Heard Around the West

by Betsy Marston

WASHINGTON

John Slemp, a 52-year-old UPS driver from Portland, recently snowmobiled to the top of Mount St. Helens with his son, Jared, who is just back from serving a year in Iraq, reports the Seattle Times. In the cold, crisp air, the men decided to do something risky: They crawled onto a cornice overlooking the mountain's volcanic crater to see what they could see. Twenty feet from the edge, the snow collapsed, and though a friend pulled Jared back, his father began the ride of his life, plummeting 100 to 200 feet before hitting the inside of the crater, according to the Oregonian. Next, he slid some 1,000 feet on his hands and knees "all wrapped up in an avalanche,"said Tom McDowell, an emergency medical specialist who dispatched a helicopter to the bottom of the crater, where a glacier curls around a 876-foot-tall lava dome. "The fact that he survived is really a wonderful thing,"McDowell said. "Shocking, but wonderful."Rescuers said Slemp, who was the first person known to have fallen into the hot heart of the mountain, survived because of his helmet, boots and riding bibs. His major injury was torn knee ligaments.

 

COLORADO

Republicans in Colorado's House of Representatives must cringe whenever Douglas Bruce, R-Colorado Springs, takes the floor. Censured not long ago for kicking a photographer during an opening prayer, Bruce weighed in during a debate about a seasonal program for guest workers with this remark: "We don't need 5,000 more illiterate peasants in the state of Colorado."Legislators gasped and blurted out, "Oh, no,"reports the Denver Post, but afterward, Bruce insisted he'd told the truth and his fellow legislators just didn't want to hear it. Bruce's slur had one good effect: The bill to help farmers more quickly recruit legal workers passed the House by a decisive 46-18.

 

IDAHO

How do you toss a cow pie? Cautiously, to start, so the manure doesn't crumble in your hand. Then there's technique. Lindy Black, a University of Idaho junior who competed in the first annual Ag Olympic Games in Moscow, "tried some discus style, some shot put and then some freestyle,"reports Capital Press. Though Black said she was "strategical in picking the poo,"her throw of 35 feet wasn't enough to win. Hay-bale bucking and round hay-bale rolling also sounded like fun, but a contest that involved chugging 32 ounces of milk after sprinting some 20 yards - "How long do I have to wait before throwing up?"yelled one contestant - seemed a little less so. Next year, promised organizers, the agricultural competitions will be even bigger.

 

OREGON

The headline in the Statesman Journal was intriguing: "Oregon man thinks his dog is an imposter."Ken Griggs of Lake Oswego dropped his black Labrador, Callie, off at a kennel, but he thinks that he picked up the wrong dog a week later. His veterinarian agrees, saying that an X-ray doesn't show the steel sutures that Callie had from her spaying. The dog also could no longer heel and seemed to have gotten a lot thinner. Not true, says Alison Best, the owner of the Tail-Wag-Inn, where seven black Labs boarded during the week in question. She insists that Griggs has the right dog and that he even claimed her a second time at the kennel: "If he can't recognize his dog, I don't feel I can be of any help."Unable to shake that wrong-dog feeling, Griggs has hired a lawyer.

 

ARIZONA

The Phoenix area is experiencing a growing phenomenon called "jingle mail."The term refers to homeowners who mail their house keys back to the bank after realizing that the house they bought is worth far less than their mortgage payments. The trend is pushing up foreclosures, says the Arizona Republic: In March, there were a record 2,365 foreclosures in the Phoenix area, more than quadruple the number from last year. Joan Shaffer, who turned in the keys to a ranch house she bought with her daughter in 2005, said they put nothing down on the home, took out a loan that let them pay less than they should have each month, and now have a loan that's $200,000 more than the house is worth. "No one told us"they were buying at the peak of the market, Shaffer lamented, and now it would take the next 20 years "to get right on the mortgage."

 

THE BORDER

Two months ago - less than a week after paying Boeing Corp. $20 million for a "virtual"28-mile fence along the Arizona border with Mexico - Homeland Security acknowledged that the fence failed to work. It's easy to see why: "Boeing Corp. never consulted border agents before engineering the system, which is not suited to the rugged Sonoran Desert,"reports the Arizona Republic. On April 23, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff finally threw in the towel, saying the fence had flopped and would be replaced by new towers, cameras and radar.


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.

© High Country News