Thursday, November 29, 2012

Oystergate: Drake's Bay Oyster Farm loses lease

"Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from residential development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. Miller's vision included the continuation of the historic ranching and oyster farming along with the preservation of the grasslands and open scenic vistas. The mix of commercial and recreational uses was the reason the area was designated a National Seashore rather than a National Park."

Schooner Bay, old Johnson's Oyster Point turnoff
I'm not sure if I agree with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision to close historic Drake's Bay Oyster Farm on the Point Reyes National Seashore, in Northern California, in order to redistribute Drake's Estero "to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976."

It seems that our local history has been suddenly rearranged to fit the needs of the present tense—with eco-justice warriors riding roughshod on our land, by changing the storyline.

(Map of Drake Estero and proposed wilderness.)

Salazar said, "I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape." Salazar also stated that:
The decision also ensures that, in keeping with the historic use of the land, existing sustainable ranching operations within the national park will continue.
In 1972, the National Park Service purchased the land that housed the oyster operation and the owner reserved a 40-year right to continue its activities through November 30, 2012. —Department of the Interior via Yubanet
Schooner Bay, Oyster Point turnoff
However, all is not how it sounds on paper. In a nutshell: Point Reyes rancher Kevin Lunny purchased the remainder of a 40-year lease on Johnson's historic oyster farm in 2005. Lunny maintained that the agreement he signed in 2005 held a renewal clause that was not accepted by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It specifically did not contain a non-renewable clause.

Salazar said that his decision is “fulfilling Congressional vision for wilderness.” This is in conflict with the original congressional intent of land use which sought to protect the livelihood of the ranchers.

Schooner Bay
It seems there's a massive conflict of interest here: a collusion of fuzzy science, outdated ecological impact reports, and politics—the elephant seal in the room that nobody's addressing. 
Point Reyes National Seashore was designated as a unit of the national park system by Congress in 1962 to protect more than 80 miles of California coastline. Department of the Interior via Yubanet
[The oyster farm] existed before the creation of the seashore, the permit applies to an area that is within the pastoral zone—“created cooperatively by the federal government and ranchers in the 1960s to protect the land from development and also to continue the tradition of ranching”—not a potential wilderness area. ”—Point Reyes Light
Holding pond; Drake's Estero
Although relatively unmodified by human interventions, especially as compared to highly developed portions of San Francisco Bay, Drakes Estero is not a pristine coastal lagoon. p19 ...other activities in the Point Reyes National Seashore (ranches and recreational use), the ecosystem of Drakes Estero will be affected by both legacy effects of earlier human interventions and also ongoing human activities, even if the oyster farm were closed and all the associated equipment removed. p23 Shellfish Mariculture in Drakes Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 2009
Salazar has singled out historic use of the land via mariculture. or sea-ranching—from ranching. To many folks, Drake's Bay Oyster Farm (DBOF—aka the old Johnson Oyster Farm) was viewed as a prime example of responsible stewardship. 

Lunny supporters and local businesses including Straus Family Creamery, seem to be in agreement that Lunny farmed oysters with integrity and cared for the environment. Lunny turned an ailing historic oyster farm into a clean, sustainable operation. Drake's Bay Oyster Farm attracts some 2.5 million visitors per year, and it's good for the economy—it brings in $85 million with its annual harvest of 460,000 lbs of oysters a year. Lunny claims that the National Park Service fabricated and misrepresented the scientific evidence

The National Park Service paints another darker picture—replete with old, bogus or skewed environmental studies, citing, for example an environmental report originally from New Jersey involving jet skis. . The National Academy of Science said the estero was healthier with the oysters. So, what's really going on here?
While NPS in all versions of Drake's Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary  (2006) accurately depicted the ecological significance and conservation value of Drake's Estero, in several instances the agency selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information on potential impacts of the oyster mariculture operation. Consequently, Drake's Estero: A Sheltered Wilderness Estuary did not present a rigorous and balanced synthesis of the mariculture impacts. Overall, the report gave an interpretation of the science that exaggerated the negative and overlooked potentially beneficial effects of the oyster culture operation. It appears that hasty responses to local stakeholder concerns by NPS led to the publication of inaccuracies and a subsequent series of retractions and clarifications during this process from 2007–2008, which cast doubt on the agency’s credibility and motivation. A lack of coordination among the multiple agencies regulating the mariculture operation also gave mixed messages to stakeholders, fueling the controversy.p71-3 Shellfish Mariculture in Drakes Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore, California, 2009
According to today's KQED blog report, "Feinstein and the National Academy of Sciences claimed the National Park Service is trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment." 

