Heard around the West

  • Illustration by Diane Sylvain

How do you describe the odor of 1,800 bison skulls rotting in the sun? Putrid, say a handful of neighbors some nine miles from Red Lodge, Mont. "It makes us gag."

Entrepreneurs Eric Saltzman and Corynne Freeman trucked in the festering heads after land they leased elsewhere was sold; now they're faced with a nuisance complaint filed by Carbon County. So, filling up their vehicle, the couple has started hauling the hundreds of pounds of skulls to a more remote location, where, Saltzman says, "only the birds could complain." They say the stink isn't unbearable: "No one lives closer to the skulls than we do, and it's not that bad," Saltzman told AP. Once the heads lose their too, too solid flesh, the clean white skulls emerge as Old West souvenirs sought by tourists. "It's kind of ironic," Saltzman says. "Most people, if they just saw the skull with the rotting flesh, would go, "Yech." Those same people when they see a skull after I'm done go, "Hey, I want one." "

Entrepreneur Werner Zink in Coos Bay, Ore., says he's not fazed by the death of the timber economy, the decline of salmon fishing or even the depression that afflicts local people faced with no jobs. He's begun a business producing plastic lumber and has just hired a vice president of marketing, reports AP. His secret? Zink grinds up old mop buckets and shampoo bottles to manufacture virtual boards. He calls his business Resco Plastics, and his most promising product is decking. Zink says the faux boards may cost more, but never need painting, resist vandalism and don't rot.

The pressure on park rangers never ends. Millions of Americans visit national parks and all of them want to enjoy the parks in their own way, whether they set off to the backcountry to commune with grizzlies or drive straight through on a lightning-fast visit. Now, the Park Service is faced with folks who want to hurl themselves off the cliffs above Lake Powell. They're called BASE jumpers, with BASE standing for Buildings, Antennae, Spans and Earth forms. So far, they're not allowed to leap into parks, and one bandit jumper, Dennis McGlynn, 36, faces six months in jail and a $250,000 fine for his role in the death of a fellow jumper. Paul Thompson, 52, was killed in 1994, when his airfoil snagged, "slamming him into the face of a 600-foot cliff on the Utah side of Lake Powell," the Salt Lake Tribune reports. McGlynn says he looks forward to appealing his case and winning. He argues that BASE jumpers use "ram-air canopies," which are capable of aerodynamic lift; that makes the special chutes non-powered aircraft, like ultralights, which are allowed to land in Lake Powell. No, the Park Service says, BASE jumpers use modified parachutes, and their leaps endanger both the jumpers and whoever happens to be below.

Albert Bartlett of Boulder, Colo., tells us he was in the men's room of the posh Denver Athletic Club when he noticed a hand-written sign above the electric hand-dryer. It said: "For a message from the Governor, please push button."

A noxious weed not yet devouring the wild West sneaked onto the shelves of Home Depot recently. Sounding the alarm, the U.S. Department of Agriculture alerted media in 13 Western states, calling the release of bur reed, aka Sparganium erectum, a "noxious weed emergency." The pest plant spreads fast and clogs waterways. A New Jersey supplier imported the weed from Holland, then sold it to Home Depot chain stores. "It's ugly looking," says federal quarantine officer Roeland Elliston; nonetheless 62 plants were sold in the West before the feds sounded the alarm. Elliston said that while Home Depot has been extremely helpful in rounding up the outlaw plants, the supplier is under investigation. A Noxious Weed List exists, Elliston says, and the New Jersey nursery should have checked it for bur reed.

In a Riverton, Wyo., pasture recently, the Old West lived again - and some Westerners almost died. After two ranchers failed to agree on how much money one of them owed the other for feed costs, guns were drawn and bullets flew. It took 12 law enforcement officers and two brand inspectors to restore order. Jerry Huelle, 51, and Dan Ingalls, 44, were charged with reckless endangerment, AP reports.

What makes a city fun? Some would say unpredictable and lively street life: the occasional mime or pampered pooches trailed by owners wearing plastic gloves. But if you're looking for free expression, don't go to Salt Lake City. New regulations ban skateboarding downtown, drum circles in Liberty Park, swearing on Main Street between North Temple and South Temple, resting on sidewalk planters and even driving too many times too often through the heart of town. It's a "brute mentality," complains Councilwoman Joanne Milner in the Salt Lake Tribune. No, says Police Chief Ruben Ortega; the latest rules may be drastic, but they were necessary to sweep out drug dealers: Pioneer Park, for example, "was an absolute den of iniquity." Glenn Bailey, who runs Crossroads Urban Center, says the mayor and police just don't get what makes a city tick. "If we want to have a vibrant downtown," he says, "we need street vendors, musicians. It's messy. It isn't cookie-cutter families strolling purposefully from shop to shop. It's people hanging out, living their lives."

Writing from the "Left Coast," Ian Gill, president of the nonprofit Ecotrust in Oregon, says summer is a good time to act on advice the writer Ed Abbey gave to activists:

"Don't burn yourself out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast ... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the West; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that sweet yet lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep the brain in your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound men with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards."

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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