The mysterious cow murders at Missouri Breaks

In 2068, a West Obsessed investigation.

This fictional short story is part of our Speculative Journalism Issue, where we imagine stories from a West under climate stress in 2068.

“Murder on the Missouri”

Written and produced by JR Calvert™ 

(Clip 058 int city apartment night  
Horns, sirens, construction, patrol drones)

[Note to self: effuse!]

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to another episode of West Obsessed, the podcast that delves deep into the stories of the modern American West. I’m your host, JR Calvert, waking up and logging in for another beautiful night on the Range that never rests. [Pause.] Actually, tonight is not so beautiful. I’m recording this from bed, in fact, every word a stab of pain. You should see me: all bandages, gauze and med-paste. I’m a mess.

What happened? I’ll tell you. But first: This episode is brought to you by GreenEden: All nutrients, no hassle. Half-off a yearlong subscription for all food-bars, powders and pastes when you key in from West Obsessed. And by Xcel Energy: We power the future — night and day. And by No-ID, the nation’s number-one anonymity provider, from masks to make-up to mainframes. Want privacy? Think No-ID.


OK … [Grimace.] Here we go. You’ll recall I received a message some weeks ago from a Dr. Porter Barron, out of Lewistown, Montana. Subject line: Cow killings. “Dear Mr. Calvert,” it said, “I was impressed with your recent episode on Nevada’s Tesla cleanup failures and am reaching out with something of a mystery.

“I’m the majority partner of the Missouri Breaks Ranch, which runs roughly 4,000 head of cattle across half a million acres in north-central Montana. We raise premier grass-fed beef while conserving pristine landscapes and the heritage of Montana’s cattlemen. Lately, some of our herd have been killed and dismembered, targeted by rivals, vandals or malcontents, with local law enforcement unwilling or unable to assist. I believe your work could help us uncover the truth behind these heinous crimes. I am willing to pay retainer and expenses, plus a reward for a successful investigation.”

So. You guys got pretty excited about this. It was up-voted as a priority story, and your flash donations (thank you!) got me on the first mag-lev to Montana, to investigate the … dum-dum-dum ... [Ouch.] … “cow murders on the Missouri.” Tonight, I’ll reveal to you the shocking — and painful — findings of that investigation.

It all starts under Montana’s big sky …

(Clip 008 int. car day
Whir of an engine, whisper of air-con)

DRIVER: First time to Lewiston?

ME: It is.

DRIVER: You’re gonna love it. Clean air. Sunshine. Best restaurants, bar none. In from?

ME: Denver.

DRIVER: Whewwy. Hot down ’ere, eh? I got a cousin works the Night Cycle outta downtown. I couldn’t do it. I need the sun. You can take your mask off, by the way.

Day Cyclers always say this about the sun. Tell you the truth, I find the sun a little too … all-seeing. In my neighborhood, the Night Cycle sings, and the song bounces through the streets and shadows. We wear the night like a hat, and we never remove our masks.

The driver’s eyes flit back and forth from the rearview, as we speed through green streets. Signs mark trails that wind through groves and gardens, blazing a path from downtown to the mountains, which surround the city like stone sentinels. Down a grassy hill, a real-tan couple walks a massive, spotted dog. What drones fly here must fly high. I can sense them, but I cannot see them. I note a dashcam, though, and the cams on every corner.

(CLIP 011, 012, 013 EXT EVENING — Car door opens and closes, as I thank the driver for the ride. Sound x-fades into large doorbell and me greeted by the deep baritone of Dr. Barron, welcoming me to dinner.)

Dr. Porter Barron lives in a stone-built chalet in the foothills of the South Moccasin Mountains. The interior is styled Victorian — lace and antiques, small bronze statue of a bronco-buster … a massive grandfather clock ticking time in the parlor. The doctor is a tall, fit man, 70-something, wide shoulders, waxed white mustache, as Victorian as his house. 

