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for people who care about the West

Heard around the West



At the edge of his Soap Lake, Wash., backyard, Rick Froebe has lined up seven toilets and some old bathtubs and water heaters — all to annoy the golfers whose proximity makes his four dogs bark, which, in turn, annoys his neighbors. Froebe has even placed “three scarecrow-like dummies” on the toilets to look on as golfers play through the first hole, reports The Associated Press. But while Froebe, who owns a plumbing business, defends his fence as “plumber art,” the Lakeview Golf and Country Club, which abuts his property, calls the porcelain array ridiculous and an eyesore. “I’m surprised the health department hasn’t been out there because of the used toilets and water tanks,” says a country club representative. “It’s not a sanitary condition.” Meanwhile, Froebe’s dogs continue to bark at golfers, and the sheriff has warned the plumber three times that his animals are a nuisance.



What do newcomers need to know about living in the Cowboy State? Quite a lot, it turns out, or so says the Wyoming Humanities Council, which is putting together a guide called Welcome to Wyoming. After talking to folks who’d moved to the state during the last decade, the council came up with several suggestions. First, even if newcomers have built a huge house and have tons of money, they ought to hang back and learn about where they live before offering advice. Second, volunteering is a time-honored way to become involved in a community, and helping somebody out is a Western tradition. New Jackson resident Brian Dougherty says he was buying furniture at a thrift store when a man walked by and offered to help. Before he knew it, the man had loaded up the chairs and table in his own truck and was following Dougherty to his place: “I remember taking a right turn at a stop sign and thinking, ‘If I was in New York, this guy would take a left turn.’ ” But he didn’t, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. “ ‘The stranger had no ulterior motives, just kindness.’ ” Was there any subject that was taboo? You bet, says a Humanities Council member — wolves. “We had one woman say, ‘I wanted to learn about (wolves) but the way to do it was not to ask people about it.’ ”



A coyote protecting her family can be a formidable opponent, says Georgia Holguin in the newsletter of the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance in Carlsbad, N.M. Holguin found that out while riding horseback with her husband and two dogs. Coming over a rise, they were confronted by a furious coyote that pawed “the ground like a bull ready to charge us.” The animal even barked right into the face of one of the dogs, all the while pacing back and forth. Holguin says her husband noticed that the fierce little female was nursing: “She’s hidden her cubs nearby; that’s why she’s so frantic.” The couple hastily withdrew, escorted for about a mile by the coyote. There’s a moral to the encounter, Holguin says: “Don’t mess with mamma coyotes. They are small but mighty.”



NewScientist magazine’s New Year Competition asked readers to compose a brief message to the home planet from an alien visiting Earth. Editors were bemused by the many responses along the lines of “No intelligent life found.” But some of the winning entries embellish the idea: “Weather chilly but improving steadily over the next century or so. Found out why Aunty didn’t come back from her Roswell trip.” And: “Our assumptions were wrong. Their diet is so full of unhealthy chemicals they don’t taste at all like chicken. Even their chickens don’t taste like chickens.” And our favorite: “Dominant species ‘car.’ Colorful exoskeleton and bizarre reproduction via slave biped species. Aggressive but predictable. Intelligence uncertain.”



Continuing our hunt for amusing headlines, we spotted a provocative one recently from IdahoStatesman.com: “City Councilman suspected of dying after falling off bridge in Oregon,” and another from the Salem, Ore.-based Capital Press: “Rancher smolders long after fire extinguished.” The Columbia Journalism Review posted a couple of howlers from Western papers in its recent issue: From the Herald of Lusk, Wyo.: “Voters flock to the poles,” presumably both north and south, and in the San Diego Union Tribune: “Sandal rocks GOP House leadership.” No word on what kind of sandal it was.



Some hospitals in Oregon have decided that their patients don’t require special meal plans; all they need is healthy food — sans additives or trans fats. Raves are the result, with some patients liking the made-from-scratch meals so much that they “come back to eat after their stay is over,” reports AP. The Good Shepherd Medical Center in Portland serves lean bison and wild salmon, while hospitals elsewhere in Oregon have added their own farmers’ markets. “The purer and cleaner the food is, the better the ability of that food to improve the health of people,” says Mark Peterson, who manages food for St. Charles Medical Center in Bend and Redmond, Ore.


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.