Heard around the West

 

Rancher Rod Hall was checking cattle when he stumbled onto a wild pool party in his stock pond in the foothills above Hotchkiss, Colo. It wasn't people cavorting but 30 cow elk, beating the heat and having a blast. "One cow started charging around the pond and others followed in great bounding leaps with water flying everywhere," reports Spencer Anderson in the Delta County Independent. "While some elk flailed the surface with their front feet, others reared back and threw themselves forward to throw up geysers of water." Hall says the elk didn't neglect their charges: About every three minutes, one would leave the water to check on the calves.

Santa Fe, N.M., residents are working hard to find a bright spot in the drought. It's not easy, with reservoirs dropping below 23 percent of normal. Water cutbacks mean getting nothing or at best a dab of moisture for lawns, and new phone lines have been installed so that residents can rat to the police about water-stealing neighbors. But here's some happy news, reports the New York Times. Gardeners are spray-painting their artificial flowers red and decorating with freeze-dried evergreens. "A little red paint will make any flower a geranium," chirps interior designer Kay Hendricks. Gardener Mary Branham, who switched from real blooms to silk and plastic bouquets, agrees: "It seemed irresponsible, even when we can water once a week." So this summer she's dusting her fake flowers twice a week.

Can anything in Aspen, Colo., ever fail to fascinate? There's been a close-to-wretched movie titled "Aspen Extreme," a cologne dubbed Aspen and now the pilot of a weekly television show starring the town is in production. Its title: "Aspen - The Sitcom." The Aspen Times says the plot revolves around a wealthy but delightfully wacky couple who invite friends to live in their mansion. Apparently, the humor will come from observing the ways of a wealthy mountain town. Wealthy might be an understatement. One of the most expensive homes ever listed in the nation is in the Aspen area, reports the Denver Post. The 650-acre Mandalay Ranch can be yours for the asking price of $63 million.

In Idaho, Lynne Hutton got a ticket for speeding 53 miles per hour in a zone marked 35 mph, although she says she was merely going 45 mph. But what really ticked her off, she told the Spokane Spokesman-Review, was the intrusion of religion. The patrolman who pulled her over asked about her Charles Darwin sticker, she said, and wondered if she were a hippie. But when he told her, "I'll see you in heaven," she reportedly replied, "No, you'll see me in court!" Her day in court wasn't much better. Hutton says the traffic judge fined everyone for speeding except "a tall Marine in uniform."

Public-land managers over the years have engaged in a war of jargon against forests. Clear-cuts, for instance, those surgical strikes against large swaths of trees, were often justified because they were said to benefit a host of other forest users, from deer and elk to nature-lovers. But Dorothy Terry in Oregon tells us that during the late 1970s and early '80s, the Bureau of Land Management came up with an even more surprising boon: A widespread scalping of trees, declared the agency, brought the benefit of "Full Sunlight Release."

If you believe that California leads the nation, then organic lunches are coming to our schools. Berkeley switched to chemical-free ingredients and more locally grown food almost two years ago, and now Palo Alto hopes to follow suit. The school district is taste-testing organic lunches: Students rate foods from "yummy" to "yuck," with pasta and burritos getting good votes, but chickenless nuggets a mere "OK." Cost may be a problem, however, and organic milk is particularly pricey, reports Associated Press. Meanwhile, some states are banning the sale of junk food within schools. In California, perhaps surprisingly, that effort failed. The teachers union fought it hard, saying the ban would take money from schools.

In Flagstaff Voice, the newsletter of Friends of Flagstaff's Future, Becky Daggett listed 10 things she learned during her town's Bike to Work week. Though "biking to work is more fun than driving" is number 1, number 10 was a tougher lesson: "My office is uphill both ways."

In the mid-'60s, Julia Child owned the public-TV airwaves with her cheerily authoritative show, "The French Chef." Recently, she celebrated her 90th birthday with the help of nationwide dinners, including several in the West. Former Denver Post food editor Bill St. John recalled recently how Child loved to shock. At a fancy Aspen Food and Wine Classic, he said, the chef told the audience of "prissy ladies" how to cook a lobster at high altitude. " 'Don't steam it,' " she commanded, in that voice like you have a calf by the testicles, 'put it in the microwave and when he stops clawing at the door, he's done.' " When the gasping ceased, St. John says, Julia Child beamed at the audience.

- Betsy MarstonBetsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (betsym@hcn.org). She appreciates tips from the weird and wonderful West.