Tenacious & twelve; junior ranger at 103; imperiled snowplow drivers

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


IDAHO: Truth in advertising.
Margaret Pettis

Hilde Lysiak may be only 12, but she’s boundlessly curious about the goings-on in Patagonia, Arizona, population 1,000, and just a hike away from the border. Her dad is a journalist, and Lysiak’s reporting career began when she was a lisping 9-year-old, living in Pennsylvania. That’s where her online publication, the Orange Street News, reported on a murder and took a district attorney to task for spreading disinformation about her coverage. Recently, she took on Patagonia’s town marshal, Joseph Patterson, who didn’t like her following him on her bicycle. He ordered her to go home and said he’d talk to her parents. When Lysiak said she was a member of the media, he retorted, “I don’t want to hear about any of that freedom-of-the-press stuff.” He also threatened that if she kept taping him, he would arrest her and have her thrown in juvenile jail. Recording a law enforcement officer in a public place is protected under the First Amendment, and Lysiak pointed that out when she posted the video online later that day. Her perseverance was rewarded, according to The Washington Post: At a town council meeting Feb. 27, Mayor Andrea Wood “read a full and unhesitant apology into the record.”

Lysiak is a firm believer in that old journalistic adage, “Show, don’t tell.” To reveal how porous the border is, she filmed herself jumping over a barbed-wire fence separating the U.S. from Mexico. “Even a 12-year-old can easily get through it,” she commented. But she refused to tell readers her own opinion about a wall, saying, “I think reporting should be about facts.” Dan Barr, an attorney with the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, called Lysiak a force of nature: “One can only imagine what sort of stories she will be turning out once she has a driver’s license.” We look forward to the day Lysiak becomes a High Country News intern — or maybe its editor.

You might call the editor-publisher of California’s oldest weekly newspaper, the Mountain Messenger of Downieville, population 282, a classic curmudgeon. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Don Russell, 67, named several things that will never grace his front page: “No children (‘I loathe children’), no beauty pageants and no online presence. ‘As long as I’m running it, it’s on pulp. Period.’ ” Russell, who’s been putting out the weekly for 30 years, has another complaint: “Everyone is terminally well behaved from October well into January. … It’s hard on headlines.” Most everyone in town reads the weekly, which is kept afloat largely through legal ads, and though Russell is said to have a heart of gold, “he’s a ‘sharp watchdog … who’ll take on anyone,’ ” according to an admiring newsman from a neighboring county. Russell’s office displays pictures of Mark Twain, the Sierra’s most famous writer. As he says, “I am exactly like Mark Twain. Except he was famous, talented and worked hard.” If his paper ever closes, Russell told reporter Diana Marcum, he might try writing fiction, setting his stories in a place just like Downieville. “There are,” he said, “important things to observe about life in a small town.”

Congratulations to Rose Torphy, who at 103 became the oldest junior ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. Torphy was visiting the canyon with her daughter when she learned about the program and right then decided to become a junior ranger herself. “My parents taught me to care for the land, but not all kids have that,” she told Good Morning America. Torphy, who has 10 great-great grandchildren, tells everyone she meets: “You’re never too old to see the Grand Canyon.”

Some people in Wyoming have a twisted definition of cold weather fun. In a practice known as “coyote whackin’,” snowmobile drivers who spot a coyote in the deep snow gun their machines after the animal and try to run over it. Then they hold up the dead coyote to ballyhoo their kills on YouTube. Michael Yin, a freshman Democratic representative in the Wyoming Legislature, was appalled when he saw a video of this legal “sport.” The bill he introduced to outlaw it gained one co-sponsor from Jackson but failed to get introduced. Nonetheless, Yin, who is the first Chinese-American elected to the Legislature, promises to keep trying. “It should not be happening, and we need to ensure it doesn’t happen in Wyoming,” Yin told The Associated Press. Meanwhile, people are protesting the practice, with almost 100,000 signing online petitions at Care2.org and over 300,000 at change.org.

It can be dangerous to run a snowplow in Spokane, and not just because of the unusually snowy weather. Recently, some residents became enraged when plows trying to clear streets blocked driveways with dumped snow. Yelling curse words, one man with a holstered handgun climbed onto a tow truck and tried to open a door, reports AP. Another told a driver he’d get a gun if the snowplow came back. Spokane County “is testing devices on plows that prevent snow from being plowed into driveways”; unfortunately, they cost a hefty $25,000 apiece. Meanwhile, it’s considering putting cameras on snowplows to protect the threatened drivers.

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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