Coping with coronavirus, week twelve


With the coronavirus pushing much of the public to stay at home, these are unusual times in West Marin. Three months into a changing shelter order, the public is taking life one day at a time. Alongside our coverage of the pandemic, the Light is offering windows into the lives of our readers. This week, we talked to a stoneworker, a bar owner and an ecologist.  

Refuge in the ocean

Hector Mora, a stoneworker and a longtime Bolinas resident, hasn’t had a full week of work for several months, but he’s cherishing the extra time he can spend with his 17-year-old twin daughters. Juniors in high school, his daughters have been home more than typical; with the summer camp they planned to work at canceled, the next several months look the same. Mr. Mora said he and his wife, Siobhan, have been happy to have their daughters home more, and that together, they like to go surfing. “They are happy,” he said. “They have surf, and when they come home, they are all happy and excited about things. The surf changed things for the good, bringing them happiness.” Getting into the water has also helped keep the girls connected with their community. “[My daughters] see their friends by phone or computers—or in the water, surfing. It’s hard, but I don’t think it’s that bad for us. We have the ocean, and it makes everything better.” He does worry about their safety when he goes surfing with his daughters as far as physical distancing, “especially with people driving here from other places. But I try to stay away from people. I feel safe when I stay away,” he said. Mr. Mora, who does stonework with a partner, had to postpone the main project he was working on earlier this spring but has been able to pick up smaller jobs; with restrictions being lifted in recent weeks, he thinks he will soon be able to resume a full schedule. “To be honest, I’m just fine: I’ve been working so much for years and years, so this is a good time to spend with my family,” he said. Meanwhile, Mr. Mora has contributed some of his new time to the Bolinas Community Land Trust, offering over-the-phone translations for the distribution of disaster funds, from which more than 80 Spanish speakers have benefitted. 

Staying present

Leila Monroe, who owns Smiley’s Schooner Saloon with her husband, Simon Dunne, is nearly nine months pregnant. “It’s funny, people haven’t seen me, maybe for months, and so it’s a surprise,” she said. In addition to caring for her 2-year-old, Ms. Monroe has been busy at the helm of her business. Over the past year, the historic downtown building that houses Smiley’s has been undergoing a renovation, and its doors have remained shut throughout the shelter order. The work was paused in March, but was resumed as soon as Marin’s order allowed construction again. Now, Ms. Monroe estimates reopening in August; she originally hoped for Memorial Day. What does re-opening look like? That remains somewhat of a question. “We’re making a new business plan,” she said. “Maybe when we first re-open, the hotel will be used for mid-term, month-long rentals. And we’re thinking about tasty growlers of beer, fun cocktails people are excited about, food that’s easy to take to the beach or home for your family.” Come fall, depending on the status of the virus, she said, the saloon could start providing music on the balcony, if a small crowd could gather while physical distancing. “Playing the devil’s advocate, we could keep it closed for some time,” she said. “But even pared down, with food to-go, we need to do what we can to be a community center, and to be creative, and to also get our employees back to work.” Although the fact that she was already closed meant she was ineligible for a paycheck protection loan, some of her employees successfully applied for unemployment this winter while out of work at the bar. “You have to focus on what is right in front of you, and what is positive,” Ms. Monroe said. “For me that’s my family, and getting this project done.” 

‘Drinking it up’

Diana Humple, an avian ecologist who bases her research out of a field station at the southern end of the Point Reyes National Seashore, has not made the short drive to work from her home in Bolinas in over three months. Ms. Humple, a longtime employee of Point Blue Conservation Science, the group that operates the station, is continuing to work from home, despite resuming field work. A team of around eight seasonal interns has lived at the Palomarin station since the start of March and, after they all opted to stay, the organization closed the doors to protect their wellbeing. Ms. Humple, who typically leads land bird monitoring, intern training and public outreach programs at the station, especially misses working with younger scientists. “It has been hard not to interact with the interns, as that’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job,” she said. “I haven’t had zero contact, but it’s all been virtual. They are amazing, inspiring, and it’s hard to not be a part of their training. But I also feel good about the decision to keep everyone safe.” Recently she was able to resume another part of her job: field work. In mid-May, Point Blue gained permission from local land managers, including the park service, to resume nearly all field operations, with some alterations to honor social distancing requirements. That put them several weeks behind the monitoring of snowy plover nesting sites in the seashore, though Ms. Humple said a park employee had been recording data throughout the shelter order. Now, Ms. Humple is also able to comb the Great Beach looking for the nests of the threatened plovers; she is also able to resume monitoring, counting and banding the land birds she studies. There is just one site near Pine Gulch Creek in the county’s Bolinas Lagoon Open Space Preserve where she won’t resume activities, considering there might be foot traffic from visitors and she can’t ensure that no one would touch her equipment if left unaccompanied. “It honestly feels amazing to see the birds and see the landscapes that I know well but haven’t seen for so long,” Ms. Humple said. “I’m drinking it up. I’ve been dehydrated.”