Heard Around the West

  • Mailbox, good! Purse, bad!



Snap your fans for the late Beverly Allen, a petite woman just over 5 feet tall who became a high-kicking, feather-bedecked showgirl at the age of 80 with the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. This is a group you have to be at least 55 years old to join, and Allen, reports the Los Angeles Times, was the oldest showgirl still performing when she stopped working at age 87. "A sparkling gem of a dancer," as one of her colleagues put it, Allen was 90 when she died late last year.


There was another loss in 2007: the nation's largest Sitka spruce. The tree was 700 years old and just over 200 feet tall when a violent rainstorm broke off its trunk 75 above ground, reports Newwest.net. Called "Klootchy" after its home in Oregon's Klootchy Creek County Park, the tree was a mere seedling back in the 13th century, when the bubonic plague was wiping out much of Europe's human population. One reader commented that wood from a Sitka spruce, now hard to find, is highly prized as soundboards for guitars: "Perhaps Klootchy will be able to live on in the form of a few hundred beautiful guitars."


Face it, writes columnist Robert Kirby in the Salt Lake Tribune, when it comes to religion, just about everybody believes in weird stuff. Take Republican presidential candidate and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who needled Mormons by provocatively asking, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil were brothers?" As a Mormon, Kirby said, "I wasn't bothered because, well, it's true." What may be stranger than the thought of Satan and Jesus as siblings, Kirby added, is the belief that "the real god is a shape-shifting entity, born of a virgin, who cured blindness with spit ... a god you periodically honor by ritualistically eating him so that he won't kill you when he comes back." One of the ironies of religion, Kirby added, is that logic applies to every religion "but yours."


If the devil does exist, a few disgruntled Nebraskans might say his name is Ted Turner, the CNN founder, philanthropist, bison-lover and well-known wealthy guy who keeps on buying huge ranches throughout the West. Recently, a Turner representative bought at auction 26,300 acres of prime ranch land near Mullen, Neb., reports the Associated Press, at a cost of nearly $11 million. This did not sit well with those locals who were outbid. Many are suspicious of Turner's motives: "You don't know what his plan is and what he's going to do," said Cindy Weller, who lives on a family ranch near Mullen. Some speculate that Turner wants to create a vast preserve for bison and drive ranchers and farmers out of business. A Turner spokesman, however, said the driving force behind Turner's purchase of rangeland in 11 states is "the desire to make money." Hunting expeditions on his land, for example, can cost $12,000 a trip, and Turner now owns more than 50 restaurants serving bison-burgers, called Ted's Montana Grill.


Somewhat ruefully, a Sun Valley resident admitted that the wealthy homeowners who infrequently frequent her resort town can bestow unexpected benefits. When forest fires threatened last summer, Diana Fassino told Harper's Magazine, "1,700 firefighters converged on our small town almost overnight." And while their priority was saving the bloated homes of celebrity residents, Fassino said, all those people dumping fire retardant from planes and digging fire lines meant that her modest house was also spared. "But we are shamed, too," she added, "knowing that our salvation was due to the proximity of a few superstars' 'starter chateaux.' "


Though Nevada held the dubious distinction of being the fastest-growing state for 19 years, it lost that title last year to faster-growing Arizona. But in the most recent count, Nevada snatched back its trophy, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal, thanks to a 2.9 percent growth rate that raised the population to 2.56 million. Las Vegas economist Keith Schwer noted that more is not always better: "Just getting bigger is kind of like sitting around the table after Christmas dinner," he said. "You're getting bigger, but you might not feel well." Commute times get longer, for instance, as traffic builds. Western cities ranked high last year for a second dubious distinction - this one for the most identity thefts, reports Governing magazine. Of 15 cities with the most crimes in that category, six were in California, although Phoenix had the most identity thefts overall. Las Vegas and Denver also made the top 15.

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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