Heard around the West


Oh, Smokey Bear, what have they done to you now? Smokey has a new day job. If you visit the lobby of the Forest Service's headquarters in Washington, D.C., you can see the agency's famous spokesbear, looking, perhaps, like one of the bureaucrats upstairs. The plump bear lounges at a rolltop desk, his feet crossed on top of it, looking over the mail that comes to his personal U.S. zip code, 20252. But this Smokey is no longer mysteriously silent, a sweltering human suffering inside a bear suit; this Smokey chats up a storm. Like Disneyland's famous Abraham Lincoln, the new $55,000 Smokey is "animatronic" and therefore somewhat lifelike, reports States News Service. You still can't have a real conversation with the fellow, but a visit to the Yates Building's new Visitor Information Center will net you his familiar admonition: "Remember, only you can prevent forest fires."

For some Montanans, it might have been hard to believe: A snowmobiler this summer drowned while trying to ride his vehicle across a reservoir. An unfrozen reservoir. Gerald J. Hoyt of White Sulphur Springs, a 46-year-old logger, was not wearing a life jacket, reports Associated Press, and did not know how to swim. This bizarre accident is not an isolated event, either in Montana or elsewhere in the West. "Snowmobiling on water is growing in popularity, and some even are taking ATVs off-shore," reports the Great Falls Tribune. Hoyt's death was the first in Montana associated with riding in the water; now, state officials are considering enacting an emergency ban on the activity.

Cottonwood, Ariz., called its 4th of July celebration in the park "fantastic" family fun, reports the Red Rock News. The schedule in the paper was also fantastic. Besides free food and watermelon, it promised contests in "pet eating," says reader Wendy Grove. She confesses she was surprised: "I thought Westerners were becoming more civilized!"

Ho, hum. That's one reaction after reading the Police Blotter in the Park Record of upscale Park City, Utah. The lead event - get ready - was this: "Hot-air balloons descended on Park City last week. The Police Department responded to several reports of balloons landing in residential areas." Police were unable to find the balloons. On another day, "police stopped three women in a golf cart;" the women were informed that a cart is not yet a car. Then came a day with a real emergency: A kitten had its "head stuck in a crate." The kitten was freed even without the help of Animal Control, which could not respond. Earlier that day police had a provocative phone call: "Graffiti was reported on a transformer box."

To keep the record straight, during the same six-day period, police also answered a call about a man "brandishing a bow," stopped a fight, talked to a woman whose purse was stolen while she was gassing up her car and received a report of counterfeit traveler's checks.

That annual electricity bill of $184,000 for Vice President Dick Cheney's 33-room house in Washington, D.C., gave commentators something to joke about recently. Meanwhile, in Concord, Calif., Sandra Echols has been leading a life that's the antithesis of power-guzzling. The 57-year-old accountant for a child-care council went cold turkey in June, turning off first the garbage disposal and then her dishwasher, coffee maker, bread machine, computer, TV, oven, air conditioner - everything, in fact, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

"It's a hardship," she admits. "But it's not so hard that I can't do it." Political activism is a brand-new thing for Echols, who says she never intended to become an "energy ascetic." "This protest is not about me," she says. "Maybe by shutting off my circuit breakers, I can prevent one less blackout that'll affect the elderly." She's also forming a nonprofit called Power without Power to help older residents.

These hot summer days, her energy bill only runs 16.4 cents a day, the rate Pacific Gas and Electricity charges for access to its power lines. But Echols admits she also spends "hundreds of dollars" on batteries for portable fans and a transistor radio plus bottled water and ice. "At least it's not going to PG&E," she says.

Some people call it a "monopine," an 80-foot cellular tower designed to look just like a normal tree. The monopine was proposed for Carson City, Nev., after residents protested that an undisguised cell tower blocked views and looked weird. But a metallic tree would look even weirder, locals agreed: "It would be the only tall tree within miles of real pine trees," says Juan Guzman, the city's open space manager. The cell-tree was chopped 4-2 by planning commissioners, reports the Nevada Appeal.

A deer crashed through an auto showroom in Butte, Mont., and narrowly missed landing in the front seat of a '56 Thunderbird. On its way out, the doe crashed through another window and then wandered through town, reports the Montana Standard. "It was last seen in the vicinity of St. James Healthcare."

Some residents of Cheyenne, Wyo., are actually getting misty-eyed over the Bush administration's plan to scrap 50 nuclear-tipped missiles. The so-called Peacekeepers are "part of our identity," says a bar manager at Cheyenne's VFW post, reports the Denver Post. Peacenik Michael DeGreve, who sings about MX missiles at the Hitching Post Inn, has a different impression. Here's an excerpt from his song, Ground Zero: "I've got a good friend who sleeps in the silo/Dreams about turning the key/ I've seen him chug Tequila all night/He seems all right to me ..."

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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