Heard around the West


Our hearts go out to that beloved icon of the Forest Service, Smokey Bear. Anxiously, perhaps, the big bear awaits his new makeover. Sure, he'll still be pot-bellied, furry and sport a forest ranger hat. But it's a safe bet he will no longer deliver the message: "Only you can prevent forest fires." The spokesbear in the works, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, will convey a more complex message, something liked: "Smokey says controlled burns set by a government agency are good - if we can all forget homeowners fleeing from Los Alamos - but wildfires caused by clueless homeowners are bad." Of course, mixed messages can be hard to understand.

The wise heads cooperating on Smokey's message-makeover include the New York-based Ad Council along with the National Association of State Foresters and the Forest Service. While officials have not sought public comment, the Forest Service is probably eager, if not dying, to hear suggestions from people like us. This is, after all, an agency used to swallowing thousands of brilliant, angry and mind-numbingly technical comments

So here's one off-the-cuff idea: Smokey flicks open a Zippo in front of a dense and spindly forest his handlers have not allowed to burn in 90 years. The skinny trees become torches. "Good Fire!" says the caption. At the same time Smokey's other hand cuffs a male suburbanite (looking remarkably like Smokey, only less furry) who has carelessly allowed his backyard barbecue to ignite a tree in the nearby national forest. "Bad Fire!" proclaims a second caption. A double message, perhaps, and difficult for this faithful bear to speak out of both sides of his mouth. Our advice to Smokey? Mum's the word.

In gentrifying Joseph, Ore., pop. 1,260, the eight-month battle over a pink barbecue shaped like a pig is about to enter a new phase. Told by the town to unclog the sidewalk of his $1,300 backyard cooker, store-owner Jim Russell said he'd fight "for his rights," reports the Oregonian. This month he'll plead his case against the town's sign ordinance in court. Win, lose or draw, he's promised, "we are going to have a barbecue." Russell, having his fun with the fussy townfolk, posts signs in his window that say "Honk if you like the pink pig" and sells T-shirts that say "I've seen the pig and survived" or "P.I.G. - politically incorrect grill." Pigheaded Russell says he may also take the offending grill to court since, he allows, "it is evidence."

All those jokes on the Internet about electricity-deprived yet totally frivolous California seem to have rankled. Now, a letter that purports to be from "The Californians," tells the rest of the West a thing or two. Things like "California ranks 48th in the nation in power consumed per person, and California grows more than half the nation's fruit, nuts and vegetables." And now we're told imperiously, "We're keeping them. We need something to eat when the power goes out." Californians online also brag that they're the nation's number one dairy state and the source for stuff we take for granted: "You all complain that we don't build enough power plants. Well, you don't grow enough food, write enough software, make enough movies, build enough airplanes and defense systems or make enough wine! This is your last warning, America. Lighten (us) up before it's too late. Love, the Californians."

Meanwhile, California continues to lead the way, culturally. First, there's the road-rage trial in San Jose, featuring a 27-year-old man accused of scooping up a fluffy bichon frise from another car on a stalled freeway, then flinging the little dog into traffic. The pet was run over. Second, there's the decision by San Francisco to grant up to $50,000 to city workers who suffer from "gender dysphoria," in which the patient feels he or she was born the wrong sex. The city's new health package also adds acupuncture, infertility treatment and Viagra. The estimated annual cost to taxpayers of the added benefits is $683,000, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Seattle commuters sick of bumper-to-bumper traffic and jack-knifed big rigs have had a solution since 1973: carpooling. King County did all the organizing, but drivers had to mail in an application and wait around for a match. To move that process into the computer age the county just launched an Internet service, which allows workers in a nine-county area to hook up on their own. Some 700 cars already take advantage of speedier High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, with one commuter telling the Seattle Times, "We have a ton of fun in the van." Who knows, singles might also find romance. Here's a listing anticipated by the newspaper: "SWF, 28, nonsmoker, NPR listener, commute: 7 a.m. lower Queen Anne to Microsoft campus, seeks some 25-45 to share HOV lane, drive-thru lattes and small talk about how bad the traffic is for everyone else. No road ragers, please." You can check out who's going your way at RideshareOnline.com.

In suburban Aurora, Colo., a champion of ferrets is battling both the city and some of his neighbors. They say harboring a few of the sinuous animals is fine, but 80 ferrets? Randy Horton, a former fishing boat captain, says he fell in love with ferrets after one named Hilarious Harvey saved his life seven years ago, when its antics banished his depression after a heart attack. "He gave me a whole new lease on life," Horton told the Denver Post.A grateful Horton and his wife, Gloria, have turned all but one room in their house over to the scampering pets, as well as transforming their backyard into an amusement park they call Ferretland USA. It's become an outing for some in the Denver area who own ferrets or who want to adopt one from the nonprofit refuge. Last year Horton took in 650 abandoned or abused ferrets and put out for adoption 549.

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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