Not only that, it seems that the NPS Environmental Impact report is fictitious and loaded with flawed science and the required 30-day public comment period required by law has been axed. 
The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is due out any day, according to Rachel Jacobson, acting assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
The 30-day public comment period required by law will not have ended before November 30, the date the permit expires.
Secretary Salazar has the option of renewing the permit, however, with or without the EIS. His office said he expects to issue a decision next week.
Critics had called for a complete rewrite of draft EIS for a laundry list of reasons, citing scientific studies concluding the farm does no measurable harm to its natural surroundings and could, through adaptive management, continue to operate within a thriving ecosystem. —Point Reyes Light
One bone of contention may be that Lunny, like his oyster farm neighbors in Tomales Bay, expanded the oyster farm to include Manilla clams to make the business viable. But so did the Tomales bay oyster farms—so that can't be the reason.

Besides, the NPS is not in charge of fishing rights—the State of California is. When Johnson sold the lease in 2004, the oyster business was failing. Lunny revitalized it.

Lunny, who owns the historic "G" ranch lease, managed to turn the ailing oyster farm around. He schucked some serious oysters, and expanded the market to carry Drake's Bay Oysters in local grocery stores. DBOF is the last on-site shucking and packing facility in California.

The bivalve harvesting activities occur on about 1,000 acres of the estuary. DBOF, with a staff of 30 employees, operates the only on-site oyster canning facility in the state, and provides 40% of California's oysters. Or I should say: provided. Fukushima oysters, anyone?

Schooner Bay, Home Bay and Drake's Estero.
While some people don't think Lunny should've introduced Manila clam harvesting per se, I understand the concept of diversified farming. Tomales Bay oyster farms grow Manila clams too. BTW, those clams were originally exotic hitchhikers on the Pacific oyster shells during the 1930s, and someone discovered that they tasted good too. So Lunny didn't introduce them to the estero, but to the public.

After all, the oysters that are farmed in both Tomales Bay and Drake's Bay are non-native species. Most shellfish mariculture in the United States is based on non-native species, the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), the Kumamoto oyster (Crassostrea sicamea), and the Manila clam (Venerupis [Ruditapes] philippinarum).

So are the reintroduced Roosevelt elk—the native species, long since extinct.

I would like to have seen the reintroduction of California's native Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida). I know, that confusing. Olympia oysters? Yep. Seed oysterbeds are in trouble in Oregon, due to ocean acidification, so California may be their last stand. The shell mounds in the Coast Miwok midden near DBOC are mostly Olympia oysters.

According to Linda Murphy, "Five types of oysters are grown in North America: The Pacific (Japanese Miyagi oyster); Eastern or Atlantic; European; and Kumamoto." As well as green mussels and Manila clams.

Native Olympia oysters became functionally extinct in the San Francisco Bay Area due to overharvesting and then siltation during the Gold Rush, and from logging finished them off, but in the 1990s, a colony of native oysters, was discovered and is thriving at Point Richmond.

Unfortunately, voracious non-native snails (introduced by oyster farmers) are devouring California's only native oyster in Tomales Bay.

Reintroduced Tule elk.
However, oyster farming in the estero is a long-standing tradition that dates back more than a hundred years. When I was a kid, the shallows of both Tomales Bay and Drake's Estero were lined with "Indian fences" laden with oysters. Now
[Tomales and Drakes Bay] oyster farmers use the French rack-and-bag method of farming. The process begins when they buy seedlings from hatcheries and transplant the seeds, called spats, onto pieces of shell. The fingernail-size spats are raised in mesh cylinders in an aqua nursery until they are about an inch long, then are transferred to mesh bags and tethered to racks and cables in the water to grow to a size of three to four inches — an 18-month-long process. Linda Murphy
(See a photo of DBOF racks.)

Here's an interesting dilemma: since the native Olympia oysters are no longer filtering Drake Estero waters, the non-native species of bi-valves are scrubbing the Estero—with five finger bays and only one opening to the sea—clean. Remove them, then what? Watch the Estero cloud up and die? Want to clean up an estuary, create super-filtration systems—oyster reefs—that's what they did at Chesapeake Bay.

