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for people who care about the West

Grinchosaurus in Utah, an exchange of letters with Wendell Berry and more.

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


One hundred years ago, when the settlement of Jackson, Wyoming, incorporated itself as a town, the population consisted of a few hardy ranching families, some fur traders and local officials so lax or incompetent that they couldn’t be bothered to collect fines or taxes. The result was a dirty little frontier town that was becoming ever dirtier, much to the outrage of those local women known as “socialites,” or more accurately, do-gooders. It took a few years for them to get organized, but in 1920, four members of the “Pure Foods Club” ran for office and — surprise! — whipped every male opponent, in some cases by a margin of 2-to-1. Rose Crabtree even beat her husband, Henry, 50-31.

Then the “petticoat rulers” really got cooking: They appointed other women as administrators and “went out personally and collected every cent due the town from those who ignored the notices,” reported The Delineator magazine, in 1922. “Before the end of a fortnight there was $2,000 in the treasury,” which had been drained to just $200 by the previous council. Jackson, a “slatternly” town, as the magazine put it, was suffering from years of neglect; it needed new culverts, a refurbished cemetery, new health laws that included banning littering, and an end to cows wandering freely around town. The full-time job of herding unwanted livestock went to Pearl Williams, the new town marshal.

Mayor Grace Miller’s approach — a novel one to some members of our current U.S. Congress — was this: “We simply tried to work together. We put into practice the same thrifty principles we exercise in our homes. We wanted a clean, well-kept progressive town in which to raise our families. What is good government but a breathing place for good citizenship?” Jackson, a town of 10,000 today, wasn’t the first to elect an all-female council, however; Kanab, Utah, did that as early in 1888, electing women bosses again in 1912, according to the Jackson Centennial, the excellent commemorative magazine published by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Once the Northwest writer Brian Doyle began paying attention to what his kids said during their jaunts outdoors, he realized he’d found gold. So he compiled “21 laws of nature as interpreted by my children,” and thanks to Orion magazine, we can share a few of these highly original observations, starting with: “If you find poop in the woods and it’s tiny round balls, it’s a rabbit. If the balls are larger, it is a deer or elk. If they are really large, you should come home.” And: “Eagles can see so well that they can see what you did yesterday.” Others include, “One of our grandmothers is dead, and now she is growing flowers”; “Dad says some kinds of trees drink clouds”; and finally this sound advice, “If you are really sad, go outside and you will feel better after about an hour.”

In a similar vein, Susan Marsh writes about her 30-year stint with the Forest Service in A Hunger for High Country: One Woman’s Journey to the Wild in Yellowstone Country. The book ends with a warning about the future of wilderness, those remote lands, set apart by Congress, where motorized equipment and vehicles and development are prohibited. What she’s learned is that much of the public lacks any understanding of what wilderness is about or for, instead insisting that the land should be managed for the comfort and convenience of visitors. To illustrate her point, she includes complaints from hikers returning from backpacking trips into Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness: “The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.” Another visitor said: “I was shocked at how steep the drop-offs are. Can’t you put a safety net on the cliffs in case someone falls?” And one complained, “A small deer came into my camp and stole my bag of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed?” It is easy to take our national forest system and wilderness lands for granted, Marsh warns, but if future generations no longer value them, “we can be sure of one thing: They will find their way to the auction block.”

Earth Island Journal interviewed the octogenarian Wendell Berry by way of an old-fashioned method — a series of letters exchanged by mail. As always, Berry’s comments on modern life were pithy and occasionally wry. The author of numerous books about the importance of place, Berry talked about hauling logs and plowing with a team of Percheron geldings, though when it’s really necessary, he allowed, his son brings a tractor over to help out. Why not get his own tractor? Berry replied, “I love my horses and I love working with them. I never met a tractor that I even liked.”