caltrans’ planning can write the state at: <>.

Caltrans plans to hold a public meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. this Thursday, March 9, at West Marin School to discuss replacing the Green Bridge which carries Highway 1 over Papermill Creek in Point Reyes Station.

You’re familiar with Caltrans’ bridge work, I’m sure. Its star-crossed replacement of the eastern span of the Oakland Bay Bridge has become an endless story in the Bay Area news media.

Caltrans, which wants to spend $5.8 million replacing this bridge, says it has come up with four designs for a new one. The public will have a chance Thursday to comment on them.

In the mid-1800s, Olema was a far busier place than Point Reyes Station, and a ferry carried travelers going back and forth between the two towns. In 1875, the County of Marin built the first bridge in this location. Its modern replacement was obviously built in 1929.

This 100-foot-long span on Highway 1 carries approximately 3,000 vehicles per day, 4 percent of them trucks, Caltrans reports.  The 10,000-foot-long Bay Bridge on Interstate 80 in comparison carries about 240,000 vehicles per day between Oakland and San Francisco.

Caltrans questions whether the 24-foot-wide Green Bridge is earthquake safe, saying its structure is okay, but its “deck geometry” is “basically intolerable.”

— 1959 photo by D.M. Gunn, courtesy of Dewey Livingston

The old Tocaloma Bridge was built in 1927 to carry Sir Francis Drake traffic over Papermill Creek in the town of Tocaloma, which lies 1.8 miles east of Highway 1 at Olema. The bridge was designed by J.C. Oglesby.

Oglesby also designed the matching Alexander Avenue bridge still in use in Larkspur. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Oglesby’s old Tocaloma Bridge as it looks today.

The new Tocaloma Bridge carrying Sir Francis Drake traffic over Papermill Creek is immediately upstream from the old bridge. The state built the new bridge in 1962 at a cost of $210,000.

San Antonio Creek forms the boundary between Marin and Sonoma Counties, as seen from the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road while heading west.

The San Antonio Creek Bridge along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road straddles the Marin-Sonoma county line just east of Union School.

The 102-foot-long bridge over San Antonio Creek was built in 1919 and replaced in 1962.

The continuous-concrete-slab construction of the 1919 bridge still looks solid. However, the bridge’s width and deteriorating pavement brought about its being replaced with the wider, better-paved bridge beside it.

When I set off to shoot these photos, I was well aware that West Marin’s abandoned bridges are in scenic locales, but this view from the old San Antonio Creek Bridge was, nonetheless, a pleasant surprise.

If Caltrans has its way, the Green Bridge will likewise be abandoned in the near future. Will it then become an historic relic like these? Or will it be cut up and sold as scrap iron?

The California Highway Patrol in this area needs to do better enforcing the law and obeying the law. The officers seem to be performing as expected for the most part but not always. Here are three quick examples of problems:

• A fair number of motorcycles being ridden up the coast are so loud they disturb people and wildlife all along the way. As the National Park Service explains, “Some motorcyclists choose to use modified pipes, which have the effect of increasing noise. As a result, motorcycles can often be heard far into the backcountry.”

Modifying tailpipes to increase a motorcycle’s noise is illegal, but the CHP shows very little interest in enforcing the law despite the magnitude of the problem. The American Motorcycle Association itself warns, “The AMA believes that few other factors contribute more to misunderstanding and prejudice against the motorcycling community than excessively loud motorcycles.

“All motorcycles are manufactured to meet federally mandated sound-control standards. Unfortunately, a small number of riders who install unmuffled aftermarket exhaust systems perpetuate a public myth that all motorcycles are loud.”

• A driver in Point Reyes Station was cited for tailgating, I was pleased to read in the local press a couple of months back. We need more such enforcement throughout West Marin. “Most rear end accidents are caused by tailgating,” warns “To avoid this, use the ‘three-second rule.’ When the vehicle ahead of you passes a certain point, such as a sign, count ‘one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three. This takes about three seconds. If you pass the same point before you finish counting, you are following too closely.

“Sometimes you will need more than a ‘three-second’ cushion. Give yourself a ‘four-second-or-more cushion’ when… crowded by a tailgater. Allow extra room between your car and the car ahead. Then, if you need to slow down you can do so gradually. You will be able to avoid braking suddenly — and being hit from behind by the tailgater.” I would add that slowing down also makes sense at night when you’re more likely to encounter wildlife on the road.

Tailgating is a recipe for road rage particularly in West Marin. Here drivers can go for several miles (particularly at night) before finding a safe place to pull off the road and let tailgaters pass.

