Heard around the West

  • Jesse Hendrix is for the birds

    David Sanders/The Arizona Daily Star

Two public officials hit the road recently. One had a great time, while the other groused. The fun was had by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who made his first trip ever to Yellowstone National Park. "Excitedly," says the Salt Lake Tribune, Leavitt reported to the Western Governors' Association that he had "walked right up to geysers and looked into them."

But Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was less than jolly, up in Augusta, Maine, last month, where 90-year-old Edwards Dam was about to be breached to free a river and benefit fish. First, he complained about the number of helicopters in the sky, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, grumbling,-Why are they here?" When a reporter asked if the Northwest could ever reach consensus on removing dams, Babbitt retorted, "Oh, come on, this is a Maine day. What are you doing here? What the hell are you doing here?" Babbitt refused to speculate about taking dams out in the West, and he probably deserves an award for "worst sound bite," the newspaper said. Asked how he felt watching a dam die, Babbitt said, "I'm a geologist by training, and what I was thinking of was a process called evulsion" - a term for changing a river's course. When the television reporter tried again by prompting, "You never thought you'd see it?" Babbitt responded, "I never thought I'd see an artificial evulsion."

Retired teacher Jesse Hendrix seems never to have learned the trick of taking time off. Now, at age 76, he can't; he's got mouths to feed. At his desert home six miles from Nogales, Ariz., Hendrix spends seven days a week making meals for up to 10,000 hummingbirds a day, which is more than anyone has seen in one spot anywhere else, says the National Audubon Society. His recipe: Mix 24 pounds of sugar with 12 gallons of water. Add different-colored dyes, then distribute the mixture to 130 feeders and watch the fancy flyers sip. Hendrix allows that until recently, "about all I knew was telling their front from their rear." His passion mushroomed after his daughter gave him a feeder 11 years ago, reports the Arizona Daily Star. Now, says Sherri Williamson of the Arizona Bird Observatory in Bisbee, "He's basically just built a Stuckey's on the interstate." Hendrix also attracts biologists and bird-banders, and when they arrive they find his backyard buzzes so loudly it sounds like it's "full of model airplanes." Hendrix says a hummer is a "fearless little bird, which is one reason I like them. They're also friendly." To visit Jesse Hendrix's household of hummingbirds, call him at 520/287-8615 to make arrangements.

Friendly is not a word usually applied to the "killer bees" that have taken over 99 percent of all bee colonies in Tucson, Ariz. Try fierce, or perhaps relentless. So when homeowners decided that a 30-year-old colony of bees living inside a bedroom wall finally had to go, they called in AAA Africanized Bee Removal Specialists. The firm easily poisoned the 50,000 or so bees, but then came the task of removing their 210-pound honeycomb. "Without bees to fan the honeycomb," reports the Arizona Daily Star, "the desert heat would have melted it, covering the bedroom floor with 17 1/2 gallons of honey." As a bee expert vividly put it, "There would have been ponding." So the honeycomb, four inches thick, was cut out of the wall, and the homeowners, free of being stung and harassed by the bees, were out $500.

Pity Yodaville. This town of 120 stick figures, mock offices and streets of sand painted black near Yuma, Ariz., will be bombed, machine-gunned, lasered and targeted by missiles some 1,500 times during the next six months. The reign of terror is designed to train soldiers in the new and more precise urban warfare, reports the Arizona Republic. Buildings in Yodaville were made from cluster-bomb containers, some 23,000 of them stacked as high as four stories. But when the military started strafing the tiny town in practice runs recently, militia groups around the country came unglued: "Some thought that the Marines were attacking an Arizona town at the behest of the New World Order," reporter Mark Shaffer says. Even the Phoenix office of the FBI was in the dark. It sent a message to an Internet group that monitors militias to ask for any gossip. But Yodaville could be dangerous to visit for people who aren't stick figures. Immigration officials say the town is only seven miles from the Mexican border and close to a popular crossing site.

While humans last month celebrated the 100th birthday of Washington's Mount Rainier National Park, the mountain reserved opinion. "This island of nature faces threats from outside," warned the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Threats, not necessarily in order, include some of the Northwest's worst air pollution, glaciers that are slowly warming to slush, miles of clear-cut lowlands, and overcrowding. This year an estimated 2.2 million visitors are expected to see the park from their car - a privilege Mount Rainer was the first national park to grant. Yet if things get too tough, snow-capped Mount Rainier can choose to retaliate. Naturalist Dale Thompson says the mountain is "cooking in its own juices' and that the volcano could blow anytime.

That fire-averse icon of the Forest Service, Smokey Bear, also celebrated a birthday recently, his 55th. Not so a bear who was up a tree in eastern Oregon. The Wallowa County Chieftain reports that when thunderstorms swept through the county, one bolt of lightning singled out a tree that was occupied by an adult black bear. "It was bizarre," said Forest Service fire officer Bob Both. "The lightning hit the tree, killed the bear and it fell out, half burned."

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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