Heard Around the West

  • Waiting for the mail in Paonia, Colorado

    SHAUN C. GIBSON
 

MONTANA

Karen Craver might have one of the toughest jobs in the West. For three years, she's been a rural mail carrier in sparsely populated northern Montana, close to Canada. "Some places up here," she says, "it's 10 miles between mailboxes." Every Tuesday and Thursday, Craver hits the rocky road that takes her north of Columbia Falls and along Glacier National Park's western wilderness. It takes her 12 hours to fill the mailboxes of some 100 people along the 156-mile round-trip route. During the winter, her biggest worry is encountering frustrated moose trapped on the road by the snow piled up alongside it. "You don't want to push the moose," she says. "I followed a cow and calf seven miles one day before she could get off the road." Craver told Michael Jamison of the Missoulian that she also has to mind a mailbox that's been colonized by a squirrel: "You always have to knock first so the squirrel has time to go out the back." Then there's a mailbox that sometimes contains deer and elk brains, dropped off by friends of the mailbox's owner, who does brain tanning. Craver travels in good company; her black Newfoundland hangs out in the back "drooling on the parcels and the postcards," and in the front seat, his head poked out the window, sits a huge gray wolf she calls "homeland security." "I don't think there's any other postal delivery people with wolves in their rigs," she notes. Craver admires the diverse and self-reliant people she serves: "These are people with open minds, people with closed minds, people with really strong opinions. But when it comes down to it, we all still go to the community hall for Thanksgiving dinner. We take care of each other." That way of life could change, though, with a flock of new people buying land for summer homes along her route and importing big generators, solar panels and radio-phones. The newcomers also attract a ton of junk mail: "All this effort to haul junk mail this far into the middle of nowhere, all those catalogues, and it doesn't even make good fire starter."

IDAHO

You can be richy rich, but you can't escape ridicule. That's what Duane Hagadone, owner of hotels, newspapers, luxury cars, boats, artwork and who knows what else, discovered when he tried to get Idaho to approve a helicopter landing pad on Lake Coeur d'Alene. "In a disgraceful display of independent thought," wrote Doug Clark of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, "the Idaho Department of Lands said no to the North Idaho tycoon's nature-improving Coeur d'Alene plan." Clark, who once worked as an editor at Hagadone's Coeur d'Alene paper, said there's only one thing for a man to do when faced with the heartbreaking disappointment of not getting a helipad: Sing the blues. Figuring Hagadone was too busy to do the job, Clark volunteered in his stead, writing and recording "The Duane B. Hagadone Blues." "I attempted to channel the vocal stylings of Randy Newman meets Dr. John meets Harlan Pepper, the bloodhound owner from the movie Best in Show," Clark says. It begins: "Got a private jet to fly me. Got a castle on a hill. I just sold my ocean-going yacht, for $90 mil. You'd think I'd be slap-happy. But I'm Idaho-so sad. Cuz the state won't let me build my helipad." Read more of the helipad blues at spokesmanreview.com.

ARIZONA

From Bisbee to Kingman, a "pop-up" battle has been pitting neighbor against neighbor. The homeowners who build a second story think the gain in space is great. But the pop-up blocks the view of the next-door neighbors and resembles a storage shed or even a cargo container, reports the Arizona Republic. One dispute in a high-end development in Scottsdale has gone on for five years, with Joan Zittle calling a metal-sided pop-up next to her "just plain ugly." Yet the second-story addition is legal, says Garth Saager, director of the McCormick Ranch Property Owners Association. He adds, "You're not entitled to your view." Lake Woebegon author and public-radio host Garrison Keillor disagrees: In St. Paul, Minn., he's suing his next-door neighbors over their new second story.

WYOMING

Cheryl and Vince Pierce were remarkably upbeat after a heavy snowfall collapsed the roof of a famous diner that they'd moved 2,400 miles from New York City to LaBarge, Wyo. "This is just one of those things that happens," Cheryl Pierce told the Associated Press. The Moondance was almost 100 years old and one of the last remaining freestanding diners in the city when the couple bought it for $7,500 last year. It had stood near the Holland Tunnel in Manhattan and was slated for demolition to make way for condominiums. The new owners say the diner will reopen by spring or early summer.


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.