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Know the West

COVID hollars; Gok’s uncertainty; best friend graffiti

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


What do you do when you’re bored and frustrated because COVID-19 is keeping you from working as a sous chef? If you’re avid bicyclist Matthew Fleming, you get on social media and offer to pedal to any house in Tacoma, Washington, and bellow out the greeting of your customer’s choice. In these days of social distancing, there’s a market: On one five-hour day, Fleming delivered 17 messages and told The News Tribune he hadn’t had a day off in more than a week. Many messages are “weird inside jokes between friends,” but a lot just say “I miss you.” Fleming doesn’t deliver negative messages, but there have been a few saucy ones, like: “Hey, Alyssa! When I get naked, the shower gets turned on!” Despite charging a mere $1 a shout-out (some customers pay more), he’s done well enough to donate his earnings to a bike shop, Second Cycle on Hilltop. He’s also resolved to take a day off: “My legs kind of hurt. … I also think I’m starting to tear some vocal cords.” But he plans to continue: “People are so happy. I can see their smiles from the middle of the street.”

In the 34 years Chere Waters has lived in the small town of Creede, Colorado, she’s hiked many nearby trails. On April 18, she felt prompted to leave Bachelor Loop Road and climb up a hill to an abandoned silver-mine shaft that’s been an open hazard for more than a century. “I don’t know what it was, but something was drawing me to go up there,” she told the Silverton Standard. So she asked her hiking partner to hold her legs while she peered over the edge. At the bottom of the 30-foot shaft, to her shock, a large animal lay sprawled. It looked like a deer, and, astonishingly, was still alive. Once state wildlife officer Brent Woodward came on the scene, he drugged the stranded animal — which turned out to be an elk — with a tranquilizer dart, and then carefully roped it and hauled it up. It was “pretty beat up,” he said — not surprising, since it might have been trapped down there for two or three days. But once the elk revived enough to stagger shakily to its feet, “she moved a few yards, turned and looked at us for a few seconds and then trotted away,” Woodward said. “It was great we could get her out alive.” As for the elk’s rescuer, Waters said she was glad she’d been “called to go to that place.”

Indur M. Goklany, who started working for the Interior Department in the 1980s, never attracted much attention until the Trump administration promoted him to an important job in 2017. Once he began reviewing the agency’s climate policies, however, his co-workers took notice, even coining the term “Gok’s uncertainty language” to describe his knack for inserting misleading wording into scientific reports, reports The New York Times. In at least nine reports, Goklany took it upon himself to completely change scientific opinion. Instead of acknowledging that the climate is warming to a dangerous degree, for example, he concluded,  “Some scientists have found the earth to be warming, while others have not.” He also cheerfully noted that even if it was warming, plants might benefit from more carbon dioxide in the air. Here in the West, some worried about Goklany’s impact on watersheds. The altered language in environmental impact studies, said the Times, “could be used to justify allocating increasingly scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries.” Samuel Myers, a Harvard research scientist, was putting it diplomatically when he called Goklany’s slant “extraordinarily misleading.” But the Bureau of Reclamation eagerly embraced Goklany’s wrongheaded approach, likely figuring that there’s not a dam thing the agency’s environmentalist critics can do about it anyway.

A tourist from Grand Forks, British Columbia, yearned to tell the world about his love for his dog, so in 2019, and more recently this year, he left the words “Steve & Lacy” on a well, rocks and several historic structures in Death Valley. National Park Service staffer Abby Wines appealed to the public for tips leading to the perpetrator, and surprisingly, one of the tipsters turned out to be “Steve” himself, who confessed and also apologized. “The man’s cooperative attitude will likely be a mitigating factor,” Wines said. As for Lacy, the Park Service press release said she’s just a dog — though we’re sure she is a very good dog —  and is therefore considered “blameless.”

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