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Child abuse or good old-fashioned fun?


There's sad news about Buford, Wyo., a blip of a place halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie that's home to one Don Sammons. He serves as the town's "everything" man since he is its only resident. But after 20 years of running Buford's trading post, liquor store, hardware and grocery store and -- what really counts -- its gas station, Sammons is fixing to retire, reports NBC-TV News. Sammons jokes that even with a population of one, "Buford is almost a city," and certainly there's nobody around to argue with him. Originally settled in the 1860s, Buford once hosted 2,000 people, but after the railroad quit stopping there, everybody fled. When Sammons moved here from Los Angeles 20 years ago, there were seven residents; now, it's just him. Over the years, he's has become known as the "angel of Interstate 80," thanks to his tow-truck service, which can be crucial during Wyoming's famously ferocious winters. One thing is sure: If Buford is going to survive, it needs a new angel.



Does "mutton busting" build character, or is it a form of child abuse? For those unacquainted with county fairs, riding a sheep is to 3-to-6-year-olds what bull-riding is to agile young men -- a scary and thrilling competition that requires riders to stay on animals that emphatically want to get rid of them. These days, reports The New York Times, mutton busting is a growing sport with its own gear and rules, and even suburbanites are allowing their children to join in. Some parents interviewed in Aurora, Colo., a suburb of Denver, said they love the "pint-size equivalent of bull riding," and they dismissed parents who criticized it as overprotective. Meredith Templin, a registered nurse and mother of a 6-year-old sheep rider, said, "We are teaching our kids that yes, you are going to fall. You can lose, too, and that can mean something." Of course, some kids do get hurt, despite wearing face cages and protective vests, and the "more suburban a competition, the more tears." Stacey Berry, a visitor to Jackson, Wyo., from Massachusetts, saw her first mutton-busting event this summer and concluded that although "it looks cute" and might be a fun idea, it "definitely borders on child abuse." Families who go back for more, however, accept the risks for their children as part of  "a rejection of the trend of bubble-wrapping childhood." And some kids crave the action: At one event in Jackson, for example, "a 2-foot-high cowboy in sky-blue-fringed chaps careened out of the chute, somersaulted off the sheep and rose immediately, dust-covered, pumping tiny fists to wild applause." 

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From my Alaska trip: I flew into a small town that is not reachable by road, then hopped on a motorboat and drove across lakes and rivers for 2.5 hours to reach the scientists' camp way out in the boondocks -- out there they have a few rough cabins and a generator that makes electricity only in the evening and two outhouses -- and lo and behold, for reading material in the outhouses they have issues of the Economist magazines and HCN -- amazing to discover HCN readers way out there!

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