Heard around the West


Think about writing an almost minute-by-minute record of your life: documenting the shoes you're wearing, rating brands of snack food and occasionally taping to your notes samples of recently harvested toenail clippings. Would anyone bother reading or even handling this intimate minutia? Sure they would, said octogenarian Robert Shields in Dayton, Wash., who obsessively noted the mundane moments of his life for 24 years between 1972 and 1996. He also put his money where his mouth is, donating $100,000 to Washington State University to care for his diaries and purchase other collections, reports the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Dayton worked as a minister and English teacher but began his accounts of ephemera after starting a book-editing business. And although he'd kept a diary during various times of his life, it wasn't until the early '70s that he got the idea of keeping track full time, says his daughter, Klara Shields Hicks, adding, "This is a guy who does not require a lot of sleep." By the time Shields finished his project, his accounts filled 91 boxes. A sample entry: "I went to work (on the drinking glasses) with a long-handled brush, whisking them out in the hottest sudsy water my hands could stand. Then I slid them into the sink brimful of scalding water. They do not require drying. I fish them out with a spatula or a big spoon and upend them in the wire rack to drain; they dry spotless."

It's easy to dismiss other people's obsessions until you read a jolly justification like this: "It was absolutely nuts and completely pointless, so we did it." So said Bill Llewellin, team leader for the 20 lab-coated obsessives of NASA - the National Association of Squash Artillery - at a recent Pumpkin Fest in Aurora, Colo. All members of the "Mad Scientist Club," the group of engineers and other over-educated types spent a year designing and building their giant air gun and pumpkin launcher. When they fired it, the pumpkin - and the competition - were utterly blown away. The soaring gourd traveled 1,600 feet - exceeding the 1,000-foot limit - before splatting inopportunely onto a neighboring golf course. Twenty thousand spectators were on hand to cheer the winning hurl, which was trailed by more than a dozen teams employing those ancient weapons, the catapult and sling shot. But it's a long shot if you want to see the 40-foot-long pumpkin launcher next year. Organizers said air guns may be banned, reports The Denver Post.

Aspen, Colo., residents complained all fall about dumpster-diving black bears and birdseed-devouring black bears; bears, it seemed, were everywhere. But could the usually solitary animals be massing to invade the resort? A 911 call indicated the bruins had decided there was power in numbers. Police Officer Rob Fabrocini said a woman called the emergency number to report seeing 14 bears roaming through the area cut by the Tiehack Trail. Bears were "congregating on the hill," the caller said, and seemed to be "up to something." Fabrocini asked another cop to help him investigate, but since the 14 cows the police discovered "weren't breaking any laws," reports the Aspen Daily News, authorities let them graze.

If you're a Virgin, Utah, resident, you must own a gun. Fearing that their right to bear arms was under fire, residents of Virgin, pop. 350, voted in an ordinance that mandates a one-home, one-gun policy. There are a few exceptions, reports Associated Press: You can plead poverty or declare insanity.

At Brigham Young University, it's now a one ear-one earring policy. The Mormon Church owns the school, and what church president Gordon B. Hinckley says, goes. Hinckley spoke out recently against tattoos, "lascivious" rock music and now, multi-pierced ears, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. But students aren't getting huffy about the restraints on their behavior or taste in music. Says junior Melissa Griffiths, whose ears are single-pierced, "The reason you come to a school like BYU is because you like that kind of atmosphere. Why come here if you don't want to conform and you don't like those kind of rules?"

Out in the redwood country of Westport, Calif., there is a "new, nude thing" in the woods. As logging trucks approach, Dona Nieto, born Donna Sue Scissors in St. Louis, whips off her stretch top to distract men from their logging chores. She has a serious purpose. Some of the logging is in redwood forests protected by law from clear-cutting, according to Associated Press. So landowners use a loophole in the law that allows them to clear-cut up to three acres of the very valuable trees. Nieto says her out-front approach gets publicity and shames landowners and, in any case, it's "a lot better than doing nothing." Because she's speaking for Mother Earth, she adds, "people get it, and I get respect. I'm comporting myself in a respectable manner. They know I'm praying and they know I'm sincere." Meanwhile, her bare-breasted forays are being filmed for a documentary by a friend, who calls the effort the "Bare Witch Project."

Letter-writer Malcolm Balfour, writing in the December edition of the magazine Backpacker, says he has a great suggestion for off-road-vehicle fans who complain that they don't have enough places to ride. "Feel free to buzz up and down the median strips of our interstate highway," he suggests. "You can enjoy the same kind of noise and pollution you inflict on us nature lovers."

Computer geeks, rejoice: There's a way to keep on tapping no matter what pesky chores intervene, whether it's a call of nature or a desultory dinner with not enough Internet input. You simply dress in a portable keyboard, which, reports California's Eco-News, gives a whole "new meaning to the word laptop." A British company, Electrotextiles, sews its keyboards into pants and skirts, and the firm says its "smart fabric" keyboard-clothes wash safely and withstand shocks, too.

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]

High Country News Classifieds