March 9, 2006
CACKLING PEEPS: In the pre-dawn dark, out in one of the far-off corners of Hookton Slough, a few geese begin chattering in high-pitched nasally voices. Nearby, beside the dike of grassy land where a stream of murmuring people has just flowed by, somebody splashes quietly in the water and lets out a woo-WOO!-woo. A trumpeter swan.
The people gather, a dark clump in the gloom, to look out across the water to where the geese voices are growing into a swarm of sound. Soon a black band of shifting, winged dots rises into the lightening sky and swirls, expands. The Aleutian cackling geese go every which way -- breaking into small groups, forming half-hearted Vs that quickly disintegrate into noisy, conversational clumps or waggling lines (underscoring their status as a sub-species of the decidedly more regimented, V-perfectionist Canada goose), re-merging with bigger groups, splitting off again.
They fly east, west and finally circle the horizon like a broad fringe of babbling sky ants. By daybreak, some 30,000 geese (and there's another 40,000 launching from other sites between here and Crescent City) are off to spend another day nibbling on Humboldt County farmers' fields. Which, you know, is just what they do.
Meanwhile, down on the dike bisecting the slough, the humans have congregated beside a spotting scope to spy on a group of trumpeter swans and chatter about the "goose problem" -- used to be, these geese were nearly extinct. Now, they're thriving. But these people seem to like the geese -- they're bird lovers, out here this early morn for the 4th Annual Humboldt Geese Fly-Off & Family Fun Weekend. So they spy, catch up on gossip, mingle, joke -- the wind snatches at fragments of their talk: "Oh, sounds like quite a catch!" "She must really miss her." "I'm Sue." "Hi. I'm Martin." "They eat the grass grown for the cows." "Who wants to go for a swim?"
"Woo-WOO!-woo," says a swan, its white body and black face now visible in the water. The wind is freezing, the day layers of cold blue water, black land, cold blue sky. And the geese are still cackling, in the air and on the ground. Talking, talking: "Look at the people over there." "Did I tell you about that farmer who chased me?" "Their population just keeps growing." "It's a problem." "Hmm. Nice grass, though." "How'd you sleep?"
HOMICIDES: In as many weeks, two people have been killed in Humboldt County. The first homicide of 2006 was the murder of Tracy Daniel Reynolds, 38, a homeless man who was allegedly killed by two teenage boys near the railroad tracks along Humboldt Bay between the Elk River Slough Bridge and the Humboldt Bay Power Plant in south Eureka. The boys, Joaquin Fitzgerald, 16, and Keyontae Lamar Taylor, 15, who have both attended area schools, were arrested by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office. They will be tried as adults by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office for armed robbery, homicide and animal cruelty. The boys reportedly shot and killed a cow, robbed Reynolds of $2 and change and shot him twice through the heart and once in the leg on Feb. 24.
On the evening of March 5, after receiving a 911 call reporting an assault, sheriff's deputies responded to the 400 block of Crocketts Crossing in Fieldbrook. There they found Peter Wyland, 58, of Fieldbrook lying in the driveway, dead from a stab wound. The next morning detectives returned to the scene and arrested 24-year-old Michael Kenneth Throckmorton at the residence, where he lived with a roommate. He was booked into the Humboldt County jail for murder and one count of attempted murder for also stabbing David Harris, 46, of Fieldbrook. Harris was taken to the hospital by a neighbor before police arrived. According to police, Throckmorton was involved in an ongoing dispute with his landlord. Neither Wyland nor Harris owned the residence or lived there, but had reportedly intervened in past disputes. Throckmorton's bail was set at $1 million. His arraignment is scheduled for Wednesday, March 8.
BIG ALLOWANCE: The Capitol Weekly, a Sacramento-based newspaper specializing in state politics, reported last month that an 18-year-old Eureka high-schooler had contributed $44,600 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign -- the maximum amount allowed under campaign finance laws. Who's the generous young woman, you ask, and how many cups of lemonade did she have to sell to raise such an impressive amount? The answers, as you may have already guessed, are: Elizabeth Arkley, and none.
In total, the Weekly reported, the four-member Arkley family -- headed by Rob and Cherie Arkley, owners of Security National Servicing Corp., the Eureka Reporter and numerous affiliated projects, including the Home Depot-based development of Eureka's Balloon Track -- gave nearly $180,000 to the Schwarzenegger campaign on one day in February. Of course, that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the over $1 million the Arkleys have contributed to state and national Republican causes in the last two years. Someone's paying attention: TheRestofUs.org, a campaign-finance watchdog based in Sacramento, said in a recent press release that it would be filling a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, alleging that the Arkleys failed to properly report some $350,000 given to Schwarzenegger-related causes in 2004.
