Heard around the West


After a Taiwanese pop star filmed a four-minute video in a Grandview, Wash., cherry orchard, the demand for cherries in Asia boomed, crows cherry promoter Eric Melton. Cherry growers paid $100,000 for the MTV-style video, but the value was "about $3 million," reports Capital Press. The gain came through higher prices, so that while Asian buyers may have bought fewer cherries this year, they paid more for each one. That's because the fruit is considered a high-status item that's worth the high price, Melton says. Coming up: a grower-financed production of a "Real World-type television show." It will star Asian students cavorting in a cherry orchard somewhere in the Northwest.

What with all the real-life shootouts in the West, maybe a pretend six-gun contest is no longer fun. Or is it? The folks in Ketchum, Idaho, are debating that question after someone complained about an annual faux shootout in the street. Every September for the last 42 years, bad guys have blasted blanks at costumed lawmen before biting the dust on Main Street. It all takes place during the Wagon Days parade, which features buggies and horse-drawn rigs. But after the school shootings in Colorado, one Ketchumite complained, and a parade committee responded by proposing to end gunfights as entertainment. Gun battles in the former mining town were never the norm, AP reports. "The Ketchum community's sole claim to fame may be that it is where Ernest Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun blast in 1961." Critics said the shootouts had become boring, in addition to celebrating violence. No way! responded six-gun supporters, who gathered 2,700 names on a petition. On Nov. 2, everyone got to speak out on the issue through an election; the result: 561 Ketchum residents said keep blasting away at desperados; only 173 people said they'd rather the gunfight dropped dead. The city council has not yet taken a position.

The Vancouver Museum in Canada operates a tiny FM radio station, broadcasting only one hit show - the keening sounds of whales picked up from underwater microphones. "All whales, all the time" is the station's unofficial motto, reports Econews. So when a language-conscious government form inquired whether the station broadcasts in English or French, museum officials could only reply, "whales."

A scientific debate about Yosemite Valley's habit of shedding massive sections of rock, a geologic process called "exfoliation," got down and dirty recently. The name-calling kicked off at an annual meeting of engineering geologists in Salt Lake City, Utah. There, Chester "Skip" Watts delivered a scientific paper pinpointing sewage from Yosemite National Park as the cause of granite slabs tumbling thousands of feet. Ridiculous, countered the chief of public affairs for the park. "We have had some staff people read his material, and the general conclusion was that a lot of what he was saying is crap," reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Answered Watts: "He's right, it is a bunch of crap, but it's coming out of their toilets." Exactly where the crap is coming from is important. In 1996, 20-year-old Emiliano Morales of Montebello, Calif., was killed by massive sections of rock plunging 2,400 feet to the valley floor; this past summer, Peter Terbush, a 22-year-old climber from Gunnison, Colo., was killed when a slab sent huge boulders crashing down. The Park Service says that rock falls are acts of nature.

In Montana, the Great Falls Tribune has already called this story "the strangest tale of 1999." It features a 21-year-old man from rural Sun Prairie who shot a llama and claimed it was a deer. True, the llama had been hanging out with a bunch of does, said a game warden, but its long neck and shaggy wool should have given it away. The hunter was so convinced he'd bagged a deer that he took his kill to a game processor, House of Meats in Great Falls. The processor "wanted no part of the llama." The llama, it turns out, had been a working stiff. It protected sheep from coyotes and bears on the Cascade Hutterite Colony.

Here's another hunting story, or maybe a comment on modern life. It features a a bowhunter who told Associated Press in Kalispell, Mont., that he'd ensconced himself 12 feet up a tree to wait for a passing deer. The hunter, who wishes to remain anonymous, thought his aerie was perfect until he heard a group of deer snorting and saw a lion padding in his direction. Looking down, he saw the "pretty good-sized cat" sniff his tracks and the twigs he'd broken climbing the tree; the lion, he realized, was stalking him. So he did what any hunter can do these days: he whipped out his cell phone and called home. His wife quickly alerted wildlife officials, who said they'd come to the rescue, though not for hours. When the lion finally lost interest, the hunter says, he took the opportunity to skedaddle.

In San Francisco, people fearing a nuclear catastrophe from Y2K bared all to draw attention to their cause. Some 50 nuclear activists threw off all their clothes and marched near city hall, chanting "Disrobe for disarmament." The nude-in of late October was sparked by Patch Adams, the doctor of movie fame, and Helen Caldicott, also a doctor and activist. Both warned of nuclear accidents occurring on Jan. 1, 2000, if computer systems around the world crash, reports AP.

Following the interesting reasoning of Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer, states should tax children the most, since they're all cost and no income. Geringer explained his new-fangled tax policy at a recent meeting of the Wyoming Taxpayers' Association in Cheyenne. Asked about an income tax to make up a budget shortfall, Geringer said he wouldn't want the tax because it targets the rich, and they're not the ones using state services. It's people earning less than $36,000 who need the most help, he told the Casper Star-Tribune, and "the highest consumers of service ought to have some skin in the game." The governor said that anyone getting help from the state needs to have "some sense of personal accountability. That's where I think an income tax in Wyoming would miss the mark."

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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