Heard around the West



How do you test a garbage can to find out if it’s tough enough to withstand the long claws and big brain of a ravenous grizzly bear? Just ask a seasoned hand at product-testing — a half-ton grizzly named Sam — to lend his expertise. Sam and seven other bears are "official product inspectors" at the privately run Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, a resort town close to the national park, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. The bears usually make quick work of less-than-stout containers, leaving a metal locker, for example, "in a heap of twisted metal." The bears ripped the locker off its pedestal "and then bounced on the doors till they caved in." Visitors like to watch bears whack away at dumpsters and other containers that come slathered in yummy peanut butter, mackerel juice or other strong-smelling attractants. If a bear breaks in, says the newspaper, "there’s usually a loud cheer and applause." Occasionally, a container will get rolled around to the other side of the fence so people can test whether bear-proofing thwarts humans, too. The goal: to keep bears away from human food and dwellings, and thereby save their lives.


Hats off to residents of Rapid City, population 60,000, for supporting a city councilman who announced he was becoming a woman. Tom Murphy, 48, told The Associated Press that from the time he was 18, and throughout his decades-long career with the Air Force, he never felt right as a man. To his surprise, many Rapid City residents expressed understanding and compassion for his decision to undergo a sex-change operation. A conservative fellow councilman said, "I think he, as a person, has so many wonderful qualities. I think we all want Tom comfortable." Murphy, who will change his first name to Marla, said he decided to go public after opposing a move in the South Dakota Legislature to ban civil unions and domestic partnerships. He wanted people who hate gays, he said, to "know I’m around and where I stand."


It’s that season again, the one where road rage rules. In Boulder, reports the AP, a jogger was twice forced into a ditch by a pushy van driver. Usually, said a sheriff’s deputy, "it’s the bicyclists and the motorists who have a problem." Now, according to psychology professor Dan Weatherley, "someone who has a bad day at work may take out their aggression on a runner who gets in the way." Runners get mad, too: In another incident, "a jogger allegedly challenged a homeowner to a fight" in an argument over whether the runner was trespassing.


Abandoned emus have been reported running wild down in Texas, and in western Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management recently rounded up its first herd of feral llamas, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. The 14 llamas’ offense: allegedly challenging horses bearing riders and competing with livestock for grass. Gathering the discarded llamas wasn’t too difficult, perhaps because the dominant male, sporting dreadlocks of brown and white hair, thought that a simple display of anger would frighten off the humans. He was wrong, and without much difficulty all were penned. "Llama whisperer" Jim Sullivan tried to comfort the startled leader, telling him, "You’re still the boss." The animals will probably be put up for adoption by Colorado Llama Rescue in Longmont.


Be good to your bovines, and they’ll grow big. "Happy cows eat more, especially if they are not fighting flies," says rancher Carl Cochrane of Rose Lake, who installed novel back-scratchers for his 140 head of beef cattle, reports Capital Press. The huge brushes once did duty cleaning city streets; retired now, they hang between two trees where cattle "wait in line to scratch their back," says the rancher. "This is what farm people do," he adds, "they build things to suit their needs." Cochrane’s next adaptation: constructing a "lifetime corral" out of highway guardrail attached to posts made of steel pipe.


A woman running for the state Legislature from a district that includes liberal Park City thinks the Utah government pushes its morals onto citizens. Linda Kelsch, 54, told the Park Record that she doesn’t oppose either gay marriage or polygamy, mainly because she grew up in a polygamous family in Salt Lake City. "I had such a loving family," says Kelsch, a member of the Personal Choice Party.

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.

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