I knew I was back from vacation when I was catching up with the Salem News and read that the Cow Plop event planned as a Salem Heritage Days fundraiser, had been canceled. Apparently an animal rights activist had complained that the event is "embarrassing" for the cow.
For those who don't know, a Cow Plop is a kind of lottery in which bystanders bet on the section of a marked-off field that will be hit by manure when a cow goes for a stroll. But local dairy farmers refused to lend a cow for fear of bad publicity about their lack of concern for her dignity.
This wouldn't have been a problem in Nevada.
The cattle herd down the road from my son's house seems oblivious to observation when it is doing its business. It eats, it plops, it moves unperturbed on to the next patch of grass.
This is a rough land. Carson Valley real estate ads mention "trees" as a major selling point. Prevailing winds bring smoke from West Coast forest fires to settle around the mountaintops. Local papers refer to the temperature as "warm" until it exceeds 95 degrees, when it is called "hot."
But, of course, it's not the heat, but the humidity, that is supposed to make it uncomfortable, and Nevada doesn't have much of that. My son says he misses rain during the extended dry season. In the winter, the snow that falls during the night is usually melted from the valley by noon, but most of the mountain passes remain closed for the season.
The little strip malls have gun shops as well as dry cleaners and video stores. Preservation of open space is an issue there like here; growth is partly contained by fire danger in the mountains and river flooding in the valley after heavy snowmelt, but mostly because the federal government owns most of the land. This protects it from developers but not the nuclear waste of, well, Massachusetts, among other states, that the feds have kindly offered to store north of Las Vegas.
Nevada has protested, but what the heck, radiation might be better than the neon casinos and McMansions grouped around golf courses that are being built everywhere on private land.
Neither homebuyers nor the federal government seem to worry overmuch about the earthquake fault. My son and his wife don't worry about scorpions and black widow spiders -- "They're shy," I am told. Gambling interests are not; slot machines are ubiquitous, starting in the airport when you exit your aircraft.
Balance this with the fact that the state legislature is in session for only four months every other year, and the related lack of a state income tax, and you might want to start looking in Nevada real estate ads for a house with at least one tree for your hammock, the way I do when I'm in escape mode.
I have a theory that people are meant from birth for certain kinds of places; that there are ocean people, mountain people, city people, and desert people like me.
My partner, Chip Ford, is an ocean guy; the first few days of our western vacation he was sailing with friends out of San Diego. After growing up in Lynn, he sailed to Florida and lived on a boat in the Keys for several years; he can become one with the wind, the waves and the currents.
Nothing I can think of would get me in a boat smaller than the Queen Mary if we're to be out of sight of land; although I did enjoy the paddle wheeler cruise we took on Lake Tahoe, which is near my son's home at the foot of the Sierra Nevada range. Lance loves the mountains, for which I am grateful, since I get to visit my grandkids and the desert at the same time.
When my grade-school girlfriends were still reading Nancy Drew and playing with bride dolls, I was reading Zane Grey and dreaming about becoming a Rider of the Purple Sage. The west to me is utterly romantic, scorpions and all.
But next I read Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and wanted to live in Massachusetts. Too bad they would find it unrecognizable today -- not just because it is crowded, but because "the tax burden is
We're working on it, Ralph and Henry. There are still places in this country where self-reliance and tax revolt have value, and I have just returned from one of them, rested and inspired for the campaign season that begins in earnest next month.