I Saw a UFO in 1968… The Government Finally Admits It Was Possible

As I mentioned in my last regular post of the summer, I will post a blog on occasion when something catches my attention. The UFO report due out in a week or two definitely fits the definition.

My interest in UFOs has kept my eyes focused on the skies ever since I saw one in 1968. It has also taken Peggy and me to interesting places— like Area 51, shown above in a remote section of Nevada desert. Naturally, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the sign. Nobody rushed out to arrest us. Wait, is a Man in Black armed with a neuralyzer knocking on my door?

It’s almost impossible to believe.

I’m not talking about UFOs, which I find easy to believe. I’m talking about Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something. At this point in our history, it seems like the possibility of UFOs zipping through the skies of the world is much higher than the possibility of Republican and Democrats working together in the public interest. (Hopefully, I’m wrong.)

And now, both Democrats and Republicans are speaking out about the need to crank up our intelligence on Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs), to use the modern term. Obama, Trump, and Biden all agree. As do Adam Schiff and Marco Rubio. A report is scheduled to be released this month that will detail what we know, or at least what the government is willing to share with us.

Leaks have suggested that the report will admit that not all UAPs can be explained away with the usual claims that they are the result of some type of natural phenomena or an over-active imagination. The fact that many of the sightings have come from military pilots makes such claims particularly difficult to maintain. These folks hardly fit the definition of delusional eccentrics. One pilot noted that sightings have been reported almost daily for the past two years— often around military installations. No wonder the government is excited.

So far, America’s political leadership seems focused on the possibility that another government may have developed a technology far superior to anything the US has— at least publicly. It’s more palatable than admitting to the existence of extra-terrestrials from outer space (or Earth). And also easier to obtain funds for. The first hypothesis is merely scary. The second is mind-boggling and will forever change our perspective on who we are.

I doubt the viability of the ‘other government’ scenario. For one, can you imagine how difficult it would be to keep such a secret? Then there is the temptation to exploit such technology to gain political advantage. It’s hard to imagine any modern nation failing to do so. And finally, we are talking about a technology that would have been available for over 80 years given modern day sightings. And probably much longer.

The 2000-6,000 year old pictographs at Sego Canyon in Utah are among the strangest I have ever seen. Admittedly, such visions may be drug induced as part of a shamanistic ritual, but I have often thought of their other-worldly, alien appearance. And could the object to the right be a flying saucer?
I love this cartoon from the Roswell, New Mexico UFO museum.

Our present day governmental efforts to get a handle on what’s out there, date back 14 years when Harry Reid, (D. Nevada and then Senate Majority Leader), persuaded two colleagues, Ted Stevens, (R. Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D. Hawaii) to join him in sponsoring a bill that would dedicate $22 million to assessing whether UFOs posed a threat. Reid said it took him about ten minutes to persuade the two to go along with him. Stevens, who claimed to have seen a UFO when he was a pilot during WWII, signed on at once.

Assuming the existence of aliens for a moment, three questions come to mind: Who and/or what are they, where do they come from, and what are their intentions regarding humanity? Our initial vision of bi-pedal greenish creatures with big eyes is based on original claims of the Roswell crash of 1946 which may— or may not— have happened. (If you want to watch a hilarious but R-rated view of the crash, check out the movie, Paul.)

The where raises an interesting question. If they are frequent visitors from another galaxy, then their technology has taken a quantum, faster than light leap. Or maybe they use worm holes in space. Or come from a parallel universe. All are popular subjects of science fiction and modern speculative physics. Or maybe they operate from a base on earth. I could see a mother ship dropping them off eons ago and urging them to observe evolving species, particularly the one that liked to go around bashing each other’s brains with large clubs.

The intentions question may turn out to be the most important. As far as we know, the aliens have taken a hands off approach, monitoring but not interfering in our evolutionary and technological development. Why? Is there some kind of Star Trek ethic of not interfering with primitive societies. Or are they making a determination about our behavior. Are we intelligent beings who should be welcomed into the galactic community at some point in the future? Or are we a nasty virus that poses a threat to the Universe and needs to be destroyed? Apparently, the jury is still out. Do they see us on the edge of self-destruction and foresee a need to step in and alter our path? Their focus on military installations suggests a concern on what damage we might cause in outer space or what damage we might do to each other. Or what if they are scouts, preparing for a future invasion. Lots of questions and no real answers. Yet.

As for my sighting of a UFO in the fall of 1968, I was in Sacramento at the time. I had just returned from my stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa and a Peace Corps recruiter in the South. I had moved to Sacramento to open a Peace Corps Public Affairs office for Northern California and Northern Nevada. One evening, I stepped outside my apartment on La Riviera Drive next to the American River when a round, saucer shaped object caught my attention. It disappeared into a cloud. Before I could think of the implications, the object came out of the cloud going in another direction, accelerated and quickly disappeared from view. The UFO was not something fuzzy I saw in the distance on a dark night when I had been indulging in a hallucinogenic drug. It was still light out and my view was crystal clear. There was no doubt in my mind as to what I had seen. And I have never doubted the existence of UFOs since.

Are aliens and UFO/UAPs for real? I found this charming character in a diorama at the Roswell UFO Museum.

Who Shot Pavy’s Pig… And— A Summer Break From Blogging

I’ve always been a fan of pigs. Whenever I go to a County or State Fair, I make a beeline for the livestock barns, mainly to see the pigs and the goats. I found this handsome pair hamming it up at a small county fair in Cedarville, California when I was on my way to Burning Man one year. Normally I take photos of their faces and snouts, but I couldn’t resist the kinky little tails.

Like the gunslingers of the Old West, our reputations far exceeded the reality of our actions. Take Tony Pavy’s pig for example. Tony had a large pond with bullfrogs, a hundred or so acres of scrubland, and a wooded hillside that housed a number of gray squirrels. He also had an attitude similar to Jimmy Pagonni’s: Children were not to be heard or seen, especially on his property. As with Pagonni, we didn’t allow Pavy to keep us from our appointed rounds. We would slip in at night to harvest his bullfrogs and during the day to bring down a squirrel. Tony had a very effective way of getting rid of us. In a very loud voice he would yell, “Mama, get my gun!” and we would streak out of there.