BTW, removing the oysters will also negatively impact the eelgrass (Zostera marina)—which is dependent on their pseudo-poop for nourishment. Eelgrass worldwide is dying off—except that it grows in abundance in Drake Estero.
... filtration by the cultured oysters could provide additional benefits to eelgrass production by lowering turbidity and adding nutrients because these limit eelgrass distribution and production even in relatively oligotrophic estuaries (Carroll et al., 2008). Thus, sedimentary anoxia induced by DBOC shellfish is unlikely. p27 Oyster enhancement and oyster reef restoration is a major and expanding component of estuarine restoration throughout the United States P28 Shellfish Mariculture in Drakes Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore, California 2009
Drake's Bay Oyster Farm was the last remaining oyster farm on the point. Lunny, who lost a five-year battle with the feds, wanted to extend his lease with the National Park Service for10 more years. Lunny had a legal right to ask for that extension-Congress, when it created the PRNS, stipulated that the farm leases were to be renewed.

Why is the NPS and Salazar singling out Lunny? Last I heard the Bureau of the Interior and the NPS were not in control of fishing rights in California. Something smells rotten in the state of ....

Oyster farming was an integral part of Marin history and will be deeply missed.
 "It's part of the history, the community and the tradition of a coastal community," Lunny said. "It's a national seashore where working landscapes, agriculture and farming were meant to co-exist."  —KQED
The lease expires on November 30, 2012. Lunny was given 90 days to dismantle his business.

Why I object: When I read several reports, I found that there were some shenanighans going on with either falsified, or vague catch-all ecological impact reports conducted on the eastern seaboard and then retailored to fir PRNS, then pressed into service, courtesy of the National Park Service, et al. It's a case of politics and science as corrupt bedfellows.

I've posted below some interesting articles on the ongoing battle between the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Drake's Bay Oyster Farm. Salazar's recent decision has made more than one rancher uneasy with their mercurial landlord, the NPS. Not if, but when will they be next on the chopping block?
The Interior secretary also has the power to lease the park's lands for dairy and cattle-ranching purposes. Currently there are 15 beef and dairy ranches operating along the Point Reyes seashore. Those ranches will remain open under the decision Thursday.
Oyster farm owner Kevin Lunny, whose family also operates one of the cattle ranches, said he was disappointed by the decision and was still trying to figure out his next move. He had been asking for a 10-year extension of his lease.
"This is going to be devastating to our families, our community and our county," Lunny said. "This is wrong beyond words in our opinion." —Sacramento Bee
Most of the news coverage has been biased towards developing a wilderness marine preserve—supported by the PRNS and the NPS (who are not necessarily the good guys in this case. I understand that, on paper it sounds fantastic. A marine preserve. But shooting the little guy is not the way to go about it. Nor is falsifying ecological reports.

It seems someone's tampered with data and offered blanket reports about the alleged destruction of eelgrass, hitchhiking non-native tunicates (Didemnum vexillum)—not due to human introduction, a non-native marsh snail (Batillaria attramentaria) (introduced by humans), and the possible introduction of invasive protozoan and microbial species (that could've arrived via the Roosevelt elk, cattle, or even someone's chickens)—and then there's the destruction of pinniped pupping habitat.

That is, the habitat of harbor seals—the most common and widely distributed species of the pinnipeds; yes, they are a protected, but hardly an endangered species, nor is Drake's Bay their only pupping grounds.)
...negative interactions between oyster harvest and seal attendance at these subsites do not provide a causal link." p43  None of the scientific research projects within Drakes Estero was designed specifically to assess whether the oyster farm operations were impacting the local harbor seal population..." p47 Shellfish Mariculture in Drakes Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore, California 2009
But a voracious wayward elephant seal swam into the estero and chomped his way through 40 harbor seals—before they fled the crimes cene.
The invasive species in question is a common tunicate that lives on hard substrate like oyster shells—not on the soft bottom of Drakes Estero—and one that scientists have said will do little damage to marine resources; the eelgrass has in fact doubled over the last several years.
…The multiple federally funded studies conducted in recent years have resoundingly exonerated the oyster farm of environmental harm. —Point Reyes Light
 I won't mention the recent introduction of the non-native snail into Tomales Bay that's drilling the life out of the native Olympia oysters. But the feds are not shutting them down.

Senator Feinstein pointed out that DBOF should be saved because it is a key part of the local rural economy. "The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science," she said. We need to support responsible and sustainable farms, and grassroots businesses, not shut them down!

