First, a quiz: The West is a land of wide spaces, deep forests and infinite skies. It's an easy place to lose track of (a) your way; (b) your mail; (c) billions of dollars in Indian trust funds; (d) 24 million acres of public land; (e) salmon; (f) your career prospects; or (g) all of the above.
The answer is (g). Catching up on the
region's news, we realized things we've taken for granted for years
are a lot different than we thought they were. For starters, the
Associated Press reports that Sacajawea - the Shoshone woman whose
profile, pointing Lewis and Clark across Idaho to the Pacific, has
inhabited the minds of fourth-graders for generations - may have
been just guessing where the explorers should go. "Sacajawea was
seeing country as new to her as it was to the captains," according
to historian James
deals a blow to the sense of place we've been cultivating for
years. And so does this: The federal government has gained 24
million acres of public land since 1964, although no one knows
where it came from. Barry Hill of the General Accounting Office
told a Senate hearing that the government cannot figure out exactly
how it got the land except that it did not buy it. He said the
agencies are trying to improve their inventory techniques, reports
we imagine, is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The agency lost track
of $2.4 billion between 1973 and 1992. That amounts to $1 of every
$7 that flowed through the tribal trust funds the agency oversaw
during that period.
The money isn't necessarily
missing. It's just that the BIA can't account for where it came
from or where it went, according to a five-year-long audit.
Congress ordered the investigation to figure out how much money
should be in BIA's 2,000 tribal accounts, which were set up over
the years to handle receipts of tribal income from timber and
minerals, water and land claims.
"If this were a
private bank trustee, they'd be in jail right now," Dan Press, an
attorney for a consortium of tribes, told the Associated
many "naturalists', Bob Grothe went to People's Park in Spokane,
Wash., last May to take a nap in the nude. Because he was asleep,
he didn't obey the park's unspoken law - get dressed when the
police arrive. The former substitute teacher was subsequently
convicted of lewd conduct, which lumps sunbathers in the same
category with people who masturbate in public. Faced with the
prospect of never getting a people-oriented job again, Grothe is
appealing the conviction.
"How can you be lewd
when you're sleeping?" wonders Grothe.
Meanwhile, one of the officers involved in the
arrest confessed to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, "To be honest, it
was a slow day."
perhaps it was business as usual at Denver International Airport
when Peter Leabo's $7,500 computer met an untimely end in the DIA's
notorious baggage system. In its tough, plastic-and-plywood case,
the computer had successfully negotiated airports from Europe to
Kuala Lumpur. Then it landed at DIA.
have (safely) driven a plane over this case," Leabo told The Denver
Post as he regarded the cyber-origami sculpture that once was his
computer. "It wouldn't have suffered this much damage if they'd
thrown it out of the cargo over Colorado."
Northwest may be losing its salmon, but "Can Helen, Not Salmon"
bumper stickers are proliferating in the region, even on the cars
of government employees. The slogan refers to U.S. Rep. Helen
Chenoweth, R-Idaho, widely known for her sponsorship of an
endangered species salmon bake. "A species goes out of existence
every 20 seconds," she recently told The Nation. "Surely a species
must come into existence every 20 seconds."
optimism can be found among the can-do town leaders of Columbia
Falls, Mont., who are planning to construct a waterfall on a vacant
hillside, thereby making the town worthy of its name. Ever since
the town's name was changed from Columbia to stop a postal mix-up
between it and Columbia, Mo., frustrated tourists have trooped
through each summer looking for a waterfall to photograph. Says
Steve Stahlbert, the chairman of the Community Pride group that is
sponsoring construction of the 40-foot high waterfall: "It's going
to be real nice."
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