A couple of friends and I were hunting for the squirrels on his hillside when the unfortunate incident with the pig took place. But before I tell the story, I need to digress and provide some background information.

Growing up in Diamond in the 50s meant having a gun and shooting things. At least it did if you were a boy. We graduated from BB guns and 22s to deer rifles and shotguns. Obtaining your first rifle was an experience similar in importance to obtaining your driver’s license, except you could get one a lot earlier. Before we were allowed to hunt, however, certain rules were pounded into our heads. We had to take a course sponsored by the National Rifle Association. These were the years when the NRA’s primary concern was about hunting and hunter safety. They also sponsored marksmanship competitions for improving skills. Ten years after I got my license Peggy won the NRA’s National Pistol competition for youth.

I didn’t become one of America’s premier marksmen, but I did learn it is important to know what you were shooting. This might seem obvious, but flatlanders out of Sacramento often had trouble making the distinction between a cow and a deer. Of a much more serious nature, every year or so one would mistake another hunter for a deer. Wear red hats and bright clothes, we were taught. There were other things we weren’t supposed to shoot as well. People’s houses for example. Robins were also high on the list. They ate their weight daily in bugs. It was okay to shoot ‘vermin’ such as ground squirrels, jackrabbits, coyotes and the scrub jays that pecked away at pears. In fact there was a bounty on jays, $.25 per head.

My usual preference was for watching wildlife, not killing it. I made an exception for gray squirrels. The thrill of the hunt combined with my appetite for a delicious squirrel and dumpling stew my mother whipped up overcame any reservations I had. All of which brings me back to the pig.

Gray squirrels have about the same appreciation for being shot that you or I might. To avoid this unhappy circumstance, they take off leaping through the trees. The one we had marked for dinner was jumping from limb to limb in a live oak tree on the hill above Pavy’s with all three of us shooting at it when we heard a bellow from the barnyard.

“Mama, get my gun! They shot my pig! They shot my pig! Hurry, Mama!”

I don’t know how fast Mama moved but we flew. By the time Ernie Carlson, the County Sheriff, caught up with us we were far away from Pavy’s and about as innocent as newborn piglets.

“Excuse me, boys,” the Sheriff remarked when he pulled over in his car and rolled down his window, “I don’t suppose you know anything about Tony Pavy’s pig being shot.”

“No, sir,” we replied respectfully in unison. We had rehearsed.  Besides, we were technically correct. We hadn’t shot Pavy’s pig; we hadn’t even shot the squirrel. It was a ricocheting bullet that did in the pig. 

Ernie looked at us dubiously.

“Pavy described three kids that fit your description,” the Sheriff said as he continued to build pressure, hoping that one of us would break. Boy, had we heard that one before.

“We’ve been out in back of Ot Jones pond,” I argued indignantly. And we had been. So what if we had arrived there out of breath.

“Well, you kids behave yourselves,” the Sheriff said with an ominous I know you’re lying tone. We breathed a joint sigh of relief as he rolled up his window and drove off. Once more we had avoided a fate we probably deserved. I suspect now that Ernie was not one hundred percent dedicated to finding the alleged pig murderers. Tony was not universally loved in the community for several reasons, of which regularly threatening to shoot kids was only one. 

For example, my father did some electrical work for him once for free. As he was leaving, Tony asked, “Would you like one of my geese for dinner?”

“Sure,” Pop had replied, assuming Pavy was offering it as thanks for his four hours of work. 

“Good,” Tony had replied, “that will be five dollars.” Pop was more than a little irritated. He had a hearty laugh years later when I told him about our adventure with the pig. I wisely avoided telling him at the time, however. His perspective on our miscreant behavior softened substantially with distance and age.

Those Lazy Hazy Days of Summer

“Roll out those lazy, hazy days of summer,” Nat King Cole sang in 1963. It was the adult version of what the kids of earlier years uttered when they escaped from school for the summer, “No more pencils, no more books, No more teachers, dirty looks.” Actually I liked school and my teachers, and I loved books, but the appeal of having a whole summer ahead with minimal responsibility and maximum play was close to magical. Since I have been writing about my childhood, it’s hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for those days. As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” however, and he’s right. The idyllic view of our childhood that many of us have doesn’t quite match the reality. It’s human nature to forget the bad and remember the happy, which is a good thing.  

But none of this means that we can’t on occasion escape from whatever keeps our feet tethered to the ground and our nose to the grindstone, allowing ourselves to play more and pursue other things we find of interest. I am something of a master at this, having engineered escapes all of my adult life every few years from three months to three years. These escapes have enabled me the wander through the South Pacific, go on a six-month bicycle trip, take two, three month breaks for backpacking, spend three years wandering North America in a small RV, etc. Fortunately, my good buddy of the last 30 years has been more than willing to join me in these escapes. 

Anyway, it’s time for another 3–4 month break. This one won’t be major. I only plan to cut back on some of my regular activities to free up time for other activities. 

One of these is blogging, which I have now been doing for 11 years. I don’t plan on quitting the blogosphere, only cutting back and writing when I am inspired to do so, like when Big Foot or baby deer show up on our door step, for example. I’ll also be touching base with my blogging friends from time to time over the summer. I should be back to a regular schedule this fall. I realize that it is disconcerting when blogging friends up and disappear, so I wanted to let you know what’s up. Have a great summer, and here’s to being able to travel again. –Curt

Tale of a Trail… Gold Miners, Wild Life, Scenic Asides, and Strange Surveyors

Our property backs up to the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest which in turn shares a boundary with the Klamath National Forest. Together, they include well over a million acres of wilderness! We love it. As do the deer, bears, cougars, foxes, coyotes, etc. We even had a wolf pass through a couple of years ago. This sign marks the boundary between our property and the National Forest. It also marks the beginning of our trail. Surveyors came through a few months ago to check out the National Forest boundary. They moved signs and marked trees in red paint. Peggy thought that maybe they were having a little too much fun.
I wonder why.

