Writers on the Range: Heard Around the West
Writers on the Range
If you’re an education blogger in Utah, don’t try to tell your online students that English words that sound the same sometimes mean different things — i.e., “for,” “four” and “fore.” The technical term for this confusing aspect of the language is “homophone” — but when Tim Torkildson tried explaining this to his mostly foreign students, his boss, Clarke Woodger, fired him for promoting a “gay agenda.” Woodger, who founded the Nomen Global Language Center 15 years ago, seemed utterly confounded by the word, hearing only the “homo” part of it. As Torkildson wrote on his blog, Woodger complained that “now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality. … We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it’s extremely inappropriate. Can you have your desk cleaned out by eleven this morning? I’ll have your check ready.” The Salt Lake Tribune jumped on the story, perhaps because it was worthy of the satirical publication The Onion. It quotes Woodger, who explained that because his students come from 58 countries, they “are at basic levels of English and are not ready for the more complicated concepts such as homophones.” Let Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce provide a tongue-in-cheek definition for this pesky word: “As everyone in Utah knows,” he wrote, “the homophone is what you use to call your decorator.”
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In Yellowstone National Park, where wolves enjoy protection from hunting and humans, what keeps the predator’s population from booming? The obvious answer is food, but the Salt Lake Tribune points out that since their return to the park in 1995, wolves have had plenty to eat, dining on elk, their main prey, as well as bison, bighorn sheep and mule deer. Yet since 2004, the wolf population within the park has declined. Utah State University ecologist Dan MacNulty says a new study using 13 years of wolf-collar data offers a startling theory: Wolf populations are self-limiting because the animals prey on each other, killing pups in competing packs, for example. “The success of a wolf from an evolutionary perspective is based on how many pups it leaves behind,” says MacNulty. Though people may be convinced that as soon as wolves enter an area, more will follow, MacNulty says, “What will be holding them back, if humans don’t, is themselves.” On another wildlife front, a new study of cougars in the Jackson Hole area found that members of a species believed to be solitary seemed to enjoy hanging out together. The Teton Cougar Project studied 18 cats and DNA tests from 68 animals, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide, and in a surprising number of cases, unrelated cougars spent hours together doing something or other — exactly what isn’t known yet, says team leader Mark Elbroch. But an analysis of cougar relations from a video feed will be ready soon. For now, he says, “No one knows what these guys are doing. It really creates a mythology. What I’m excited to do is address this mythology directly. What are they doing? Are they fighting? Are they mating?” We’d like to think they’re just hanging out and playing poker.
NEVADA AND UTAH
In any city, it’s fairly common to look up at tall buildings and see workers clipped onto dangling platforms as they’re moved up or down in order to wash a giant wall of windows. In Reno, Nevada, guests at the Whitney Peak Hotel can go outside and do a little dangling in space themselves. The hotel’s eastern, windowless façade, 164 feet tall, is now “the world’s tallest climbing wall,” says Sunset magazine. Meanwhile, Hildale, in southern Utah, has a new hotel with a considerably stranger attraction: Visitors can stay in the compound once dominated by the polygamous cult leader Warren Jeffs, now serving a life sentence in Texas for assaulting the young girls he called “wives.” The motel is called America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed and Breakfast, alluding to Jeffs’ years as an FBI fugitive. In a remarkable salute to bad taste, guests are told that they “can choose to stay for breakfast on site or head to the nearby Merry Wives Café,” reports The Associated Press. The motel owner is Jeffs’ former bodyguard Willie Jessop, who sued the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and took ownership of the $3.6 million compound in 2013. He expects to cater to a combination of curious travelers and former sect members, some of whom were exiled by Jeffs.
In the tragic irony department, a pine tree planted in Los Angeles in 2004 in honor of Beatle George Harrison died recently as the result of a beetle attack. The Los Angeles Times says Harrison would likely have seen the humor in it: He once said his life’s biggest break was getting into the Beatles; the second was getting out.
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips of Western weirdness are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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