Heard around the West


The heck with drought! In some suburbs outside of Denver, it's grass that counts, and heaven help you if you let it yellow and wither. Some residents of the covenant-controlled developments at Highlands Ranch and in the town of Westminster found that out recently when they tried to be good citizens and save water. Notices arrived, warning they were out of compliance and needed to turn on their hoses. "I was shocked," said Ken Hammack, who owns one of the 25,000 homes at Highlands Ranch.

Over at the Arrowhead Filing subdivision in Westminster, resident Marilyn Geerdes got a notice that her lawn was showing ominous signs of brownout. She was warned that she had 10 days to remedy the "unsightly condition." Geerdes, from Southern California, told The Denver Post that she fired back a response: "Perhaps you haven't heard, we are experiencing a drought. As a consequence of dry conditions, farmers may have to sell their land and cattle, but we will have our lush, green lawns, by golly." Subdivision managers defended their alerts to homeowners, pointing out that they could water less but still save their grass.

Meanwhile, on the Western Slope of the Rockies in the downhome towns of Parachute and Silt, it's another story. There, water conservation trumps the lush look of lawns. In fact, residents caught watering on the wrong days face possible fines of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

If you weighed 1,400 pounds and your task was to transform grass into milk, wouldn't you rather loll the hours away on a waterbed? Holstein dairy cows in Oregon's Willamette Valley don't need to be asked that question; they answer with their bodies, plopping their weight down on rubber bladders filled with 18 gallons of water, reports CNN. "The cows liked it right away," says farmer Arie Jongeneel, who adds that the beds boomed milk production. John Marshman, a dairy farmer in New York who has spent $9,000 on 150 waterbeds for 150 cows, says he's watched the animals "wait for a shot at the waterbeds. The first ones who come back from the milking parlor fill those stalls first."

Richard Ankrom, 46, is our kind of artist. Frustrated in Los Angeles by a freeway sign that confused rather than helped drivers, he took it upon himself to make the sign work. He didn't do much, just added the word "north" to make clear an upcoming exit for Interstate 5. And he did it so expertly, reports Associated Press, that "there are no plans to take down the sign or pursue changes." To alter the sign above a very busy highway, Ankrom wore a hard hat and orange vest, and he'd copied exactly the typeface of the sign right down to the reflective buttons that make up its letters. The contractor-style logo on his truck could have been a tipoff; it read: "Aesthetic De Construction."

Policeman Jay Snider in Casper, Wyo., is in a pickle. Somewhere between the police department downtown and Paradise Valley, he lost his Glock M27 pistol, when a bag holding the weapon fell off his vehicle. So Snider did the obvious thing: He placed a "lost pistol" ad in the Casper Star-Tribune, and yes, there's a reward.

Graduating medical students sometimes wave rubber gloves when the happy day comes and journalists occasionally throw newspapers, so why shouldn't University of Arizona students continue their tortilla-tossing tradition? Because, University President Peter Likens says, it's a waste of food and culturally offensive to some people, reports Associated Press. A college official said he'd try to talk students out of their tortillas just before they walked on stage to receive their diplomas by "using food-bank boxes to play on their guilt."

Canine aficionados threw a "Doggie Powwow" in Jackson, Wyo., recently, to celebrate dogs and their contribution to a fuller life. Outnumbering humans 40 to 20, dogs were sung to, howled with, adorned with bandanas and hugged a lot. One dog, a chocolate Lab, entertained the group by making frequent trips to a river, then carrying back a stone in his mouth until he'd created a circle. Susan McElroy Chernak, a cancer survivor, told the group, "If I could love as fearlessly as my dog, I would be a much better person for it. Our dogs are models of sanity in an insane world."

Libertarian candidate for Congress Steve Gothard in Boise, Idaho, doesn't just respect guns, he insists on them. Gothard, an electrical engineer who designs printers for Hewlett-Packard, said he wouldn't go to Washington, D.C., if elected, unless he could pack heat. Sounding just a bit wimpy, he called the capital too dangerous: "There are terrorists there. I'm scared to death to go there without being armed," he told the Idaho Statesman. His personal artillery features both a submachinegun and a backup pistol "tucked under his coat," reports the Idaho Mountain Express. But Washington police said they couldn't bend the law, even for a Libertarian. In an editorial, the Express had a suggestion for the candidate who loves guns more than reason itself. "He could enlist in the Army, ask for assignment up front in Afghanistan, where he'd be surrounded with guns and the constant sounds of gunfire, and maybe even have a chance to shoot and kill someone."

Eighteen-wheel tractor-trailers from Colorado won't be getting the big hello in South Carolina this month. State troopers in that state have practiced shutting down a highway and blocking trucks from Colorado if they're hauling plutonium from Rocky Flats, the state's now-closed uranium-processing factory. Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina says he doesn't trust the federal Energy Department to move out the plutonium after it's been reprocessed in his state for fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. State troopers practicing civil disobedience took their role playing seriously, even convincing the driver of a truck from the state Department of Corrections to turn around. But when the Energy Department comes calling, reports Associated Press, its trucks will be escorted by armed federal officers.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado ([email protected]). She welcomes examples of Western weirdness.

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