For quite some time, we have been making a detour into the forest as part of our daily mailbox walk. It adds an extra mile to our exercise. Plus it is just plain fun. The problem is that the hike only works for late fall, winter and early spring. Otherwise, we are dealing with poison oak, ticks, and little burrs. No one wants poison oak, the ticks may carry Lyme disease, and the burrs are just plain nasty. We come home with dozens in our socks and they are very difficult to remove. Inevitably we miss a few and they end up in our laundry. For some reason, they are attracted to our underwear, mainly Peggy’s. But you can bet I feel the pain…

This spring, I decided to create a trail through the forest that would allow us year round access. It would be poison oak and burr free. Plus we would be much less likely to get ticks. They tend to hang out in bushes and brush off on innocent animals, people and maybe Big Foot, who, legend has it, likes to hang out in our neck of the woods.

I wouldn’t be starting the trail from scratch. Mainly I would be reclaiming and expanding on old miners’ trails and deer paths. My goal, as always, was to have minimum impact, which was pretty much guaranteed since my tools were a rake, mattock, and lopper. I call the lopper, Cindy. You may need to be of a certain age to get that. I tell Peggy that Cindy and I are going up on the mountain to have a little fun. She doesn’t worry; she just snorts. “Wear your gloves, honey.”

I was worried on my first day of trail making. It was two days after the cougar ran across our deck and the morning after our neighbor Bryan had his scary night-time encounter. There was a significant chance that it was still hanging around where I was working. The deer herd was out and came down to watch me work, however. They high-tail it when they are on the menu. Maybe they figured as long as I was there, the cougar wouldn’t be. I hoped they were right in their assumptions. If not, I would wish them good luck as I did my own high-tailing-it act. (Suggestion: Never take off running when you see a cougar. It confirms you are food and fun to chase. Stand tall, look the cougar in the eye, speak to it firmly, “Bad Kitty,” and slowly back away. I’m serious.)

In addition to being a pleasant stroll through the forest, the trail incorporates a bit of history. Miners came searching for gold during the 1920s and 30s. There are old sites for at least seven cabins, a cave, a wood stove, remnants of an old auto, and test holes that they dug following a quartz vein in hopes of striking it rich. They would dig down, find the quartz, shove a dynamite stick in, blow it up, and then check out the results. The test holes come down off the mountain and run right across our property. It could be we are sitting on a fortune. Ha.

Peggy and I have found seven flat spaces like this that were likely the sites of miners’ cabins. When they left, they must have taken the lumber and tin roof with them. We did find one section of tin roof and lots of old #10 cans.
This cave, dug by the miners is right off the trail.
A look inside the cave. We didn’t find any gold, but there were bats. Peggy and I call it the Bear Cave. It’s partly to entertain our grandkids but once, during the winter, Peggy and I found bear tracks leading toward it through the snow. I wanted to check it out. My buddy, not so much.
This is one of the test holes the miners dug that extend down onto our property. This one was surrounded by pieces of quartz that Peggy harvested for our yard.
This was one of the rocks that Peggy chose. The biggest. I swear it weighed at least 100 pounds. My back survived but my feet hurt the next day from being driven into the ground. I earned extra husband credits but no gold.

Wildlife has adopted the trail for their own use. We’ve found cougar, coyote and fox scat along it as well as deer. And I even found deer sleeping on it. Then there was the young buck who seemed to be having some problem…

I was hiking up the trail when a young buck started behaving strangely in front of me. This isn’t the most graceful pose. I am always amazed at how streamlined, almost fragile the legs look.
Uh-oh. Have you ever had one of those itches that is just impossible to scratch— at least in public?
Whoops.

In addition to miners’ history and wildlife, attractive trees and flowers are found along the trail as it winds its way through the forest.

Low bridge, everybody down! This madrone crosses over our trail, low enough to bump your head on. Especially if you are wearing a hat that blocks its view and are looking down for poison oak to remove.
The culprit that caused me to bump my head: Poison oak. Its three leaf arrangement is the give away.
I rather like the limb, so it will continue to bump the heads of unwary trail users. Hopefully not mine again.
The madrone trees have bloomed along the trail, making them easy to spot in the surrounding forests
The madrones (Arbutus menziesii) are finishing up now, but they were still in full bloom when I took this photo. I might add that they have a sweet, attractive smell that greets us when we step out our door.
The trail wanders under an Oregon big leaf maple.
Among towering pines…
And past numerous white oaks with their wonderful gnarly limbs.
The trail also passes by buck brush, which was blooming this spring and also has a distinctive sweet smell.
I photograph manzanita as much for its dead limbs as I do its live ones. This trunk reminded me of the alligators found along the Gulf Coast!
The flowers start blooming in March. They are rarely in profusion except for shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia)which are one of the first flowers to bloom. About the time one flower ends its season, another pops up.
Last week, I showed you some of the gorgeous irises that Peggy grows. Wild irises, possibly not so glamorous but still pretty, grow along the trail. This is yellow leaf iris (Iris chrysophylla).
Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), a lovely flower that had our book club gigging over its name, have come out in the last month.

I thought that the latest addition to our flower family was pretty face Brodiaea, but now I think it may be a rare Triteleia crocea, a closely related species that only grows in our area.

I’ll wrap this blog up today with my favorite flower, Calochortus elegans. Its common name is elegant cat’s ear. If you have ever owned a kitty, I’m sure you can see why.

My blogging friend Crystal Trulove from Conscious Engagement and her buddy Pedro are visiting today and went out for a walk on the trail. Here are photos of them along the trail and in the Bear Cave taken by Peggy. 

MONDAY’S POST: I’ve promised to tell you who shot Pavy’s pig, and I will. But I also want to discuss our summer blogging schedule, which will be slim at best. Peggy and I are taking a break to pursue some other interests. We intend to be back with a regular schedule in the fall. And I will continue to check in on you occasionally over the summer. The friendships we have formed are valuable.

Nature Boy… Counting Skunks Is More Fun than Being Conked by a Baseball

Another fuzzy photo from the 1950s. My brother Marshall poses proudly in his Little League uniform. Even Tickle had to get into the act.

It isn’t surprising that I became known as Nature Boy by my classmates, given all the time I spent in the woods. I considered it a compliment. I did, however, realize that there was more to life. For example, I took an early interest in girls. And then there were sports.