"Drake's Estero and the Point Reyes National Seashore have significant existence, option, and bequest value as protected environmental resources. It is likely that the presence of oyster farming in Drakes Estero has a marginal negative effect on the non-use values of the estero. P66 Shellfish Mariculture in Drakes Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore, California 2009

PRNS and the NPS have not been traditionally viewed as a good neighbor by many West Marinites. More like a big bully, than a big brother. When the PRNS was first proposed, ranchers were assured of a right to their livelihood via renewable leases. Many ranchers felt that it was either take the offered leases, or hit the road.
Tomales Bay Association sent a letter to Secretary Salazar reiterating those points. Noting that the group existed before the creation of the seashore, the authors emphasized that the permit applies to an area that is within the pastoral zone—“created cooperatively by the federal government and ranchers in the 1960s to protect the land from development and also to continue the tradition of ranching”—not a potential wilderness area. “Simply put, the continued operation of the oyster farm will promote the preservation of cultural heritage that has been part of the area for many generations.”—Point Reyes Light
Schooner Bay and Creamery Bay.
So ranchers accepted the NPS leases, rather than be displaced from their traditional lands. Maybe they should've fought harder for better leases, but when they were up against the federal government, many cowped, then folded. Some fought to keep their land and won. Most did not. Drake's Bay Oyster Farm, the last of its kind, operated on one of those original leases. Lunny wanted to extend his remaining lease 10 more years.

Drake's Bay from Point Reyes.
Outsiders just see the grandeur of the magnificent PRNS park, and know nothing of the countless families and small farms it displaced. What most people don't realize is that the NPS irrevocably changed our lives in West Marin when it created the PRNS—and not necessarily for the better.

The federal government will not ensure employment for those who've lost their livelihood at the development of the PRNS preserve. They didn't do it in the past. Salazar's recent DBOF decision will displace some 35 families, and their homes will be razed.

At least Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) tries to ensure that ranches and dairies can continue to be viable and operate in West Marin, thus preserving them. We need a more sensible approach to land stewardship along the Point Reyes Peninsula that includes and supports local farming endeavors—whether by land or by sea. Not a stewardship comprised of of outside politics and vested interests dressed in fabricated ecological raiments.

Schooner Creek, historic "G" Ranch.
Cicero said, Nature abhors annihilation. This closure is the annihilation of right livelihood. DPOF is the last remnant of an older way of life on the Point—and it has been found in violation of variable and often contradictory NPS statutes.

The NPS is often found in direct violation of its own statutes too. Power wielded by the beholder swinging a very big stick. I suspect that if the NPS wanted to oust some of the cattle ranchers on the point, they'd utilize the same statutes to void their leases. In other words, we don't trust the NPS to play fair.

(Here's a map of the power structure of the federal, state and local govenrnment agencies that Lunny has had to deal with.

Why I wrote this blog was because someone asked me what the local angle was. I admit that I'm biased—I have a vested interest in that I witnessed the transition of Point Reyes from traditional ranches, to that of an urban playground.

Overnight, our bucolic landscape was changed from viable dairies to a bizarre weekend warrior's retreat. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard became a parking lot Saturdays and Sundays. Traffic jams in the middle of nowhere.

Nothing says wilderness quite like hiking alone on a ridge trail only to get run over by a mad mountain biker freewheeling at 40 MPH.

Drake's Beach looking toward Limantour Spit.
I also admit that when the historic moment to turn the point into a national park in 1962, it was exciting. I saw the Air Force One helicopter fly overhead, with Ladybird Johnson enroute, to open the new park at Drake's Beach. But we locals weren't invited to the party. In fact, the Secret Service, practically closed off all the roads. So yes, I have mixed feelings on the decision to close the last remaining oyster farm at Drake's Estero.

Drake's Beach looking toward Pt. Reyes.
I suggest that you check out the weekly, the Point Reyes Light, that won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism,  as it offers an alternative perspective to the idiotic one-sided ranting of the East Bay Express looking for another Oystergate in all the wrong places.

As I write this piece, I am reminded of a Nigerian saying. I am tempted to update it to: When two bull elephant seals fight, it's the eelgrass that loses.