(CLIP 017 INT. HOUSE NIGHT — Dinner; plates clatter; decanted wine pours into delicate crystal)

Dinner is herbed prime rib, buttery mashed potatoes, and a drought-stressed Syrah. Delicious, actually, though I worry what meat-eating will do to my stomach. I won’t bore you with the details of my later-that-night intestinal discomfort. I will tell you, though, that Dr. Barron keeps his steak knives sharp and your wine glass full.

BARRON: … moved up here, oh, about a decade ago. Had been running cattle out of New Mexico, but it’s gotten too damn hard to ranch down there. The heat I could handle, almost as well as the longhorns, but the Santa Fe market’s just about dried up, and the land’s turned too brittle to bother with. They say rain follows the plow, but I followed the rain to Montana. As verdant a place as any I’ve seen. And the cows do well, too.

We run them along the Missouri, in what’s called the Breaks. Half a million acres of God’s country. It was given over to Montana in the Transfer Act of ’52, and about a year or so later, we bought it up. We keep it fenced off: private and patrolled. We move the cattle — 4,000 head — with a fleet of smart-drones, rotating the full count across the land like a herd of bison. That keeps the grasslands healthy — healthier than they’ve been since Lewis and Clark floated by. The wildlife is happy there, and so are the cows. We distribute to Bozeman from our facility here in Lewistown. 

(Dinner interrupted by a new voice, Katherine Barron. CLIP 021 continues.)

KATHERINE: A slaughterhouse whose workers will never taste meat. An elitist, murderous abattoir.

BARRON: Katherine. I thought you wouldn’t be joining us.

KATHERINE: Surgery went well for a change, so I cleaned up as fast as I could and rushed over. And, as promised, I’ve taken the next few days off for our guest.

BARRON: Mr. Calvert, this is my daughter, Katherine. She’s an accomplished surgeon — and a vegetarian, clearly. Katherine, this is JR Calvert, the investigative journalist we’ve hired to look into the cow mutilations.

KATHERINE: If 99 percent of the country doesn’t eat meat, why should I? Anyway, it’s a pleasure, Mr. Calvert. Was my father boring you with range management theory?

ME: Not at all. I think we were about at the part where some of these cows have been, er, mutilated?

BARRON: Quite right. As I was saying: We run a massive herd, closely monitored. And lately, our counts have been off. At first, I put it down as shrinkage; after all, the Breaks are a wild-enough place. But our foreman assures me that her drones are the best out there, and they’d be able to wrangle any mavericks that went missing — and spot any crimes taking place. So we sent out two scout drones, and they came back with some … unpleasant footage.

KATHERINE: The cows were torn to bits, like a wild animal got to them.

BARRON: Which makes some sense, if you’re missing a cow or two. After all, allowing some element of wild on the ranch is part of the point. But the numbers and nature of the killings are off.

ME: If not predators, what then?

BARRON: Terrorists, I’d say.

KATHERINE: Oh, here we go with the terrorist rant.

BARRON: It’s not a rant. The Redwolf Brigade is dangerous. They were behind that bombing in Alberta last year. We’ve lost at least 18 cows in the last month. That’s not an accident; it’s a message. And Ariel tells me the drone footage must have been tampered with, even hacked.

KATHERINE: I’m sure a bunch of Canadian activists have bigger fish to fry than any they’d find in Montana.

BARRON: Activists. Hah. I’m sure they’ll make trouble wherever they can find it. Tearing down things that have taken centuries to build.

Nothing sours wine faster than a family argument, so I excuse myself for the night. The doctor assures me that Katherine will escort me to the ranch in the morning, via her transport. Katherine shows me to my room in a far wing of the chalet. If she’s upset from dinner, she doesn’t show it. Instead, she maintains the smile and glide of the wealthy and unworried. The room is beautiful — polished wood, a fireplace, soft linen. And quiet.