I am not a jock when it comes to traditional sports. It isn’t so much physical as mental. You have to care to be good at sports and I find other things more interesting. Part of this evolved from a lack of enthusiasm on the home front. There was little vicarious parental pressure to see us excel on the playing field. Being as blind as a bat didn’t help, either. Like many young people, I was not excited about wearing glasses. When Mrs. Wells, the school nurse, came to class with her eye charts, I would memorize the lines and then breeze through the test. As for class work, I would sit close to the black board and squint a lot. While I got away with this in the classroom, it became a serious hazard on the Little League field.

I remember going out for the team. All of my friends played and social pressure suggested it was the thing to do. I showed up on opening day and faced the usual chaos of parents signing up their stars, balls flying everywhere, coaches yelling, and kids running in a dozen different directions.

“Okay, Curtis,” the Coach instructed, “let’s see how you handle this fly.”

Crack! I heard him hit the ball. Fine— but where was it? The ball had disappeared. Conk. It magically reappeared out of nowhere, bounced off my glove, and hit me on the head.

“What’s the matter? Can’t you see?” the Coach yelled helpfully. “Let’s try it again.” My Little League career was short lived. I went back to carrying out my inventory of the skunks that lived in the Woods. This came with its own hazards, however. Have you ever had a skunk stand up on its front legs, wave its tail at you, and prepare to let you have it with both barrels. If you are lucky, don’t move, and are very quiet, the skunk will return to all fours and waddle off. I’ve been in the situation twice and lucked out both times.

In the seventh grade, I finally obtained glasses and discovered the miracle of vision: trees had leaves, billboards were pushing drugs, and the kid waving at me across the street was flipping me off. I could even see baseballs. It was time to become a sports hero. That’s a story for another time but I’ll leave it with saying my sports career peaked in the eighth grade where I pitched for the softball team, was quarterback of the football team, and center for the basketball team. It was all downhill after that.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I spent a substantial amount of time getting into mischief as a kid. Admittedly, I had a lot of help from my brother, but I was hardly innocent. The primary difference between Marshal and me was that l lacked his creativity. For example, it never would have crossed my mind to put a bullet down on a rock and then smash it with another rock to see what would happen. In my post next Monday, I’ll explore a Diamond Springs mantra of the time— The Mekemson kids did it.

WEDNESDAY’S BLOG-A-BOOK POST from my Peace Corps Memoir: UC Berkeley came to a grinding halt in the wake of the arrests at Sproul Hall and I joined a picket line. Thousands of students gathered in Sproul Plaza while an army of police hovered nearby…

Abbots Lagoon and Pt. Reyes Station… A Trail Hike Plus a Favorite Small Town

Abbot’s Lagoon is a great place for bird watchers. Or people watchers. This great blue heron with its neck stretched out like a rubber band had a wary eye on Peggy. Wisely so. She was stalking it with her camera. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s a wrap on my Pt. Reyes series today. Peggy and I will take you for a hike out to Abbot’s Lagoon and a visit to Pt. Reyes Station, a favorite town of mine.

The hike is suitable for almost anyone. We even watched a mom and dad pushing their baby along in a stroller. How much easier can it get? The baby seemed quite happy as did the parents. Visitors can turn around whenever they want, hike out to the Lagoon, or go on a leisurely stroll all the way to the ocean. We chose the latter.

The Abbot’s Lagoon trailhead leading out from the parking lot. The Lagoon can be seen in the distance. The Pacific Ocean is out beyond the Lagoon. The narrow strip you can see on the left is the continuation of the trail.
The red marker shows the location of Abbot’s Lagoon on the Google map. Down to the right you can see Pt. Reyes Station next to the Highway 1 marker. Highway 1, BTW, follows the San Andreas fault through this area. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shot what is now the National Seashore over 20 feet northward. San Francisco is 30 miles to the south.
Another photo of Peggy’s great blue heron. This time he was back at work catching fish. I liked the slight hint of a reflection. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I was impressed with the red eye on this coot. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We crossed a small bridge and looked back up the Lagoon toward the parking lot.
There was a drift wood structure along the trail on the beach out near the ocean. It had been cleverly woven together with kelp.
Finally we arrived at the Pacific Ocean.

The North Pacific Coast Railroad had arrived in the area 146 years earlier in 1875 and let passengers off in a cow pasture to make their way to nearby Olema and dairy ranches out on the peninsula. The cow pasture soon added a hotel and the town of Pt. Reyes station was born. It’s a story told over and over in the West. The railroad arrives and a community springs up, making land barons/developers happy and rich. This time it was a dentist in San Francisco. The railroad was making its way north to retrieve redwoods that were being cut down to build the city. Many a giant redwood gave its life to the cause.

I first arrived at Pt. Reyes Station in the late 1960s and I’ve returned again and again. The town has become somewhat yuppified and more expensive since then due to its close vicinity to San Francisco, but it still retains much of its charm. The following photos reflect some of what makes it charming.

The Pt. Reyes Book Store is one of the best small, independent bookstores we have ever been in, and we’ve been in a lot. Peggy told me to go in and spend $200 for my birthday. Boy, does she know me…
The Bovine Bakery is on one side of the book store. The buttermilk scones are to die for! I never leave town without one, or two, or three, or four.
Feeling Horsey? A saddlery is on the other side of the bookstore.
If your horse is hungry, Toby’s Feed Barn is across the street.
But what feed barn do you know that also serves gourmet coffee and freshly baked, large chocolate chip cookies. Now, that’s what I call charm!
A walk behind the the bookstore building brought us to the Cowgirl Creamery, famous for its cheeses, and I might add, its grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve never been a fan of grilled cheese, but one bite of its aged white cheddar on sourdough bread and I was hooked. Peggy and I were back for another one the next day, which we took out and ate at the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
Our view from where we chowed down on our grilled cheese sandwiches in the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
A bit of living history. Cheda’s Garage is the oldest contract Triple A garage in the nation.
This was the view inside Cheda’s Garage. Putting two and two together and thinking roadside pickup of wrecked cars, I couldn’t help but irreverently think “Roadkill.” Just kidding. Old Cheda must have been one heck of a hunter.
A photo of early Pt. Reyes Station…
The building today.
The mural on the front of the building capturing some of the activities and wildlife of the area.
Just around the corner we found a sign that made us smile. A No Parking Sign had been cleverly modified to become a No Barking sign. Several cars were lined up in the no parking zone. Not one had a barking dog. A law-abiding town, for sure.
I’ll conclude my Pt. Reyes series with a historic photo of the train that gave the town its name. Join me next Friday on my travel blog as I take you on a spring walk around our property.