BARSTOW CASINO: The Big Lagoon Rancheria's bid to build a casino in Barstow has advanced one step forward and stumbled one step back.
Forward: State Sen. Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) and Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka) co-authored, and introduced two weeks ago, a bill that would ratify compacts that Big Lagoon and another tribe, the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians of San Diego County, negotiated with the governor last September to build a $160 million joint, off-reservation dual-casino resort in Barstow.
Back: A superior court judge threw out a lawsuit that attempted to stop an initiative, intended for the June 6 ballot, that would establish a 570-acre gaming zone for Indian casinos in Barstow that excludes the site where Big Lagoon and Los Coyotes would build their casinos. The lawsuit had been filed by a citizens group called "Barstow Citizens for Real Economic Development," who said that the initiative would give unfair advantage to a third tribe, the San Bernardino-based Chemehuevi, that also wants to build a casino there. (It was recently revealed that the citizens group is funded by Barwest, LLC, the consultant group helping Big Lagoon and Los Coyotes launch their resort.)
Meanwhile, the city of Barstow has approved a municipal services agreement with Los Coyotes to build a casino, but hasn't negotiated one yet with Big Lagoon. (The city also has approved such an agreement with the Chemehuevi.) If Big Lagoon gets the city agreement, if the dual project meets the city council's approval and if the project gains legislative approval, the remaining hurdles will be the June 6 initiative and getting the U.S. Department of the Interior to place the casino lands in federal trust.
Or, alternatively, perhaps it will be the Chemehuevi who end up roping in some of the 60-million-annual travelers between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
STORMS SINK OSCAR, AGAIN: For the second year running, local ABC affiliate KAEF-TV thoroughly botched the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night. Last year, the station's signal blinked in and out throughout the duration of the broadcast, usually reverting to snow at the most crucial moments, such as the announcement of the Best Picture award. This year, the station was long gone before they ever rolled out the red carpet, leaving rabbit-ear-antenna-loving diehards high and dry all night long.
Of course, the station wasn't alone. Radio stations up and down the coast were knocked out by Sunday's powerful winds, which reached speeds of nearly 70 miles per hour in some spots. (Even mighty KHUM, so praised for its efforts during the New Year's storms, was out for a few hours Sunday morning. Cool105, this was your turn to shine!) And power once again went out all around the backwoods.
But KAEF's perennial signal woes can't be reduced to bad weather. The station was also off the air Wednesday night, the night the programming sadists at ABC had finally deigned to give their viewers a new episode of Lost. Once again -- perhaps this will become a yearly feature -- we pause to note KAEF's slogan: "Serving The Community." It's good to remember that, because if you didn't know any better you'd think they were intentionally trying to herd you into the greasy 300-channel world of cable or direct satellite.
story and photos by HEIDI WALTERS
Looking like a backwoods bishop, shaggy-maned Shunka Wakan [right] sat at a table inside his cramped, colorful Earth First! office above a hubcap shop in Arcata last Thursday and ranted about the devil-doings of corporations and the government. The scent of local incense clung to air molecules, and behind Shunka hung a cloth backdrop edged in blue paisley with a center cross design in blue flowers. In front of him was a microphone, and a few inches from that a video camera on a tripod. Shunka's roommate, 4 Winds [below], sat between the camera and a computer, upon which the image of Shunka and the backdrop appeared on the Earth First! website.
"Hello, this is Shunka Wakan, coming to you live from North Coast Earth First! Media, Humboldt County," said the live Shunka and the streaming-video Shunka. "This is our big debut show. So, we're gonna be coming to you live every week on Thursday, 5 o'clock p.m., Pacific Standard Time, from Humboldt County, California. We're here to expose Maxxam Corporation/Pacific Lumber Company and the corrupt Humboldt County Sheriff's Department and the corrupt agencies that enable Maxxam PL to do the dirty things that they do here in Humboldt County."
