Heard around the West

  • Tied green tomatoes

    Dale Eckhardt


A border collie adept at "child-herding, intense stares and home protection" has applied for a job with the city of Boise: He wants to chase Canada geese off the playing fields. In a letter purported to be from the herd dog, named Atticus in honor of the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, he assured the city’s parks and recreation department that "while the goose poop does not bother or interest me, children and adults seem to be bothered by it, (so) I offer a solution: Me!" But no cigar for Atticus, who received a polite letter back: "We have no openings that match your skill set." The Idaho Statesman says there is hope for the ambitious animal. Kim, a border collie who has chased geese from Boise parks for nine years, is slowing down and probably getting ready to retire. Meanwhile, Atticus’ spokesman, Ralph Blount, who works for the attorney general’s office, sports a bumper sticker on his car touting his dog’s virtues. It reads: "My border collie is smarter than your honor student."


There’s a museum for everything — even washing machines. Just north of Greeley, Colo., Maxwell Lee has assembled close to 1,000 washers in his sprawling Antique Washing Machine Museum, with the earliest example a Civil War tub. What finally ended backbreaking toil for women, Lee told Country Treasures, was the electric motor. In the days before homes had electricity, all washing was done by hand, though one of the hundreds of manufacturers of washing machines in the last century invented a washer powered by "a dog or goat on a tread mill."


Carrying only a quart of water each, Earle F. Layser and his wife were well into a 20-mile day hike across the Teton Mountains when they realized that they really, really should have brought a water filter. They were tempted to drink from a sparkling creek where "exotic protozoa lurked within every slurp," he says in the Mountain Gazette, even though "parasite found" surely awaited them. Layser reiterates the many warnings hikers now receive about doing just this, from Sports Afield saying that drinking straight from pristine backcountry streams "is nothing less than a foolish gamble," to the American Hiker’s Association announcing at the trailhead: "All backcountry water is unsafe." Nonetheless, he confesses that he and his wife drank water pouring from beneath a snow bank. Surprisingly, they failed to get the "vomiting, cramping and bloating" promised — not one little "rotten-egg burp." Would he go off the wagon again during a backcountry hike? Yes, he says, "albeit with caution."


It’s a war of big house vs. bigger house in the Salt Lake Valley town of Holladay, population 23,000. Rebecca Conley and her husband recently razed an existing house and are now building a brand-new 11,258-square-foot home on their .68-acre lot, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Next-door neighbor Amy Blumental, whose house is nothing small at 5,765 square feet on a similarly sized lot, says she’s appalled: The Conleys’ house is going up just 10 feet from her fence line, and its 30-foot walls tower over her house. After Blumental and her husband found the city planning code couldn’t help them, the couple retaliated in a colorful way: Their storage shed faces the new neighbors, and they’ve painted it bright pink with a yellow smiley face.


Cyclists love Sacramento, but they hate the goathead puncturevine that flattens tires and injures dogs’ feet. One mile-long stretch of new bike trail along the Sacramento River is so infested with the exotic Mediterranean weed that "it’s a safe bet you’ll get a flat tire," says the Sacramento Bee. City maintenance crews tried to cut back the weeds, only to find they’d inadvertently spread thorns by the thousands. There is a solution, though it takes a while to become effective: spraying with a weedkiller and releasing weevils, which will eventually kill the vine. Biological control doesn’t come cheap; an Oregon company called I.R.V. Goatheads sells puncturevine weevils at a cost of $75 for 250 adults. Owner Roak TenEyck thinks it’s worth it: "You fix enough flat bicycle tires, you pick enough of them out of your favorite hunting dog’s paws, and you step on enough of them in the carpet, and sooner or later you develop a deep resentment of this species."


In North Portland, 14 bicyclists got so upset about a bridge continuing to exclude bike lanes that they took off their clothes and rode naked across the St. Johns Bridge. The Oregonian says their "Buff on the Bluff" manifesto proclaimed: "We ride together, en masse and undressed, to literally demonstrate the naked vulnerability with which the Oregon Department of Transportation expects us to travel this bridge." Vehicular traffic won the day, however, leaving cyclists — clothed or otherwise — to continue jockeying for room with pedestrians on a narrow sidewalk.

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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