MONDAY’s BLOG-A-BOOK POST from Its 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: I decide that doing an inventory of the local skunk population is ever so much better than being conked on the head by a Little League hardball. But have you ever faced a skunk standing on its front legs with its tail pointed toward you— ready to spray?

I Join a Massive Sit-In and Sing Protest Songs with Joan Baez… Berkeley in the 60s

Joan Baez singing in front of Sproul Hall during an FSM rally. Later she would join the participants in the defining sit-in of the Free Speech Movement and I would sit down with her and sing protest songs.

One day I was faced with a test more serious than any I had ever faced in the classroom. On Friday, December 3, 1964, FSM leaders called for a massive sit in at Sproul Hall. Once again communication had broken down and the Administration was back peddling, caught between students and faculty on the one side and increasing pressure from the outside on the other.

I thought about the implications of the sit-it and decided to join. It was partly on whim, and partly because I felt compelled to act. For three months I had listened to pros and cons and watched the press misrepresent what was happening on campus as a violent resurrection egged on by Communists rather than peaceful protests with a legitimate cause. The public had little option but to believe we were being manipulated by a small group of radicals. 

It was not wrong to utilize an edge of campus for discussing the central issues of the day, or for organizations to raise funds for various causes, or even to recruit students to participate in efforts that ranged from supporting Civil Rights to electing Barry Goldwater. It didn’t disrupt my education. I was free to stop and listen, to join in, or pass on. What it did do was irritate powerful, established members of the community. And for that reason, our freedoms had been curtailed. 

Maybe if enough students joined together and the stakes were raised high enough, the Administration would listen, and the press would dig a little deeper. I told Jo Ann I was going inside and then joined the thousand or so students who had made a similar decisions. It was early in the afternoon and we were in high spirits. I believed it would be hard for the Administration to claim 1000 students were a small group of rabble-rousers bent on destroying the system. And I was right. They claimed we were a large group of rabble-rousers bent on destroying the system.

Inside I was treated to one of the more unique experiences of my life. The sit-in was well organized. Mario and other FSM leaders stood at the entrance and gave us directions on what to do if the police arrived. There were also clear instructions that we were not to block doorways. The normal business of the University was not to be impeded, and we were not to be destructive in any way. Floors were organized for different purposes. One was set aside as the Free University where graduate students were teaching a variety of classes. These included normal topics such as physics and biology and more exotic subjects such as the nature of God. Another was set aside as a study hall and was kept quiet. One featured entertainment— including old Laurel and Hardy films. 

After the administrators left, the Dean’s desk became a platform for expressing our viewpoints, much like the police car holding Jack Weinberg had been. I decided to participate. There was a long line of speakers. We were required to take off our shoes so the desk wouldn’t be damaged. The real treat though was an impromptu concert by Joan Baez. I joined a small group sitting around her in the hallway and sang protest songs. The hit of the night was “We Shall Overcome.” It provided us with a sense of identification with struggles taking place in the South. I felt like I belonged and was part of something much larger than myself. Mainly I walked around and listened, taking extensive notes on what I saw and felt. Later I would sit in the Café Med and write them up. They would become the basis of talks I would give back home over the Christmas break.  

Along about midnight I started thinking about my comfortable bed back in the apartment. The marble floors of Sproul Hall did not make for a good night’s sleep and it appeared the police weren’t coming, at least in the immediate future. Yawning, I left the building and headed home. I would come back in the morning.

I did, but I came back to an occupied campus. Armed men in uniforms formed a cordon around the Administration Building where students were being dragged down the stairs and loaded into police vans. Windows had been taped over so people or media could not see what was transpiring inside. The Governor of California, Pat Brown, had acted to “end the anarchy and maintain law and order in California.” 

I am sure Laurel and Hardy would have seen something to laugh about. Dragging kids down stairs on their butts while their heads bounced along behind could easily have been a scene in one of the old Keystone Cop films. The Oakland police weren’t nearly as funny as the Keystone Cops, however. As for Clark Kerr, President of the University, he felt the participants were getting what they deserved and argued that the FSM leaders and their followers “are now finding in their effort to escape the gentle discipline of the University, they have thrown themselves into the arms of the less understanding discipline of the community at large.”

Later, Kerr claimed he had an understanding with Governor Brown to let the students remain in Sproul Hall overnight. He would talk with the protesters in the morning in an effort to end the sit-in peacefully. But Brown reneged on the agreement. One report was that Edwin Meese, Ronald Reagan’s future Attorney General and, at the time, Oakland’s Deputy DA and FBI liaison, had called Brown in the middle of the night with the claim that students were destroying the Dean’s office. 

I had participated in the “destruction,” i.e. stood on the desk in my socks. Either the DA had received an erroneous report or he had deliberately lied to the Governor. My sense was the latter. The people who saw their interests threatened by the student protests had more to gain from arrests and violent confrontations than they did from negotiated settlements. 

A pair of speakers were set up in front of Sproul Hall for reporting on the arrests happening inside. When the police moved to grab the speakers, we formed a tight ring around them. (Photo from Archives.)

The campus came to a grinding halt and a great deal of fence sitting ended. Whole departments shut down in strike. Sproul Hall plaza filled with several thousand students in protest of the police presence. When the police made a flying wedge to grab a speaker system FSM was using, we were electrified and protected the system with our bodies. It was the closest I have ever come to being in a riot; thousands of thinking, caring students teetered on the edge of becoming an infuriated, unthinking mob. Violence and bloodshed would have been the result. Kerr, Brown, Knowland and company would have had the anarchy they were claiming, after the fact. A few days later we were to come close again. And that is the subject of next Wednesday’s post.

FRIDAY’S TRAVEL BLOG: I wrap up my Pt. Reyes series with a pleasant hike out to Abbot’s Lagoon and an exploration of the small but interesting town of Pt. Reyes Station where Peggy directs me to buy $200 worth of books at the bookstore for my birthday present. She knows me well…

The Skull with the Vacant Stare… The Woods

One of my greatest thrills as a boy exploring the woods near our home was watching a doe with her recently born fawn. I am still thrilled when does bring their babies by our home. This photo was from last year. We are expecting new fawns soon. There is a pregnant doe a few feet away from where I am writing right now. At least three others are scattered around our property.
I just fed mom an apple for Mother’s Day.

