Garden gnomes stolen; shipping container homes for sale

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

  • OREGON Ready for roadside chow.

    Emily Jane Davis

Massive solar plants are springing up like dandelions in California, Nevada and Arizona. “Rapid growth” doesn’t do it justice: According to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, based in Culver City, California, more than a dozen huge installations, ranging up to 500 megawatts each, are under construction, each one ranking among the world’s largest. With the help of a drone, the center’s winter publication, The Lay of the Land, provided breathtaking photos of some of the area’s existing photovoltaic power plants. Their scale is startling, as ranks of solar panels stretch endlessly across flat valley land. Seen from high up, some look remarkably like the Nazca lines, Peru’s ancient desert geoglyphs. Two neighboring plants in the remote Carrizo Plain of California — the Topaz Solar Plant and California Solar Ranch — cover close to 10 square miles and together can produce a total of 750 megawatts. Driving this regional solar boom is California, whose Legislature has mandated a cutback on fossil fuel dependence.


It didn’t start out as a fight between equals, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, though it became a fight to the death. The aggressor was a lion, true, but a small, 40-pound feline that had already survived frostbitten ears as well as a vicious attack by an eagle, while its intended prey was a waddling porcupine more interested in chewing bark and digging for fungi and bulbs. Mark Elbroch, Teton Cougar Project leader, said that though porcupines sometimes survive lion attacks, the big cats usually win. One young lioness he studied killed 24 porcupines in less than three months: “One of her techniques was to climb trees and throw porcupines to the ground, injuring or stunning them enough for her to attack their vulnerable bellies.” This particular encounter, however, ended like the fifth act of a Shakespearean tragedy: Both animals died, the lion eventually succumbing to quills that worked their way into one lung. As the Bard might say, “The rest is silence.”


Bicyclists celebrated last September when the Salt Lake City Council passed an ordinance requiring businesses with drive-thrus to serve two-wheelers along with four-wheeled vehicles. That seemed like a reasonable idea to many, but take-out parity ended abruptly when the Utah Legislature recently voted 20-6 to override the city’s ordinance. Why did hungry bikers get the shaft? According to the Salt Lake Tribune, one business owner cited employee safety: “Workers at the order window may become targets of harassment from customers on bikes who have neither sedan door nor seatbelt to restrain them.” Derek Smith of Presidio Insurance had another rationale, if you can call it that: “When people are doing illegal drugs and they get the munchies, they approach the drive-thru.”


When New York Times columnist Timothy Egan gets on a roll, Katy bar the door. His target recently was Utah, which “is to the dietary supplement business what Northern California is to marijuana” — a $13 billion business based on charlatanism and well-connected lobbying. Egan specifically scolded Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, because Hatch, back in 1994, “midwifed through Congress a new industry protected from all but minimal regulation.” By law, supplements can’t claim to cure disease, but they can claim to make you healthier in some sort of “natural” way. Recent studies in this country and Canada, however, revealed that the ingredients of many expensive supplements were nothing more than grass clippings or other fillers you could more accurately label “junk in a pill.”  If you still trust supplements, Egan concludes, “go buy some possible Ginkgo biloba-free Ginkgo biloba, and thank Orrin Hatch for the unfettered right to be a sucker.”


Pink flamingos, religiously themed grottos and chubby, bearded gnomes are certainly matters of individual taste (or lack thereof), but few of us feel the urge to “liberate” them from other people’s yards. Yet someone in Boulder, Colorado — with tongue firmly in cheek — has formed a Gnome Liberation Front to free these particular statuettes from lawn service. The revolution began when a gnome abandoned longtime resident David Smith, who seemed puzzled, noting that his missing statue was merely “your typical tacky-looking kind of gnome.” The gnome-napper, as the Boulder Daily Camera dubbed him, explained in a poem left behind that Smith had failed to appreciate the gnome’s long service, so now, its days of “guarding your yard like a Roman slave” were done. “In one sense, it’s kind of amusing, but in another sense, it’s a little bit unnerving,” Smith said. The “violation of property” was bad enough, he said — “and then the taunting.”


Would you like to live in a well-designed can? A Missoula company called Montainer buys metal shipping containers for $3,000-$5,000 and turns them into complete 192-square-foot homes, each with bathroom, kitchen and washer-dryer. The $65,000 “housette” is called the Nomad 192, and its shell, says CEO Patrick Collins, is “corten steel” and will never rust.

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