• If a film company plans to shoot on or adjacent to a county road in Marin County, it must first get a permit from the county Public Works Department. Among the provisions of the permit are that: 1) The film company must hire off-duty California Highway Patrol officers to direct traffic since the county doesn’t want nonprofessionals doing it. 2) If filming stops traffic, the road must be reopened every three minutes to let vehicles through.

For the motoring public, these instructions are clear and explicit, but as an article by Beau Evans in the Feb. 26 Point Reyes Light reported, the Highway Patrol doesn’t feel bound by county regulations.

On Feb. 11, officers from the Sonoma County district of the California Highway Patrol handcuffed a 78-year-old driver on the Tomales-Petaluma Road when she became upset that officers were allowing a film company, Bandito Brothers, to overstay its time blocking the road. The lack of proper enforcement caused her to miss a doctor’s appointment.

When she tried to get some help from an officer, he instead tried to bully her, “aggressively” ordering her to get back in her car, she later wrote Marin County Adult Protective Services. She got back in her car but got out again 10 minutes later to ask how much longer the holdup would be, according to the summary in The Light. “Then [the officer] got very angry,” she noted.

With the driver upset at being forced to miss a doctor’s appointment, officers decided she was “irrational” and placed her in handcuffs “for her own safety.” Or so the CHP reported.

You’ve probably noticed that bullying members of the public has become a standard police practice all around the country these days. Officers use shows of anger to establish their authority when there’s no need to do so. It doesn’t earn them any respect, and it can create problems. The elderly driver received a cut hand and bruised wrists from the handcuffs. The CHP tried to dismiss her injuries as no more than reopening old wounds, claiming that handcuffs won’t cut anyone. But as the driver noted, our skin gets thinner as we age. I can vouch for that myself.

So why would the Highway Patrol be so indifferent to the needs of the public and so solicitous of the needs of the film company shooting a Kia commercial? Even though officers are on hand to ensure traffic safety, state government is not paying for their overtime. The film company is, and this too often results in CHP officers acting as if their role is to control the public for the benefit of the film crew, not the other way around.

The Marin Public Works Department has previously reminded the Marin County Area CHP that it is bound by the three-minute limit. However, the CHP officers in Tomales that day were from Sonoma County, and the spokesman there said his office wasn’t aware of Marin’s three-minute regulation.

The Light also quoted a state CHP Film Media spokesman as saying that despite the regulation, officers have “discretion” to ignore time limits on county roads. The spokesman acknowledged, however, that there’s nothing in writing that gives them the discretion to help film companies at the expense of the motoring public.

With officers acting as if they’re on the payroll of the film companies, could there possibly be a conflict of interest?

In learning to read, some five-year-old students are browsing through books of animal pictures. “Look,” one boy exclaims t0 the teacher. “A frickin’ elephant.” The teacher is startled: “What did you just say?” The boy replies, “A frickin’ elephant.” With the teacher looking increasingly uncomfortable, the boy adds, “See. It says so in the book.” The teacher looks, and sure enough, the picture is captioned, “African elephant.”

At least that’s how the story came to me.

This week’s posting will be sparser and less sage than usual. Just as I began working on this posting tonight, my computer’s iPhoto software froze, and for the moment I’m able to get access to only a few of the photos I’ve shot in the last 10 years. However, I always back up what’s on the computer, and I’m hoping that with a Herculainian effort by a techie, I will be able to recover the remaining photos.

Uninvited guests.

If one leaves a door open at night around here, raccoons are bound to wander in for a meal. They love pet food, and they can make a mess — as many West Marin residents have discovered to their chagrin. More than a few times over the years, people have called the Sheriff’s Department frightened that someone was trying to break into their home. When a deputy arrived, however, the intruder not infrequently turned out to be a raccoon on the roof.

A doe rests in the shelter of a coyote bush uphill from Mitchell cabin. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

The deer story that’s making the rounds these days is a recording of a call to a Fargo, N.D., radio station from a woman who wants some deer-crossing signs moved. Whether or not the recording is legitimate, it’s hilarious. Click here to listen.

This winter’s ladybug population is the biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s beneficial to have ladybugs in a yard. The variety around here eat aphids and scale insects. Good-hearted as she is, Lynn has rescued hundreds of ladybugs from inside the cabin during the past month and put them in plants on the deck. Birds don’t eat them because of their taste, but spiders have no hesitation.

A raccoon in prayer.

A raccoon drags the soles of its paws down a window, creating a racket inside the cabin. I think of this as a raccoon’s way of praying, a sort of raccoon hymn performed with the hope that it will call down a few slices of bread from above.