« Return to this article

Know the West

Tired and inspired; wild new world; signs everywhere

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


It was a “colossal scramble,” reports the Washington Post, but in the end not a single one of the 1,600 Moderna vaccine doses was wasted. A freezer malfunction at 9 p.m. sent doctors, nurses and volunteers at Seattle’s Swedish Health Service leaping into action, seeking people eager to roll up their sleeves. Those on priority lists were contacted first, but then word got out and spread like wildfire, said Kevin Brooks, CEO of Swedish. A queue soon formed and “snaked through hallways and spilled outside. … People were showing up and running down the hall.” Spirits were high, even though some people left home so quickly they lined up wearing pajamas and bathrobes. The deadline loomed, like midnight at Cinderella’s ball: At 3:45 a.m., the vaccine wouldn’t turn into a pumpkin, but it would be just as useless. As the time ticked closer, staff ran outside in the cold, racing to the road, at one point “jabbing someone through the window of a car.” Just as the clock ran out, “one elderly woman in flip-flops was photographed rolling up her sleeve on the sidewalk.” Brooks summed up the experience: “We’re tired and we’re inspired, and those two things are true at the same time.”

When five young black bears — orphaned last summer — wake up this spring, they’ll probably wonder how they ended up snuggled in a den somewhere on 14,115-foot Pikes Peak, Colorado’s famously photogenic mountain. That’s where Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials took the drowsy, tranquilized youngsters in late January. Tucked into their artificial home under deep snow, the cubs will likely snooze until spring. They’re primed for a long nap: For the last six months, they lived at the Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where they put on healthy weight — one reached 120 pounds — and also “learned to fear humans,” reports the Denver Post.  Officials hope that when the bears wake up, they’ll be ready to take on their wild new world.

Portland-based photographer Brendon Burton is a connoisseur of yard signs, the hand-painted, graffitied kind; they speak to him of nostalgia, even “jealousy for an earlier time.” His new book, American Poetry, celebrates signs he photographed from 2015 to 2020. One of his strangest experiences occurred when he stopped to photograph a sign in front of a Montana gymnasium, which warned, “Do not open, really pissed off bees inside.” As Burton moved closer to the sign, bees suddenly appeared and buzzed angrily around him. “Oh my God, they could have made the sign bigger!” Burton said. “This is inviting you to get stung by bees.” In a way, Burton told Atlas Obscura, signs in yards or along back roads are “the original social media,” because “you’re screaming into the void, hoping you’ll get something back.” As the 2020 election got closer, he spent more time in the Pacific Northwest, where political and cultural tensions ran hot between liberal cities and rural towns. “So the signs are put up to talk to (each other).” In Nevada or North Dakota, however, there were fewer signs and less of this “building fervor.” Perhaps the most poignant sign he recorded was posted by locals in Tiller, Montana, a remote Forest Service outpost of 500 people. Burton grew up not far from the town, which he’d visit in the summer to swim in the river. “WE ARE WORTH SAVING,” the notice said. But Tiller was abandoned anyway, though a millionaire later bought it.

We came upon a fascinating obituary in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. H.L. Jensen, 91, was a denizen of Jackson, Wyoming, for nearly half a century. Jensen’s life was remarkable in many ways, but two incidents stand out. As a young man, he was kicked out of Yellowstone National Park for a prank at Old Faithful. Jensen and his friends, fueled by beer, hauled out a car’s steering wheel and column, stuck it into the ground near the geyser, then just as the geyser got ready to blow, one of them yelled: “Turn it on” and spun the wheel, “making Old Faithful go.” Onlookers chortled, but a park ranger was not amused. Jensen’s second feat of derring-do was even more impressive: running for the Wyoming House of Representatives as a Democrat. In the 1970s, this was a “shocking thing that made him a political unicorn.” That he actually won — serving eight two-year terms — was even more shocking. “He was a guy who liked to help people, provide whatever help the government could,” explained a Republican friend.   

Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected], or submit a letter to the editor