Now that it's harder than ever to make a living in the rural West, we locals have to tap into our inner entrepreneur to survive. Hard work is still important, but creativity and judicious copying help a lot, too. Just use your imagination....
For example, Samantha Fox of Twisp, Wash., grew up in a deer-hunting family before leaving her hometown in the North Cascades to pursue a degree in fashion. After graduating from college, Fox returned to Twisp, pop. 980, and started a business called Wild Things.
"There weren't any jobs, so I decided to make my own," said Fox. "Wild Things uses local deer hides, animal fur and feathers to make lingerie for the modern primitive -- it's sort of 'Victoria's Secret meets Clan of the Cave Bear.' "
During hunting season each year, Fox collects hides from hunters, tans them and turns them into sexy sleepwear that she sells on the Internet. Her women's lingerie collection -- made entirely of local deer hides -- has grown to include such items as her "Doe in Heat" panties, her "High Mountain Peaks" series of push-up bras and her "Get Along Little Thongs."
"You just can't get any closer to nature than wearing a thong from Wild Things," said Fox.
Next year she hopes to expand her business with a line of slips and camisoles for mature women made entirely out of cougar pelts. Fox also has plans to develop a series of Speedo-style mouse-hide briefs for men.
Another rural Western entrepreneur who has done well for herself is Kate Pierson of Sandpoint, Idaho, who founded a company called Common Scents.
"I got the idea one day after my boyfriend came home from cutting firewood," said Pierson, who hails from Sandpoint, Idaho. "The smell of sweat, sawdust and chainsaw bar oil was so manly it drove me wild with desire." Pierson incorporated Common Scents, a company that makes men's colognes inspired by the real smells of rural living. Her original scent, "The Logger," sold over 8,000 bottles in the first year alone.
"Most men's colognes and body sprays today are just plain girly," said Pierson. "A lot of real Western women want a man who smells manly."
Pierson has gone on to formulate several other fragrances such as "A Roll in the Hayloft," which smells like fresh cut hay and cow dung, "The Hippy Farmer," which smells like dirt and dreadlocks along with unmistakable herbal undertones, and "The Popular Mechanic," which has notes of grease, tobacco and diesel-spotted coveralls.
One guy who doesn't need any help being manly is Bobby Lee Bodean, who opened the Montana Mancamp this spring on his ranch outside Bozeman. Every 10 days, Bobby Lee gets a new crop of urban and suburban males who pay $1,000 apiece to get in touch with their manliness.
"The modern American male is alienated from his own nature," said Bodean, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound former bull rider and retired stunt man. "At the Montana Mancamp, there is no yoga or tofu or talking about feelings. We turn suburban softies with manboobs into men."
A typical day at man camp begins at dawn with bacon, eggs and black coffee. After breakfast, Bodean teaches campers how to fell a tree, castrate a bull, hotwire a car, operate heavy machinery and look deeply into the eyes of a sheep. In the evening, the curriculum includes how to cook steaks over an open fire, how to play Texas hold 'em poker, and a late-night seminar on the differences between bourbon, whisky and scotch.
But as Ed Stedman of Colorado learned, starting any new business is fraught with risk. Stedman opened the Pagosa Springs Petting Zoo in this fall, but the business was only open for 10 minutes before things went wrong.
"The idea was to domesticate Western wildlife so that tourists could have a real hands-on experience," said Stedman from his hospital bed in Denver. "It turns out some critters really don't like being petted."
On the first morning he opened for business Stedman was busy trying to extricate the hand of a tourist from the mouth of a wolverine when he and several other petting zoo customers were menaced by the wolves, which agitated the rattlesnake, panicked the grizzly bear and caused the moose and deer to stampede around the petting zoo. Twelve people were injured in the ensuing mayhem, but Stedman's not giving up yet.
"Walt Disney once said, 'If you can dream it, you can do it,'" said Stedman. "Once I'm healed up and settle all these lawsuits, I'm going to tame that wolverine."
Patrick Hannigan is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes a humor column for the Methow Valley News in Twisp, Washington.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at email@example.com.