FURTHER READING: Point Reyes Light
Salazar chooses to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company
Salazar visit provokes old and new arguments

Feds Deny Oyster Farm Lease Renewal | KQED News Fix

From Straus Family Creamery—Please help support a small family farm and sign this petition to preserve Drake's Bay Oyster Farm

 More information at

Shellfish Mariculture in Drakes Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore, California 2009 study: "The presence and biological activities of cultured oysters in Drakes Estero results in locally enhanced filtration of the water column and deposition of feces and pseudofeces onto the bottom. One study was conducted in which sediment cores were taken in eelgrass as a function of distance away from oyster culture racks in Drakes Estero and also in nearby Estero de Limantour, which lacks oyster culture. No enhancement of sediment organics and no reduction in oxygen content of sediments were detectable near the culture racks or in Drakes Estero as compared to Estero de Limantour, indicating a lack of detectable negative impacts of oyster biodeposition, probably because of relatively low oyster stocking densities and high tidal flushing, which disperses the deposits. Limited water quality sampling did not demonstrate elevated levels of nutrients." p67. Report published by the National Academies Press (NAP) created by the National Academies to publish the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States.

Feds deny oyster farm lease renewal in California

Read more here:

Great synopsis in the WSJ by Michael Moritz: Welcome to the Salazar Wilderness—Shame on the Interior Department for trying to drum a family-owned enterprise out of business.

There's a great list of even more coverage posted at Bay Area Open Space Council's blog. Check it out. This blog made the list.


Sign Save Drake's bay Oyster Farm Petition
"The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is a small, family run business employing 30 people providing fresh oysters to the San Francisco Bay Area restaurants and individual. Oyster farming has been going on in Drakes Bay for over 80 years and the oysters produced are some of the finest you will ever taste. Reversing this decision will allow this family business to continue to prosper and provide these great oysters to enjoy."

You'll need to create a White House email account in order to sign this petition. it needs 21,553 more signatures—please sign it. Don't let Big BullyBro (The National Park Service) illegally (they lied, falsified reports) to oust the Lunnys 30 more families employed at the DBOF—thus making them homeless, BTW! DBOF supplies 40% of CA's oysters. But it's not about the oysters as much as it is about the sanctioned illegal activities of the NPS and PRNS.
LIKE Drake's Bay Oyster Farm on Facebook

CALL: Howard Dillon in Bolinas has been encouraging people to call Steve Kinsey, West Marin county supervisor, to protest the decision: (415) 499-7331  

See Dispelling the Myths about the Drakes Bay Oyster Company conflict

Note bene: In case you're wondering what's in it for me—I write in order to learn what the real story, or what the backstory is. It seems there's another backstory that was not addressed by the media. The story of local people vs the NPS. Sort of like Pilgrims vs. Native Americans. Understand that it's an opinion piece, hopefully an informed one. And hopefully this blog has painted a broader picture of the problem. I will continue to revise as facts are uncovered so check back again. And thanks for reading this blog.—MH

Ken Salazar stepping down as Interior secretary

Judge upholds eviction of Drake's Bay oyster farm Looks like Ken Salazar and the NPS-PRNS dirty politics won after all.

Lunny continues legal fight to halt shut down Point Reyes oyster farm

Recycled oyster shells provide boost to ecosystem

You also might want to check out my blog entry on the demise of Marin dairies: 
Marin's Pastures of Plenty

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I won a pass to MacWorld Expo

Feeling fairly well chuffed here—I, who never win anything, just won an iFan pass for MacWorldExpo! I'm an odd duck on a wet day‚ I'm renown for taking apart old Macs and reassembling them because I can. Duct tape is good. They mostly (usually) work when I do patch them together—except when the power supply blows. That scares me. My poor beloved elderly PPC iMac went KABLOOM! But I have hope for Ol' Lazarus. The old iMac is sublime for photo editing. Imagine seeing your photo 20” across. Talk about detail. That’s why I work so hard to keep it alive. The newer iMacs don’t have the same kind of screen. Too glossy. A mirror of sorts. I am an avid Mac addict and always learn lots by going to the MacExpo at Moscone Center. It's like a floating techno-university. And this year, iPhonograpy is featured—a huge photo exhibit!

Saturday, November 24, 2012



I don't think I am getting enough dreaming in
because it solves problems while you sleep, 
Dreaming gives you a better perspective. 
Something's wrong inside my head, I know
it's the not knowing what it is, or how to correct it.
I can't remember. I'm worried about walking in my sleep.
Something's wrong inside my head, I know.
I know.