(CLIP 027 INT ROOM NIGHT – Crickets chirp through open window) 

I can’t sleep at night under the best of circumstances, so I just lie there, listening to the crickets. I can’t stop imagining mutilated cattle — bovine eyes and buzzing flies. I try to recall the Alberta bombing. A flash in the news cycle. Redwolf Brigade. The Redwolves. Separatist-anarchists. Militant. Active since the ’60s. They wear masks emblazoned with bloody fangs. At last I doze, and dream of a crimson river, churning and frothing. 

(INSERT AD DEK 3: HiLine prosthetics; Argus virtual tours) 

(CLIP 028 INT ROOM MORNING – Birds chattering)

KATHERINE: Good morning, Mr. Calvert. You look like hell.

ME: Ugh. I am not a morning person. Or even a day person.

KATHERINE: We don’t have the Night Cycle up here. No need for it. I assume you drink coffee. Here.

ME: Of course, and thank you. Nice car. 

(CLIP 033 INT CAR DAY — Car door opens and closes. Then the whir of the engines, whine of the drive shaft.)

The luxurious air in the transport is a crisp 65 degrees. Katherine instructs the onboard computer to deepen the tint of the glass — a gracious gesture — and to take us to the Missouri Breaks Ranch, tech center. With a courteous reply from a disembodied voice, we are off. I am grateful for the cool darkness, and, with the help of the coffee, begin to rouse.


KATHERINE: An investigative journalist for hire. How fun. Anything I can answer for you? It’s an hour to the ranch.

ME: It’s a living. You don’t seem to care for it much.

KATHERINE: The ranch is my father’s obsession, not mine. I consider the whole enterprise unethical.

ME: How so?

KATHERINE: My father was a militia medic in the Borderland Wars. Triage became a specialty of his. On top of that, he views the world as a claw-and-fang competition for survival. And so, while he has great respect for wild things, he has little patience for people — or overcrowding. In the war, he fought to keep people out of America, and now he’s saving as much of the wild world from people as he can. Really, though, I think he’s just preserving it for him and his partners. Every year they take a canoeing trip through the Breaks, through their private, beautiful paradise, full of eagles and herons, elk and bear, even a pack of wolves.

ME: I can’t imagine.

KATHERINE: You’ll never see anything like it. And it’s all been bought for a ludicrous sum, paid for with cows that are worth their weight in gold. When I was a little girl, I would go with him, and listen to the wolves howl at night. I would look at the stars and imagine them as fairies watching over me. Once I realized that most people will never have that experience, I stopped going. I just didn’t feel right.

The rest of the drive is in silence, as the Montana grasslands drift by. I wonder where Katherine gets her disdain for survivalism. To me, it makes sense: good fences, good neighbors, high profits. If some eccentric wants to live out a mountain-man fantasy, so be it. I’ve seen plenty of bears in documentaries.

The highway leads to a bridge. The river runs wide and slow here, its banks flanked in thick cottonwood stands, a strange contrast with the high, wired — presumably electrified — fence that runs along the highway. We turn west after the bridge and pass through an automated gate that swings open in a graceful arc. Missouri Breaks Ranch.

(CLIP 044 EXT RANCH DAY — Barking, above a constant, mechanical buzzing) 

A tangle-haired cattle dog is the first to greet us as the transport pulls up to the ranch tech center. Three concrete buildings rise straight and tall from a central cul-de-sac. There’s an odd buzzing, though, something familiar, and yet. … As soon as I leave the transport, I recognize it for what it is — drones. I’ve never seen (or heard) so many at once. They zip from building to building, hover over the driveway and transport. Some buzz off to parts unknown. The facility is a hive. And in the center of that hive is a human, a woman, willow-thin, dark hair, dark brown eyes, a cowboy hat tipped low over her brow. A queen bee in overalls. The dog wags its nub, licking Katherine’s fingers.


ARIEL: Kathy.

KATHERINE: I’d give you a hug, but I’m afraid your pets wouldn’t approve.

ARIEL: They’re smart-drones, and they know you. I’d be worried about your friend, though. Who’s this?

KATHERINE: JR Calvert, journalist. He’s looking into the cow killings for us.

