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for people who care about the West

Delinquent goats, a cat murder mystery and rock ‘n roll spiders

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


If the Burning Man festival in the dusty Nevada desert conceived a love child with a monster-truck rally in the snowy mountains of Alaska, that would surely be the “Arctic Man” gathering, says the Guardian. Think 12,000 Alaskans — all heartily sick of winter — converging on a snow-covered field in the Hoodoo Mountains near Summit Lake, a place that’s usually in the middle of nowhere. But this April 4-15, Arctic Man became one of the biggest cities in the state. Bundled-up participants enjoyed giant bonfires that burned through the night, costume parties that featured “a guy with a bear hat made from an actual bear’s head,” souped-up snowmobile races, where drivers climbed hills at 92.3 mph, and food trucks that sold reindeer on a stick. It’s always a “booze and fossil-fueled Sledneck Revival,” and this year, the slednecks did their best to smash the Guinness World Record for the largest parade of snowmobiles.

Whatcom Watch, in Bellingham, Washington, recently interviewed Lorena Havens, a longtime environmentalist and co-author of the popular classic, The People’s Guide to Mexico. The reporter was curious about what inspired Havens to become an activist in the early 1970s. Apparently, it was a combination of indignation and common sense: Havens said that Judy Chicago, the artist and activist, urged her to tackle local problems first, saying, “Go home and see what needs doing — and do it!” A few weeks earlier, as it turned out, Havens had seen something that needed un-doing. From her “river shack on Ebey Island,” Havens saw trucks from lumber mills lining up to dump bark and sawdust into a wetlands. That night, Havens wrote a petition asking the county to halt the pollution, got all her neighbors to sign it, and presented it a few weeks later to the planning commission. Her petition initially didn’t get much traction, she recalled; a company lawyer dismissed it, saying that if dumping caused a problem, “there should be a stack of documents and scientific evidence” proving it. “I found myself walking up to the front of the room,” Havens recalled, where she told elected officials that that kind of twisted logic had allowed rivers to become so fouled you couldn’t drink the water or swim in them. To her surprise, the planning commission then denied the dumping permit; afterward, she was told that her statement tipped the balance. These days, Havens advocates for more complete recycling: “We must not only stop putting more trash in the ocean, we need to be cleaning the plastics out of the ocean and reusing that material.”

Seventy-five goats hired to eat invasive species at a public park in Salem, Oregon, had to be fired for failing to do their job. Eenews.net reports that the animals preferred to munch on tree bark and some native plants, and instead of clearing entire patches of blackberry bramble, they fastidiously nibbled just the leaves. What’s worse, renting the goats cost the town five times more than mowing or weed-whacking. Cleaning up the goat poop also wasn’t cheap. They left behind “a heavily fertilized area — if you know what I mean,” said Mark Becktel, Salem’s public works manager.

While its owners were away for two weeks, a parked Toyota Tundra truck in Aztec, New Mexico, became a bed and breakfast for a rat. Vicky Ramakka says she and her husband didn’t know about the rat’s sojourn on top of the truck’s engine until a routine truck servicing revealed the carnage that had occurred during their absence. A mechanic cleaned out an entire rat’s nest filled with cactus and tree parts, as well as the remains of a rabbit, but “the wiring was intact, so thank God for that.” Ramakka says, “We were dumbfounded at this detailed maintenance report — especially the rabbit corpse!”

“A cat with a bloody human hand in its mouth” must have been a chilling sight as it strolled down a street in Bozeman, Montana. That’s what a caller reported to police, reports the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, though the eyewitness wasn’t sure if the hand was real. Fortunately, it wasn’t; another caller told dispatch that one of her missing pink gardening gloves was most likely the “hand” the cat was holding.

Back in the 1960s, the “man in black,” Johnny Cash, played a series of concerts for the men in Folsom State Prison, on the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Chris Hamilton, a young biologist from Auburn University in Alabama, knew about those concerts and loved Cash’s song, Folsom Prison Blues. So it made perfect sense for him to name the all-black tarantula he recently discovered near Folsom Aphonopelma johnnycashi. Hamilton told the BBC that he also proudly sports a Johnny Cash tattoo; no word on how many legs it has.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.