Heard around the West


With fast-growing lawns in the West sucking down immense amounts of water, Andrew McKean of Helena, Mont., passes on two apropos comments. The first is from University of Utah political scientist Daniel McCool: "Utah doesn't have a water problem; Utah has a Kentucky bluegrass problem." The second comes from the side of a bus spotted in Orem, Utah: "Love thy neighbor. But have the better lawn."

Which points up how obsessed we are by green and tidy grass; so much so, says Virginia Scott Jenkins, in her book, The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession, that wherever we settle - and that includes the desert Southwest with its seven or so inches of rain a year - we insist on planting lawns, then watering, fertilizing, aerating and mowing and re-mowing them.

Lawns have become a symbol of our control of, and superiority to, the environment, says Jenkins. But there's a high price to pay: We humans suffer from "lawn anxiety," our waterways suffer from pesticides, and the lack of diversity in those grassy monocultures reduces wildlife habitat.

Even though there are 54 million lawns in this country, Jenkins says there is a move toward a more natural backyard, fueled, perhaps, by the lazy, the xeriscaper who prefers native plants and those among us who are simply fed-up with the whole lawn thing.

To say nothing of those noisy gas-powered lawn mowers. A Swedish study cited by Environmental Media Services says pollution spewed from one hour of mowing is equivalent to a 100-mile trip in a car. What's more, in one year, Americans use about 800 million gallons of gas just to cut lawns.

It's tough to wean people from their noisome machines, but Seattle is giving it a go. A pilot program offered 20 residents battery-powered electric mowers if they'd stop using their old gas-fired machines. One participant said he'd made the "supreme sacrifice" by trading in his riding mower for an electric one. Now, he won't go back. The program is sponsored by King County and Seattle Public Utilities; for more information call toll-free 888/860-LAWN.

If a state could be boiling mad, then that state is Idaho. Two men from Illinois had the gall to pack 3.4 million pounds of potatoes grown in Wisconsin and label them "Grown in Idaho."

Said interim U.S. Attorney Mac Haws, "When consumer fraud involves a product as closely associated with Idaho as the potato, the harm goes beyond our pocketbooks. It is an affront to the state."

The state got revenge, reports Associated Press: The two thieves must pay $100,000 to Idaho's Potato Commission, which will use the money to run television commercials in Chicago that "restore the reputation of genuine Idaho potatoes."

So the right name counts - if you're a potato. The choice of a name for a new elementary school in Marana, Ariz., became a hot potato when kids voted for "Rattlesnake Ridge," and the school board voted to ignore both the children and democracy. "Is a rattlesnake a positive image that we want for a mascot?" asked the board president, Bonnie Demorotski. "You have to remember these are kids that are voting."

Well, rejoined another board member, "Why go through the drill if you are going to just discard the plurality of the vote?" Nonetheless, the board took it upon itself to call the school Twin Peaks and not Rattlesnake Ridge.

There's a problem with the board's fell swoop, reports The Northwest Explorer. While there is a Rattlesnake Pass close by - an area cited by the children - there are a couple of places called Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, one lost its peak after a quarry opened on it in 1949. If the cement factory continues mining limestone at the current rate, the entire mountain is expected to vanish in 60 to 75 years.

So how about One Peak Elementary School?

Mountains really do move in the West: In Black Hawk, Colo., the state's largest gambling casino is going up where a mountaintop used to be, the Denver Post reports. More than 120 dynamite blasts eliminated the mountain to make room for a 1,450-car parking garage and the 123,000-square-foot Black Hawk Casino, which includes restaurants and shops.

"That's the thing about building in the mountains," said construction manager Jack Nevin. "Sometimes you have to move them.

Westerners are used to getting invitations to "free seminars" on buying time-shares in pricey resorts. All we have to do, we're assured, is join our neighbors somewhere and listen. But there's always a catch, and the first catch is that you're trapped. Now come two mortuaries in Mobridge, S.D., who invite folks to a seminar on "the benefits of making funeral plans in advance." Larson's Funeral Home and the Kesling Funeral Home do their best to make thinking about the inevitable inviting, offering free coffee and door prizes. Then there's the postscript: "This letter was prepared at an earlier date. Please accept our apologies if it reached your home at a time of bereavement."

Also in the vein of tacky but true, a New York-based company has introduced a video game based on demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, in 1999.

Rockstar Games invites players of "State of Emergency" to grab "pipes, bricks and benches, even dismembered body parts" to hurl at the oppressive "American Trade Organization" and its troops. The cyberspace protesters include skimpily dressed women striking martial-arts poses, Reuters reports, as well as vandals, who throw bottles filled with gasoline and loot stores while dodging police rubber bullets.

Players are urged to gnash their teeth and bash the corporate lackeys as long as possible. At the real Seattle protest, 500 people were arrested, mostly for blocking city streets.

In Casper, Wyo., marketing executive V. Worth Christie is a man with a mission. He wants a local high school to honor one of its outstanding own, Vice President Dick Cheney, who graduated from Natrona High School in 1959. Christie, a Democrat, is pushing the school board to change the school's name to Richard B. Cheney High School.

Some people think this is a radical idea. After all, until he joined the George W. Bush ticket, Cheney lived in Texas, where he ran Halliburton Oil Co., reports the Wall Street Journal. "And Mr. Cheney's only Wyoming home isn't in blue-collar Casper" - it's in high-end Jackson, where the median price for a house is $565,000, compared to $93,773 for Casper.

Students polled in the Gusher, the school paper, mostly favor leaving the school name as it is, although one troublemaker, noting the vice president's heart problems, suggested that "the ideal mascot for Cheney High would be the Pacemakers." Perhaps to get the ball rolling, the school board recently renamed an unused but soon-to-be improved athletic field, Cheney Alumni Field.

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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