Thursday, April 03, 2003


With just two days left before the Big Cribbage Tournament at the Crazy Liver Cantina (not its real name), My Own Dear Personal Dadand I decided it would be in our best interest to maybe start thinking about, you know, training. A retiree and a newly-minted hobo have to be careful about spending that much money to enter (the fee is, after all, $10) and we'd best make sure we finish in the money!

Of course our best course of action was to find some sparring partners, and fortunately for us, my Novel Walking Partner and her husband, Famous Bill, were available. Originally MODPD and FB were going to head off to the big city to buy some railroad ties (don't ask) but the weather has been disgustingly springlike, gale force winds, heavy snowfall, mud and all, so we all just stayed in and played instead.

My Own Dear Personal Mom, knowing that the family fortune would be at stake on Saturday, did her part by baking brownies to keep up our strength and make sure MODPD and I stay at fighting weight.

Good thing, too, because NWP and FB wound up beating us a terrifying two out of five games, though perhaps had we tracked the aggregate number of pegs the results would have been even worse... for our opponents. HAW!

Refrain of the day, sort of pitifully whimpered at the end of each round by NWP: "Five is good for a crib..."


That's right, MODPD and Your Humble Blogger are mean (but not lean) pegging machines when it comes to cribbage, wily and sneaky and deceptive and nearly unstoppable even before the first hand is counted. As we knew would be so. Sherrods are born with a cribbage board in one hand and a deck of cards in the other (explaining, perhaps, the high incidence of Caesarian sections in our clan dating all the way back to the time when the procedure was first initiated in Paracelsus' day because he didn't want to wait around for his wife to have "natural" childbirth before counting his crib). My Own Dear Personal sister is undefeated at two- and three-player cribbage, and was so even when we were tots and played with the likes of FlyBoy Campbell, who was always trying to convince us that we couldn't count His Nibs in our hands because we were girls.

Yup, playing cribbage with a pair of Sherrods could probably be compared to trying to play Risk with a pair of Atriedes. Shouldn't even be attempted.

Be assured, dear readers, we would handicap ourselves to even up the stakes on Saturday if it weren't for the fact that, well, I'm unemployed, and MODPD likes to go play in Las Vegas and has to stake himself somehow.

And man, this is so much more fun than working.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003


"Some days it's a good day to die, some days it's a good day to play basketball."
- Victor Joseph in Chris Eyre's "Smoke Signals"

Wyoming almost never makes it to basketball's "Sweet Sixteen" and wipes out spectacularly on those rare occasions when we do.

It may, then, seem strange to those who aren't in the know to say that Wyoming is one of the great basketball capitals of the known world. It may seem strange, but it isn't.

It's just that Wyoming's basketball gods very rarely make it to college, and when they do, they don't usually make it through college. And never, ever, do these gods manifest themselves at the University of Wyoming or any other Division I school.

That's because these gods live "on the rez," as budding filmmaker Daniel Junge shows us in his documentary "Chiefs."

Junge spent two years filming the lives of several members of the 2000 and 2001 Wyoming Indian High School boys basketball teams, on and off the court, then heroically edited down all of that footage into a taut, often moving, and definitely illuminating 90 minute film, which aired nationwide last night on PBS's "Independent Lens" program.

There's a lot to love, to be astonished by, and to be saddened by as Junge's images roll on with very little commentary from the filmmaker. These boys carry the hopes of an entire nation with them onto the basketball court, and are expected to live up to a proud legacy – 20 straight trips to the state tournament, numerous state championships, undefeated seasons – ever under the watchful eyes of their ancestors (many of whom were directly involved in establishing that legacy, those record seasons, those statistical marvels, those packed gymnasiums all over Wyoming). Every team in the state, even those from schools in Casper and Nebraska and Lander whose benches hold triple the number of players as the Chiefs because their schools hold ten times as many students as Wyoming Indian, wants a piece of them, making the Chiefs' entire season into an endless repeat of the plot of "Hoosiers."

Except those Indiana boys never had to deal with the social conditions and the occasional racism that were and are a fact of life for young men like Brian Sounding Sides, Ben and Al C'Bearing, and Tom Robinson.

Wisely, Junge does not dwell on these in the maudlin muckraking way of so many documentarians observing the tragedies of indigenous peoples. Junge also wisely does not dwell on the obviously "Indian" elements of these players' lives. A quick shot of a team session in a sweat lodge, a glimpse of a drum circle, are enough, as are quick looks around the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming – an area hard to make look picturesque, and Junge didn't try.

He didn't need to.

