Small towns once complained that children were their biggest export. "You can't keep them home once they've seen bright lights," residents would lament as their towns shrank.


People in small towns still complain - it's their nature. But today they complain because not only their kids, but everyone else's kids, are moving to their dimly lit towns. Here's what the Glenwood Springs, Colo., mayor said upon hearing that his town had rocketed into fourth place in the latest edition of The 100 Best Small Towns in America.





"I want to know how we can doctor the criteria so we drop to 87th next year," Marc Adler told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.





When the newcomers that Mayor Adler fears hit Glenwood Springs, they will do three things: build themselves a bigger house than he lives in; buy a four-wheel-drive to keep them safe on mountain roads; and, finally, total that new Bronco or Subaru or Range Rover.


Those "safe" four-wheel drives smack into other vehicles and roll off roads at almost twice the rate of conventional vehicles. Forty percent of accidents on Colorado's Interstate 70 involved four-wheel drives. But only 25 percent of all vehicles on the road are four-wheel drives, wrote The Denver Post.


What's happening? Drivers may be forgetting that while their four-wheel drives are awfully good at getting going on ice and snow, they don't stop any better than your grandmother's sedan. All vehicles come with the same stopping power: one set of brakes per wheel.





While Glenwood Springs worries about growth, Los Alamos, N.M., worries about decline. Now that the atomic age is ending with whines and whimpers, the Los Alamos Lab, which built the first nuclear bomb, faces a loss of federal subsidies.


Will Los Alamos, with more Ph.D.s per capita than anywhere else in the United States, do better than busted logging and mining towns? The New York Times reports that Los Alamos has already put its brainpower to work and come up with a startling idea: tourism.





We gather from a four-part series in the Spokesman-Review out of Spokane, Wash., that the Northwest is not just being flooded - it's also being buffeted by high winds of political wackiness. Although the problem is serious, many of the tax protestors come across as members of the Gang That Can't Shoot Straight.


Take Gordon Ormesher Sr., who refuses to pay a $16,532 property tax bill he doesn't believe in. What does the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, resident believe in? A post office box in Boone, Ind., for a group called the North American Freedom Council. He sent in $300 to the Freedom Council's post office box, and back came a "certified" money order to clear his tax debt. The result: He's out $300 and still owes the county $16,532.


In the world of tax protesting, there's no problem. Should the county foreclose, he can buy a $250 "foreclosure defense package" from the same council at the same address. Should he face eviction, it will sell Ormesher a "Defend Against Eviction" package for $600. Ormesher is disappointed with the post office box, but still loyal: "They just didn't have (the) proper procedure."


Someone who has the proper procedure is Randy Glessner of Omak, Wash. The former certified public accountant recently went to jail rather than tell Uncle Sam about the tax returns he helps clients file.


Glessner's specialty is to demand that the IRS send back the taxes his clients have paid over the past three years. His 40 clients paid the taxes because they hadn't yet met Glessner, and so they didn't know that wages are compensation for labor, and therefore not taxable. Now that they know the proper procedure, Glessner's clients expect to collect, collectively, up to $400,000 from the IRS.





The protesters and constitutionalists are a bubble off, you say? Take a look at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its half-completed Elk Creek Dam in Oregon. A decade of lawsuits has convinced the Corps to stop building the dam, $70 million short of completion. But the Corps won't spend $10 million to tear it down either.


So, the Oregonian reports, the half-done thing sits athwart the river, blocking salmon migration and generating money for the people who cart surviving salmon around it. The demi-dam has also been a cash cow for the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which the courts have rewarded with $240,000 in legal fees for stopping the illegal construction.





If you think your tax money would be better spent by, let's say, Idaho than by the feds, think again. Investigators from three states say the Idaho Agriculture Department's Quality Assurance Laboratory has a total lack of quality. That's bad for people who eat french fries and baked Idaho potatoes, since the lab certifies that the state's commodities are uncontaminated.


The lab is also on shaky financial ground. Farmers were supposed to pay for it. But farmers are thrifty, and the Idaho Falls Post Register wrote that "since it was completed in 1993, ... the facility's supporters, particularly otherwise frugal Republicans from the Magic Valley, have cajoled their colleagues into pumping hundreds of thousands of tax dollars into the lab to keep it running."





Is World War II veteran and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole soft on military preparedness? Students in Cori Scott's sixth grade class in Navajo, N.M., think so. They say he's forgotten that diversity wins wars.


Several chiding letters they wrote Dole about his opposition to bilingual education appeared in the Nov. 30 Navajo Times. Dakota Jim's went right to the point: "The Navajo language contributed greatly to the win over the Japanese during WW II."


Donovan Begaye went further in his praise of the Navajo Code Talkers, whose language the Japanese never cracked: "During WW II, our language was used, and that's how the United States won the war. So why are you trying to deny us from using our language?"


And Colleen Hunt wrote: "How would you feel if we took English from you, and you could only speak a language that comes second to you?"





If a school superintendent in most of the United States had chased terrified employees out of a building with a snake, there would have been administrative hearings, lawsuits and firings. But another Navajo Times story showed that Navajos not only speak a different language, they also follow a different social code.


After Superintendent Matthew Levario wielded a live gopher snake against his staff in Sanders, Ariz., Navajo medicine men explained to the school board and to Levario that he had "spiritually desecrated" the employees and "frightened and may have harmed the protected wildlife and sacred creatures."


After hearing the medicine men, Levario replied that he was ignorant of Navajo custom. He apologized for his "practical joke," and he promised to pay for cleansing and reblessing ceremonies for both the building and the staff so that harmony would be restored.


And that was that.





" Ed Marston





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