Category Archives: Fall 2012

Ring Mountain Roundelay with Michael – 17 December 2012 –

Longer shadows out there and cooler nights but much warmth in a circle of friends. Lew

Ring Mountain, perhaps The Hobbit’s Gollum is below hugging his “birthday-present treasure” as we head up the trail. Still it might not be so precious – more cursed if it was the stolen Ring of the Nibelung. Or maybe the mountain is named for another magic ring, one that might make you all knowing, enable travel to different worlds, provide immortality, invisibility or one that contains a part of Lord Voldemort’s soul. You might read that Ring Mountain was named a bit prosaically for George E. Ring who was a respected Marin County Supervisor from 1895 – 1903 but that can’t be the explanation. Another more magical one presents itself. There are curious ovals and circles on about 30 of the mountain’s boulders, ancient Indian petroglyphs whose meaning stirs the imagination. And it’s not only the carvings and connections with our previous forbears on the trail – Miwok Forayers but with these rocks themselves wandering in the depths of the earth like some Greek heroes. After these great pressures and temperatures for millions of years, they emerge into the sunlight on Ring Mountain. and by a remarkable high school student and it is a destination in Sacred Places North America by Brad Olsen:

We head up the Phyllis Ellman Trail. Mrs. Ellman, called “Mother Botany”, was another of the stalwart women of Marin who made an enormous difference because of her defense of the land on the Tiburon Peninsula and elsewhere in Marin at Audubon Canyon Ranch. Later, after moving to Glen Ellen she continued her calling at the Bouverie Preserve.

We’ve actually haven’t had rain during this hiking series. The night before this hike the weather was a little chancy (think pounding rain) but once again sunshine brightened our way. Wet and slippery under foot but we have a goal up there, the guy in the white pants.

Circling up for conversation and a view. Just above the poplars we see San Quentin Point and to the right, the Richmond San Rafael Bridge stretching across San Pablo Bay. A Coast Live Oak (alias Quercus agrifolia) hugs a Blue Schist Knocker at the left of the picture.

The conversation continues as Inge emerges from Michael’s profile, great to have her on board for the hike and potluck. Good luck to her as she develops some cooking classes.

Well, maybe it’s time now to add some salient information. Hikes with Michael are always rich in flora and fauna (alias Footloose Forays) ffFF, but also rich with the multitude of asides, new angles, wild words, fresh ways of thinking – the hikes are effin’ great. Thanks for rattling our cage, Michael! Why, the door is open!

Sometimes didactic, sometimes Socratic the ideas keep moving and shaking. Michael is our gadfly, devil’s advocate with amazing ids & wide ranging recollections often in Latin. And, oh, the words. Petrichor leaps to mind: Maybe you all could add one you recall to a “word backpack”.

The lichens give an autumnal feeling to this rock in a surround of young yarrow. We saw massive Blue Schist Knockers along the trail, we’d seen some on our Mt. Burdell Hike as well. Outcroppings of Blue Schist were favored by Native Americans for ceremonial sites and are the ones at the top of Ring Mountain.

The conversation continues with some neat triangulation. We are all Italians, some things are so much clearer with the hands. It’s the conversation moving into dance.

You can see the remains of shells like confetti on the ground. Who knows how deep this site might be with the remains of hundreds of years of Coast Miwok “potlucks”. Michael explained that the Miwok language was one of 80 to 90 distinct languages spoken within what are now the boundaries of today’s California. He relayed that it would have been far more complex than say, going to Europe and trying to understand one of those native languages or dialects.

Here Michael’s found a remarkable Coast Miwok grinding stone with spectacular symmetry. We enjoyed the calming background music of the seasonal stream nearby that makes its way down to Triangle Marsh by the Bay.

The straw colored hills beginning to show their green are highlighted by this superb Toyon providing food for Cedar Waxwings, American Robins and many others. But for us, it’s a splendid splash of color along our muted trail.

Michael mentioned a book that called these Lombardy Poplars “the exclamation points of man”. The phrase comes from a remarkable book by Edgar Anderson entitled, Plants, Man And Life “It is a freak form of the Italian black poplar, which turned up years ago. It is like black poplar in everything except that its branches grow straight upwards alongside the main trunk instead of spreading away from it. Cuttings were rooted from the original freak tree, and then cuttings were made from them, and cuttings from these in turn. So from hand to hand and from nursery to nursery these upright black poplars have spread around the world.” (P.76) After this he gets into a fascinating discussion of “homologous variation” now calling them “sports” and pointing out that they occur widely in nature. The book proceeds into a fascinating discussion of the study of cereal crops by a Russian botanist named Vavilov who discovered five areas of primal growth for crop plants on earth. Anderson writes “In these few centers, an insignificant fraction of the earth’s surface, is much more variability of the crop plants than in the rest of the world put together.”

Looking north in San Pablo Bay we see the East Brother Light Station now also a Bed and Breakfast. Michael added that it would be a noisy stay on a foggy night, otherwise all the pleasures of island living. They have a fun website:

Also across the Bay we can just see the Marin Islands over the western anchorage of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge. He told us that there are the larger East Island and the 3 acre West Island, the one which is a bird sanctuary and the one we could view with a telescope from Kit’s back garden. East Island was bought by Thomas Crowley, a SF Bay Tugboat baron, for $25,438 in 1929. They were purchased for a nature preserve in 1992.

Let’s see, I think Michael said Hairy Cat’s Ear (Hypochoeris radicata) in the Sunflower Family but I was remiss in checking out the leaves at the base which according to Lilian McHoul in Wild Flowers of Marin should look like dandelion leaves. She quotes Thoreau at the start of her book, “How much virtue there is in simply seeing.” I’ve been enjoying a swell site that focuses on Marin:

And now, what we’ve all had been waiting for, POTLUCK AT SUE MORRIS’S HOUSE! YES! We brought our appetites and left our shoes. When we arrived, Sue was welcoming us at the door with a big smile, I know, that was the picture. Thank you Sue for a fantastic time! You made everything so comfortable, relaxed, and lively! And what a bravo smorgasbord!

Setting up the Potluck in the kitchen, sharing the moment. Now to try some of those recipes at home, yes, I will try this at home.

