Thompson: Heard around the West
Writers on the Range
IN THE DEEP
Allisa and Mark Oliger, from Durango, Colorado, like to spend New Year’s Day diving, often in the cold, murky waters of Lake Powell. Typically, they see a few fish, maybe find sunken treasures like golf balls or broken fishing poles. But this year, 30 feet underwater, they found a GoPro camera — the kind people attach to their bodies to record both the mundane and the insane. The camera, in a waterproof case, survived, as did its memory card, which held video clips and photos of young men on a road trip. Allisa scoured YouTube for similar videos and — surprisingly — found a match. Turns out the camera belonged to Dan Burkovskiy, who had made, and partially filmed, his cross-country moving trip from Massachusetts to California last June. During his group’s stop at Lake Powell, their kayak flipped, sending the camera to a watery, albeit temporary, grave. Oliger found Burkovskiy on Facebook and returned his camera, attracting national media attention in the process. That’s the good news. The bad news? When the camera was recovered, it was plastered with zebra mussels, a pesky invasive species.
Oh, if only Ron Jaecks had a GoPro that Tuesday morning in January. Jaecks was doing his usual run through Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem, Oregon, when someone — or something — suddenly ripped the hat from his head, puncturing his scalp, according to the Statesman Journal. “It was like a huge electric shock ran through my body, but also like I got hit in the head with a two-by-four all at the same time,” Jaecks told the Journal. “Or maybe a strike of lightning.” Having no clue what was happening, Jaecks screamed and ran in circles. His now hatless pate was hit again, and this time he realized that it was a winged creature — a gigantic bat, he feared. But the friend he called, biology professor David Craig, theorized that it was an owl, which attack more often than you might think. In 2012, parts of some Washington state parks were closed after at least six such attacks, and in recent months, owls have dug their talons into folks in Florida and Missouri. They seem to be attracted to, or irritated by, long hair and ponytails. Memo to dawn and dusk park-goers: Wear a helmet.
Recent research suggests that living at high altitude can affect brain chemistry in such a way as to induce either euphoria or depression. Lack of oxygen to the brain, or hypoxia, might explain both your “Rocky Mountain High” and the Interior West’s high rate of suicide.
Witness Silverton, Colorado, population 500 or so, elevation 9,318 feet. During the long winters, when the influx of tourists slows to a trickle, snow piles up in the streets and avalanche danger sometimes closes both routes out of town, tensions run high. Residents pack town, county and school board meetings, and engage in late-night, spittle-heavy debates, arguing endlessly over whether the county or town should pay for the ambulance or ATVs should be allowed on town streets. The latest fracas, simmering for months and now at a rolling boil, might be the most heated in recent memory, seemingly drawing in every resident and then some. It’s also one of the oddest. Tired of the long-running feud between the town administrator and the longtime public works director — who wields great power, since he’s in charge of the snowplows — the town board forced the two to publicly pledge to be nice to each other. The public works director then broke the promise at a local watering hole, allegedly warning folks that “you’re either with us, or against us.” The town board launched an investigation, and both employees were ultimately fired.
That’s when the hypoxia really kicked in: The public works director’s supporters launched a campaign of nastiness, boycotting businesses owned by those who favored the firing, pelting The Silverton Standard & the Miner with vitriolic letters and trying to recall one town board member. In January, after the polarized town board failed to agree on a replacement for another member — who had left town for lower elevations and higher sanity — two infuriated residents started screaming at officials. Local law enforcement had to extricate them, and town hall was closed to the public so that those employees who hadn’t quit, been fired or gone crazy could get some work done.
“It’s easy to look at what’s been going on in Silverton and see it as an implosion,” San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad told the Durango Herald. “But divisions like this are cyclic. We go through it, time to time, and we’ll be out of it shortly.” Some hope that the Feb. 10 recall election will end the fight. The less optimistic guess that it’ll simply jump-start the next wacky cycle. Stay tuned.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the magazine’s senior editor in Durango, Colorado.
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