Heard around the West

  • 'Drive on in, the water's fine'

    Robert M. Copeland


It may sound like a weird thing to have to face at work first thing in the morning, but inside California’s EPA building in Sacramento, squirming worms share space with employees. The live animals, housed in 60-some bins, are such a part of cubicle culture that staffers compete for the prize of "most productive" worms: The animals eat lunch leftovers and recycle them into compost, which workers can then take home for their gardens. People soon get over the "ick factor," reports The Associated Press; on the 10th floor of the Los Angeles public works building, for example, a bin full of worms sits next to a copy machine, under a sign that reads: "Quiet please. Worms at work." The worms come from suppliers such as "As the Worm Turns" and "Live Nude Worms." Only red worms thrive in containers; other species tend to try to escape en masse. What do red worms like to eat? Observant state employees say coffee grounds and spoiled fruit disappear fast, but worms turn up their noses at bologna sandwiches. "They don’t have teeth, so things have to rot," says Andrew Hurst, who runs the worm program for California. "Worms need to be able to slurp."


Some hunters are so gullible, it should probably be against the law to trick them. Wyoming Game and Fish officers, determined to teach scofflaw hunters a lesson, planted a decoy — a handsome, realistic-looking young bull elk — close to a road between Pinedale and Dubois. Then they spent the day watching hunter after hunter rush to break the law. Of 29 drivers who spotted the decoy, nine shot at it, with three not even bothering to get out of their vehicles. All nine were ticketed; the season for antlered elk hadn’t even opened. Though it was a bad day for lazy hunters, it was a good day for Wyoming: Nineteen citations were handed out, netting $7,700 in fines.


Starlings love to eat blueberries, and flocks of the birds, which are native to Europe, can ravage a farmer’s crop in no time. Farmer Verne Gingerich lost 1,000 pounds of blueberries per acre to the ravenous birds last year — his biggest loss ever, he told The Oregonian. But this year was happily different. Gingerich hired specially trained Saker falcons, native to the Middle East, to chase off the starlings, scaring them so much they hardly touched a berry. "To be real honest, I was somewhat leery" at first, Gingerich said, but now he’s sold on the captive-bred birds, which are trained by Utah-based Getty Pollard. Pollard, who started his "falcon protection company" three years ago, had his first big success protecting Gallo Winery’s vineyards in California. Here’s how he spooks the starlings: Pollard first releases a trained falcon at a farm. Then he circles the property on an all-terrain vehicle until he startles a group of starlings. He swings a strap with a lure on the end of it, signaling the falcon to switch "from a slow, leisurely coast to a laser-beam dive, zooming so fast and low that wings clip blades of grass…" Voila! The terrified starlings scatter and flee, never realizing that the falcons are trained only to disrupt their poaching, not to eat them.


When a soccer craze hit the central Utah town of Manti, there was no available land for the 160 kids to play on. There is now, though some might find it a bit eerie, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. "There was part of the cemetery that wasn’t platted out yet," says town treasurer Michelle Francks. "So we decided to put the field there." Kids joke that they play with the ghosts, but soccer balls rarely reach any gravestones. Best of all, soccer parents don’t have to drive their kids 25 miles away for practice.


Gov. Brian Schweitzer delights in vivid language; he also relishes the occasional insult. Recently, he targeted New Yorkers by way of blasting game farms and private hunting preserves in Idaho, where 100 or so elk recently escaped their pen. He told the AP that "In Montana, we said it’s a bad idea to pen up a bunch of elk, feed them oats and have fat bankers from New York City shoot them while they’ve got their heads in a grain bucket." When asked whether he supported a ban on domestic elk breeding in Idaho, Schweitzer said, "You can quote the Montana governor as saying, ‘Dang tootin’.’ For people who don’t know, that means the affirmative."


Working in a refrigerated studio while wearing a hoodie, artist Jim Victor has created an 800-pound sculpture for the Arizona State Fair that’s entirely made of butter. His inedible creation, which he calls "Mount Rushmoo," features the heads of four cows: A. Brahama Lincoln, Thomas Heiferson, Teddy Moosevelt and Jersey Washington. Victor, who also creates fine-art sculptures, says his food art may not last, but "It’s put my kids through college."


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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