This is not a Sierra Tree Frog. It’s Jeannie’s Frog King or better, Frog Queen about to sing a sweet song. Unforgettable rendition. Michael captures the moment while Charlotte and Armand move on with the conversation. Maybe we could add Michael’s potluck photos to fill out the party coverage or anyone else’s?

Bon Voyage to our traveling Footloose Forayers: Sue Morris & Laura going to the Galapagos with Michael and to Mari & her husband with Michael to Tanzania!! Did I leave anyone out? We are such a traveling group – remembering Larry’s trip to Egypt and Kit’s to Cuba (earlier Sue Morris had done this cultural exchange as well), Sue Baum to Turkey-Croatia-Italy, Jeannie going to Scotland with her grandkids, now kids not so much, Carol Brost to Turkey, Anne Caple to Wales, Nancy to Southern France, Margie Guggenheim to Antarctica but not this year, Heidi bicycling vast distances for Aids Support, Louise going on ocean voyages, Karen going to India but I think that was last year and then our super Explorer and Guide Michael like a butterfly in so many Ports of Call. And I have missed many of your further forays and not even touched dramatic domestic trips. Forgive me for that, I’ll pay better attention. Looking forward to getting to know you all better and further. Amazing to have all this adventuring among us, to go away and to come back home to our trails around the Bay sharing the moments together, what a great pleasure!!

We do, of course, remember our friend Maureen, one of the FF Charter members who passed ahead on the longer trek this year. We mark her courage, bravery and her wonderful “wicked” sense of humor. We’ll miss her along the trail and 11:30 AM will always be a special time along the way. And we’ll long remember her trip to the African bush with Dottie just last July, it seems like yesterday.

Footloose Fall 2012 has been great fun to share with you all, kind of “catch a falling star and put it in your pocket”. Thanks for all of your encouraging comments, much appreciated. Thanks to Michael, Jim Coleman and Don McLaurin for leading the hikes with such aplomb. Thanks to Jeannie for keeping us on the straight and not so narrow. Thanks to Scott for all of his work on a composite edition of Fall 2012. Longest night of the year coming up, Happy Solstice. Enjoy all those sparkling stars overhead. Looking forward to Spring Footloose 2013 with you! Lew

Our Penultimate Hike, Deer Island with Michael – 10 December 2012

TWTHTW, Best, Lew
Deer Island on a sunny Monday toward the cusp of Winter, it’s a fine day for a hike and a fine day for shaking off the mulligrubs.

The Marin County Open Space District which manages Deer Island came into being with the passage of a measure in 1972 championed by the Marin Conservation League. The League is a powerful advocate and protector of the parks & open space in Marin County that we enjoy today. “In the mid 1930s four Marin women in lives of comfortable circumstance, who did not have to take on the task of saving Marin’s natural resources, did so. Sepha Evans, Caroline Livermore, Portia Forbes and Helen Van Pelt, environmentalists before the term was coined, shook the powers that be to start a movement that eventually saved many of Marin’s open space treasures – and founded an organization that still carries on their activist tradition” cf.

Deer Island was acquired by the MCOSD in 1978 and 1983.

Deer Island was once an island in the greater Bay around the turn of the 19th century. “The house owned by Antonio DeBorba was surrounded by water and could be reached only by rowboat. When Mr. DeBorba couldn’t get the state or county to build a dike, he did it himself, paying a dredger $100 a day to deepen the creek. Mr. DeBorba spent thousands of dollars for a pump to take water out of the marsh. He also donated the land for the wagon road which later became Highway 37.” Novato Township Land Grant to World War II by May Rodgers Ungemach, p. 113. This continued the process begun after the hydraulic mining of the Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada poured millions of tons of sediment into the Bay, a lot of it in San Pablo Bay. Michael pointed out that our hike on Treasure Island (7 Nov 2011) was also “courtesy” of this Gold Rush sediment.

The Gold Rush had some echoes in Marin County when in 1863 eight mining claims were recorded in the Novato area in just two days, June 19 and 20, 1863. Peter Smith partnered with the Novato’s first postmaster, Henry Jones, in this mining bubble. Smith was credited as the discoverer of the “Smith ledge” on Deer Island which was claimed by the Smith Gold and Silver Mining Company. Another venturer, Ernest Schweisau discovered a ledge of quartz (as Michael pointed out gold, silver and quartz are often found together) on Deer Island invested in by Adolphus Scown and others in the Schweisau Gold and Silver Mining Company. In addition there were a Novato Gold and Silver Mining Company and a Deer Island Gold and Silver Mining Company. Speculators appeared in Sausalito, Bolinas, on Mt. Tamalpais and in San Rafael in 1863. The Marin County Journal commented, “May not the capital of our obscure and unpretending little county yet become famed among her gorgeously gold and silver bespangled sister counties who flout their wealth and fame to the four corners of the earth.” Another writer observed the next development, “The whole matter, in our opinion, was the scheme of sharpers, which has resulted in a “grand fizzle”. The mineral does exist in our county, there is no question, but not in sufficient quantities to pay for the expense of obtaining it.”
cf. The Novato Historian, April-June 2008, vol. 32, number 2, F 1 & 2)

After these efforts to strike it rich, Deer Island and Black Point became an area of dairy ranches. Deer Island had a large dairy and a cheese factory, the California Creamery Company whose cheeses were shipped to San Francisco. “Manuel Branco and his family had been living and working at the Deer Island Ranch since the California Creamery began the new operation. In 1893, Branco took advantage of an opportunity to go into partnership with Antonio DeBorba as proprietors of the creamery now renamed the Black Point Creamery. Within a short time, they were reported to be “in full operation and turning out a fine grade of butter and cheese.” cf. Novato Township pp. 163-6 Both DeBorba and Branco were immigrants from the Azores bringing with them their experience as dairymen. For all of the initial glitter of earlier gold seekers it was the agriculture and commerce of California that produced the real wealth.

Michael is sharing some succulent information from Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. He read from the beginning about the fear and trembling of many people to the presence of wild mushrooms called FUNGOPHOBIA. “For there are few things that strike as much fear in your average American as the mere mention of wild mushrooms or “toadstools.” Like snakes, slugs, worms and spiders, they’re regarded as unearthly and unworthy, despicable and inexplicable – the vermin of the vegetable world. And yet, consider this: out of several thousand different kinds of wild mushrooms in North America, only five or six are deadly poisonous!” Here’s the link to latest issue of BAY NATURE, a terrific magazine with a neat story currently – “Into the Kingdom of Mushrooms”. A great gift for someone or even yourself and additional at no extra cost, a column each issue called “Ask the Naturalist” by Michael Ellis. What a deal!