In my last blog-a-book post from my outdoor adventure book, It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me, I wrote about the Pond, which was a major influence in my childhood leading me to a lifelong love of the outdoors and wilderness. Today, I will introduce another one, the Woods.

The Woods also earned a capital letter. To get there you walked out the back door, down the alley past the Graveyard and through a pasture Jimmy Pagonni rented for his cattle. Tackling the pasture involved crawling through a rusty barbed wire fence, avoiding fresh cow pies, climbing a hill and jumping an irrigation ditch. The journey was fraught with danger. Hungry barbed wire consumed several of my shirts and occasionally went for my back. 

Torn clothing and bleeding scratches were a minor irritation in comparison to stepping in fresh cow poop though. A thousand-pound, grass-eating machine produces acres of the stuff. Deep piles sneak up your foot and slosh over into your shoes. Toes hate this. Even more treacherous are the little piles that hide out in the grass. A well-placed patty can send you sliding faster than black ice. The real danger here is ending up with your butt in the pile. I did that, once. Happily, no one was around to witness my misfortune, or hear my language, except Tickle the dog. I swore him to secrecy.

You do not want to step in this. No, no, no. I took this photo on our recent Cow Walk at Pt. Reyes and got ‘the look’ from Peggy. Think of it as cow art, a Jackson Pollock type of painting, abstract expressionism at its best. Grin.

For all of its hazards, the total hike to the Woods took about 15 minutes. Digger pines with drunken windmill limbs guarded the borders while gnarly manzanita and spiked chaparral dared the casual visitor to venture off the trail. Poison oak proved more subtle but effective in discouraging exploration. 

I could count on raucous California jays to announce my presence, especially if I was stalking a band of notorious outlaws. Ground squirrels were also quick to whistle their displeasure. Less talkative jackrabbits merely ambled off upon spotting me, put on a little speed for a hyper Cocker, and became bounding blurs in the presence of a hungry greyhound. Flickers, California quail and acorn woodpeckers held discussions in distinctive voices I soon learned to recognize.

From the beginning, I felt at home in the Woods, like I belonged. I quickly learned that its hidden recesses contained a multitude of secrets. I was eager to learn what they had to teach me, but the process seemed glacial. It required patience and I hardly knew how to spell the word. I did know how to sit quietly, however. This was a skill I had picked up from the hours I spent with my nose buried in books. The woodland creatures prefer their people noisy. A Curt stomping down the trail, snapping dead twigs, and talking to himself was easy to avoid while a Curt being quiet might surprise them. 

One gray squirrel was particularly loud in his objections. He lived in the top branches of a digger pine beside the trail and maintained an observation post on an overhanging limb. When he heard me coming, he would adopt his ‘you can’t see me gray squirrel playing statue pose.’ But I knew where to look. I would find a comfortable seat and stare at him. It drove him crazy. Soon he would start to thump the limb madly with his foot and chirr loudly. He had pine nuts to gather, a stick home to remodel, and a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed lady to woo. I was blocking progress. Eventually, if I didn’t move, his irritation would bring him scrambling down the trunk for a much more up-close and personal scolding.

After about 15 minutes of continuous haranguing, he’d decide I was a harmless, if obnoxious aberration and go about his business. That’s when I begin to learn valuable secrets, like where he hid his pine nuts. It was also a sign for the rest of the wildlife to come out of hiding. A western fence lizard might work its way to the top of the dead log next to me and start doing push-ups. Why, I couldn’t imagine. Or perhaps a thrush would begin to scratch up the leaves under the manzanita in search of creepy tidbits. The first time I heard one, it sounded like a very large animal interested in little boy flesh. Occasionally there were special treats: A band of teenage gray squirrels playing tag and demonstrating their incredible acrobatics; a doe leading its shy, speckled fawn out to drink in the small stream that graced the Wood’s meadow; and a coyote sneaking up on a ground squirrel hole with an intensity I could almost feel.

I also began to play at stalking animals. Sometime during the time period between childhood and becoming a teenager, I read James Fennimore Cooper and began to think I was a reincarnation of Natty Bumppo. Looking back, I can’t say I was particularly skilled, but no one could have told me so at the time. At least I learned to avoid dry twigs, walk slowly, and stop frequently. Occasionally, I even managed to sneak up on some unsuspecting woodland creature. 

If the birds and the animals weren’t present, they left signs for me. There was always the helter-skelter pack rat nest to explore. Tickle liked to tear them apart, quickly sending twigs flying in all directions. There were also numerous tracks to figure out. Was it a dog or coyote that had stopped for a drink out of the stream the night before? Tickle knew instantly, but I had to piece it together. A sinuous trail left by a slithery serpent was guaranteed to catch my attention. This was rattlesnake country. Who’d been eating whom or what was another question? The dismantled pinecone was easy to figure out but who considered the bark on a young white fir a delicacy? And what about the quail feathers scattered haphazardly beside the trail?

Scat, I learned, was the tracker’s word for shit. It offered a multitude of clues for what animals had been ambling down the trail and what they had been eating. There were deer droppings and rabbit droppings and mouse droppings descending in size. Coyotes and foxes left their distinctive dog-like scat but the presence of fur and berries suggested that something other than dog food had been on the menu. Some scat was particularly fascinating, at least to me. Burped up owl pellets provided a treasure chest of bones— little feet, little legs and little skulls that grinned back with the vacant stare of slow mice.

While Tarzan hung out in the Graveyard and pirates infested the Pond, mountain men, cowboys, Indians, Robin Hood and various bad guys roamed the Woods. Each bush hid a potential enemy that I would indubitably vanquish. I had the fastest two fingers in the West and I could split a pine nut with an imaginary arrow at 50 yards.  I never lost. How could I? It was my fantasy. But daydreams were only a part of the picture. I fell in love with wandering in the Woods and playing on the Pond. There was an encyclopedia of knowledge available and a multitude of lessons about life. Learning wasn’t a conscious effort, though; it was more like absorption. The world shifted for me when I entered the Woods and time slowed down. A spider with an egg sack was worth ten minutes, a gopher pushing dirt out of its hole an hour, and a deer with a fawn a lifetime.

