Heard around the West

  • SINISTER: What dreams may come could be downright scary

    Dave Strohmaier photo
  • MONTANA MESSAGE: From the rancher's perspective

    Doug Stange photo
 

We're supposed to be getting fitter in America, but could it be we're just getting fatter? In Seattle, Wash., the answer seems to be yes. Officials running the Puget Sound ferry recently reduced the seating capacity from 250 to 230 after finding that the bottoms of passengers had sprawled. The average width of a rear end had been established at 18 inches, says U.S. News and World Report, but that was nearly 50 years ago. Now that butts are bigger, fewer passengers will be allowed on ferries so that safety rules - one person, one seat - are met.

Members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, a national group, will meet in South Dakota this June to fish, photograph Mount Rushmore, schmooze, and practice their target shooting on live animals. In this case the animals are black-tailed prairie dogs, which some environmentalists say are rapidly going the way of the bison - toward extinction. If that happens, they'll take the mountain plover, burrowing owl and other prairie animals along with them. Yet the group's newsletter, Outdoors Unlimited, tells us about a trip for writers that "specifically targets sportsmen who enjoy varmint shooting." Another trip takes writers to "dog towns near Winner for shooting and a view of the prairie ecosystem."

In Ekalaka, Mont., bison rancher Doug Stange's pickup sports the bumper sticker: "To hell with prairie dogs: Save the rancher." But Stange, who raises bison with his wife Mary, says he's more friend than enemy of the burrowing rodents. "You can't save them unless you save the rancher," he says, "and all around me ranchers are going out."

Pity the poor sewage industry; its image reeks. Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency, $300,000 of our tax dollars have gone to the rescue, sponsoring a contest to come up with a sweeter name for sludge, a gloppy mass sometimes used by farmers for fertilizer. A task force labored over its mission, first rejecting substitutes such as "black gold," "humanure," "nutri-cake," "geoslime" and "the end product." Our favorite loser: "bioslurp." The winning euphemism was "biosolid," reports Econews in Arcata, Calif. The monthly newspaper also reports that like "mad" hatters and dentists, crematorium workers are at greater risk of mercury poisoning. In this case, the mercury comes from all the dental fillings that go up in smoke every day.

Dave Strohmaier of Missoula, Mont., visited St. Maries, Idaho, this fall and noticed what he thought might be a nightmare-inducing message outside Heyburn Elementary School. A huge sign near the front door was inspirational: "Teaching children to think and dream." But next to it, he tells us, loomed the statue of a "sadistically smiling, 15-foot tall ax-wielding logger." It was probably meant to be a friendly likeness of Paul Bunyan, he adds.

In Salt Lake City, a security guard says he won't go back to work until a shopping center changes its dress code. When Brent Weight was first hired by a grocery store in the Brickyard Shopping Center 20 years ago, beards and mustaches were forbidden. That policy has not been changed. But now, the management is considering allowing all male workers to sport pierced ears. To protest, Weight grew a mustache and circulated petitions supporting facial hair in protest, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. So far the shopping center remains adamant. Fortunately, Weight has a day job - as a deputy sheriff.

Tom Rice in Bluff, Utah, says county workers were so busy maintaining and mapping two-track trails so the county could claim them as roads that gravel streets close to Bluff were causing cars and bikes "to leave a trail of nuts, bolts and tooth fillings in their wake." Until, Rice says, "a local mentioned humorously that Bluff's streets were being considered for wilderness designation." Word must have gone out, he reports, because a county road grader showed up the next morning.

Not so funny in Montana, perhaps, is a cartoon that shows a gate to a wealthy community of rural landowners. The caption reads: "Montanans, please use service entrance." Dennis Glick, who works for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, was reminded of that punch line recently when he heard about a ski resort so exclusive that real estate salespeople won't show you around unless "you're worth at least $3 million," reports the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. It's called Yellowstone Club, and it's the spawn of developer Tim Blixseth, a former timber mogul. The 864 houses people build will sit on 13,300 acres that "Blixseth and his former partners in Big Sky Lumber Co. paid less than $200 an acre for when they bought it from Plum Creek Timber Co. in 1992." Are there enough folks rich enough to spend up to $2 million for a two-acre lot? "We have a long list of household names and a long list of regular people who've gone out and found the American dream," Blixseth says. Already on The Yellowstone Club's board, Blixseth says, are Jack Kemp, former Republican vice presidential candidate, and ski-movie producer Warren Miller. For those without the bucks to build, there's still a chance to buy club memberships at only $250,000 a piece. Annual dues amount to $16,000, which is just "slightly less than the average yearly take-home pay in Montana."


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 bumper sticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or [email protected]

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