Let’s start with the wildlife and move on to language and politics.


A female Anna’s hummingbird at my cabin. The website Hummingbirds in Motion reports, “The hummingbird (scientific family: trochilidae) does not fly in the same way other birds do. They can fly forward, backward, up, down, and even upside-down. The motion of their wings changes its angle with each flap. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds flap their wings horizontally in the shape of a figure 8. They also expand and contract their tail feathers, which allows them to hover in mid-air. However, hummingbirds flap their wings like this on an average of 50 times per second, and during courtship they can flap their wings up to 200 times a second.”

100_4979.jpgRed-winged blackbirds, with a few tri-color and Brewer’s blackbirds thrown in, forage outside my kitchen window. Stanford University researchers say the diet of the locally ubiquitous red-winged blackbird “includes few spiders; grass and forb seeds; rarely fruit. Young [are] fed 100 percent insects.” And what, you non-gardeners may ask, is “forb?” Wikipedia notes, “A forb is a flowering plant, with a non-woody stem, that is not a grass. Since it is non-woody, it is not a shrub or tree either. Thus most wild and garden flowers, herbs and vegetables are forbs.”

Male red-winged blackbirds fight ostensibly over seeds but mainly to establish their place in the flock’s hierarchy.


Harbor seals sunning themselves at the mouth of the Russian River in Jenner. Harbor seals spend roughly half their time on land and half in the water. They need their time on land to maintain body temperature, meaning that people should view them from a distance lest they be scared back into the water.

A blacktail doe watching me on my deck.

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A young buck in the shade of my persimmon tree. Blacktails love both the tree’s fruit and its leaves.

Turning now to language… As we were chatting last week, Inverness Park resident Linda Sturdivant was toying with her blonde locks when suddenly she said, “I don’t like the way my hair looks. I’m going to go home and dye it.”

“You don’t need to diet,” I assured her.

“I always dye it,” she responded.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it makes my hair look better.”

“Why would your hair look better if you diet?”

To an eavesdropper, we would have sounded like George Burns and Gracie Allen, with me playing the role of Gracie.

As it happens, former Point Reyes Station resident Sheila Castelli sent me a similar story last week from her new home in Taos: “The County Ag Fair was this past weekend at the ‘One Eye Gonzales Building,’ as announced on the radio. I thought this a quite funny name for such a substantial building. But I happened to see a banner in town for the fair, and it actually is the Juan I. Gonzales Building.”

Obviously words mean different things to different people. Nina Howard of Inverness and I were discussing the meaning of the word “politics” a few months back. “Can union organizing be considered politics?” I asked. “Or are politics limited to government?”

“If they’re not, they should be,” replied Nina flatly. End of discussion.

Unfortunately, political rhetoric in this God-forsaken country no longer bears much resemblance to rational thought. Take, for example, the campaigning of Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, formerly a lackluster senator from Tennessee. In courting the conservative vote, Senator Thompson has claimed “the Virginia Tech massacre proved that students should be allowed to carry guns on campus,” to quote the Sept. 1-7 Economist.

If Senator Thompson were right, highschoolers should also be packing heat to defend themselves. Year after year, they’re far more likely than college students to be gunned down in the vicinity of their schools.

To keep order in a well-armed classroom, teachers would, of course, have to be able to outgun their students, but that would merely require state-of-the-art weaponry plus a mastery of marksmanship and fast draw.

Senator Thompson may argue that because college students are older, they would be more responsible with their guns than high school students, but don’t believe it. Around the time I was a student at Stanford, members of an on-campus fraternity got drunk one night and shot out windows in a women’s dormitory across the street. That couldn’t happen at a high school because the students wouldn’t be old enough to drink.

As Winston Churchill aptly observed in 1920: “Politics are almost as exciting as war — and quite as dangerous.”

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Another snake in the grass… Friday morning, I spotted this small gopher snake warming itself in the sun near the top of my driveway. Gopher snakes can grow to nine feet long and often live to be teenagers. In captivity, they sometimes live into their 20s. The snake has a large shield on its nose for burrowing in search of small mammals.