For the next 35 minutes, using equipment donated to the cause, Shunka read from local Earth First! press releases and from newspaper articles -- a sustained laid-back rant with recurring themes: "Maxxam Corporation SLAPP suits harassment lawsuits ridiculous Hurwitz ancient redwoods civil lawsuits harass people harass activists golden eagles marbled murrelet last remaining old growth Pacific Lumber suing us suing them nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action Hurwitz ridiculous propaganda protect the forest on the web at northcoastearthfirst.org nonviolent civil disobedience arrested just ridiculous."
For a newcomer to the issue, it might have been a confusing half-hour. For old-timers, who've read it all on the group's website or perhaps partaken in the actions -- nothing new.
Shunka also peppered the news bits with commentary. Regarding a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) filed by Pacific Lumber against him and some other activists over an action in the Mattole River watershed, he said:
"I had heard that Pacific Lumber had fallen a tree that had a golden eagle nest in it, so I went out there with a video camera to document [it]. And I was tackled by a Pacific Lumber backhoe operator [who was ordered to] chase us around all day, tackled two of us injuring both of us, and then we get charged -- right? They had actually sent in somebody -- or at least we'd been infiltrated, let's just say, by these two young kids, let's say, that were coming in, leaving packs all over the place -- they messed with the machine. North Coast Earth First! does not do property destruction. So they came in, messed with this guy's machine, who of course was enraged We have a counter cross-complaint ."
He also trashed a new book, The Tree-Sitter by Suzanne Matson. "Apparently she's from the Pacific Northwest, but, this book just sounds awful. It's about this young girl that gets involved with tree-sitters, and then these tree-sitters supposedly become militant and start blowing things up and then she has this awful crisis, this moral crisis. and they're blowing stuff up It doesn't happen, OK? This book is just completely disgusting, folks. I haven't read it, but just everything I've read about it on the Internet it's just one thing after another, trying to tie in tree-sitters with this whole eco-terrorism and property destruction. People are sitting in trees, they're not going around blowing things up. We're above ground, OK? It's ridiculous."
Shunka turned the mic and backdrop over to 4 Winds, who rapped freestyle to a soaring soundtrack:
" it's all about making life better for each and every person, the water and streams dreams water and earth and the corn that grows from it rebel during the day rebel during the night sacred, thank god that we made it this far and all you have to do is stand in the trees and look up at the stars come out to Humboldt County and experience it we've got things like spotted owls and golden eagles, this forest is regal, you gotta see it to believe it; and after they fall, you know we're gonna have to grieve it ."
Then Shunka thanked the Streamguys, the Arcata-based firm that hooked the system up for him, and turned the show over to a short film by Alex Jones called America: Destroyed by Design.
In the silence -- because all the action was now taking place online -- Shunka and 4 Winds talked about how they found their calling as EarthFirst! activists.
Shunka, 30, was an occasional activist in the beginning. In 1995, on the banks of the Cheyenne River in South Dakota, he was given his Lakota name. The first part, "Shunka Wakan," means "great dog." But there's more parts to the name that he said he can't reveal. Altogether, his name means "the humble man called horse."
When he was 23, Shunka fell asleep at the wheel of his car and almost died. He was living in Missouri. "And I just really decided I really wanted to go West," he said. "Just the fact that I'd almost died in Missouri, and I was working just some crappy job, and I felt I was really just wasting my life. Then I heard this sister named Julia Butterfly was living in a tree. I knew her in Arkansas -- we met through music."
So he moved to Humboldt County, sought out Julia in her tree and became part of her core ground-support team. Then, on Sept. 17, 1998, while he was doing his first direct action with Earth First!, he saw David "Gypsy" Chain get crushed by a tree that a logger felled. Gypsy's friends say he was murdered, but the court ruled otherwise. "That's when I decided to dedicate my life to filling the hole left by his death -- a life of action, as opposed to doing it just once in a while," Shunka said.
4 Winds, 28, grew up in San Francisco. He got his name "from an Ojibwe down in Ward Valley, in the Mojave, working with the American Indian Movement in the spring of 1998." That same year he went to Humboldt County to join a protest -- he was in the woods the day before Gypsy died.
Shunka said he hopes, for future broadcasts, to bring the camera out into the field, maybe to some tree-sits. "Some of my friends are working on a real nice film right now about Nanning Creek [where there's a tree-sit now], so we'll be streaming that over too when they get that done," he said.
In the meantime, between the Thursday streaming live webcasts, you can catch Shunka in person in front of the Arcata Co-Op most days -- that's where he "tables," offering information on North Coast Earth First! and hoping for donations.
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© Copyright 2006, North Coast Journal, Inc.