My dear aunt Toddy who, after too much wine, was caught streaking in her sleep one night. Officially diagnosed with dementia. Sad. But such clarity, nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

RIP Jack Gilbert

Joy Harjo, Bob Hass & Linda Gregg
I met Linda Gregg backstage at the Watershed Poetry Festival in Berkeley in September—Bob Hass said, Maureen, do you know Linda Gregg?

And my jaw hit the floor.

I told her about an after-school softball game I watched at Lagunitas School—the Gregg twins were on 2nd & 3rd base, Billy Joe Bianchi hit a home run and when they ran, they were so freckled and golden, I was in awe.

Someone was up at bat. Maybe it was Liz Haas. Or one of the Farley boys. I remembered them from catechism class.  I think it was Lagunitas vs. Nicasio. It was a foul ball that rolled right down the third base line and turned out at the last minute, so everyone had to retrace their steps.

I was about 6 or 7, so baseball was a mystery to me—but Billy Joe was my neighbor (family friends). So, I watched the game and cheered  as he brought them all home.

Linda was a little blown away by the baseball story—expecting something more modern, perhaps—her role as a major poet and me as sycophant—instead it was about a childhood softball game.

As it turned out, her sister was in the audience, too. So I got to meet the Gregg twins together again. I always want to call her Alma, but that's the name of Linda's seminal poetry book—if women can have a seminal books, that is. But perhaps her sister was Linda's Alma. Louise lives in Tomales. The weather has taken its toll on her. She favors the same plaid shirts as did her father. Tough no-nonsense women, the Gregg twins. 

Linda & Louise Gregg

Linda had just come from seeing Jack Gilbert. She said that he wasn't doing well. His mind may have taken flight. But he always knew her. A bond that deep.

I'm racking the brain as to how the story is possible as they are 10 years older than me but Lagunitas was such a small place in those days and I started school early—perhaps they also started school late, to make the timeline work.

Or, they were already in high school. I remember someone saying they were 8th graders—and that seemed like such an impossible distance in time, I couldn't fathom it. Maybe Carol Manning remembers it better.


In a few years' time Linda would meet Jack Gilbert in a poetry class at SFSU, and bring her poetry teacher home to meet the family at Forest Farm Camp on Tamal Road. While I was riding my horse through the camp, her plaid-shirted father would ridicule him for being a sissy poet, and he'd climb a big doug fir with a chainsaw to prove that he too was a man, and the tree would split wrong, and he would fall to earth, a broken Icarus. It sealed their fate—they were forever bound to one another, they rode off to Greece on his chariot of chrome. It would become the stuff of legends.

As I was writing this bloggy-bit, I saw a Facebook post from Jim Carmin: " So sad to hear from Sam Hamill that Jack Gilbert has died this morning..."

Still trying to confirm if it's true via Sam Hamill but meanwhile I have to go to work.

So it is true: The Academy of American Poets With heavy hearts we share the news that we've just learned from Alfred A. Knopf. The great poet Jack Gilbert has died at age 87.About the poet:

RIP Jack, the bases are loaded and it's the top of the ninth.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was 
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars 
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say 
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

                                Jack Gilbert

LA Times article
Poet Jack Gilbert's time of triumph and loss
Though his brain has been diminished by disease, his 'Collected Poems,' released this year, reminds us of the writer's high place in American poetry.


I once found a tiny octopus 
curled up in a tiny abalone shell
I thought my eyes deceived me 
but he hitchhiked up my finger,
perhaps for a better look at me.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wrinkle in Time as Graphic Novel

I adored the Newbery award-winning (1962) classic, Wrinkle in Time, an adventure through space and time, the first time around—it was a magical book.

I voraciously read all Madeline L'Engle's (1918-2007) time-travel quintet (and other books) again as an adult. The magic still held. 

However, I'm ambivalent about the idea of graphic novels—an extended comic book, but, then, I'm a fast reader. So a weighty tome doesn't slow me down. 

Certainly the Harry Potter books demonstrate that kids can and do read lengthy books—not that Madeline's books are even long. They're not. 

So, if graphic novels encourage kids (and adults) who struggle to read, then, all is good. I guess. 

But in a graphic novel, crucial text is necessarily omitted because of length. It concerns me (especially the loss of metaphor/simile), and the inevitable dumbing down, the visual spoonfeeding of mental imagery disallows the readers to form their own unique images. 

Hope Larsen's interpretations of tessering may be vividly imagined in the graphic novel rendition of Wrinkle in Time. But they're HER interpretations. Not the reader's. A little too pat. Taming the wildness.

