Writers on the Range


Heard around the West



What if the federal government declares you dead before your, um, time? That happened to John Mattingly, a columnist for “Colorado Central Magazine.” His pharmacist informed him that his Medicare Part D was terminated because records showed that he’d been terminated in the literal sense of the word. An easy mistake to fix? Wrong. This happens; our system makes mistakes, explained a staffer with the Social Security Administration. What’s more, Mattingly’s identity might have been stolen by someone else, who then died. 

Establishing his personal undeadness became increasingly complicated as Mattingly realized that the burden of proof was on him. So, armed with his birth certificate and two photo IDs, though he had trouble finding more than one, he went to talk to people at another government office. Meanwhile, he realized, if all else failed, there was at least one bright side to being dead: His wife could collect death benefits. And should Mattingly give up and turn to crime, he would have the perfect defense: I could not have been there at the time of the robbery because I was dead. Imagine the posters: Wanted: DEAD and ALIVE.



A reader of Wyoming Wildlife found it hard to believe a magazine story stating that jackrabbits are classified as predators under Wyoming law. Really?” questioned Eric Rush, an Oregon resident. Upon what, pray tell, do they prey? Not on other animals, it turns out. But as state wildlife staffer Doug Brimeyer explains, jackrabbits are voracious eaters of forage, chewing through as much as a pound a day. And when their populations are high, they often group up in the hundreds, attacking and devouring defenseless haystacks in winter. If these lawless lagomorphs are classified as predators, landowners have more options for population control, which apparently means that they can shoot the critters.



Just as hay bales lure hungry jackrabbits, beehives attract bears with a sweet tooth, reports Montana Public Radio. As Winnie the Pooh once wisely observed, “Isn’t it funny / How a bear likes honey?” Bears love honey so much, says Jamie Jonkel, bear manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, that placing a beehive on the ground is like putting a dead horse carcass in the back pasture and not expecting bears to feed on it. State law encourages beekeepers to protect their hives with electric fencing to deter bears. But one beekeeper with 800 hives said he had to kill a bear last year because he “could not put a hotwire around that many bees.” It was unfortunate, he said, but “imagine a rancher and something killing all his sheep.” And in Montana, it is true, bees are taxed as livestock. In the last five years, black bears have damaged more than 600 hives across the state, costing beekeepers nearly $150,000.


The Nation

The Washington Post had a lot of fun exposing “agriculturally illiterate” Americans — for example, the 7 percent, some 16.4 million people, who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Then there’s the revelation from the USDA that the most popular “fruit” in America is orange juice, and that french fries and potato chips have become our “top vegetables.” Now that we’re several generations removed from living on the land and growing our own food, it’s become an “exposure issue” said Cecily Upton, co-founder of the nonprofit FoodCorps, which brings nutrition education into elementary schools. These days, she says, we’re conditioned to think that “if you need food, you go to the store.” In some areas of the country, ignorance of farming can be profound. For instance, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders interviewed by researchers at an urban California school had some major misconceptions: Four in 10 didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows, and more than half didn’t know that pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were even plants. “And three in 10 didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.” Those who think brown cows produce brown milk are actually doing better: At least they’ve made the connection between cows and milk.



When a teenage burglar tried to break into Adam Pearl’s gun safe in Meridian, Idaho, last winter, a squirrel “came flying out of nowhere and kept attacking him until he left,” reports The Associated Press. The erstwhile burglar, his hands pretty scratched up, was soon caught by police. Joey, the crime-fighting squirrel, had been raised by Adam and Carmen Pearl for 10 months after he fell out of the nest and was abandoned by his parents. Now, Joey has been released to the outdoors, scampering up a backyard apple tree and vanishing from sight. “If I had to guess,” said his former caretaker, Joey “found a girlfriend and they’re off doing their squirrel thing.”


Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, betsym@hcn.org



Where is your favorite place to go camping in Central Montana?