THE WEST

Democrats can get really lonely in the West. In rural areas, some are even driven to change their party affiliation to Republican. They’re not converts — heaven forbid — they just want to vote in the primaries where the real choices get made. Now, there’s a weblog to bond Western dissidents. It’s called Red State Liberals, named for the red block of states that TV analysts showed were solidly for George Bush. The "blog" was started by Idaho travel writer Julie Fanselow, a Howard Dean stalwart, who told The Denver Post, "You don’t have to be left wing to feel left out of this administration."

THE WEST

Is that a deer in the backyard, or a walking hat rack? It could be both, says the Colorado Division of Wildlife, warning homeowners missing tomato cages, hammocks, volleyball nets or child swings, that the culprit could be a visiting deer or elk. Bulls and bucks like to rub their antlers against things, and apparently, sometimes some of those things get stuck. This isn’t good for the animals, since antlers festooned with Christmas lights are liable to snag on fences, or even on other animals. "Clean up your backyard" is the message the agency urges. Animals sometimes free themselves of encumbrances, but more often it takes months before the decorations get shed along with the antlers. This might explain why hikers find peculiar things in wilderness areas, such as hair dryers and extension cords. Well, maybe.

UTAH

Speaking of backyards, in the foothills south of Provo Canyon, 40 or so bighorn sheep have discovered that houses landscaped with lots of munchables are far preferable to dry and rocky hills. Last summer, one homeowner tried turning on sprinklers to scare away the sheep, but "they were using them like a WaterPik," Del Hutchings told the Salt Lake Tribune. "There were four of them on each (sprinkler) head." Some of the sheep, brought by the state to Utah from Canada, have also taken to playing king of the hill on top of a Corvette which "now needs a new paint job." During the December rut, one resident saw a ram jump onto a covered Jacuzzi and "lightly" butt heads with his own reflection in a window. Biologists hope to capture some of the backyard bighorns this winter, then relocate the herd to Mount Nebo, away from the seductions of suburbia.

CALIFORNIA

Thanks to researchers at the University of British Columbia, we now know that a mysterious sound emanating from herring in San Francisco Bay is, to put it bluntly, fish farting. The New Scientist magazine says, "It sounds just like a high-pitched raspberry." So far, no one knows why herring, alone of all fish, make rude noises from their rear ends. Researcher Ben Wilson says the fish flatulence might be a communication aid, since the rumbling increases after dark. Apparently, the sounds are unheard or ignored by most other fish.

TEXAS

Meanwhile, in Texas, the antidepressant Prozac is soothing fish in a Denton County creek. The fish aren’t depressed; they just happen to be living in water treated by a wastewater-treatment plant that doesn’t filter out pharmaceuticals, reports the Star-Telegram. Bryan Brooks, who is studying the fish, says Prozac seems to affect fish as it does humans: "It relaxes them. Maybe it makes you a happy fish and you’re kind of hanging out."

IDAHO

It’s still a tiny operation in tiny Grant, Idaho, but Silver Creek Distillers made headlines last year. Idaho-grown potatoes were the secret of the world-class vodka called Blue Ice, reports The Associated Press, and Blue Ice was surpassed in quality only by Stolichnaya from Russia and Monopolowa from Austria.

WYOMING

If you lived on a county road with the name "6FU," you might be embarrassed, too. Residents along the 17-mile road on the west side of Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Reservoir say they’re tired of feeling defensive or humiliated when they tell people their address, reports the Cody Enterprise. You can blame a grid system for number-letter addresses adopted a quarter-century ago, says a county engineer. But faced with a petition from 40 homeowners, Park County Commissioner Tim French agreed, "It’s time for 6FU to go away."

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colo. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.