Bloodsuckers in California

 

THE SOUTHWEST & CALIFORNIA

It's been hot lately. Damned hot. Phoenix, Ariz., Palm Springs, Calif., and other Western torrid zones posted temperatures of more than 100 degrees every day during the first two weeks of August. Death Valley's high exceeded 115 degrees on 14 out of those 14 days, and on one occasion reached 126 degrees. And Phoenix's low never dropped below 90 for seven days straight. It's enough to make you want to go jump in a river or a lake. If you can find one, of course, and it isn't teeming with leeches. 'Bloodsuckers prey on foothill swimmers,' was the recent headline in the Calaveras (Calif.) Enterprise, disappointing Twilight fans, once they realized no actual hot vampires were involved. Apparently, folks cooling off in a local reservoir discovered leeches attached to various parts of their bodies. Despite health officials' assurances that the slimy things are harmless, the horrified swimmers vowed never to jump in that lake again.

THE WEST

With all this talk about anthrax, cows, leeches, algorithmic shooters and prairie dogs, one could be forgiven for thinking conspiracy is afoot. Throw in the extraordinary number of recent wildfires, and it's pretty clear what's going on: Russian terrorists, aided by elements within the U.S. military, have invaded the West and are burning it down, for motives way too complex to explain. That's the thrust of a recent piece at beforeitsnews.com and an email sent to Heard Around the West from someone called 'patriotnews.' The evidence includes alleged sightings of Russians loitering at isolated shooting ranges and popular tourist sites, plus the existence of 'an advanced accelerant' that is 'almost nuclear in its ability to spread fire.' Given this summer's conflagrations, we're not surprised: All this record-breaking heat, near-record drought and a century of fire suppression can lead to almost nuclear-impact fires. Strangely enough, no one has mentioned the Eagle Mountain fire in Utah, which charred part of a mock Afghan town on a military range while sparing real 'American' houses. Suspicious, indeed!

COLORADO

Don't worry about the Russians invading; fear the Wyoming ground squirrel, instead. It was once limited to the northern parts of Colorado, but has recently migrated west and southward, creating a 'horror story' for that region's ranchers and the longtime local golden-mantled ground squirrels, says the Denver Post. The newcomer is more aggressive than its old-timer counterpart, has more babies, eats more and digs bigger holes. Worst of all, it's not as cute as the local guy. Post reporter Nancy Lofholm says it is 'a blah greyish color and shaped like a pink-nosed torpedo. It doesn't much like trying to play cute with humans and has been observed actually wrestling down its chipmunk-like cousins.' Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, Colo., ground zero for the invasion, are interested because they believe the newcomer may displace the golden-mantled variety altogether. Interestingly, the new squirrel seemed to show up at about the same time, and in the same region, as the previously mentioned cattle mutilations. Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

This edition of Heard around the West was guest-edited by Jonathan Thompson.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected]

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