Marston: Heard around the West
Writers on the Range
As wildfire raced up the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento this summer, somebody noticed a “toy” flying overhead, reports Reuters. It was actually a drone filming the blaze for its owner, described as a “hobbyist” who wanted to experience at not-quite-firsthand the thrill of rampaging flames. This did not go over well with state fire-protection spokesman Kevin Lucero, who said the Sand Fire had charred 3,800 acres despite the work of 2,000 firefighters. He immediately ordered the drone grounded to avoid a possible midair collision with air tankers. Meanwhile, California’s relentless drought means that Old Sacramento’s Gold Rush Days won’t take place this Labor Day. An organizer said that the Wild West celebration requires too much water — 100,000 gallons just to wash off the dirt trucked in to cover the streets — not to mention that the cannon and weapons demonstrations pose a potential fire danger, reports the Los Angeles Times. But in Glendora, California, the drought dragged one couple into a classic catch-22 dilemma. On the same day they were threatened with a $500 fine for not watering their brown lawn, reports The Week, the couple learned that state legislators had authorized fining homeowners $500 for watering lawns to excess. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe,” said Michael Korte. There is one upside to the drought: Toilet-to-tap recycled water may have overcome its “yuck” reputation in conservative Orange County, which boasts the largest water recycling plant in the world. The Guardian newspaper says that yuck is turning to “yay” because the cleansing process — filtration, reverse osmosis, and exposure to ultraviolet light with hydrogen peroxide — will provide enough domestic water by next year to supply 850,000 people, or about one-third of Orange County’s 2.4 million residents. That’s a lot of found water flowing from washing machines, dishwashers and toilets that might otherwise be dumped into the ocean off the Southern California coast. Now, instead of toilet-to-tap, some residents call the high-tech wastewater effort “showers to flowers.”
Cai Guo-qiang may be a well-known artist from China who specializes in installations concerned with environmental threats, but this time — in Aspen, no less — he’s accused of harming huge tortoises by making them beasts of burden. The three African sulcata tortoises aren’t carrying all that much weight, just two iPads each that show scenes of local ghost towns, says designboom.com. But an online petition found some traction on change.org: “End the animal abuse … we must all rise and stop this now!” Meanwhile, the tortoises walked around in a pen, apparently aimlessly. We have no idea if they followed the controversy on their iPads.
Are bare bottoms on bike riders horrifying? A one-hour “Bare as you Dare” bicycle ride scheduled for Missoula Aug. 17 sent opponents into a tizzy weeks before the event, with dozens of residents showing up at a city council meeting to express their dismay: “Our children will be scarred for life if they see anything like this,” said Valentine Simonovich, undiplomatically hinting that the only thing worse than Lycra is the flesh it hides. And Leroy Lowry complained that “In all my years, I have never seen anything so disgusting as the approval of this measure.” The law, however, doesn’t consider nude bike riding indecent exposure, said city attorney Jim Nugent, though participants could face charges if an onlooker perceives lewd behavior and reports it. Lewdness was the farthest thing from organizer Nita Maddux’s mind. She told the Missoulian that the clothing-optional ride — similar to events in other cities — is a way for “people to demonstrate acceptance of their bodies and express their inner child.”
If you thought America had finally learned to stay out of other countries’ business, think again. The Sanpete Messenger reported recently that 170 members of the National Guard were coming to southern Utah for “unconventional warfare exercises.” What exactly does that mean? Lt. Col. Paul S. Peters, the group’s commander, spelled it out: “Unconventional warfare is the intentional sabotage, subversion, disruption and eventual overthrow of a foreign government.” Here we go again.
Indian Country Today says all Native Americans have had the experience of meeting a stranger and getting a passel of questions thrown at them about their heritage. Most say, “It’s weird, it’s sometimes offensive, it’s sometimes oddly touching.” The Facebook page of Last Real Indians turned the tables, suggesting the “Top 10 things” that Natives might want to say to white folks they encounter, including “How much white are you?” “I learned all your people’s ways in Boy Scouts,” “My great-great-grandmother was a full-blooded white American princess,” “Funny, you don’t look white,” “I’m not a racist,” and “My best friend is white.” Coming in first: “Hey! Can I take your picture?”
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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