ARIEL: Vandals, I bet. Or corporate sabotage.

KATHERINE: Perhaps. Still, my father was hoping you’d take us to one of the kill sites.

ARIEL: Come on into the lab. I’ll tell you what I know. We can head upriver after lunch. Annie, come.

(CLIP 046 INT TECH CENTER DAY — Dead silent in here)

Dog in tow, Ariel leads us through the tech center lab, a clean space of polished metal and glass counters. A soldering iron smolders in its stand next to a pile of wire, cables, circuitboards and matted polymer drone parts.

Ariel leads us to a bank of screens beyond the workbench, logs in, and waves her way through a set of encrypted files. I had expected a barn and horses, but this looks like something out of a spy thriller. 

ARIEL: This is the drone footage of the section of river we’ll visit today. Footage dated the same day as the killing, according to counts. Our patrol drones fly about a thousand feet off the deck. The herders fly nap-of-the-earth, moving the cattle along according to a grazing plan. It takes 10 drones to move a hundred cows — we call that a cell — and we’re running 40 cells across the acreage. We don’t mount cameras on the herders. Saves energy. I have one patroller per cell, so this is all we’ve got to go on.

ME: Dr. Barron —


ME: Oh, sorry. Dr. Barron, uh, senior, said you also have scout drones?

ARIEL: Yes. They’re part of the security fleet.

ME: Fleet?

ARIEL: We have the herd fleet, the maintenance fleet and the security fleet. The maintenance fleet takes care of fencing, gates, tanks, pumps, other drones. The patrol drones are part of the security fleet, which guards against trespassers and predators. They’re mounted with non-lethal shock projectiles.

ME: And you’re in charge of them all. How many drones total?

ARIEL: That’s a trade secret.

ME: Any of your drones mounted with blades, or is that a trade secret?

ARIEL: Negative. Insinuations aside: The maintenance drones ride fence with pliers, pullers, cutters and staplers, and the herders only carry front-mounted prods. 

(CLIP 048 EXT RANCH DAY — Low rumble of engines, crush of dirt and gravel)

After lunch, we pile into the ranch quad and speed upriver, escorted by two massive security drones, each mounted with multi-spectrum cameras and miniguns. Presumably, these fire non-lethal shock-rounds, but I wonder. We leave the dirt road for a double-track, skirting the northern bank of the river, which flows thick, around massive grassy islands, under the gaze of chalky bluffs.

(CLIP 052 EXT WILDLANDS DAY — Tromping in grass, security drones fly past and away, dog yips)

ARIEL: This is it. Hideaway Coulee. You can see the cattle had been grazing here. Along the river-bottom, we run them on native wheatgrasses and grama, managed with grazing and controlled burns. Native grasses do well with the rain fluxes and long summers we get here, so that’s where we graze them this late into the fall. Records show and footage confirms a cell moved through here two weeks ago. And then we got this. 

We crest a small hill overlooking a ravine. A pair of ravens launch into the air, croaking their dismay. A shift in the wind carries an indescribable, rotten odor. The buzz of flies, and there’s the corpse — what’s left of the cow — in the bottom of the ravine: a rusty-red hide, bloating stomach and pile of intestines, blood clots clumped with dust and twigs. On the Front Range, we’ve got trash heaps and sewage leaks, neglected and awful, but if they reeked as bad as this gully, we’d have riots. I tighten my mask over mouth and nose. 

(CLIP 054 audio of buzzing flies, enhanced, then fade back to CLIP 053)

ME: OK. [Trying not to breathe.] What are we looking at here?

ARIEL: It looks to me like the cow was killed where it stood, right in the bottom of the gully. Nothing dragged it in, nothing dragged it out. Same as the others, actually. Twenty-some kills up and down the river. No footage.

KATHERINE: Where’s the rest of the cow? I mean, I’m no expert, but it seems like we’re missing quite a bit of it.

ARIEL: Exactly. Most of the meat has been carried off.

ME: By what?

ARIEL: Great question.

