Paul Rauber of the Sierra Club wrote to say "I am a great fan of "Heard Around the West." There is, however, something that drives me crazy about it: your habit of putting random phrases into boldface... Otherwise, I love you dearly."
We hear you, Paul.
Patricia A. McColm of California's Bay Area likes to sue: her neighbors, various department stores she falls down in or is insulted by, the many vehicles she collides with, and judges who find little merit in her lawsuits. She is such a force of nature that Realtors feel compelled by law to warn people that the house they are looking at is within her sights. As a result of her many suits, the Wall Street Journal reports, she is about to be labeled a "vexatious litigator" by the courts and lose her right to sue.
Her neighbor, Allen Greenbaum, who has been sued by her because of his kids' backyard basketball games, is all for it:
"People who are inclined this way, they should find a place to be way in the country, away from civilization, where they have no worries at all about anybody interfering with their lives."
Thanks a lot, Allen, but we're already full up with those folks.
In the West, there is only one major topic: real estate. Everything else Westerners do is merely passing the time, while we wait for the boom that means our ship has come in, or the bust that will drive us back to Los Angeles or Dallas or New York. Signs of our preoccupation are everywhere.
In Tucson, citizens carrying placards that read "Developers Go Build in Hell" were confronted by about 1,000 construction workers outside a meeting of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. The meeting was supposed to deal with impact fees, but was canceled because of too much citizen interest, according to the Tucson Weekly.
In the Bull Mountains, near Roundup, Mont., reports the Chicago Tribune, a perfectly good log cabin with 20 acres is for sale. The Internal Revenue Service, its alleged owner, has tried to sell it twice. But no offers - not even insultingly low offers. That's because the cabin comes complete with Randy Skurdal, its former owner, a heavily armed man with heavily armed friends whom the IRS has declined to evict. Skurdal says that as a Freeman, he obeys only the Magna Carta, the Bible and parts of the U.S. and Montana constitutions. None of those documents apparently requires him to vacate his cabin. People shopping the house are especially struck by the sign: "Private Land of the Sovereign."
While the cabin represents a somewhat illiquid asset, over in the City and County of Denver, Realtors are celebrating the liquidity boom they expect the end of court-ordered school busing to create. They believe that 21 years of white flight to the suburbs will be reversed, thanks to the resurrection of neighborhood schools.
About 2,000 fiercely independent, tall-in-the-saddle towns and counties in the rural West are cashing checks worth $100 million - a gift from people in Texas and Michigan and Massachusetts. It's because of the West's terrible economic burden: 500,000 square miles of public lands. To compensate us for putting up with forests and canyons and deserts and national parks, the Congress passed the Payment in Lieu of Taxes law. Every year since 1976, we've gotten checks from the federal Treasury. So far, it's added up to about $1 billion. A recent change in the law, boosting the per acre formula, means the next 20 years will bring in a lot more than a measly $1 billion.
Denver International Airport was subjected to another cruel act of journalism in September. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel staged a race between two of its reporters. One drove the 240 mountainous miles between Grand Junction and downtown Denver; the other flew over the mountains. The driver got to downtown Denver about an hour before the person who flew. A takeoff delay and the long trip in by public transportation from DIA, which is in the Kansas section of Colorado, led to the disparity. The costs: $177.50 by plane, and $70 by car.
Some people get attached to the darnedest things. Tom Casey - who lives near four unfinished nuclear power plants just west of Olympia, Wash. - is trying to stop the Washington Public Power Supply System from tearing the plants down. "They should save it as a concrete mausoleum," says Casey. WPPSS wants to demolish two plants on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and two at Satsop because they pose public hazards and because the Bonneville Power Administration spends $10.5 million a year just to keep two of those plants closed.
"What kind of savage, sick mind would want to tear them down?" asks Casey. "It's wonderful architecture." Besides, he points out, "the pyramids didn't have to come down."
Forget Arches and Canyonlands. When the Belarussians came to Utah, it was lipstick they wanted. Parading down the aisles by rank - generals with generals, colonels with colonels - the Belarussian military officers took Wal-Mart by storm. The two hours of rampant capitalism came at the end of a visit with the Utah National Guard to train the newly democratic Belarussian military in Western military practices. The visitors may have needed the lipstick, but not the training. Back home, Belarussian troops who had never even heard of Utah expertly shot down an American hot-air balloon flying too near an air base in Belarus.
What goes better with a few too many beers than lobster? That's what Terry Lutz must have thought when he plucked Victor, a 25-pound, 85-year-old lobster, out of his tank at the Seaside Aquarium in Astoria, Ore. The lobster-napping was foiled by folks who noticed a drunken man running down the street with a huge lobster under his arm. Unfortunately, Victor suffered a cracked shell during the chase. He died a few days later. The punishment for Lutz: 120 volunteer hours at the county animal shelter and a $600 fine - the cost of having Victor stuffed and mounted for the aquarium.
Will a diesel truck that emits exhaust that smells like french fries rouse bears to attack? That's what Yellowstone National Park needed to know before it experimented with a new fuel, canola oil. So researchers in the State of Washington blew exhaust gas at penned black and grizzly bears. The bears ignored the smoke. So now the truck, equipped with a 300-gallon tank giving it a 5,000-mile range (there aren't that many canola oil gas stations in even the avocado salad parts of the West) is on the road. If results are good, the clean-burning fuel may be adopted by concessionaires' fleets, according to the Idaho Falls Post Register. Still to be determined: Will the truck's hoses clog?
We've noticed that life is a lot less fun lately. An article in the Recorder Herald, of Salmon, Idaho, tells us why. For years, environmentalists have been lecturing ranchers and loggers and dam builders that it's a new era, and they need to get with it, and stop grousing. Now Mike Tracy of the Idaho Farm Bureau writes that changes in the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws are long overdue.
"So now it's time for the environmental community to "accept change," as they have dictated to the natural resource people for so many years."
Heard Around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or HCNVIRO@aol.com