After the entry, we had the choice of going to the left, right or straight up the hill, Up the hill it was on the DeBorba Trail. You can see the long shadows cast by the sun just after 10 AM as it approaches its lowest altitude above the horizon moving toward the Southern Solstice, the time at which the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky.

Michael is talking about the whole shebang (or perhaps the Big Bang) here tracing back the sediment in the Bay to the gold in the Sierra to the course of earth’s geological history – the gold, silver and quartz showing up together sometimes in the cooling magma to the upheavals and the wearings away of the mountains to the really early origins when the earth came to be. Take a breath.

This is a pond that was especially formed for wildlife adjacent to the Novato Sanitary Tertiary Treatment Ponds. There is a bloom of duck weed that is as the name implies food for the ducks, others and shows promise for many uses.

As last, a recognizable avian ambassador, with the distinctive tuft of the Cedar Waxwing almost showing. We saw flocks of Cedar Waxwings both up on the DeBorba Trail and here on the Deer Island Loop Trail. They perched obligingly in the tops of trees on leafless branches so that Michael was able to get them in his scope for all the group to see.
Prior to the Waxwings we saw a pair of White Tailed Kites in a mating display with the male lowering his legs and extending his talons at times in flight. They swooped about each other in a series of swirls. A third Kite seemed to join the roundelay perhaps another reason for the flight display. Later on the far side of the island, we were able to see one of them catch his prey and enjoy lunch on a fencepost. It wasn’t our Waxwing. Like so many areas of science, this bird has undergone an identity change from White-Tailed Kite to Black-Shouldered Kite and back to White-Tailed Kite. The Black-Shouldered Kite is found in Australia and the African and European expressions are called the Black-winged Kite.

Some excitement as a Sharp-shinned Hawk flies by and perches on a distant branch. Michael explained that he/she specialized in small birds for much of its diet. It follows a flap, flap, flap and then glide pattern. The Sharp-Shinned is named for the thin ridge which runs along the bird’s long legs, or tarsus, giving the appearance of a “sharp shin”. And a rich site from Pennsylvania:

Rounding the bend where Western fence lizards love to play on the ties in the summertime by this seasonal watercourse.

Lunch in the sunshine at a nice overlook of the wetlands. Red-tailed hawks glide overhead while we eat:

Some of us wearing festive red.

Charlotte gets a nice close up of an Agaricus mushroom:

Thanks for the photo Charlotte! Michael showed us how to detach the stem and invert the cap on a piece of paper & cover overnight – the spore print shows up in the morning and is a part of identification. But be careful not to blow the spores. The linear pattern is quite striking.

This was a wide-open view of the wetland, mudflats and Costco. We were able to see the successful White-tailed Kite on a fence post as we were cheering for a low flying Northern Harrier to be successful in his quest as well. We saw the Harrier a number of times on the walk, its distinctive white rump patch clear as he went by. On one occasion, a group of short necked Canadian geese were surprised by his fly-by and took off in alarm even though they are much too large a prey item for him.

Enjoying a solitary Buckeye forming a perfect profile against the sky

Returning to Go having enjoyed Park Place, Boardwalk and all the rest

P.S. A few historic photos from NOVATO TOWNSHIP Land Grant to World War II by May Rodgers Ungemach (Novato Historical Guild, 1989) 3rd Edition 1997

“The Brancos’ only child, Maria, was born in their Deer Island home which still remains on the property.” P.213

Enjoying Plan B with Michael on the Fairfax-Bolinas Road – 3 December 2012

Heading out to the Cataract Falls Trailhead on Monday morning we encountered the following message: ROAD CLOSED. Let’s see, “Always have something in your back pocket. It doesn’t always come out the way you’ve planned. When life serves up lemons, make lemonade.” The last one I learned was a phrase that Dale Carnegie used in his writing and speaking, you may recall that best seller of 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People. In checking this out on Ask, along with the history of the quotation came an ad for fresh produce from Safeway and some lemonade recipes!

And for a variation on the “road closed” we might try Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

But no need to worry, we have a master of improvisation leading out stalwart group. Michael was awaiting our arrival hooping in the fresh morning sunshine to the beat of some lively African folk songs. Life is a celebration and it goes round and round.

Michael is checking with the Guru as we awaited the arrival of the rest of this morning’s group. He then went over to check on our parking in this Meadow Club parking area and got permission for us. Next was turning the road closed liability into the asset of a new trail unencumbered by cars. The bicyclists of the morning were ecstatic along with us that they could ply the Fairfax-Bolinas Road without the worry of traffic. Four wheel loss, two wheel gain. We were delighted to be able to hike up the middle of a road on which we are usually minding the curves. Here’s some terrific history of the F-B Road which in earlier days was called the San Rafael Bolinas Road:

The Meadow Club Golf Course below with end of the year shadows and Mt. Tamalpais on the horizon. Because we had to stop here and reconnoiter we got to enjoy this spreading park-like elegance rather than the usual glance as we sped by. This is a wow of golf courses designed by Alister MacKenzie in 1927, his first design in America. “Originally he was trained as a surgeon and served as a civilian doctor with the British army during the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902) where he first became aware of the principles of camouflage. During WW 1, MacKenzie made his own significant contributions to military camouflage, which he saw as closely related to golf course design.” He served not as a surgeon in WW 1 but, are your ready for one lovely word, as a camoufleur. In a lecture he said that “The brilliant successes of the Boers (during his service in South Africa) were due to a great extent to their making the best use of natural cover and the construction of artificial cover indistinguishable from nature.” He writes that “the chief object of every golf course architect worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature (and presumably also the hazards) so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself.”
He worked in an era before large scale earth moving became a major factor in golf course construction, and his designs are notable for their sensitivity to the nature of the original site.” cf. The Meadow Club is in the DNA of the greatest golf courses in the world: St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, Augusta and many more.

Sean Tully is the assistant superintendent of the Meadow Club and is passionate about classic golf course architecture. Below is an interview and article that compels even if your are not a golfing enthusiast.

