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Know the West

Dear friends


What happened?

Unlike you, we don't have a clue as to how the elections came out. Did Bob Dole come out of nowhere to upset Bill Clinton? Did Walt Minnick pull a similar feat in Idaho? Is it now illegal for cows to pee in Oregon's streams? Do parents have new rights in Colorado? Did Bill Orton, Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, get pummeled by Utah voters because of the state's new monument? We don't know.

The paper went to the printers Nov. 5, just as staff was crossing the street to vote at town hall. We considered, very briefly, staying up all Tuesday night watching C-span, writing a sweeping analysis toward dawn, and then printing the paper a day late. But it would still arrive in your homes a week after every other analysis. So we let ourselves off the hook and decided to focus this issue on something more eternal than elections: a huge Western water project.


Exactly five years to the day after she started working here, Phyllis Becktell is leaving High Country News to pursue other interests. We will miss her, but subscribers will miss her more. For it is her steady, reassuring presence that people calling our 800 number to change an address, trace a payment, or buy a Christmas subscription often reach.

Phyllis has had a calm, uplifting effect on the entire office, but it is strongest in the circulation department. Although we threw a party for Phyllis, and gave her a present, we were thinking that circulation manager Gretchen Nicholoff really needed the gift. She has lost a great all-around infielder.

Gretchen, though, is surprisingly upbeat because she is convinced that Phyllis will be back. That's because Phyllis and her husband, in the 1980s, ran an auto parts business out of the building HCN now occupies. And her desk back then sat almost exactly where her desk is now, even though the building has been renovated. So as long as we don't move, Gretchen believes, Phyllis will return.

Something familiar

Readers will find something familiar in the November issue of Harper's: a reprint of an article that originally appeared in HCN's "Howdy Neighbor" issue of May 13, 1996. It is Sierra Club chairman Mike McCloskey's skeptical look at the idea of Westerners talking to each other.

HCN interns change every few months. So how, we wondered, could the listing for the telephone in the intern cabin be kept current? The solution just appeared in the latest Delta County phone book: A residential listing under "Intern, HCN." Thank you, TDS Telecom.

Speaking of interns, former intern Caroline Byrd is now program director/staff attorney for the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander, Wyo.


Leslie Nichols, a new English teacher at Paonia High School, stopped in to change her address. She had been getting the paper at Lake City, Colo., where she and Jack Nichols run the Cannibal Outdoors rafting company. Despite the name of her company, Leslie seems very nice, and if we had kids in school, we'd trust them to her care.

Local rancher Charles Klaseen and the National Farmers Union's Mindy Schmitz of Denver came by to explain why we should become associate members of NFU. Charles was fresh from a bout of firefighting. Someone, he said, had driven around his Fruitland Mesa area, shooting flares into hay. In nearby Hotchkiss, Dick Hotchkiss had lost one stack. That didn't sound too serious until Charles said the "stack" had contained 160 tons. Charles himself lost only a "loaf" - 30 tons of loose hay piled 16 feet long by 8 feet wide by 8 feet high. A "bale," he said, can weigh up to a ton. There are no suspects in the arson, which cost farmers an estimated $35,000.

P.J. Ryan of Silver Spring, Md., who publishes Thunderbear, asks: "How many folks wrote in to tell you that Escalante National Monument will not be the first to be administered by something other than the National Park Service?" So far, the only other corrector of the Sept. 30 issue has been Wesley E. Shelberg, who wrote from San Diego. Both cited the 2 million-acre Misty Fiords National Monument in Alaska run by the Forest Service. P.J. added the St. Helens and Admiralty Island national monuments as well as Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area to the Forest Service list.

The Aug. 19, 1996, HCN attack article on llamas by Hal Walter continues to reverberate. This time it throbs in the October Backcountry Llama, where editor Noel McRae spends four pages mourning the decline in HCN's usual editorial standards, commenting on Walter's lack of humanity and correcting his observations about llamas and burros. We gather from the article that llamas are clearly superior to equines. The publication's address is: 2857 Rose Valley Loop, Kelso, WA 98626. McRae can be e-mailed at: [email protected]

Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network in Helena called to ask if anyone could write for HCN, or if there were a closed list, such as presidents are rumored to have of potential Supreme Court appointees. We told him that HCN is remarkably porous to writers. We read everything sent to us, and we respond, whether or not the manuscript comes with a stamped and self-addressed envelope. The only rule of thumb is that the longer the article or letter or inquiry, the slower we seem to be in getting to it.

Getting published, of course, is another matter. Much of what we get isn't appropriate to HCN, or it's similar to something we just published, or we meant to publish it but then lost track of it. Or in the course of editing, we anger the writer and he or she tells us that even the 20 cents a word we pay isn't worth the agony of the process.

Despite the hurdles, in the course of a year several hundred writers, photographers and artists are published in HCN. Many of those people start out with the same question that Ken Toole asked. And to be honest, many of those wish they'd never made the call.

- Ed Marston, for the staff