Heard Around the West | VailDaily.com

Heard Around the West

Betsy Marston
Writers on the Range


Aspen has a “dirty little secret,” writes Lorenzo Semple in the Aspen Daily News, and it was a real bummer for spring skiers.

Blame the lingering effects of the “snirt-storm” – a mix of dirt and snow – that hit on March 31. That night the sky turned orange and a giant cloud of dust called a “haboob” swept over the resort town and its famous mountains. This was no “thin layer of dust,” says Semple, or even the year’s only dust storm, but hopefully, the last coating of the season. Brown snow increases runoff and evaporation and also makes ski turns look a lot like “fudge-swirl ice cream.” Which might sound yummy, but doesn’t improve the skiing.


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A secretive predator stalks the elk, moose and deer that roam the forests of north Idaho, reports the Spokesman-Review, and according to George Fischer, a state fish and game conservation officer, these two-legged, stealthy animals are “probably killing as many (game animals) or more than wolves … that is the shock-and-awe message.”

The secretive predators are poachers, who have a shockingly high success rate. Based on a detection factor of 5 percent, Idaho Fish and Game staffers estimate that about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail deer are illegally killed every year.

What’s really surprising, says state conservation officer Barry Cummings, is that nobody talks about poaching’s devastating effects, though if four-legged predators were suspected of this level of carnage, “Holy buckets, we would be setting budgets aside.” It’s not clear why people don’t turn in known poachers, said Mark Hill, a senior conservation officer for Idaho. Maybe they figure, “If I turn in so-and-so, I’m going to be reflecting on some of the things I do, and they will turn me in.”


In Wyoming, former U.S. Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and the Big Horn Basin Tea Party have been debating the proper role of sheepdogs, reports Gregory Nickerson in Wyofile.

Robert Ruckman of Powell told the Cody Enterprise that the Tea Party has merely acted as the conscience of the Republican Party – much like sheepdogs, he said – who are “geared toward protecting and helping others.” If this is the group’s role, responded the always blunt and acerbic Simpson, “we are all in trouble.”

Simpson, who is pro-choice and supports reforming not only Social Security and Medicare, but also defense spending, asked: “Why should the sheepdogs force and foist their religious and political ideas on the rest of us? I thought the Republican Party was about these things: Government out of your life, the precious right of privacy and the right to be left alone. Did I miss something?”

In more letters, Tea Party adherents replied that indeed, Simpson did miss something; in fact, they said, he was sounding like a dreaded liberal. As Tea Party member Ray DiLorenzo put it, Simpson has “either forgotten, never understood or IS the liberal that looks at every compromise as getting closer to their goal of secular socialism.” But then DiLorenzo attacked the Tea Party’s very own sheepdog metaphor: “I don’t need a political ‘shepherd’ to guide me through life … I’m an American!”

So far, no comment from sheepdogs, who tend to keep their political views to themselves.


In a fine piece about a group of Western thinkers rafting the shrinking Colorado River in Harper’s Magazine, Christopher Ketchum includes a telling quote from the writer Bill deBuys.

With 200 dams sucking up river flows, and declining reservoirs threatening the delivery of water to millions of people downriver, rational decision-making about water allocation is going to be tough, he predicted: “Drought erodes society’s confidence, goodwill, trust. It gives people plenty of time to erect defenses, pick sides, and meditate on the defects of their neighbors.”


It’s hard to beat this local-color lead in the Alaska Dispatch: “The eyeball popped out when the man blew his nose, shortly after receiving the punch. He pushed it back in before heading to a Dillingham doctor, who said he would need to get surgery in Anchorage.”

The victim, who said he did not know who punched him, noted that he “had never had an experience where his eyeball popped out after blowing his nose.”

We’re willing to take his word for it.


Shades of the 1960s: An 18-year-old senior at a charter school in Colorado Springs —The Classical Academy — was told he must cut his shoulder-length hair or be barred from classes, reports the Independent.

So far, Charlie McGrath, who plays drums in two bands, has refused: “ A lot of my friends like my hair. It’s nice for being in a band.”

We’re hoping his hair stays long for graduation.

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a syndicated column service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared, betsym@hcn.org.

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