NEXT MONDAY’S POST: Not surprisingly, my classmates start calling me Nature Boy. It was a title I wore proudly.

A Police Car Is Held Hostage and Becomes a Speaker’s Podium… Berkeley in the 60s

Mimeographed sheet on Free Speech Movement from the files of Curtis Mekemson.
Hastily run off mimeograph sheets such as this one kept students up-to-date on what was happening with the Free Speech Movement. It seems terribly quaint in the age of the Internet and cellphones. (From my FSM files.)

Within hours of the time that Dean Katherine Towle sent out her ultimatum about the closure of the Free Speech area and the ban on organizing off-campus activities or raising funds for such activities, the brother and sister team of Art and Jackie Goldberg had pulled together activist organizations ranging in orientation from the radical to conservative, and a nascent FSM was born. Shortly thereafter, the mimeographs were humming and students were buried in an avalanche of leaflets as they walked on to campus. I read mine is disbelief. The clash I had warned the Administration of a year earlier had arrived. There was no joy in being right.

As soon as it became apparent that the Administration had no intention of backing off from its new rules, the FSM leadership determined to challenge the University. Organizations were encouraged to set up card tables in the Sather Gate area to solicit support for off campus causes. I had stopped by a table to pick up some literature when a pair of deans approached and started writing down names of the folks manning the tables. Our immediate reaction was to form a line so we could have our names taken as well. The deans refused to accommodate us. The Administration’s objective was to pick off and separate the leadership of the FSM from the general student body.

A few days later, I came out of class to find a police car parked in Sproul Plaza surrounded by students. The police, with encouragement from the Administration, had arrested Jack Weinberg, an organizer for CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, who had been soliciting support for his organization. Someone had found a bullhorn and people were making speeches from the top of the police car while Jack sat inside. I situated myself on the edge of the fountain next to the Student Union and idly scratched the head of a German Short Haired Pointer named Ludwig while I listened. Ludwig visited campus daily and played in the water. He’d become a Berkeley regular.

Jack Weinberg, who would coin the 60s rallying cry of “Never trust anyone over 30,” being held in the police car on the Berkeley campus. (From my FSM files.)

Eventually I stood up and joined those on the edge of the crowd thereby becoming a part of the blockade. It was my first ever participation in civil disobedience. It was a small step. There would be plenty of time for more critical thinking if the police showed up in force. Being only semi-radical, I did duty between classes and took breaks for eating and sleeping. Eventually, after a couple of days, the FSM negotiated a deal with the Administration. Jack was booked on campus and turned loose, as was the police car. A collection was taken up to pay for minor damages the police car had sustained in the line of duty while serving as a podium. I threw in a dollar. Weinberg, by the way, was the one who coined the rallying cry of youth in the 60s: “Never trust anyone over 30.”

The situation did not improve. Each time a solution seemed imminent, the Administration would renege or the FSM would increase its demands. In addition to the right to organize on campus, the disciplining of FSM leaders became a central issue. Demonstrations took place almost daily and were blasted in the press, which wasn’t surprising considering the local press was the Oakland Tribune. I learned a great deal about media sensationalism and biased reporting. One day I would sit in on a very democratic and spirited discussion of the pros and cons of a specific action and the next day I would read in the Tribune or San Francisco Examiner that I had participated in a major insurrection of left leaning radicals who were challenging the very basis of law and order and civilized society. 

Older adults, looking suspiciously like plain-clothes policemen or FBI agents, became a common occurrence on Campus. It was easy to become paranoid. If we signed a petition, demonstrated, made a speech or just stood by listening, would our pictures and names end up in some mysterious Washington file that proclaimed our disloyalty to the nation? These weren’t idle thoughts. A few years earlier people’s careers had been ended and lives ruined because someone had implied they were soft on communism. J. Edgar Hoover was known for tracking Civil Rights’ leaders and maintaining extensive files on every aspect of their lives. While we weren’t up against the KGB, caution was advisable. We looked warily at those who didn’t look like us. One day a small dog was making his way around the edge of the daily demonstration, sniffing people.

“See that Chihuahua?” Jo whispered in my ear. I nodded yes. “It’s a police dog in disguise. Any moment it is going to unzip its front and a German Shepherd will pop out.” 

The wolf in sheep’s clothing was amongst us. It was a light moment to counter a serious time. And we were very serious. I sometimes wondered when the celebrated fun of being a college student would kick in. 

NEXT WEDNESDAY’S POST: I join an occupation of the Administration Building, give a speech from the Dean’s desk, and sit down with a small group of people to sing Civil Right’s protest songs with Joan Baez.

The Pond: Where I Learned How to Amputate Legs…

Here I am with Tickle and my mother, sitting on the edge of the Graveyard. Tickle was my constant companion when I wasn’t at school. In this story about the Pond, I learn to swim by copying his skill at dog paddling.

There came a time when the Graveyard no longer met my wandering needs. I started traveling farther and farther afield, 15 minutes at a time. That’s how far the Pond and the Woods were away. They were where I played and where I begin to learn about nature. As such, they earned a capital P and capital W— and are the subject of my next two Monday posts. First up is the Pond.

There were a number of ponds in the area. Oscar ‘Ot’ Jones had one on his ranch for cattle; Caldor had one where logs waited for their appointment with the buzz saw; Forni had one over the hill from his slaughterhouse, and Tony Pavy had one that was supposedly off-limits. But there was only one capital P Pond, the one next to the Community Hall. If I told Marshall, my parents or my friends I was going to the Pond, they knew immediately where I would be. 

It was a magical place filled with catfish, mud turtles, bullfrogs and pirates. Although the Pond was small, it had a peninsula, island, deep channel, cattails and shallows. In spring, redwing blackbirds nested in the cattails and filled the air with melodic sound. Mallards took advantage of the island’s safety to set up housekeeping. Catfish used holes in the bank of the peninsula to deposit hundreds of eggs that eventually turned into large schools of small black torpedoes dashing about in frenetic unison. Momma bullfrogs laid eggs in strings that grew into chubby pollywogs. When they reached walnut size, tiny legs sprouted in one of nature’s miracles of transformation. Water snakes slithered though the water with the sole purpose of thinning out the burgeoning frog population and I quickly learned to recognize the piteous cry of a frog being consumed whole. Turtles liked to hang out in the shallows where any log or board provided a convenient sunning spot. They always slid off at our appearance but a few quiet minutes would find them surfacing to reclaim lost territory.

