Heard around the West

  • Child finds roadside attraction in North Dakota udderly fascinating

    Dan Koeck


A professional fisherman from Arizona took time out from a California bass tournament to douse a fire from his boat. Clifford Pirch used to fight fires during his summers off from Northern Arizona University, but that doesn’t quite explain his ingenuity, notes the Payson (Arizona) Roundup. Here was Pirch, trolling for bass, when he spotted pipe welders at work on the riverbank. Seconds later, he saw the men "stressing" as they frantically tried to douse the blaze their torches had started. So Pirch moved his boat close to shore, popped the gears of his high-powered motor into reverse, raised the engine and pointed it at full-throttle toward the flames. Voila! The engine "sent a rooster tail of what Pirch estimates was about 1,000 gallons of water directly into the inferno." Just to make sure, the angler "Yamaha’d" another wave of water, likely saving a nearby restaurant from flames — along with the jobs of the welders, who were left staring "in comic disbelief." The helpful fisherman didn’t bother waiting for a thank-you; he motored off, Lone Ranger-style, with just a wave goodbye.


Give this principal an "F minus." "Parents of some students at Bromley East Charter School (Denver) are furious after the school’s principal stepped into a first-grade classroom, pretended to shoot several students and then told the children they were dead," reports the Denver Post. There is an explanation: The principal wanted to emphasize that classroom doors need to be locked during safety drills. During the drill, the 20 first-graders were supposed to crouch in a corner while the teacher turned off the lights and locked the door to protect the children from armed or dangerous intruders. But the teacher forgot to lock the door, and the "dangerous" intruder turned out to be none other than principal Robert Bair, who yelled at the cowering kids, "Bang, bang, bang, bang. You’re dead."


You’d think that a bridge trembling from the constant rumble of cars, trucks and trains would be no place to raise a family. But peregrine falcons don’t mind the racket; they raise their young on bridge girders in Portland and many other cities, finding the good life in noisy, well-lighted places. "Buildings and bridges are ecologically equivalent to cliffs," reports the Oregonian, "and in some ways better." The falcons feast on pigeons and starlings, killing their prey in midair by "striking from above at speeds as fast as 200 miles per hour." The adaptable birds are a true success story: Just 34 years ago, because of DDT poisoning, not a single nesting pair survived in Oregon. Thanks to captive breeding, the government said the species had "recovered" in 1999. Now, 12 Western states even allow falconers to remove birds from nests, so they can be used as hunting animals.


Meanwhile, in San Francisco, you might see more amazing sights than purple-haired people in leather and chains. Think cherry-headed parrots, a flock of 15 or 20, darting through Telegraph Hill, the Presidio or near the Embarcadero. Descended from caged birds that escaped or were let loose, the birds have adapted to cold and fear only hawks and the occasional raven or crow. Now, there’s a book about these urbanites, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, by Mark Bittner, who befriended the flock back in the ’80s, when he was a street musician and often homeless. He admires their intelligence, their way of evaluating a situation and making a decision about it. He also notes their rowdiness: "A scream may go on for an hour and a half — and it’s distracting!" he says. "Sometimes it’s triggered by seeing a hawk, and sometimes I think they’re just celebrating their parrotness."


There’s something about a zoo that draws people, sometimes in ways that aren’t healthy. Take the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, where a human finger was found inside the cage of a jaguar named Manchas. Zoo curators tracked down a man who was seen running from the area, but he denied leaving his finger behind. Police "visually confirmed he was the right person," and now he is banned from the zoo "for life," reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. Mammal curator Rick Janser said some people devote themselves to particular animals at the zoo, stopping by every day. You’d think they’d avoid putting their hands in a jaguar’s mouth, but curator Tom Silva said a couple of years ago, Manchas bit off the fingertip of a temporary zoo employee. The fingertip was found — still in a glove — on the floor of the jaguar’s cage.

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

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