The color-shifting skink



Thanks to Colorado Outdoors, the magazine of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, we have a new favorite wild animal — the color-shifting skink. It resembles a stocky snake with lizard-like legs. And like many lizards, it has the wonderful ability to discard and then regenerate its tail any time a predator pounces on it: “When caught, the skink’s tail breaks off and twitches, surprising the enemy.” Even more surprising is that the tail of a newborn skink is bright blue — all the better, perhaps, to attract a predator to a nonessential part of the body. When the tail grows back, it either comes in “pinkish” or has the same color as the rest of the skink’s black or brown-striped body. Three species of skink live in Colorado; all of them dine on insects.


Freelancer Matthew O’Brien embraces the underbelly of Las Vegas again in a new book with a long title, My Week at the Blue Angel and Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas. He brings sad news for lovers of low-cost, unconventional housing: Their days are numbered. The local icon known as the trailer park, one of the few affordable choices left in Clark County — or anywhere else in the West, for that matter — is disappearing. County Commissioner Tom Collins says he knows trailer parks well since he grew up in several of them, yet he concludes, “When we talk about high-rises and condos and things of that nature, mobile-home parks don’t fit in. They’ll be gone. They’re a thing of the past.” And Southern California seems to be cracking down on the cheapest housing of all — vehicles serving as bedrooms overnight, reports the New York Times. Even the Venice section of Los Angeles, once known as the “Slum by the Sea,” has had it with people who live in their cars, and some 250 near-homeless residents may be forced to decamp. Where they will go, no one knows. As Mario Manti-Gualtiero, an out-of-work audio engineer, said, “We can’t just evaporate.”


Rancher Dave Grabbert had a problem. He wanted to sell his 1,500-acre property, which lies about 20 miles from Meeteetse, Wyo., to 18 “hermit” monks, who plan to build a Gothic-style monastery, a coffee-roasting barn to process their brand (called “Mystic Monk”), and a church large enough to (on special occasions) accommodate 150 people, topped by a 150-foot spire. “Granted, it would be an odd-looking addition to the area,” editorialized the Casper Star-Tribune. But “what could possibly be less threatening to anyone’s quality of life?” Well, some neighboring ranchers did feel threatened; as their attorney put it, “You see this huge edifice and a paved road leading to it as an invitation.” The paper’s editorial board dryly noted, however, that the locals never bellyached when oil and gas and timber trucks rumbled by, and added, “We doubt the monastery would need to add a drive-through window any time soon.” Tolerance, advised the paper, is the best approach to the newcomers, all of whom wear long robes as monks of the order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. And tolerance, or at least the spirit of compromise, has saved the day. The monks agreed to revamp their planned septic system and make other recommended changes, and, in early October, the Park County commissioners unanimously approved the monastery.


In the tiny town of Arlee, population 600, in northwestern Montana, that kind of tolerance has been the standard approach to one group of exotic imports, reports the New York Times. The result: “two cultures honoring each other in peace.” It all began 10 years ago when a Buddhist lama from Tibet bought a 60-acre sheep ranch on the reservation owned by the Salish and Kootenai tribes. The lama, 56-year-old Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, then enlisted volunteers to help him create a 10-acre meditative garden that will eventually be filled with 1,000 one-foot-high statues of the Buddha, all meant to promote world peace. At every step of the spiritual retreat’s development, the lama consulted with tribal members, and he also made sure they approved a planned visit by the Dalai Lama, who has been invited to dedicate the garden in 2012. Native Americans and Tibetans have much in common, said the lama: “There is a shared vision of cultures being under pressure and surviving.”

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