On a Web site called Gizmodo, which caters to computer gearheads and other gadget collectors, we found a controversial offering a few months ago from Argentinean artist Judi Werthein. She has designed running shoes for illegal immigrants that feature a built-in compass and flashlight, a pocket inside the shoe’s tongue for aspirin or money, and a map of "popular routes going from Tijuana to San Diego on the insole." The shoes are called Brincos, a play on the Spanish verb brincar, which means to jump, as in jump the border, and they’re a flashy red, white and green with an Aztec eagle on the heel. Brincos are not cheap: "So-called hip stores in San Diego were spotted selling them for $215." But Werthein has given them out free to would-be migrants in Tijuana.
Writing in western Colorado’s Mountain Valley News, Steve Widner confesses that for him, the fun in farming is all about violence — and he doesn’t think he’s alone. "In the blood of every farmer runs the yearning for power, noise, and if you get right down to it, destructiveness," he says. Farmers aren’t that different from racecar drivers, he adds; they like nothing better than firing up a tractor in the early morning, then hearing it roar and belch smelly black smoke. One farmer, he says, gets such a kick out of pulverizing entire cedar trees into chips and mulch with his brush-hog that he calls it "addictive."
Beauty doesn’t always win the prize. Capital Press says the gorgeous Red Delicious apple — so perfectly shaped, so intense a shade of red — eventually bombed with both growers and consumers because the redder it got, the more it tasted like sawdust. The "downfall" of the Red Delicious came in 1998, said orchard economist Tom Schotzko, when a huge crop went on the market after an unusually hot summer. The apple was of inferior quality, he said, but what was worse, the crop "hung around until well into 1999." These days, hardly anybody plants Red Delicious. Schotzko said he looks for Gala and Honeycrisp in the fall and buys Cameo and Fuji later.
Talk about a really big job: Mark Connolly is the only archaeology cop employed by Utah, and his beat encompasses 45,000 lonely acres. He watches over Range Creek Canyon, 150 miles from Salt Lake City. In 2002, rancher Waldo Wilcox gave this area, which is rich in Fremont Indian artifacts, to the public. As part of the deal, Connolly, a former game warden, was hired to thwart looters, reports The Wall Street Journal. He has been doing that not by firepower, though he’s well armed, but by his constant presence. He loves the job, and when he leaves the canyon, he says, he always stops at a pass "to thank the canyon for the experience."
What’s in a name? Perhaps nothing, but it is curious that the Colorado Department of Revenue ordered a recent auction at a failed restaurant in Boulder, of everything from a refrigerator to a bun warmer. The restaurant was called "Fiasco’s Mexican Grill."
Codes of the West keep proliferating as more and more urbanites head for the hills. All too often, county commissioners find that newcomers arrive clueless about irrigation practices and rights, the tendency of cute wildlife to eat flowers, shrubs and trees, and the fact that it just might be unpleasant to live cheek by jowl with smelly cows or farmers working with loud machines. In Wyoming, Teton County is considering adopting a code of conduct because new residents expect services the county can’t afford to provide, such as plowing remote roads. The county’s booklet harks back to an idealized Old West, where people were "bound by an unwritten code of conduct" guided by "integrity and self-reliance." The hope, apparently, is that newcomers will follow in these footsteps — however imaginary. As Teton County Commissioner Roger Hoopes told the Post-Register in Idaho, "As more people come in, there’s more of an opportunity to have people disappointed that the services are not here." Newcomers come with similar expectations in the southern Oregon county of Jackson, where land development around Medford is booming, reports the Oregonian. A 28-page newcomer’s guide, prepared by the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District, is meant to prepare people for the vagaries of rural life. There’s a lot to learn, said a conservation district member; the newest newcomers "don’t even know what questions to ask a seller or a Realtor."
Betsy 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 West.