As one dissatisfied Amazon reader put it: "I don't know why we feel the need to make comic books out of classic literature. It is an insult to the original story-telling; it is an insult to the reader and this book is no exception. It allows for no imagination, no interpretation other than that of the illustrator." — KiddieLit

The engagement of one's imagination is an important aspect of reading. That amazing movie-in-your head. I know, I know—it's a facet of the old "book vs. movie" paradigm. Movies of books generally disappoint, but then, I've an agile imagination (artist/ writer) and that enters into it. 

During the Middle Ages, books (the Bible, psalters, etc.) were graphic novellas in that most people couldn't read—but the graphics were splendid summations. 

When I traveled to tiny villages in South America, I was amazed to see semi-literate men reading graphic novels—torrid little affairs—bodice rippers for men—but at least they were reading (sort of.) 

I'm all for wild imagination versus passive reading. But I hope that kids will also read the original novels as well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elderberry Whine

Sambucus cerulea, aka S. nigra ssp. caerulea; S. mexicana; S. canadensis

One year I made a killer wine from elderberries (no, not the Arsenic & Old Lace variety). We weren't after anybody's pension, my grannie's was so minuscule, we lived below the poverty belt, but elderberries do contain "just a pinch" of cyanide. My grannie said that during the Prohibition, the ladies of the parish brewed a sacramental wine (or cordial?) out of elderberries for the priests. I suppose that's what gave me the idea to make wine out of elderberries.

One year I became obsessed with brewing—someone had given me a homesteading cookbook for my birthday, and that year I made wine from everything I could think of—blackberries, apple juice, cranberry juice, huckleberries, and elderberries. 

Not enough tannin? I added a handful of tea leaves—Irish Breakfast. Not acidic enough? Lemons did the trick. The huckleberries and elderberry wines were the most successful of my home brews because they didn't need adulteration.

In those days, I didn't like booze, I was 19, as there were far too many alcoholics in the family, so my grandmother was the guinea-pig, sipping each variety from an old scuffed shot-glass, and giving her nod of approval. She didn't die, so I knew my fruit wines were safe.

A few years later, I found some abandoned bottles of my homebrew on the back porch toilet that we'd missed. Or rather, that John Ritter had missed. One fall, while chopping winter wood, my aunt's husband discovered my hooch stash and drank his way through it. And lived. The hangover was not recorded.

I brought a bottle of my huckleberry-elderberry blend wine to a regional French Culture class at Sonoma State—painter Marguerite Pendergast, (née Thomas) who, as a child, spent summers in France, taught these great off-campus weekend classes—we'd learn about folklore and cuisine. It was really an excuse to eat and drink ourselves silly. It was also the 1970s. Everyone said that it was like a dry Pinot Noir. There were hangovers, yes, but nobody croaked.

Someone said that the stems were poisonous. We never worried about eating the tiny pedicels. But it could also be that our native West Marin elders had less glycoside (which metabolizes into cyanide), or maybe you have to eat a lot of berries over time to get sick from elderberries.

About that Arsenic & Old Lace—the little old ladies used elderflowers to spike their wine, not the berries. Italian Sambuco is also elderflower flavored. So clearly, one can eat a few tiny stems and get away with it.

I used pick elderberries from the back of my horse—she was the right height. There was a stand at the Y junction where Barranca Creek created a dry island from a drainage arroyo at Stone's driveway, below Mimi's house, where we used to play and make forts in the bushes. Elder trees prefer damp areas, along creeks and ditches. When the berries are ripe, you can't miss 'em. Like clusters of the sky hanging from the branches.

I'd pop a cluster of berries in my mouth and then pluck the glaucous dusted berries from the stems. My grannie said the waxy blue bloom, an insect deterrent, was wild yeast. You could wipe it off and the berry was the size of a shiny black woodrat's eye.

Elderberries tasted astringent and vaguely bitter, it's an acquired taste. But it does whet the appetite. Good for when you're thirsty and far from home. We never drank from the creek, I did that once and got sick. But springs were fine as long as the cows and deer didn't get into them.

This was back in the days before bottled water. Nobody madly "hydrated" themselves the minute they stepped outside the way we do now—all this eight glasses of water a day nonsense is a diposmaniac's wet obsession. We went all day without water and drank when we were thirsty. Elderberries were a good late summer thirst quencher.

