Official invocations; not dead yet; ancient tattooing

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


WYOMING: Antlers: Hand wash, drip dry.
MacNeil Lyons/Yellowstone Insight

In 2016, the administrators of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 75 miles south of Anchorage, did something radical: They decided that only people who belong to “official organizations” could give the invocation at the start of meetings, reports The New York Times. That meant atheists were not allowed to open meetings, nor was — inexplicably — a woman who was Jewish. After the ACLU challenged the discriminatory policy, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. This has made life quite unpleasant for administrators, who, unable to block the appearance of a “Satanic Temple” member, were horrified to hear her invocation begin with a hearty “Hail, Satan!” A dozen officials and attendees fled the meeting in response. Once outside, some joined protesters who carried signs saying “Reject Satan and his works” and “Know Jesus and his love.”

You’d never call Torrey House Press in Salt Lake City a big publishing firm, and one of the books it brought out this year was certainly small, at just 84 pages, but Ellen Meloy’s Seasons: Desert Sketches is a gem. (See our review, “Last words from a desert scribe,” HCN, 7/22/19.) The sketches were written in the 1990s as brief on-air essays for KUER, and they sat on a shelf until this collection brought them back to life. Meloy, who died suddenly in 2004, can make you laugh out loud as she mocks a person who opposes wolf reintroduction because wolves “jump on some deer and eat that animal alive.” “He’s right,” Meloy says, “nature is rude and wolves should change their ways.” Meloy then slyly suggests that wolves dump their “disgusting pack technique” and switch to takeout. We’re so distant from the wild, she says, that we forget that we are mammals who stalk our own prey at Safeway. “The wolf on your nature poster is a killer, a predator of supreme skill and endurance,” Meloy says. “The human in your mirror is an animal. Both revelations should humble and ennoble us.”

When Kenneth Nesslage’s 95-year-old mother died recently in Utah, the mortuary there neglected to inform the Social Security Administration. That meant Nesslage, who lives in western Colorado, had to notify the federal agency. But when officials asked him for his own Social Security number, Nesslage inadvertently “sent himself into the digital jaws of death,” reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. According to agency computer records, Nesslage himself was dead, and worse, after a few days he realized “it was much easier to die than to come back to life.” His credit card was declined at a restaurant, a machine he leased to aid his breathing was recalled by the company, and the bank holding his mortgage sent condolences but then got down to nitty-gritty financial questions. His bank also insisted that he “physically walk into the nearest branch” to prove that he existed. Altogether, he says, it made him feel like a “dead man walking.” Though it took him four trips to his Social Security office to get formally resurrected, Nesslage says he’s now able to laugh about it all. The experience has also helped him decide what he wants on his headstone: “Here lies Ken Nesslage. The second time he died, it worked.”

It probably helped that Andrew Gillreath-Brown, an archaeology doctoral candidate at Washington State University, was a tattoo enthusiast. He was doing a routine inventory check of a museum box at the university when he noticed a needle fashioned from skunkbush wood attached to two cactus spines. Then he picked it up and “saw the black staining on the tips” of the spines, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Voilà! He’d discovered a tattoo-delivery instrument bound together with yucca. Other artifacts found in the same place in the Grand Gulch area of Bears Ears in southeastern Utah date back almost 2,000 years, which makes the tattoo needle the oldest ever found in Western North America. Gillreath-Brown says the tattoo needles were created by the Ancestral Pueblo civilization, which flourished in what is now southeastern Utah between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., long before the arrival of white settlers. Gillreath-Brown, who did some experimental tattooing with the device on pigskin, called the prickly pear spines “very efficient,” although, as he told Newsweek, “I think it would have hurt some.”

Three years ago, Lainey Morse started Original Goat Yoga. It’s not quite what we first pictured — goats in yoga pants cavorting around on people’s lower backs — but it sounds fun: “The animals nuzzle participants and occasionally cuddle with them as they stretch.” The business took off like a rocket, expanding to 12 locations across the country. But now there’s a problem: Oregon zoning laws prevent Morse from running the business in her home state. According to writers from the High School Journalism Institute, state law says goats are farm animals. “The irony is, if we slaughtered our goats, we could do goat yoga,” says Sean Scorvo, Morse’s business partner. Scorvo and Morse want lawmakers to pass an exception to state law so the goats on their farm can just be goats while hanging out with people on yoga mats. Meanwhile, goat yoga classes and events are taking place in California, Colorado and seven other states.

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

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