ME: Your theory is that — what’d you say? — vandals broke through the gate, eluded your cams and drones, tracked a cell, killed this cow, and carried most of it off — all without anyone noticing?

ARIEL: Vandals or saboteurs. I’ve heard rumors of the Redwolves showing up in Livingston now and again.

ME: Aren’t they a separatist group? Why would they care about cows?

ARIEL: They’re anarchists. They’ll throw a monkey wrench into anything they can.

KATHERINE: Sounds like you’ve been hanging around my father too long.

ARIEL: Hmph. Maybe. But that’s my theory.

ME: What about good old-fashioned poachers? These are basically the king’s deer, are they not?

ARIEL: There’s no way local poachers could get through our security. Redwolves have hackers, and though I hate to admit it, it’s possible they could’ve broken in somehow.

ME: For what reason?

ARIEL: Don’t look at me. I’m just a ranch hand. You’re the investigator. 

We slide into the gully for a closer look. The fetid air is so foul, my eyes tear up. Not ideal for a clue search. Conspicuously absent, though, are any animal prints or signs of life. It’s almost as if the cow has fallen out of the sky. I snap photos, and we take the long way down the ravine to where it connects with the coulee itself, a dirt-water creek, knee-deep, twisting like a rattlesnake to join the Missouri.

(CLIP 056 — Sound of running creek)

ARIEL: You know how this creek got its name? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once holed up here after robbing a train north of here. Hideaway Coulee. Whenever I’m out here, I like to imagine them sunning themselves on the bank of the Missouri, taking long swims, smoking cigars and counting their money.

KATHERINE: Good Lord. Butch Cassidy. Didn’t anyone else ever do anything interesting 200 years ago? He’s all I ever hear about. My dad used to tell me the same story.

ME: Well, we can rule out one thing: wild animals. There’s no way any creature could have killed that cow and made off with its meat without leaving a trace. Only humans are that devious. I hate to say it, but without any other leads, we’re gonna have to go with the terrorist theory. Ariel, you said you’d heard of them showing up in town. Any idea where? 

(INSERT AD DEK 4: Mailchimp; thank donors, especially Front Range Foundation)

(CLIP 053 INT BAR DAY — Music of a jukebox — classic rock from the late 20th century: “Born down in a dead man’s town … the first kick I took was when I hit the ground” — and the sharp, lonesome snick of a pool table break)

The Montana Tavern is nothing special, the kind of bar that nearly every town has, the kind of bar that sunlight does no favors. This afternoon, it’s empty except a young couple playing pool at the far end and an old man in suspenders at a video poker machine, squinting at the rolling numbers through thick glasses. The woman behind the bar says the owner, Dan, will be in soon, so Katherine orders two vodka tonics — which is fine, I guess? — and we sit down at a worn-out table in the corner. 

KATHERINE: Cheers. (clink) Cracked the case yet?

ME: Ha. Not hardly. No cow murderers out there. None, apparently, in here. What’s the deal with that Ariel? And her drones?

KATHERINE: She grew up during the Border Wars. I think her father knew mine. She’s loyal to the ranch, and those machines, and nothing else. I guess maybe her dog.

ME: I’m sorry to ask, but I was surprised your father would hire an, uh, outsider, given he fought on the side of the militias.

KATHERINE: My father’s an ecofascist, not a full-blown racist. Though they find common cause often enough.

ME: Would she have any reason to kill the cows?

KATHERINE: I doubt it. Like I said, she loves the ranch.

ME: Well, I’m stumped. This is indeed a mystery. And bad radio. What am I supposed tell my listeners? That there’s this crazy place in the middle of nowhere Montana, where a techno-cowgirl runs a hive of drones and a herd of cattle — and the cows are getting mutilated by ghosts? No witnesses, no signs, no leads. Just a horrible mess of a carcass and. …

(CLIP 055 INT BAR DAY — Chaos. Recorder was running throughout the following incident.) 