I never got drunk off the berries or fell off my horse—the way the birds do after a pyracantha berry binge. Not that the birds fell off horses, but the orange-ass towhees and robins would get right-smashed and then fly into our front windows like kamakazi pilots.

We'd pick the birds up and hold them in the hollow of our hands until they recovered. The larger birds often broke their necks but the towhees bounced off the windows like ping-pong balls and the cats would lay in wait. So it was always a race. My grannie liked the towhees, they liked her, they'd gather at her feet in the mornings.

My grannie battered and fried the elderflowers. So we definitely ate a few tiny stems and didn't die. I wouldn't recommend eating too many though as the toxin is most potent in the stems, roots, and leaves.

Elderberry flour fritters tasted vaguely green, like deep pools in summer. It was really an excuse to eat pancakes at night, she'd  egg-batter the flowers still on their umbels and fry them in butter and we'd eat them with thick-thick brown sugar syrup that she kept in a little lidded enamel cup on the back of the stove. The hob, she called it. She battered and fried squash blossoms too—they tasted like the errant feathers of the sun.

We also made flutes (or tried to) from the hollow stems of the elder tree—drooling over the mouthpiece for hours on end and never getting a squeak, let alone, a note out of them. Didn't die from that either. Or blue lips. So much for my woodwind music career. Luckily, the toxins were no longer potent in the dead wood.

We used to eat elderberries lasciviously in front of the seashore-bound tourists who stopped at Mr. Lacy's Lagunitas Store. They would freak out and scream, "They're poisonous! They're poisonous!" Shielding their children's eyes from us, admonishing them to never eat wild berries.

We'd laugh and smear the dark juice on our faces. Hold our stigmatad hands up, as if resurrected from the dead, like threadbare goddesses on horseback, and then smile down upon them beatifically with purple-stained teeth.

Just don't eat the red, or green ones—ever. Spit out the seeds too.
Sambocade 1.

Take and make a Crust in a trape. & take a cruddes and wryng out þe wheyze. and drawe hem þurgh a straynour and put in þe straynour crustes. do þerto sugur the þridde part & somdel 2 whyte of Ayrenn. & shake þerin blomes of elren 3. & bake it up with curose 4 & messe it forth.

1 Sambucade. As made of the Sambucus, or Elder.
2 Somdel. Some.
3 Blom of Elren. Elder flowers.
4 curose. (Not defined, but I found this: Corose. curiously. perhaps from cure, to cook, Chaucer has corouse, curious. Cruddes are curds. Messe is a dish, as in a serving from what I can tell. —from The Forme of Cury, 1390 (for Richard II), edited by Samuel Pegge, in 1780. And Cury does not mean curry, but cookery, as in curing meat.

To make Elder Vinegar.

Gather the flowers of Elder, pick them very clean, and dry them in the Sun on a gentle heat, and take to every quart of Vinegar a good handfull of flowers and let it stand to Sun a fortnight, then strain the Vinegar from the flowers, and put it into the barrell againe, and when you draw a quart of Vinegar, draw a quart of water, and put it into the Barrell luke warme. 
To make good Vinegar. 
Take one strike of Malt, and one of Rye ground, and mash them together, and take (if they be good) three pound of Hops, if not four pound; make two Hogs-heads of the best of that Malt and Rye, then lay the Hogs-head where the Sunne may have power over them, and when it is ready to Tun, fill your hogs-heads where they lye, then let them purge cleer and cover them with two flate stones, and within a week after when you bake, take two wheat loaves hot out of the Oven, and put into each hogs-head a loaf, you must use this foure times, you must brew this in Aprill, and let it stand till June, then draw them clearer, then wash the Hogs-heads cleane, and put the beer in again; if you will have it Rose-vinegar, you must put in a strike and a half of Roses; if Elder-vinegar, a peck of the flowers; if you will have it white, put no thing in it after it is drawn, and so let it stand till Michaelmas; if you will have it coloured red, take four gallons of strong Ale as you can get, and Elder berries picked a few full clear, and put them in your pan with the Ale, set them ouer the fire till you guesse that a pottle is wasted, then take if off the fire, and let it stand till it be store cold, and the next day strain it into the Hogs-head, then lay them in a Cellar or buttery which you please.

—from THE COMPLEAT COOK: Expertly prescribing the most ready wayes, whether Italian, Spanish, or French, for dressing of Flesh and Fish, &c. LONDON, 1658. Note: This book is part of the W. M. volume The Queens Closet Opened.