History lesson –

Comforting to know the sign below. Interesting article in the Chronicle this morning about hunting at the interface of Pt. Reyes National Seashore and the base of Tomales Bay:

As we walk up the road, we are observed but only in passing since he “only has eyes for her”.

Michael also talked about the humbler creation when he picked up a passing (maybe it was just sitting there) potato bug which cleans up and recycles the bits and pieces of nature and at the same time can provide a great protein snack to birds like hawks, chickens, guinea hens, grosbeaks and fellow travelers.

Here are some close-ups of some potato bugs alias Jerusalem Cricket in an article with a sense of humor:
and a remarkable picture on Flickr:
American Kestrel Eating Potato Bug | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

The Fire Lookout Tower on the top of Mt. Tam shows some definition as we enjoy a banked curve, cornering well on the Fairfax-Bolinas Road.

Looking down on the expanse of another part of the Meadow Club Golf course are two acorn woodpeckers (at least they were acorn when we saw them earlier, the white on the head is troubling – Hairy? Downy?) Michael talked about the decades (1971) long study of acorn woodpeckers at the Hastings Reservation in Carmel Valley by Walt Koenig and Joey Haydock which Koenig describes as “one of the most bizarre mating systems in the world”.

Michael shares the elaborate and intertwined relationships of the Acorn WP. The following article is excellent even though the title is a little off-putting:

We’ve crested at the trailhead where a variety of trails begin: Pine Mountain, Carson Ridge – 4 June 2012, Azalea Hill to Lake Lagunitas – 4 April 2011, Little Carson Creek – 5 April 2010). Michael pointed out that the Bishop Pine is the only native Marin pine tree and is found on Mt. Vision and other places in Pt. Reyes National Seashore and on Pine Mountain in the center of the picture. and in thinking about Mt. Vision we recall the Vision Fire of 1995 which provided a splendid opportunity for the fire born seed spread of the Bishop Pine.

You may recall Armando’s concern about fire on Mt. Tam which he mentioned on one of our hikes, here is an enlightening history:

In the center of the picture you can see the low adapted growth of plants over an area of serpentine.

Looking toward San Pablo Bay to the east. We talked a little later about Ian Fleming’s choice in naming his hero. Michael gave us clues. Ian Fleming was an avid birder. He apparently found the name on his bookshelf.
Michael suggested that had Fleming written today, he could have named him “Sibley, David Sibley!”

We came upon this Black-tail deer track on a short walk up to a spot for lunch. Michael observed that the print shows both the front toes and rear Dewclaws indicating that deer was at considerable speed to show the splay of the whole foot. Check into Black-tailed Deer in this useful site:

Undulations and diagonals toward Mt. Tam

We are joined at lunch by a passing Australian Shepherd dog wondering if we’d like to share or perhaps consider having some group directives.

Because you’ve been good and read this far, here are some shots from the Cataract Trail on our hike with Armando, 1st March 2010.

P.S. Mari recommended a film she’d seen recently – SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN and Heidi enjoyed seeing an oldie (1988) EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY

Muir Beach Hike with Michael – 26 November 2012

Our last visit to the Muir Beach area was with Armando on November 29, 2010 when we had a shuttle hike and came down the newly sculptured Dias Ridge Trail. Two years later this last Monday, we returned to tackle a new trail loop with Michael. Muir Beach used to be called Bello Beach after a Portuguese land owner in the area, Antonio Nunez Bello, who is alleged to have bought the whole hillside for a $10 gold piece! He bought the land from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company. The same company which had earlier sold 611 acres of the future Muir Woods area in 1905 to U.S. Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thatcher Kent for $45,000. Bello’s purchase was called the “T Ranch” and was a grazing area, part of the old Rancho Sausalito. At some point later on, Bello Beach became Muir Beach but it remains very bello or bella to this day.

Michael is talking about the extensive Redwood Creek reclamation project sponsored by the National Park Service, the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy and many other key contributors. The bridge giving us this view is part of the project spanning the creek and its floodplain from the visitor gathering area. He was saying that earlier views of creek maintenance simple involved clearing everything out but a natural creek has downed logs & various natural barriers that do not block the flow and do provide places for salmon and steelhead to spawn.

Heading up the Coastal Trail with the fog softening the profiles.

Here Michael is showing us a sprig of Solanum americanum called variously White Nightshade, American Black Nightshade, Common Nightshade, Smallflower Nightshade, or Glossy Nightshade. It seems to have a bipolar personality some being annual, some perennial. It also is hermaphroditic, pollinated by insects, likes moist soil and ironically doesn’t like shade. Its young green berries are especially toxic as can be the dark, ripe berries as well as other parts of the plant. There is some variation in toxicity from one area to another. The herbaceous flowering plant has a wide and uncertain range not only in the western US but is also found in South America, Kenya, Tanzania, & Hawaii among other locales. It has caused the deaths of children with its toxic levels of glycoalkalids, solanine and solamargine. More irony in that it is used as medicine in various places and some cultures eat the the young shoots.

As some of you will recall when Michael arrived on his motorcycle, he stayed at Slide Ranch which is just a little further up Highway 1. He’s pointing out another place where he lived in Muir Beach over on the far hill.

The place is the home of the author Sam Keen.

View of the parking area in the process of still more improvement.

In the early 1950s Charles and Eleanor Borden decided to settle down on Spindrift Point near Muir Beach. You can just see the brown outlines of their home designed by the noted architect, Henry Hill. The small house was modeled on nautical themes and ship construction. Charles was a famous American sailor who was born in Oakland and first went to sea at the age of 13. He sailed extensively through his life circling the globe four times and crossing the Pacific numerous times in his 17′ boat. Of this special spot he declared, “Thoreau has always been my bible and the Pacific has been my Walden – until I found this place.” He had a special cottage to do his writing authoring numerous books on sailing and sailors as well as articles for journals about his sailing life.

