Marston: Heard around the West
Writers on the Range
What could be more delightful than floating down a lazy river on a summer afternoon in an inner tube? Andy Hill and his wife, Amy, were both avid boaters, but had never tried tubing the Clark Fork River until late this July. All was calm and copacetic as they drifted through East Missoula, when a man jumped off a bridge — aiming for the river, but slamming onto Hill’s lap instead. “All of a sudden,” Hill said, “I was in intense pain, and I was under water.” The jumper helped haul Hill to shore, but was not arrested then “because he was injured as well,” reports the Missoulian. (The sheriff’s office says it will eventually file a misdemeanor charge of negligent endangerment.) Hill is currently in a wheelchair and may require surgery: The upper tips of his fibulas were broken, his left femur was cracked and both knees’ ligaments were torn. His advice: “Think about me before you jump off a bridge.”
Speaking of bridges, when the weather is warm in the town of Marana, northwest of Tucson, Ariz., some 30,000 bats snooze the days away underneath one particular bridge. The Marana Bridge is perfect for them because its underside features concrete slabs gouged by tiny niches. As the sun sets, bats emerge from those crevices in an “aerial spectacle that draws crowds,” reports Cronkite News Service. A replacement bridge planned for next year, however, will be flat-bottomed and bat-unfriendly, a development that concerns a lot of locals. Thanks to the state Game and Fish Department and the town, however, one of its spans will be equipped with creviced boxes –– “bat condos” designed to accommodate 30,000 bats.
You can’t teach old dogs new tricks, they say, but can you teach them to unlearn the old ones? In Bremerton, Wash., some drug-detecting police dogs are having to give up one of their specialties: They’re being taught not to react to the smell of marijuana, reserving their sniffer skills for heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. Voters last fall legalized use of up to an ounce of marijuana for people over 21, reports the Associated Press, and retraining dogs to ignore pot is now “part of the new reality.” So police departments in Bremerton, Seattle and Bellevue, along with the State Patrol, have begun putting their old dogs through “pot desensitization training.” New dogs, of course, get to skip pot school entirely.
The tiny town of Drummond, population 310, in western Montana, proudly tells visitors: “We have two gas stations.” That’s to appeal to drivers on the nearby interstate, though after a melee involving a drive-by shooter whose victim fired back, residents might prefer to keep the more trigger-happy drivers away. Matthew Colbert of Vancouver, Wash., will probably be charged with attempted homicide for shooting out a couple’s front windows, reports the Montana Standard. His target, Danny Muir, was injured by flying glass but still fired his own pistol at Colbert’s rear tire in an attempt to stop him. Failing that, he alerted a highway patrolman who pulled Colbert over. Here the story gets even odder: Colbert assured the sheriff that he had papers in his vehicle proving that President Obama and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had granted him “immunity from arrest.” No comment from D.C. on the nature of those papers.
Poor Aspen, where mega-mansions just aren’t selling, reports the Aspen Times. Recently, some owners tried auctions, with mixed results. A 16,000-square-foot house, once listed for $43.8 million, languished unsold for five years until it was auctioned off for a paltry $15 million. Another house listed for $58 million, with a minimum bid of $17.5 million, enticed no bidders at all. The market may be improving, said one realtor, but a property “still must be priced properly.”
The messy tailings from old hardrock mines are polluting, but they may also contain a new kind of “gold” — some of the 15 rare earth elements necessary for the production of everything from cellphones to wind turbines. “One era’s junk could turn out to be this era’s treasure,” reports AP, which is why federal agencies are on a “nationwide scramble” to explore old mine tailings. Blame the rush on price hikes by China, the planet’s main source of rare earth metals: In 2009, the neodymium used in Prius electric motors cost $15 a kilogram; in 2011, the price soared to $500 a kilogram.
— Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared, email@example.com.
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