Heard Around the West


During the day, Polly Letofsky, 35, takes reservations at a ski lodge in Vail, Colo., but several nights a week she turns into Fitness Woman, snowshoeing up Vail Mountain as she trains for her dream of walking around the world. She figures that ambitious jaunt, totaling 7,000 miles across four continents, will require three years and a lot of stamina.

Recently, she was walking up a ski run called Born Free while listening to National Public Radio, when suddenly, "something" leapt over a rise in front of her. Bigger than a dog and sporting a long tail, it was a lion, she realized; she clutched her ski poles tightly, thinking, "I am dinner, man." But no, the cougar moved off below her, in snow that's unusually light this year. Letofsky, standing on the slope that was named for Joy Adamson's book about an orphaned lion cub, then snowshoed uphill for another half an hour, this time with her radio off and the sounds of rustling tree branches magnified. Since her encounter, Letofsky told reporter Allen Best, she's resolved to fight fright by retracing her steps.

Mountain lions hesitate to attack humans, but a tied-up dog can be a tasty treat. In Pahrump, Nev., less than 100 feet from a home on Easy Street, a lion ate Chaco, a nine-year-old collie, and then partially buried the pet, which was still wearing its chain, reports the Pahrump Valley Times. Yet when big cats are doing what comes naturally - hunting and devouring deer - some humans get protective. AP reports that in Reno, Nev., angry homeowners roundly criticized wildlife officials for killing three lions, even though the cougars were spotted near an elementary school. Callers "think we should have tranquilized and moved them someplace else," said wildlife spokesman Chris Healy. The lions, a mother and two cubs, were probably attracted to the neighborhood by food a resident leaves out for deer each year. Now, said Healy, lions aren't just passing through, the streets are "their territory."

If grizzly bears could read, they would stay out of parts of central Idaho. But, illiterate, they remain unaware that they are considered an "Unacceptable Species" and can be shot in Custer County, reports the Missoula (Montana) Independent. That's illegal under federal law; but commissioners meeting in Challis passed their grizzly-free ordinance to defy the government, which has been working to restore grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

When a good dog goes bad in Oregon, it can mean jail time - or even curtains. Sharon Roach of Medford, Ore., says her son's dog, Nadas, a collie-Malamute mix, was sentenced to death for chasing a horse in 1996. Nadas either didn't know or didn't care that it was against state law for a dog to injure, chase or kill livestock. Since then Nadas has run up a $4,000 bill for food and board, yet his owner, who paid the bill, hasn't been able to visit his dog, reports AP. Jackson County Commissioners recently passed an ordinance allowing Nadas to live if he's exiled to an animal sanctuary in Utah.

At a park in western Denver, a coyote has been stalking ducks and geese on frozen Sloan's Lake. Callers have peppered the state's Division of Wildlife with pleas ranging from "help the coyote off the ice" to "I want that thing" trapped and taken away. Wildlife manager Vicki Vargas-Madrid says she watched the coyote, who was fed everything from hamburgers to chips by visitors, and all it seemed to want was some geese or duck for dinner.

Bruce Babbitt hasn't exactly been lying low. After serving as governor of Arizona, he moved to Washington, D.C., to rule over several hundred thousand square miles of federal land, including more than half of Arizona. Most recently, he made headlines as the target of yet another special prosecutor. Nevertheless, when his high school in Flagstaff sent out a flier for a spring reunion, Babbitt was among the "graduates they had lost track of or could not locate," reports the Washington Post.

Fourth-graders at Meadow Lark Elementary School in Great Falls, Mont., showed more initiative: They wrote popular Gov. Marc Racicot (pronounced Roscoe) it would be "way cool" if he happened to visit. He thought so, too. He held up the T-shirt kids gave him inscribed "Montana's Best Artifact" and was not fazed by their first question: Does he wear pajamas to bed? The governor's answer was no, he wears underwear, and while some girls might think that's odd, he told the Great Falls Tribune, "Lots of guys do that."

Stormy skies in Cedar City, Utah, recently brought money from heaven. It happened when a gust of wind pushed open the lid of an automated teller machine and spilled its contents down Main Street. "There were all kinds of people running around grabbing the money," said an observer. Some picked up and returned the bills, reports the Salt Lake Tribune; a few scooped up the twenties and vamoosed.

While a recent audit of the Defense Department focused on nuts and bolts rather than toilet seats, it revealed the Pentagon now spends almost $76 for screws "13,163 percent over the previous price of 57 cents (HCN, 3/30/98). But "designer" screws are just the tip of the iceberg. Springs that used to cost taxpayers 5 cents bounced in price to $1.24 each, AP reports, a jump of 2,380 percent, and screw-thread inserts, once a mere 29 cents, now cost $5.41 apiece, a 1,766 percent rise in price.

Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or betsym@hcn.org.