After his death in 1968, Eleanor (Dixie) continued to live in their idyl leading tours over Spindrift Point for the Nature Conservancy and in 1983 at a volunteer for the Point Reyes Bird Observatory began watching gill-netters from her “strategically positioned Muir Beach home counting birds caught in nets.” Michael pointed out that gill netting was perfectly legal at the time. The gill-netters were dropping their nets from the water’s surface all the way to the bottom catching everything and wreaking great havoc with birds, harbor porpoises, and many other marine animals. Eleanor counted the birds in their nets and because “the fisherman did not know that Borden was watching, she was also able to observe attempts to conceal the extent of the bycatch. One day the fisherman, who were now aware of the public outcry over the dead birds on beaches, put 70 bird carcasses into a weighted plastic bag and dumped it overboard . .” (Volunteer Monitor, winter ’02/11) Her work along with others was instrumental in passage of legislation in 1987 imposing strict regulations and closures of the gill net fishery. Eleanor Borden died in fall of 2001 in San Rafael. You can scroll down:

Beginning the 800′ ascent

Michael told us about a Peregrine Falcon Restoration project from 1977. After the population was decimated by DDT, the population came close to extinction. Because of the work of of people like Brian Walton of the Predatory Bird Research Group at UC Santa Cruz and the help of hundreds of volunteers these magnificent birds have returned.

Making a point on the point

And then putting a finer point on it.

Looking down from the same point we see some Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) pull outs on the rocks below. They are the most widely distributed pinniped and can be brown, tan or gray and some in the Bay Area are reddish due to trace elements of iron and selenium. Gregarious animals they like to be close to shore in sub tidal and intertidal zones. They feed in shallow littoral waters with herring, flounder, hake, anchovies and other on the menu. They stick to familiar haul out sites and resting spots. The pups are able to swim and dive within hours of birth.

Hanging a left toward Coyote Ridge

Top of the climb, relaxing in the moment.

This is where the Helen Keller quotation which Michael sent us goes.

Hope Cottage in the fog. It was built by her son, Arturo Richardson, in her honor: George Wheelwright III was Hope’s husband and Auturo’s step father. George was a Harvard Physics professor who with Edwin Land founded the Land-Wheelwright Laboratories, Boston, 1932 and the Polaroid Corporation in 1936.

Heidi has stayed here a couple of times and said it was memorable, view terrific and a long way down to dinner at the Zen Center.

There are an amazing number of links on the net to Hope Cottage.

Some of the housing at the Zen Center at Green Gulch:,162&pageid=1771

Zinnias hanging in there, blooming tough

Along the way at Green Gulch Farm:

Completing our circle

Signposts along our way

November 2010 with Armando, a cooler day on the Dias Ridge Trail. Best thoughts, Lew

Ramble on King Mountain, Larkspur with Michael – 19 November 2012

King Mountain was a fine example of a green belt hike, a happy melding of hills and homes. Fresh after the weekend rains and warm in the sunshine, the trail beckoned. We had that sense of solitude in nature but with the added seasoning of some passing dog walkers. One dog was in heaven to find so many people to throw the ball for him. From Place Names of Marin, “Charles W. Wright, Oakland manufacturer and head of the American Land & Trust Co. bought the 600 acre Patrick King ranch in 1887 and laid out a town. Lots were priced at $125 to $300 and were big enough to pasture horses and raise chickens. Wrights’s British-born wife Georgiana is credited with naming the town for a flower bloom in the hills; she thought the lupine was a larkspur. The post office named Larkspur dates from 1891 and the incorporated City of Larkspur from 1908.”

At the start, Michael shared with us that he was beginning a cluster headache but bravely led us part way round none the less with his rare, signature observations and questions. When he decided to head back down the trail, Jeannie who has hiked in this area frequently volunteered to lead our group round the loop. A big thanks to them both. We all share Kit and Jeannie’s messages for help and recovery.

P.S. Michael pointed out a small, ground hugging plant on a trail cut with trumpet shaped leaves, tried to locate it but didn’t succeed. What was that name? Clutch, Claw, chl, . . . ?

King Mountain is actually two “mountains”, Big King and Little King named for Patrick King, onetime owner of major acreage in Larkspur. (Place Names of Marin by Louise Teather, Scottwall Associates, San Francisco, 1986).

Some Acacia bushes coming up trailside. Michael said that the Acacia reference was recently decided to be the name for only the Australian variety eliminating the many African Acacia species.
This did not sit well in Africa.

Louise added most helpfully that Acacias have gotten a bad reputation unfairly and unscientifically. She shared that there are many other (less showy) trees blooming at the same time that are much more the culprits for allergic reactions.

Looking toward Richmond and the East Bay, Mt. Diablo dominates the horizon. A Chevron tanker is at dock behind Red Rock Island which is for sale “price reduced” from $22 M to under $5 M for 5,78 acres.
The Richmond-SanRafael Bridge leads over to Marin County with its famous roller coaster span. You can see the substantial concrete earthquake retrofit work at the base of the footings. Prior to the bridge’s official opening on Sept. 2, 1956, ferries plied San Pablo Bay from the docks in Richmond to the piers at San Quentin.–San_Rafael_Bridge
A Golden Gate Catamaran Ferry begins to kick up the beginnings of a turkey tail in expectation of Thanksgiving. Maybe that should call them Catamarin?

As we were looking over to San Quentin, Michael was recalling an old Bogart movie where you never saw his face until after the escape from San Quentin and after the plastic surgery. What was the title? Not “Scarface” but yes, so recently forgotten, the walk down Filbert Steps with Don McLaurin when we walked past the house with Bogie’s picture in the window. Turner Classics has that opening sequence. What some of us saw last week with Don on that Filbert Steps Walk:

Looking toward San Quentin, Michael spots the chimney at the site of the old brickworks near Larkspur Landing (near the Melting Pot Restaurant) and recalls how a chimney just over the hill at the McNear’s Brickyear in San Rafael has been a stopping place for migrating Vaux’s Swifts:

He went on to talk about the incredible speed of the swifts, 100 mph straight line flight and how they hang (rather than perch) with velcro-like attachment because they have no opposable claw.
Here is a splendid video of them swarming and landing in Eugene, Oregon set to the music of G.F. Telemann”s Trio Sonata in A Minor for Flutes and Piano.

Michael pointed out that the swifts are migrating from as far the north as British Columbia, Washington and Oregon on their way to Mexico and Central America. Relatively small, they are about 4.75″ long with a wingspan of 12″ and weighing .6 oz or 17 g according to Sibley who mentions that these short tailed swifts have been “aptly described as cigars with wings.”

