Heard Around the West

  • The buck plays here.



Given the number of accidents and attacks against bicyclists in Seattle, riders may want to don flak jackets. In September, a cyclist was hit by a truck and killed, and in October, a rider accused the driver of a sport utility vehicle of trying to intimidate or even hit him, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But it's only recently that the shooting started: Peter McKay was pedaling home in early November when he heard bangs, then suddenly felt pain in his chest. "I didn't think of calling the police or dialing 911," he said. "I just kept riding." Once home, however, he discovered he'd been hit by BB pellets; an X-ray the next day showed one had entered his left lung, releasing air into his chest cavity, while another just missed his aorta and spinal cord. McKay, who plans to continue commuting to work, jokes that he shouldn't have been wearing a yellow bicycling jersey because it made him an easy target. Some help is on the way for Seattle's 6,000 bicycle commuters: The city council just approved a master plan that will put millions into improvements, "including 19 miles of cycling trails and a 230-mile system of marked routes for riders." 


As joggers passed by and tourists looked on, a group of 700 "guerrilla volunteers" pitched in to clean oil from San Francisco's beaches, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. What made the cleanup unorthodox was the ingredients used: human hair and mushrooms. Hair "acts as a perfect sponge," according to Lisa Gautier of San Francisco. The hair was collected from Bay Area salons, and woven into pads the size of doormats. Gautier donated 1,000 hair-mats collected by her nonprofit, Matter of Trust, to help clean the oil spilled by a cargo ship that crashed into a base of the Bay Bridge. Gautier pioneered the technique, first persuading the city's environment department to use hair-mats to absorb used motor oil. Where do the mushrooms come in? Once the mats become saturated with "black gunk," she says, they're a perfect bed for oyster mushrooms to grow and make nontoxic compost. "You make it like a lasagna," Gautier says. "You layer the oily hair mats with mushrooms and straw, turn it in six weeks, and by 12 weeks you have good soil." 


 Mushrooms are so ingenious: One species apparently lives and thrives underwater in Oregon's Rogue River, reports the Mail Tribune. Hydrologist Robert Coffan couldn't believe what he was seeing at first - "gilled mushrooms do not live and grow underwater," he said - but there they were, "swaying in the main current of the clear, cold river in early July through late September." Coffan consulted biologists at Oregon State University and elsewhere, and they believe he's found a new species, one that apparently grows not only on submerged wood but also on gravel. How are the mushroom's spores dispersed? Nobody knows. "We have a whole new area to look for mushrooms now," says Coffan. "It's mind-boggling." 


Eight cows escaped from a trailer that opened just as the driver pulled into a McDonald's in Weber County, Utah, reports The Associated Press. "Maybe they were going to hop in the freezer (and) save the middleman," said a sheriff's deputy. A two-hour roundup of the 800-pound cows was dubbed "Operation Hamburger Helper." 


Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in the 1950s for refusing to tell a congressional committee the names of Hollywood communists. The screenwriter was never honored by his hometown of Grand Junction, Colo., for his award-winning work on the movies Spartacus and Roman Holiday. Quite the opposite: For decades, it was impossible to find his novel, Eclipse, about the hypocrisy of Grand Junction natives, in local bookstores, and stories abounded about people buying the book in order to trash it. But times change, and thanks to residents with a sense of humor and deep-enough pockets, a bronze statue of a cigar-smoking Trumbo sitting up in a bathtub - his favorite place to write - was recently unveiled in a prime spot downtown. Trumbo still has his detractors. In the anonymous "You said it" column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, one said: "I will take the plaque of Ten Commandments any day over a statue of a communist in a bathtub." 


In Surprise, Ariz., some locals had their sensibilities spanked by a sign for Bad Ass Coffee, a rival to Starbucks that hadn't even opened yet. This "crosses the line of good taste," miffed residents told the Arizona Republic, though the paper explained that the name simply describes "a maladjusted donkey." One homeowner protested that "We all have small children ... and we don't want to swear around them." The franchise is based in Salt Lake City. 

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.

High Country News Classifieds