WOTR: Heard Around the West
Writers on the Range
Montana and Colorado
As the Missoulian puts it, “There’s rotten cellphone service, there’s nonexistent cellphone service, and then there’s what’s happening just a few miles east of Ovando.” Which is exactly nothing, because a 195-foot-tall cell phone tower near this tiny western Montana town has never connected a call to anybody. Clearview, a Florida-based company, fought hard for over a year first attempting to build its tower next to Trixi’s Antler Saloon and Family Diner, a local landmark named after the riding and roping showgirl who bought it in the 1950s. But opponents defended their hangout with its tractor-seat bar chairs, forcing the company to build its tower on a ranch. Then, for months, nothing happened: No carrier has ever come forward to use the tower. Peeved at the delay, Missoulian editors want the county to force Clearview to either find a carrier or tear the tower down. As the Powell County planner said, the tower now resembles “a rather large lawn ornament.”
Meanwhile, in Grand Junction in western Colorado, a couple is suing the county and the church next door for allowing Verizon to start building a cellphone tower disguised as a belfry atop Monument Baptist Church, reports the local Daily Sentinel. Homeowners Henry and Judith Drake view the non-bell-ringing structure as a potential health risk, and charge that its construction has derailed their plans to build a home nearby for their son and his family. It is nothing less than a “life-altering event,” say the Drakes. County planners, however, say a belfry is just a belfry, and as a “minor site plan” it required neither posting nor notice to neighbors, whether they’re foes of the faux or not.
As darkness fell, Andrew Matson began the adventure he later described in Seattle’s weekly The Stranger, when he began walking through Frink Park. Suddenly, he says, “It felt like the back of my head had been punched by scissors.” No, he hadn’t been mugged, unless you call a dive-bombing attack by a ticked-off owl a mugging. The owl slammed into Matson’s head a second time, and this time the blow sent him running, waving a reusable shopping bag over his head. The experience led Matson to research aggressive owls, and he quickly found out that they’ve become a hazard at several local parks: One woman reported that a bird “grabbed both sides of my ponytail with his claw,” a jogger had his hat knocked off, and another man “started wearing a construction hard hat.” To be “owl quiet” in your Western park, here’s a useful tip, should you walk at dawn or dusk: Owls are attracted to headphone wires and ponytails. And no, we have no idea why that’s true.
Speaking of ponytails, five men from Astoria near the Oregon coast made a pact a year ago not to cut their hair for 12 months, or, if they did, to pay everybody else $50. The challenge was in service of a good cause; their hair would go to the American Cancer Society to help make wigs for cancer patients. Women are the usual donors, said Otis Heavenrich, who came up with the idea, but he decided he and his buddies should also participate, and thus the plot was hatched. The men’s hair would be especially prized, they were told, because it hadn’t been dyed, teased or otherwise harshly treated, although, noted hairstylist Tabbitha McGrorty, “It takes six good-sized ponytails to make one wig.” All five men just celebrated going a year without a haircut, leaving them with hair that measured 8 inches long when it was sheared off. Was growing it that long a trial? Commercial fisherman Kyle Patterson said no, though he admitted, “You get mainly fish guts and slime in your hair, and it turns into dreadlocks in five days.” Teacher Ben Chamber, who has an indoor job, said he felt first-hand the stigma of being a “longhair”: “I all of a sudden became ‘the guy in the ponytail,’ “ as he told the Daily Astorian. Fisherman Forrest Duggan agreed, noticing subtle differences in people’s reactions, which ranged from finding it harder to catch a ride to “not having a door held open.” Duggan had a further revelation from which other men might benefit: “I’ve learned to realize that my wife needs all the time in the world to get ready,” he said, “because it is a son of a bitch when you have long hair.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, continues to push “Ag-Gag” bills in several states. Officially called Animal and Ecological Terrorism Acts, the bills aren’t meant to prevent cruelty to livestock; instead they bar anyone from revealing cruelty through photos or filming. It’s all in the name of protecting America, though: Any violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry,” reports The New York Times.
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western weirdness are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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