A Pyracantha (I just found out that Paracantha is genus of tephritid fruit flies!) and a Toyon Bush are happily juxtaposed along the trail providing a great splash of color and food for the native birds and those just passing through. Michael thought that we saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings at a distance, they would delight in this presentation.

Heteromeles arbutifolia
Janet Larner Lowry writes in Gardening with a Wild Heart (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1999) “. . . Nor will naturalizing pyracantha, for although its berries may seem to make birds amusingly inebriated, they will actually expose them to predation and interfere with activities necessary for their survival. Instead, we plant toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia, with its bright hollylike berries at Christmastime, the shrub for which Hollywood is named.”

Teasel starting out and finishing here in a ditch, they like wet places. Michael mentioned that it formerly (and perhaps still?) was used for cording wool. Interesting history in this link though I couldn’t vouch for the uses:http: //

Armand holds a Madrone berry from a Pacific Madrone Tree. The berry is heavy so it falls close to the to the trunk into the leaf litter but it is often carried away by many admirers: birds (mourning doves and band tailed pigeons), rodents, deer and wood rats.
The Strawberry tree Arbutus ‘Unedo’ is a Mediterranean species: and a hybrid Arbutus ‘Marina” has this interesting background:

Tam & Toyon

Perhaps inspired by the seasonal stream bed that we are passing Michael is telling us about “bights” and how they are more shallow than bays. Here with a bit of advertising is a rather nice discussion of bights: Not sure if he got into Forebay but that is fun as well:

We stopped along the trail to ID two scourges of California and the West Coast: French Broom on the top and Scotch Broom on the bottom. The Marin Independent Journal reported last week that the Marin Municipal Water District is preparing an environmental analysis of two plans to tame invasive plants running wild on Mt. Tamalpais. One uses herbicides (glyphosate, a chemical found in Roundup) to rid the mountain of French broom and other invasive shrubs. This would cost about $1.6 M annually while the other plan that forgoes herbicides would cost about $5.8 M a year according to the article: A well written article by John W. Leblanc working with UC Davis titled with a sense of humor i.e. “Getting a Handle on Broom”: &

Walking along the Tam side of King Mt. we found a more open forest canopy here highlighted by a Bigleaf maple:

After lunch as Jeannie led us down the other side of King Mt., she pointed out the shady distinctiveness of this side of King Mt. The presentation is darker and wetter with prominent Redwood growth along with ferns and mosses in this higher moisture area. Here we found some neat examples of California Nutmeg which was used by Native Americans for food, making bows and the sharp pointed needles were used by the Pomo for tattooing.

Torreya californica is not the source of our nutmeg but its fruits are similar in appearance:

Expecting, perhaps, to see Bilbo Baggins coming round one of these boulders

The picnic lunch at an urban interface. Who owns this area? Perhaps a nice donation to the Marin Open Space District? Picnic at the top next time?

A bee on my bumper greeting me on our return.

Wishing everyone much happiness on Thanksgiving, Lew

Time Traveling in San Francisco with Don McLaurin – 12th November 2012

Thanks Don for a great hike along the byways of San Francisco with so much neat material all along the way. Now I remember the 400 year old paneling at Jacks Bar meant for San Simeon by Citizen Hearst and the fellow at breakfast there who inadvertently joined our group. Ah yes, North Beach means that at one time it was on the Bay. Let’s see, what else? Looking forward to our next one! I’ll send this along via INGE since I don’t have your address. Lew


Michael asked Don to put on his SF City Guide hat to lead us on an urban hike along Fisherman’s Wharf and up into the hills around North Beach. We recalled with pleasure our previous hike with Don in the Panhandle/Haight Ashbury area in October of 2010. The Veterans’s Day commute into the City was light and friendly, the weather crisp and clear. We gathered at the Buena Vista Cafe on the corner of Beach and Hyde and famous for its Irish Coffee. With the clanging of the Hyde Street Cable Car in our ears, we knew that we were in the right place.

You can see the red neon sign for the Buena Vista in the far left middle of the picture and the cable car shelter, shall we say pergola just a little closer to us. Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid frame the scene and one swimmer passes a marker on the left. Don shared that the Dolphin Club and the South End Rowing Club allow public entry on alternate days through the week to come in for a swim in the Bay and a hot shower to warm up afterwards, all for $6.50!

Don is explaining how the cable cars literally opened up San Francisco with 53 miles of track by 1889. In early San Francisco the lower classes lived on the hill tops with the wtd living in the flats. The cable car changed that equation. As trolleys and buses became more popular, the cable cars went into decline and in 1947 Mayor Roger Lapham even tried to close the system but a committee fought this move to “modernize”. Fortunately three lines were saved and renovated between 1982 and 1984. They remain an important part of the San Francisco destination and a trade mark for the city.

We see the Ghirardelli sign that shines over the Square and just the peak of the clock tower. The smell of chocolate wafts through the air. Domenico Ghirardelli was born in Rapallo, Italy in 1817 and learned the chocolate trade at an early age. He came to California in 1849 after 12 years in Uruguay and Peru. Here’s a fascinating timeline of his life: and also Don pointed out that the apartment towers we see were intended to be only the beginning with a series going along the waterfront, fortunately the purchase of the Square by William Roth and his mother in 1962 blocked this design.

Don is pointing out that we are standing on U.S. Highway 101. Just below the Hyde St. Pier sign is the familiar highway sign. Before the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed vehicles coming north on 101 would get on a ferry at this point and cross the bay to Sausalito where they would continue north. The Hyde Street Pier is a remarkable collection of ships that played the SF Bay waters in earlier years. and

We visited the Alioto – Lazio Fish Co. at 410 Jefferson St. one of the few remaining in San Francisco. The company is proudly run by “the girls”. Here Annette Traverso describes what is involved in running a fish company “uniquely owned and operated by women”. She is also sharing that they are on the edge of crab season once the negotiations for this year’s prices are finalized.

The crab pots are ready awaiting the agreement:

Don is sharing the history of various cultures who have fished in the bay and the boats they used. Here is talking about the lateen-rigged boats introduced by Italian fisherman in the later 1800s. They depended on their Felucca fishing boats and at their height perhaps 1000 families sailed out from Fisherman’s Wharf. and

On our way to Washington Square with the Powell – Mason Line coming by and the towers of Sts. Peter and Paul Church on the horizon.,_San_Francisco

Don is pointing to the outstretched arm of a fireman on the statue funded by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. People will occasionally put a container of booze in the outstretched fireman’s hand. The 19th Century firefighters had a reputation for being the “Wettest of the West”. While accurate probably not quite what Lille intended.