The door to the tavern opens, and afternoon light slips in. Only something feels off — it’s not letting in that much light. I look up from my drink, and I can see three huge figures, men, backlit from the street … streaming in now, smooth as commandos. Before I understand what’s happening, they’ve closed half the distance between us, and before I can even stand up to ask “what the hell?”, they’re on me. The only thing I can really grasp before the first punch lands is that all three men are wearing camo-tech, military-style jackets and masks — the toothy, snarling masks of the Redwolf Brigade. 

(CLIP 055 CONT. — Screeching chairs, breaking glass … shrieks — Katherine? Me? Probably me. Absolute mayhem on tape here. It hurts just hearing it again.)

I have not been in a fight since tech school, and I don’t fare well in this one, friends. The first shot I take is to the left temple, from a right hook, which is probably good, because that immediately puts me into shock. I keel forward, and as I’m crumpling to the ground — my memory’s a bit of a blur here — take more blows to the head, neck, back and side. Then the kicking begins, landing hard, in time with muttered curses. … 

MAN: … mind (gasping as he’s kicking me, I think)
your own (gasp-kick) fucking business.

KATHERINE: Stop, please!

MAN: Shut up, or you’re next. I don’t care who you are.

All I can think through the next couple of strikes is that these men are going to kill me. There is no one here that can stop them, and they aren’t going to stop themselves. Three angry men, working out their anger. Another kick, from a massive, muddy boot. I feel like I’m being trampled by a stampede.

(AMBI 056 — A shotgun blast. Pump action — chi-chick. Plastic shell clatters on concrete floor. One of the men yells, “Run!” and a back door thumps open. …)

Dan, it seems, has returned to intervene. About a minute too late, if you ask me. The men have fled, but I can still feel the punches and kicks, echoes of violence reverberating through my body. (“Up you go now.”) A nauseating darkness sweeps over me. I’m sinking in pain. A part of me knows that if I pass out, the pain will go away. And I’ll never wake up. I can feel myself being carried, dragged, to the limo, thrown inside. Katherine is there, telling me to hold on. The recorder keeps running. (“In the trunk. My field kit.”) And the last thing I see before I slide full into the dark pain is a massive, military-grade first aid kit, in the hands of a trained surgeon. Lucky me, I think, and then I do drift off, fade out, sink into painless sleep. I dream of a mask and teeth.

(MUSIC SPRINGSTEEN — “Born down in a dead man’s town / The first kick I took was when I hit the ground / End up like a dog that’s been beat too much / ’Til you spend half your life just covering up”)

I used to spend the summers with my great-grandpa up in Wyoming, and we would listen to one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, Bruce Springsteen. He’d been on the jukebox at the bar, and he was in my head now. That’s how I knew I wasn’t dead. Only the living can hear the Boss. His lyrics tumble around in my head … and as I open my eyes, to bright morning and birds singing … a giant smile finds its way to my bruised face.

(CLIP 057 INT CHALET DAY — Fumbling as I adjust the recorder, realizing I’m not alone.)

KATHERINE: He’s awake. Father!

ARIEL: Hold still, buddy. Take it easy.

ME: I … know who killed your cows. And how.

BARRON: Go on.

KATHERINE: Just relax now. You’re stable, and still on meds. But you’ve suffered a lot of internal damage. We need to get you to a hospital.

ME: Just … let me talk. Dr. Barron. I know who is killing your cattle. It … I … the dog was the key. Annie. Annie was the key.

BARRON: Go ahead. I’m listening. And then we’ll get you some help.

ME: Look, the men who attacked me. You were right. Redwolf Brigade. They had military-issue jackets, the kind that go invisible to tech. And their boots. I got a good look at their boots, believe me. The mud on their boots. The white clay of the Breaks. They’ve been hiding in there the whole time.

ARIEL: What … what are you saying?

ME: Look. Whoever killed those cows needed access to the Breaks and had to be invisible. Not just to the drones, but to the whole ranch. They need to know the land, and they need to have a reason for doing all that killing.