By mid-summer the Pond would start to evaporate. The shallow areas surrendered first, sopped up by the burning sun. Life became concentrated in a few square yards of thick, tepid water, only inches deep and supported by a foot of squishy mud. All too soon the Pond was bone-dry with mud cracked and curled. Turtles, snakes and frogs crawled, slithered and hopped away to other nearby water. Catfish dug their way into the mud and entered a deep sleep, waiting for the princely kiss of winter rains. Ducks flew away quacking loudly, leaving only silence behind. Fall and winter rains found the pond refilling and then brimming. Cloudy, gray, wind-swept days rippled the water and created a sense of melancholy that even an eight-year-old could feel. 

But melancholy was a rare emotion for the Pond.  To us, it was a playground with more options than an amusement park. A few railroad ties borrowed from Caldor and nailed together with varying sized boards made great rafts for exploring the furthest, most secret corners of the Pond. Imagination turned the rafts into ferocious pirate ships that ravaged and pillaged the far shores or primitive bumper cars guaranteed to dunk someone, usually me. In late spring, the Pond became a swimming hole, inviting us to test still cold waters. One spring, thin ice required a double and then triple-dare before we plunged in. It was a short swim. Swimsuits were always optional and rarely worn. I took my first swimming lessons there and mastered dog paddling with my Cocker Spaniel, Tickle, providing instructions. More sophisticated strokes would wait for more sophisticated lakes.

Frogs and catfish were for catching and adding to the family larder. During the day, a long pole with fishing line attached to a three-pronged hook and decorated with red cloth became irresistible bait for bullfrogs. At night, a flashlight and a spear-like gig provided an even more primitive means of earning dinner. The deep chug-a-rums so prominent from a distance became silent as we approached. Both patience and stealth were required. A splash signified failure as our quarry decided that sitting on the bottom of the Pond was preferable to joining us for dinner. Victory meant a gourmet treat, frog legs. Preparation involved amputating the frog’s hind legs at the hips and then pealing the skin off like tights. It was a lesson I learned early: if you catch it, you clean it. We were required to chop off the big feet as well. Mother didn’t like being reminded that a happy frog had been attached hours earlier. She also insisted on delayed gratification. Cooking the frog legs on the same day they were caught encouraged them to jump around in the frying pan. “Too creepy!” she declared.

Catching catfish required nerves of steel. We caught them by hand as they lurked with heads protruding from their holes in the banks. Nerves were required because the catfish had serious weapons, needle sharp fins tipped with stingers that packed a wallop. They had to be caught exactly right and held firmly, which was not easy when dealing with a slimy fish trying to avoid the frying pan. But their taste was out of this world and had the slightly exotic quality of something that ate anything that couldn’t eat them.

The Woods were an equally magical place to go, and they are the subject of of next Monday’s post.

NEXT POST:

Wednesday’s Blog-A-Book Post from The Bush Devil Ate Sam: I join the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and cross the border between concern over what was happening on campus to actively promoting change through civil disobedience.

An Elk Loses Its Coat, a Coyote Digs Sushi, and a Ranch Is History… The Pt. Reyes Series

This bull elk that came down to see us as we hiked out the Tomales Pt. Trail looked quite elegant until we looked at his back. He was still shedding his winter coat and had yet to grow his summer fur. The deer herd that hangs out on our property goes through the same stage, looking frowzy for a couple of months. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Any trip to Pt. Reyes National Seashore should include a drive out to the historic Pierce Pt. Ranch and Tule Elk Reserve. The ranch will introduce you to an important piece of Pt. Reyes history. A hike out the Tomales Pt. Trail from the ranch will take you through some impressive scenery and likely give you a view of tule elk and other wildlife. Ever since the elk were reintroduced to the area in 1978, the herd has thrived. Our photos today start with our hike and end back at the ranch.

The Tomales Pt. Trail starts at the Pierce Pt. Ranch passing under tall Cypress trees planted originally by the ranchers as a wind break. Peggy provides perspective.
A few hundred yards brought us to a number of Calla lilies. Peggy and I wondered if a rancher’s wife had planted them to remind her of a home the family had left behind. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Of course, I had to take photos of the lilies as well.
We stopped to admire the scenery looking out toward Tomales Pt. and the Pacific Ocean.
Another view. The Bodega Headlands can be seen in the distance. If you’ve been to Bodega Bay, it’s possible you’ve driven out there. I like to go out on the headlands and look for whales passing by.
Far below us we saw a pair of coyotes working their way along the beach.
Peggy used her telephoto for a closer shot and, much to our surprise, the coyotes were digging in the sand. Whether they were after clams or crabs or some other seafood delicacy, I don’t know. But what was clear was that the coyotes had developed a tase for sushi!
Shortly afterwards we spotted elk on the ridge above us.
And they came down the hill to see us… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Bringing their cows with them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I caught this photo of one of the bulls checking us out. You can see that he is in that ‘awkward’ stage between losing his winter coat and growing his summer one.
This cow elk was also looking a bit bedraggled. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A final shot of the elk browsing. I liked the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.
The Pierce Pt. Ranch ceased operation in 1973. Visitors are now invited to walk through the grounds and get a feel for what dairy ranching was like before modern dairy operation took over.
I liked the roofs.
I believe a park ranger lives in the ranch house now. I could live there!
The old dairy barn is humongous.
I took a peek inside. This is only half of the barn.
While Peggy stood at the barn door.
Since I took a photo of Peggy, she insisted on taking one of me. I took advantage of one of the downed Cypress trees. And that’s a wrap for today!

NEXT POST:

Monday’s Blog-A-Book from It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: I leave the Graveyard behind and journey off to the Pond where bullfrogs and catfish rule and pirates lurk.

Wednesday’s Blog-A-Book from my lead-up to joining the Peace Corps: I help corral a police car at Berkeley and the rallying cry of ‘Never trust anyone over the age of 30‘ is born.