Treking up toward Telegraph Hill & Coit Tower, the other monument to Lillie Coit’s benefaction. On the left is Mama’s, not to be missed for breakfast or lunch.

On the far corner is the famous Liguria Bakery where we enjoy some of their famous Focaccia.

Waiting patiently

Coit Tower from Jack Micheline Place:

Salute to Coit Tower:

Famous Guardian of Coit Tower

One of the superb murals done during 1934 as the first major relief work commissioned by the U.S. Government as a Public Works of Art Project. The murals need restoration especially in some areas that Don spoke about that are up the stairs behind a locked door (part of the SF City Guide Tour of Coit Tower). But budgetary considerations so far have not made this possible.

Don pointed out this plaque in honor of Grace Marchant who spearheaded the clean-up of this hillside pathway from North Beach to the Embarcadero which had become a dumping ground. Once again an individual made a big difference and left a lasting legacy.

We looked for the Wild parrots of Telegraph Hill but they were away for the day. Here are some Brugmansia in showy bloom but beware:

The 19th Century and the 21st.

Indian Summer at Tom’s Point with Michael – 5 November 2012

Saints be praised. You’ll recall that there was some police action when we were gathering across from Diekmann’s in Tomales on Monday. The IJ today has it covered in today’s edition: I enjoyed the addition of support aircraft.


Michael was able to open some gates for the group figuratively and literally at the Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Tom’s Point Preserve this past Monday. We had a rare opportunity to explore this normally closed area with its coastal scrub and bluff plant communities. There were splendid views in every direction of Tomales Bay, Pierce Point, and the blue Pacific. There was mellow, perfect 70’s weather with a light sea breeze in our faces. A sentinel brown pelican was assigned to monitor our progress and after giving us a number of aerial turns joined us later on the beach. Michael relayed from his PLACE NAMES OF MARIN that George Thomas Wood arrived on board a whaling ship about 1844. The sailor turned into a highly skilled cowboy here with horse and riata. He gained the name of Tom Vaquero and became “a legendary figure in early Marin”. He served as a business agent for the local Miwok Indians many of whom also worked in the lucrative hide & tallow trade trade. He married a local Miwok woman and learned the native language. Later in 1861, Tom Vaquero Wood married again perhaps after the death of his Miwok bride. This time it was to Augustina Sotello who was the god-daughter of James Black, the father in law to Galen Burdell. You’ll recall that the Burdells were married in 1862 so we must wonder if Tom and Augustina were invited to the wedding or perhaps shared the table at Olompali with the Burdells on occasion. Less likely would be Lillie Hitchcock Coit who was away in Paris by 1863 but then she was married in 1868 to Benjamin Howard Coit. It would be great fun to find them all together somewhere . . . perhaps passing on the street while visiting San Francisco and doffing the signature hats of the time. I wanted to include Jack London in the mix too but he’d have been only 3 when Bill Vaquero Wood went to his reward.

The entire Point lies within the San Andreas Fault Zone and you can practically see the fault and the Pacific Plate strike-slipping, steaming, screaming by.

The Pt. Reyes National Seashore comments that two white shark attacks occurred at the mouth of Tomales Bay in 1996. “Sharks may be found anywhere there is a seal haul-out area. In Tomales Bay, the area north of Tom’s Point, Hog Island and Pelican Point are the most likely areas to encounter white sharks.”

From Tom’s Point we could look over to Pierce Point and the trail that the group has enjoyed on a number of occasions mixing views of the ocean with the substantial herd of Tule Elk. We were just able to spot the tops of the Monterey Cypress trees at Pierce Point Ranch trailhead for that hike. A San Francisco law firm obtained title over 50,000 acres on Pt. Reyes Peninsula in 1857 selling Tomales Point to an old friend from Vermont, Solomon Pierce. As the PRNPS writes, “The Pierce family built a small town to support their isolated dairy ranches with commanding views of the Pacific and Tomales Bay.”
There they produced high quality butter in great demand in post Gold Rush San Francisco.

We gathered across from an old Tomales landmark, Diekmann’s General Store under a last quarter moon. The town was sparkling in the early morning sun.

On the Dillon Beach Road, the overlook from Elephant Rocks looking over Tomales Bay with incoming tide. Across is Pierce Point and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Along Dillon Beach you can see Lawson’s Landing just above the farmhouse in the picture.

Elephant Rocks (not Elephant Rock) along the Dillon Beach Road, marvelously sculpted metamorphics, lichen etched and, perhaps, with a number of Miwok grinding holes.

Sheep may safely graze.

Michael discovers some owl pellets beneath a Monterey Cypress with some amazingly sharp contents. Michael mentioned that the Rodentia make up the largest portion of mammalian biomass, followed by Chiroptera. And a neat article from the UK on bat conservation:

Perhaps the best picnic view yet this fall

Along the beach on Tomales Bay, a dike in the sandstone layers with visible quartz crystals (under Michael’s hand)

Our Brown Pelican observer about to take off to the comforts of the bay. An account from the East Bay:

Michael recalled the limerick about the pelican which we all began to memorize: I learned that it wasn’t written by Ogden Nash.

Looking down Tomales Bay toward Hog Island. Thanks Michael, is that an express train I hear?

Bothe-Napa State Park with Michael – 29th October 2012

Some Napa views from our hike last Monday, Happy Halloween. Lew & Pat


Bothe Napa State Park is named after the last owner of the land who sold it to the California State Parks System in 1960. Reinhold Bothe operated a resort in the area called Paradise Park with cabins and a swimming pool popular during the 1930s but fading after WW 2. He’d purchased the land from the Hitchcock/Coit estate after the death of the famous Lille Hitchcock Coit in 1929.

Her parents had bought the land in the 1870s upon their arrival from West Point, N.Y. Dr. Charles M. Hitchcock was a well known surgeon whose background was in the U.S. Army. On one occasion during the Mexican War, he operated adeptly on Jefferson Davis and was able to save his leg after an injury. He became the army’s medical director for the Pacific Coast on his arrival on the Tennessee in 1851 after serving at West Point. Two years after that he went into private practice.