Ariel, you may be good with cows and drones, but you’re terrible with people. You said you sometimes come to town on business, and you leave Annie to guard the place. If the wrong person got in, they’d have access to your computers. All they’d need is your passwords, and they’re in. You have so much glass in that room, the keyboard is clear from about a dozen different angles — to anyone standing there. It’s like playing poker against someone in mirrored shades. Your password — adorable by the way — is “Th3R4nchBr34k$_I<34NN13.”

So who would know your password, and who can get past Annie, knows the ranch and the Breaks, and has a reason to hate it?

BARRON: Katherine.

ARIEL: What?

BARRON: Katherine. (an awkward pause.) Why?

KATHERINE: I … yes … but … how?

ME: Your first-aid kit. I guess in all the fracas you didn’t realize this, but: You keep your own Redwolf mask in there. It was the last thing I saw. If you could get past the dog and into the system, you could insert a slice of code, and your comrades could move around the ranch, the whole Breaks, invisible to the cameras and drones. I imagine they’re hungry out there, so whenever Ariel is away, you break in, drone-herd a cow into a ravine near a drainage, like Hideaway, dial in the coordinates, and — bang — roast beef. Easy enough to erase tracks in the dirt and haul a cow down a creek in a canoe. My guess is that those guys are the same men who committed the Alberta bombing, and, like Butch Cassidy, they’re holing up.

KATHERINE (sobbing): It’s true. I did not expect them to hurt you, though. They must have followed us back from the ranch.

ME: No hard feelings. You probably saved my life.

BARRON: Katherine. Harboring terrorists. On my ranch. With my cattle. I … I want them gone. By tomorrow. Or I call the police. And Mr. Calvert, I trust that double your fee will ensure your discretion?

(CLIP 058 INT CITY APARTMENT NIGHT — My city. My apartment. Safe back in the Night Cycle.)

Dear listener, if you are hearing this, and if you know anything about me, you know what happened next. I refused to be bought off. Dr. Barron kicked me out of his house — no trip to the hospital, no payment, no nothing. I’m back on the Front Range. My head is spinning, I’m coughing up blood, and all I have to get me through the trip are the meds that Katherine slipped me on my way out the door: some bandages, gauze and med-paste. Like I said, I’m a mess. I will broadcast ASAP. …

… because I’m going to need your help, dear friends. Like most of us, I’m under-, which is to say un-, insured, and your donation is the only thing that will get me the help I need. Once I’m (groan for effect here) back on my feet, I’ll be bringing you another episode of West Obsessed … and we’ll ask ourselves: Are smartdrones getting too smart? Until then, keep listening, and keep supporting the show that delves deep — perhaps too deep? — into the stories of the modern American West.


Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief of High Country News, imagines a future world that is so warm, crowded and surveilled that many humans will recondition themselves for nocturnal life, while the affluent and privileged carry on per usual. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

STORY NOTES: For the Northern Great Plains, the Fourth National Climate Assessment cites climate model projections that “paint a clear picture of a warmer future…in conjunction with less snowpack and a mix of increases and reductions in the average annual water availability.” Precipitation may increase, depending on the area, with high year-to-year variability. With longer growing seasons and better precipitation, native grasses, such as blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and non-natives, such as crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), would fare well. This would put them among the “winners” of climate change. In both the human and natural world, climate change will create a growing number of “losers,” as well.

Sources: Conant, R.T., D. Kluck, M. Anderson, A. Badger, B.M. Boustead, J. Derner, L. Farris, M. Hayes, B. Livneh, S. McNeeley, D. Peck, M. Shulski, and V. Small, 2018: Northern Great Plains. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 941–986.

Hunt, H.W., Trlica, M.J., Redente, E.F., Moore, J.C., Detling, J.K., Kittel, T.G.F., Walter, D.E., Fowler, M.C., Klein, D.A. and Elliott, E.T., 1991. Simulation model for the effects of climate change on temperate grassland ecosystems. Ecol. Modelling, 53: 205-246.


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