Bargain hunters found an unusual offer recently in the Mountain Valley News of western Colorado. For a limited time — until Memorial Day, May 25 — Mesa View Cemetery in Delta breathlessly announced, “If you purchase one grave space at our regular price in the Garden of Peace, our upright headstone section, you will receive the second grave space FREE.”
The president of the University of Washington, announcing the elimination of 1,000 jobs at the Seattle college, plus a yet-to-be determined number of layoffs, wants people to become furious and do something about it. Budget cuts this deep are unprecedented, Mark Emmert told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and will take 10,000 students per year out of the state’s four-year university system. That means employers such as Boeing and Microsoft might have to recruit workers from other states, he added, while “our sons and daughters will be washing their cars.” Emmert spoke to an audience of 100 people, who laughed nervously. “I’m not saying all of this to depress you,” Emmert said. “I’m saying it — maybe to make you mad.”
The honchos at Arizona State University sure know how to get people fired up. First, they invited President Barack Obama to be the commencement speaker May 13, and then they decided not to award him an honorary degree, as is customary at these ceremonies. The rationale? “His body of work is yet to come,” reports huffingtonpost.com. Not to worry, says Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini, who agrees that the university “blew it,” however unintentionally. Obama will get an ASU diploma after all; it will just have somebody else’s name on it. A 1970s graduate informed Montini that she mailed the president her own diploma because she was so “embarrassed and insulted that the university has said that President Obama is not worthy of an honorary degree.” The woman also wrote Arizona State president Michael Crow that the university had made itself a “laughingstock.”
Oh, the irony. For 13 years, the state environmental agency in Vancouver, Wash., searched in vain for the source of pollution in Burnt Bridge Creek and Vancouver Lake. During the last two and a half years, the investigation became intensive, with workers using “a probe mounted with a small television camera to survey 300 miles of underground storm water pipes.” They should have looked closer to home, reports The Associated Press, because the source turned out to be the ecologists themselves. Fourteen employees of the state’s Department of Ecology, 80 staffers from the Department of Fish and Game, and three members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all work and go to the bathroom in a building that was originally designed to house a garden center. State officials believe that when the building was built, back in the 1970s, its sewer pipe was mistakenly hooked into a storm water drain, bypassing Vancouver’s sewage plant. It took some years for the raw sewage flooding the creek to be noticed, but in 1996, state ecologists realized that Burnt Bridge Creek was “severely polluted with fecal coliform bacteria” — and the hunt was on for the source. City workers finally solved the riddle, and needless to say, the news stunned state ecologists. As spill-response specialist Laura Sauermilch succinctly put it, “Holy crap, let’s get this taken care of!”
Thanks to geolocators the size of a dime — small enough for a bird to bear — scientists have documented that songbirds such as thrushes can cover as many as 311 miles in a day. One female martin flew an incredible journey of 4,660 miles in only 13 days, all the way from the Amazon Basin to Pennsylvania, reports the Los Angeles Times. Closer to home, a female wolf in search of a mate recently trekked across five states, leaving Montana and crossing through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, then wandering through Idaho and Utah before arriving in western Colorado. Total distance the 18-month-old female covered: 1,000 miles. Tagged 314F, the wolf is the second one known to come to Colorado from Yellowstone; a car struck another radio-collared wolf near Idaho Springs in 2004. No one knows if other wolves — particularly males — live in the wolf’s new neighborhood, says the state’s Division of Wildlife.
A different breed of cat starred in a barroom saga in Cottonwood, Ariz., that’s “sure to become legend,” reports the Arizona Republic. The tale begins with a woman stopping her car at 10:30 p.m., after thinking she’d hit something. She had — a bobcat — which proceeded to pounce on her and rake her face with its claws. The animal then scared a worker in a Pizza Hut parking lot, before moving on to the front of a neighborhood bar called the Chaparral. There, it chased three people who were trying to leave the bar back inside: Pandemonium ensued, as patrons jumped up onto pool tables or ran around them trying to escape. The bartender made the mistake of reaching down to the bobcat to pick it up, whereupon the bobcat jumped on his face, scratching him under an eye and behind his ear. Then the animal found a new target, wrapping itself around the leg of a patron, who retaliated by punching it in the face. The bobcat lay still for a moment before racing outside through the front door, where it was shot dead by a police officer. “We’ve had calls to that bar before,” said a Cottonwood cop, “but never for a bobcat.” The bad news for everyone clawed was finding out that the bobcat was rabid; victims are now undergoing a series of five rabies shots. The good news is that the shots go in the arm nowadays. Said the bartender, “They don’t do it in the abdomen anymore. Thank God.”
In Spokane, Wash., Vickie Mendenhall thought she’d gotten a great deal by paying only $41 for a used couch. But then she and her boyfriend Chris Lund kept hearing a strange, high-pitched noise when they sat down on it to watch television, reports the Spokesman-Review. After a couple of days, Lund finally lifted up the couch and found the source: a cat, who was trapped inside it. The cat — named Callie — was owned by the man who’d donated the couch, and he had been wondering where his pet had gone.
Jim Stiles, the West’s curmudgeon-in-chief (“All the news that causes fits” is his motto), is back in southern Utah’s sandstone country — Australia, alas, did not work out. Stiles’ quirky Canyon Country Zephyr is back, too, though the actual paper and ink are gone and you can only read the bimonthly (now with color illustrations and photography) online at canyoncountryzephyr.com. The usual suspects are online, too, including John DuPuy, Herb Ringer, Martin Murie and the late Ed Abbey, plus letters from argumentative readers and others who tend to support Stiles’ latest hobbyhorse about the New West, which might be summed up as “the super-rich make really rotten environmental stewards.” Stiles calls his Vol. 1, No. 1 issue the Planet Earth Edition, and, in true obstreperous fashion, he includes a quote from Al Swearingen, the foul-mouthed hero of the wonderful but now defunct TV series, Deadwood: “Pain, the damage don’t end the world. Or despair. Or beatings. The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man. And give some back.”
Eleven years ago, a weekend tradition began in Astoria, Ore., the coastal town at the mouth of the Columbia River that once boasted scores of busy salmon canneries. It’s called the annual Fisher Poets Gathering, and this time participants in what one observer called “the blue-collar school of poetry” were given just 24 hours to write eight lines that had to include the phrase “you might be missing fish.” The third-place winner was Rob Seitz, who fishes year-round for cod, whiting and Dungeness crab, reports the New York Times:
“If your son is not intimidating
On the line of scrimmage,
If your daughter’s report card
Is not the brightest image,
If your children are not turning out
As healthy as you’d wished,
Perhaps on your dinner table
You might be missing fish.”
Porcupines have gotten such a bad rap lately — and yes, some of them do girdle and kill backyard trees in pricy subdivisions — that it’s time to make amends to these thorniest of large rodents, says Colorado Outdoors, the colorful publication of the state’s Division of Wildlife. Porcupines are handsome in an outlandish way, and perhaps because they tend to waddle, they rarely go looking for trouble, preferring to hang out by themselves. But when a winter turns really snowy, several “quill pigs,” as the French named them, will den together in hollow logs, trees or under houses and barns. Wherever they gather, they’re called a “prickle,” and the baby porcupines are delightfully dubbed “porcupettes.” Many Native Americans like to use porcupine quills to decorate clothing and make jewelry, but nowadays they can do it without harming porcupines or themselves. You still have to get close to the porcupine, but just tap the animal — gently — on the back with a Styrofoam paddle, and the quills will detach and stick fast.