Heard around the West

  • Jackrabbit, from "Flattened Fauna" by Roger M. Knutson

  • Porcupine, from "Flattened Fauna" by Roger M. Knutson

  • Cottontail, from "Flattened Fauna" by Roger M. Knutson


There's something about "the big ditch" that's got the U.S. Postal Service buffaloed. Last year, the federal agency honored Arizona's Grand Canyon with a stamp that placed the giant gorge in the wrong state - Colorado. That led to the shredding of 100 million stamps. This year, a new 60-cent stamp reverses an image of the canyon's South Rim, reports the Arizona Republic, so that what should be on the left is flipped to the right. This time around, though, the postal folks plan to stick with their error. "It's still beautiful either way you look at it," says agency spokesman Don Smeraldi. "It's still the canyon."

Just try saying "no" to gobbledygook. Last year, President Clinton ordered everyone on the federal payroll to opt for "plain language" in all new documents. As part of his push to reinvent government, Clinton even hired a plain-talking czar, Annetta Cheek, to push agency employees into compliance. But regulatory clarity, she told KnightRidder Information, turned out to be one of those "stretch goals' - a euphemism, we suspect, for "not in this century." She says agencies digging in their metaphorical heels include the Pentagon, the Internal Revenue Service and, not least, the lawyer-filled Department of Justice. There, she says, obfuscating bureaucratese was exactly what staffers intended to write.

Busy bees are buzzing in Provo, Utah. A citizens' group called the Media Review Commission checks movies for graphic content, "marking off each exploding head, swear word or glimpse of cleavage," reports Associated Press. Evaluations then get posted on the city's Web site and in Salt Lake City's Deseret News. The nine-person commission makes entries in categories ranging from violence and profanity to nudity, sex and drug and alcohol use. Meanwhile, another group, informally called the "stink squad," is patrolling Provo to detect annoying smells. A strict new law allows the city to cite, fine or even pull a license from companies that rack up more than six odor infractions during a one-year period. Last year, 340 complaints came in about a rendering plant that burns animal carcasses. Its stench was so strong that people nearby complained they felt too sick to work or play golf. Super sniffers - two-person teams - forego equipment, reports the Deseret News: "All they do is take a deep breath and await whatever sensation follows." Other culprits in Provo include a sewage treatment plant, compost yard and a tar and chemical company.

Who needs nature when you can buy wholesale? On the East Coast, suburbanites have been treating their families to faux snow, thanks to an entrepreneur in Darien, Conn., who decided to borrow the snow-making technology of the ski industry. His company is called Snowman Services, and the white stuff it produces doesn't come cheap. A backyard of snow costs a minimum of $750 and needs 100,000 gallons of water. But if temperatures stay below 30 degrees, the snow can last about a month, reports The New York Times. That might be enough to turn the neighbors green with envy.

In rural Arbon Valley, Idaho, it makes sense to keep your pets inside. A cougar showed up outside Donald and Nelda Williams' home on New Year's Day and made quick work of the couple's blue heeler dog. Still hungry, it then chased their cats along the front porch. Nelda Williams grabbed her rifle and killed the male big cat, reports AP. Cougars are usually off-limits, a wildlife biologist told Williams, but in this case, she was off the hook.

Rabbits are furry and pettable, but don't say that to some residents of Sheridan, Wyo. "Rabbits are eating through siding, flower bulbs in the grounds, destroying gardens, chewing through wires and cables," the police chief told Washington Times. Now, the town has approved a "bunny death penalty" to control the burgeoning rabbit population. Council member Jim Tyra warns: "They'll multiply faster than you can shoot them."

In southeastern Utah, between Spanish Fork and Price, U.S. Highway 6 is a death zone for deer and elk and a paradise for scavengers. As many as 50 elk and deer are killed in a month each spring as the animals try - and fail - to dodge fast-moving trucks and cars. The roadkill brings out scavengers, not all of them of the feathered variety. "There are some carrion gastronomists who monitor police scanners to learn the location of the freshest animal," reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Sometimes police arrive at the scene only to find a partly butchered animal. "Just the choice cuts of meat are missing," says Utah conservation officer Brent Stettler, "if there is anything "choice" from a road kill." Police say that when it's a large dead animal, such as the 500-pound bull elk found recently, a hungry crowd gathers, and that irks wildlife officers, who say it's illegal to possess wildlife without a hunting tag.

You say it's dark, your snowmobile won't start and you're stranded in the frigid mountains outside of Spokane, Wash.? That's the situation that faced 20-year-old Jason Conboy recently. "I was getting pretty weak," he says, "so I started ripping parts off my sled and burning them." His snowmobile seat was good for about an hour, he told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. After he threw in the rest of his machine, he curled up on the ashes and fell asleep on the coals, he says. At 3:30 a.m., rescuers on snowmobiles arrived, discovering Conboy fine but with melted boots and some minor frostbite on his feet.

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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