It was into this bustling gold rush city that he brought his 8 year old daughter Elizabeth Wyche Hitchcock. On one tragic occasion in her childhood she escaped a fire in which two of her friends were killed. Most later accounts have her as a 15 year old dropping her school books to help the hand drawn fire engine of Knickerbocker Engine Company Number 5 flagging on its way to a fire. Her enthusiasm enlivened the populace to help and their arrival was first at the fire. She became enamored of following the fire bell and became initially a mascot and later a patroness of all the fireman of the city. Her Victorian parents concerned about the propriety of this fascination tried to break her of these habits by exiling her to the ranch in Napa for two weeks with a maid to watch over her. The isolated house six miles north of St. Helena had the appropriate name of “Lonely”. She acquiesced each time they sent her up there after following a fire call but on returning to the city returned to her fascination.

She was definitely her own person: wearing trousers, riding astride her horse, and later enjoying smoking cigars & playing poker in North Beach. She has some of the adventurous qualities that we see in Jack London but politically they might not have gotten along since her family had Confederate sympathies. Her parents sent her to Paris during the Civil War perhaps hoping to allay anything untoward. She enjoyed the court of Napoleon III along with her ballroom dancing. In 1868 at 25 she married Benjamin Howard Coit who as a caller for the old Mining Exchange had a very important and lucrative office. It was an affectionate marriage of two disparate personalities and they later separated remaining friends until his death in 1885 just six weeks after Dr. Hitchcock had died. She and her mother became widows at almost the same time and moved to the ranch at Larkmead in Napa with a French maid and Chinese servants. There they entertained Robert Louis Stevenson, Joaquin Miller and Professor Joseph LeConte. LeConte was also a unreconstructed Confederate. When he was exploring the Petrified Forest at Calistoga, he stayed at Larkmead. But I digress.

Heavy fog at times along the way today at “almost”a Central Valley Tule experience but as we drove up the Napa Valley on 29 it was clearing up and the fall colors were dazzling.
Some surprising history about the creek’s namesake:
Ritchey Creek leading up Ritchey Canyon with California Sweetshrub
The amazing water delivery from root to top of the Redwood Tree, an astonishing unbroken molecular stream. These are young clones of a cut Redwood but mature Redwoods can reach 379 feet and beyond. The record is 424 for moving a solid stream of water molecules from root to crown. In Redwoods transpiration at these heights is minimized by leaves designed to retain water. Tight scalelike spikes reduce the evaporative surfaces for the drier conditions found at the top. Michael also talked about Richard Preston and his New Yorker articles about climbing the largest Redwoods.

The following are a pair of remarkable spoken accounts of a British tree climber, James Aldred, climbing in the largest Redwood groves sent to me by a friend in Santa Barbara. There’s bit of BBC introduction framing before each account:
Michael twirls a Big Leaf Maple leaf that turns into a Halloween mobile
California Fescue bunch grass along the way. Michael spoke about the replacement of California Native bunch grasses by introduced Eurasian grasses. The grazing of thousands of cattle in the hide trade during the Spanish Colonial era changed the landscape of California.
Keeping things light and memorable, what was he saying?
Picnic on Coyote Peak at a rocky elbow on the trail
Our view at lunch at the violent geologic past now robed in green and brown . . . “thrust upward by plate tectonics pileups of marine and volcanic rocks” “The confluence of alluvial and oceanic geologies create the extraordinary variety of soil types in Napa Valley with over 60 types in the 300,000 acres of the valley.”
Fittingly pumpkiny ending to our hike

Photos of Maureen – 10/8/12

A small collection of photos that have Maureen on board. Lew

Looping Bon Tempe with Michael – 17 September 2012

“Friday Fishwrap” with thanks to Herb Caen:

An enormous rattlesnake is a hard act to follow. Michael shared an account of the finding of the mother of all rattlesnakes in the Bon Tempe area recently and a photo that Armando had sent along. (For your eyes only.) It was located in an area frequented by hikers so had to be moved to another (undisclosed) location – we all have to forget the den area that Michael pointed out to us. Michael reflected that at one time there were these enormous creatures out there (I hesitate to call them specimens.) in earlier eras in America. Memories of reading The Bear by William Faulkner returned from a far off college class in American lit.

The Sky Oaks gate parking permit machine, come a bit early.

Scouting the lake for waterbirds

Double-crested Cormorant practices her ballet moves. Michael mentioned that no one could observe what the double cresting was and that no other cormorant is commonly found on fresh water in our area. Sibley writes that they make hoarse bullfrog like grunting; clear-spoken yaaa yaa ya. David Lukas writes in his excellent BAY AREA BIRDS that they were common in the Bay Area until the 1940s when their populations suffered a major decline until the 1970s. His descriptions in this book are compelling: We know him, of course, as one of our hike leaders and friend.

Going round the bend

Sky blue above, lake blue below and Tam diagonals in-between

a flotilla of Horned Grebes (Eared?)

Coal-black fungal fruiting bodies, fungal domes on a fallen oak, a sign that the tree has succumbed to Sudden Oak Death.

Larry holds a Madrone leave that has been etched with a Madrone Leaf Miner ending the leaf’s ability to photosynthesize.

Michael pulls up his column on crayfish from BAY NATURE, Earlier we’d seen a crow up on a branch feasting on a large crayfish.

Fresh water picnic lunch with greetings

Seasonal stream bed not far from the undisclosed location. Michael talked about rattlesnake families being able to recognize their group by their odor. The large six foot female that was added to the snake den area in the hills above Bon Tempe might not be a part of that family group but . . . . is probably the biggest game in town. Here’s a well-done student project on rattlesnakes:

Michael points out Pilot Knob on the horizon (not the one I grew up with on Lake George, N.Y.) mentioning that we’ve had lunch up there on other Footloose hikes. In November of 2008, we went on that one with Armando and sadly observed the fallen Madrone Giant that had been king for many years.

Anne and Sue inspect the fallen Madrone in 2008.

The upper end of Alpine Lake and perhaps the area where the mega rattlesnake was found.

Bon Mono Lake to Michael and those on board this expedition!

P.S. Recommend the INTERNATIONAL ORANGE exhibit at Fort Point and Fort Point as well!