Heard around the West

  • Uneasy neighbors? Sign in Casper, Wyo., at the Hilltop Shopping Center

    Hobie Hare


Filmmaker Michael Moore really knows how to energize people. His Bush-bashing documentary enraged so many Park City residents that a movie theater added a disclaimer, saying Fahrenheit 9/11 did not represent the views of the management. That a disclaimer was considered necessary disturbed several readers of the Park Record, who praised the film for highlighting "crucial questions about the ‘necessity’ of the war in Iraq." Another reader, Roger Strand, labeled Moore a "Jabba the putz," among other epithets, but he concluded his letter by urging "everyone to think for themselves, investigate both sides of all issues, pray for guidance and vote their conscience."


It’s sad when old giants die. As drought continues throughout the West, downtown Santa Fe has lost at least eight cottonwood trees along the pitiful Santa Fe River, mostly a trickle now, says the Santa Fe New Mexican. But instead of turning the old trees into firewood, the city’s pest manager, Fabian Chavez, had a brilliant idea: Why not find artists to transform the trunks into sculpture? Artist Don Kennell was first on the job, chainsawing a tree trunk into a fish swimming upward through flowing water. Kennell said he chose that theme because he saw a photograph of people fishing in the river 60 years ago. "The river was full of water back then," he said. Santa Fe will pay the artist $1,000 for his work and another $7,000 to santero Jose Lucero, who will carve images of archangels into seven other cottonwood trunks.


Columnist Bert Raynes in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, admires the imaginative terms people have come up with to describe assemblies of animals over the years. One of his favorites – "an intricacy of hawks" — was coined by a famous observer, Henry David Thoreau. He shares the vivid but less well known "gulp of cormorants, scurry of squirrels, tiding of magpies and unkindness of ravens," and suggests that all of us try to hang a moniker on a gathering of somethings. Two from Raynes: a shrewdness of apes, a drift of fishermen.


Do-it-yourself burials are coming to a grassy site near San Francisco, says The Associated Press, and relatives of the deceased just need strong backs, a couple of shovels and a Global Positioning System. Developers of "Fernwood Forever" in Mill Valley say bodies "will be placed in biodegradable boxes or shrouds and interred in nondescript graves that mourners can dig themselves." Graves won’t be completely anonymous: Strategically placed "native" boulders will act as guideposts, while the GPS system will pinpoint a grave’s location. Cemetery co-owner Tyler Cassity, 34, who grew up in the burial business, says the organic cemetery won’t allow formaldehyde, used to preserve bodies, or floral arrangements at funerals. But Cassity says it will protect 32 acres of open space and allow people the often-expressed wish to be "buried naturally under a tree."


"Before the going got tough," says Reuters News Service of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery 200 years ago, "the tough went shopping." The young explorers, anxious about their digestion, toted 600 "bilious fever" pills — also known as thunder-clappers — along with opium, inkstands, sealing wax and "portable soup." The soup contained boiled-down beef, cow’s hooves, eggs and vegetables. Twenty-eight months and 8,000 miles later, there was still lots of soup left over.


A Lake Tahoe homeowner who left kibble out for wildlife now owes $2,300 to his neighbor. It seems a black bear, attracted by the free food, was even more excited by the neighbor’s truck, ripping it apart to the tune of several thousand dollars, reports the AP. Recently, a district court judge said Douglas County had the right to enforce its code, which prohibits attracting bears through negligence or sharing food.


So far, nobody wants to own up to owning five marauding bison near Mandan, N.D., that are breaking through fences, shooing cattle out of their pastures and doing whatever it is they want to do. Rancher Kevin Schmidt told the Bismarck Tribune that he’s so fed up he’s thought about getting his gun: "They’ve been eating my grass, which I barely have enough of to feed my own cattle." Though the sheriff’s department has called 25 ranchers, no one has claimed the behemoth strays. Meanwhile, Schmidt, with no hint of irony, said he "wishes they’d go back to where they came from."

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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