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Betsy Marston: Heard Around the West

Betsy Marston
High Country News

We hate to pick on the Beehive State, but sometimes Utah picks on itself. Take the $101 million in federal funds earmarked for the state to spend avoiding teacher layoffs – Utah’s share of a $10 billion package covering all 50 states. But was the Republican Legislature grateful for this windfall from Washington? Not on your life, even though classrooms in Utah’s public schools remain perennially overcrowded. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, there was a general “gnashing of teeth” as state representatives griped about the federal government’s audacity in meddling in state matters. Congress did attach some strings to its aid: States have to sustain some of their current funding levels and also agree to preserve jobs. Moreover, if the Legislature and the governor refused to accept the $101 million, the money skipped elected officials and went right to school districts to disburse. Caught in a bind and fuming at this “intrusion into state autonomy,” outgoing House Speaker David Clark spoke for many of his fellow legislators when he allowed that he’d “hold my nose and vote for this.”

Mary Jo Reavis of Decker, Mont., is one determined octogenarian: This fall, she finally decided to plug her first bull elk. A lifelong hunter of mule deer, the 86-year-old told the Billings Gazette that she wanted just the right size of elk so she could mount its antlers over the stairs to her basement. Any bigger, she said, and “I’d have to have another room to put the antlers in.” After some hiking, Reavis succeeded in getting just what she wanted: an imposing 5×5 bull. Another Montana hunter, Dave Bradt, made bigger news when he inadvertently bagged a creature 70 million years old. “I was washing my face in the creek and I saw the rib bones and I thought they were just petrified trees,” recalls Bradt, who runs a guest ranch in Florence. But pulling vegetation aside, he found more fossilized bones from a 12-foot-long marine reptile, a member of a species that long ago ate meat, breathed air and grew to as long as 50 feet. Scientists will get a close look at the creature, presumed to be a plesiosaur, in the spring when the snow melts; for now, its location in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is being kept secret to thwart would-be poachers.

Surely she was exaggerating, but maybe not. Republican Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming’s lone congressional representative, insisted that she knew people in her state who would actually choose death over taxes – resolving to quit dialysis or other live-saving treatments – “in order to die so their estates won’t be taxed” if the Bush-era tax breaks were allowed to expire at the end of the year and the federal estate tax rate reverted to 55 percent. (It’s now zero.) She declined to name any of the die-hards, reports The Associated Press; a compromise postponed this dire choice.

Mountain Gazette readers seem, well, tougher than most folks, to put it mildly. Take the letter from Dave Erickson of Madison, Wis., listing “20 cool things” he’s done so far: “Biked 300 miles in 24 hours,” “guided my blind friend in a 10-mile running race,” “worked, ate, slept and drank at the (Aspen) Red Onion,” and not last or least, “lost three teeth when a squirrel tried to run through my bike’s front wheel.”

Don’t even think of toting roosters along if you’re moving to Ridgway in western Colorado. The birds are unwanted, and not just because they tend to cock-a-doodle-doo at the crack of dawn. They seem to have become the symbol of a town that’s no longer rural and relaxed. For proof, just ask resident Janet Smith about the influx of the upscale class. Smith used to keep roosters on her place in the heart of town, but then some neighbors complained, reports The Ridgway Sun. That led the council to ban roosters and take Smith, who goes by the moniker “Planet,” to court for breaking the new law. Smith fought back, resulting in a lengthy trial that ended up costing the town $11,000. She lost the case but after she threatened to appeal, the town dropped the charges – though the rooster prohibition remained in effect. All of this brouhaha thoroughly annoyed fellow resident John Billings, who found the rooster law unfair because it was enacted to target one person and ignored the town’s “right-to-farm” heritage. Just to make his opinion crystal-clear to everyone – including folks driving to nearby Ouray – Billings put up a 4-foot-by-8-foot billboard on his property facing State Highway 550. It features drawings of two roosters crowing through megaphones about Ridgway: “What we lack in wineries, we make up for in whiners.” Miffed, one town council member asked his fellow representatives what could be done to remove the sign; he was told there was the matter of “free speech” to contend with. As for Billings, he said, “I don’t really care what they think about me or what they think about the sign.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, an opinion syndicate of High Country News (betsym@hcn.org). Tips of Western weirdness are always appreciated.


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