Heard around the West
by Betsy Marston
people in rural subdivisions worship the wandering moose
on their doorstep; others go for their guns. Jack Fenton, a
worshipper in Summit County, says he was thrilled when a yearling
moose moseyed up to his front door to nibble on a wreath. But his
neighbor shot and killed the moose — and also sent a stray
bullet through Fenton’s door, into his living room. The
shooter may face charges of illegally killing wildlife and firing
guns in a subdivision, reports the Park Record.
THE WEST What with mad cow disease
and depressed markets,
it’s tough for cattle
ranchers to find anything to laugh about. But Tam Moore and Peggy
Steward, writing in the Capital Press, found jokes circulating in
cattle country. After one rancher told another he had to shoot a
cow, he was asked: "Was it mad?" "Well," said the rancher, "it
wasn’t very happy about it." The writers also note that the
word "downer" has entered the language in new ways. It used to mean
sick yet still-walking cattle headed for slaughter. Now it means
anything on the fritz, from downer cars to downer computers. And,
of course, there’s the inevitable T-shirt with an
up-to-the-minute slogan: MY COWS ATTEND ANGER MANAGEMENT.
NEBRASKA It’s a tall order,
living in a house that’s smarter than you are,
controlled by computers you can order doors to open, heat to come
on or water to move, and they will oblige. That might just be why
Don and Charlene Zwonitzer are having a hard time finding a buyer
for their Atlas-E missile site in Kimball, Neb. Or maybe it’s
the idea of living Hobbit-style under the prairie, some 60 miles
east of Cheyenne, Wyo. The remoteness is a plus, insists Don
Zwonitzer, a retired engineer, who says the treeless property is a
snap to defend, ideal for "protection from natural and man-made
disasters like tornadoes and civil violence." The "house" is built
to withstand a one-megaton nuclear bomb exploding as close as 1.6
miles away. The couple spent five years sprucing up their concrete
and steel bastion, glassing over the silo’s "flame pit"
— a three-story vent originally intended for exhaust gases
coming from a fired nuclear missile — to make a greenhouse.
Underground safety doesn’t come cheap: The Zwonitzers are
asking $25 million for their home under the range.
CALIFORNIA Meanwhile, in the hot and
dusty Smoke Tree Valley
of Southern California, a former
newsman with a bad attitude, who admits he "was not a good
employee," lives on a 10-acre homesite he calls Rancho Costa Nada
— "It costs nothing." That’s close to the truth: Phil
Garlington bought the land for $325 at a tax sale five years ago.
Then he built a shelter of sandbags faced with salvaged lumber for
$300. Garlington "is what Huckleberry Finn would have been like had
he lived to be 60," says the San Francisco Chronicle. Life on the
"ranch" — 53 miles from the nearest traffic light and
reachable only by 17 miles of washboard road — isn’t
easy. Summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees; sex is like
water: "You have to go to town to get it;" and there’s the
occasional warplane practicing bombing runs. But Garlington loves
the surreal stillness that descends on the desert at night. As for
others following his lead, he says, "If you are not broke, you are
not going to do this."
"This is wonderful," gushed tourism boss Anne
upon hearing that 400 reporters would converge
on Burlingame, 15 miles south of San Francisco. She and other
residents predict the press will spend money like water while
covering the lurid trial of Scott Peterson, charged with the murder
of his pregnant wife. San Mateo County in Silicon Valley has
languished economically since the dot-com bust four years ago,
which helps to explain LeClair’s jubilation. "You
couldn’t hear us screaming?" she asked the New York Times.
But if another town hosting a hot trial — Eagle, Colo.
— is any guide, the press can be a cheap date. Eagle is the
town where basketball standout Kobe Bryant will be tried for sexual
assault against a local woman. Even though 60 photographers and
reporters crowded the courthouse for preliminary hearings, Eagle
Town Manager Willy Powell told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
that sales tax revenues stayed flat. The reason: "They’re
probably buying a lot of fast food."
Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High
Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are
always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the
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