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.
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
"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
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.
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
"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
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."
Marston, Elizabeth Manning,
Heather Abel, Warren
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