The realities of these players' lives come through simply and elegantly on their own. They are very aware of themselves as Indians, but they also have to learn trigonometry like any other high school students, also play video games... Marijuana use is a big issue, as is the deceptive easiness of life when every tribe member gets a "cap check" representing his or her equal share of the tribe's mineral royalties, removing a lot of the urgency behind the need to plan for the future or find lasting employment after the glory days of high school basketball are gone and the player has joined the many who went before him, playing "independent" basketball in year-long intramural reservation basketball leagues.

It's almost as if these players' lives are shortened and intensified when they are Chiefs; at age 16 they may not even be six feet tall yet, but their vertical leaps of 20 inches or more and their stunning prowess at slam dunks, steals and flying alley oops that no other Wyoming high school players ever seem to reach, combined with the closeness of small town school life and the even greater closeness of tribal life make these boys living gods at their schools, with small fry clamoring for their autographs after games and everyone noting their every moves in practice, in school, and on the boards. Then they graduate.

A few each year go off to college, after a fashion. As the film progresses, we see Brian Sounding Sides boarding a plane to fly off to attend a united tribal college in North Dakota. It will be his first time flying, but more importantly, it will be his first time living a life removed from his own people, what's left of their ways, and the equally insular world of high school basketball, which brings these boys out amongst the predominantly white populace of Wyoming but tightly restricts and controls their interactions there. Play basketball. Brief visit to Target (to buy eyedrops to hide the pot-smoking). Sit in motel room. Ride bus.

Within three weeks, Sounding Sides decides he "doesn't like" college and is back on the rez. As the film's epilog shares, he now lives at home, and plays independent basketball.

A question "Chiefs" inspires but does not address is, is it possible to keep all of the qualities that make Indian basketball great but ditch the insularity, the lack of preparedness for the rest of the world that sends all but a rare few of these hoop gods back to the reservation before they've even finished a year outside? There are always a few glimmers of hope; one of the C'Bearings is a student now at Chadron State in Nebraska, we are told in the epilog, and Tom Robinson won a rodeo scholarship to a community college in Wyoming. There's two... out of how many?

God help me, I recognized some of the independent league players from the days when I was a high school student and they were playing ball lo these... 14 years or so ago?

Can this change?

I don't know the answer to that.

But I do know the happiness that is nonetheless there in these young men's stories. A Saratoga girl who grew up watching the Panthers take on the Chiefs in several sports, I have a lifetime of memories of watching the Indians' families pack even our gymnasium, hundreds of miles away from the reservation. Often there would be more Chief than Panther fans in our little gym, and even I, not the world's greatest basketball fan, hated to miss a game just for the raw excitement of being part of such a passionate gathering. These games were my first experiences of the "good" side of being part of a mob – for even though both sides really, really wanted to win, the rivalry was friendly, the action kept on the court (I understand that some of this sportsmanship has declined since my years as a student here, but that is just hearsay. I haven't been to a game since I stopped making my living covering them, but the last time I saw the Chiefs play anyone – the very state championship game that is the climax of this film – I saw sportsmanship and fair play, on the court and in the stands, that would make Gary Medicine Cloud, the team's groovy old bus driver, very proud). And the cheering was all for them! Ten or 12 of the tribe's finest players (who've grown up in a land where every single household sports a basketball hoop outdoors). Gods indeed.

A lot of people would give up a lot to experience even one game of that kind of support, of that kind of adulation, let alone a whole season, a whole four-year career. How about you?

I'm very excited that more people are going to get to see this as a result of Junge's film. But there are some things I would have liked to see more of in it, most especially the team's assistant coach, whose name I missed (it was only mentioned once, at the very beginning), an uncle of one of the star players and himself a former Chief who made good and came back to the rez to coach. I have a personal, slightly selfish interest in the stories of other people my age who have chosen to come back here and tackle leadership roles in a state that, let's face it, is not an easy place for a young person to have a life and make a living, and this guy seemed to be carrying his responsibilities well.

The other thing that's missing is the Lady Chiefs, Wyoming Indian's girls basketball team. During the years covered by this film, the girls team was not as successful as the boys, but they did make it to state at least one of those years (I'm working from memory here, just an hour after watching the film, at the Unabomber Cabin, with no live internet connection, so I can't look it up)... and I have to say, I've always admired them even more than the boys, and not just for how well they play (always, always tough, my jock sister, who faced them often, informs me).

See, I spent the 2001 Wyoming State Basketball Tournament chaperoning Saratoga's middle and high school pep band, hauled off to Casper to cheer on our boys team, through games and restaurants and malls (always malls. There are only three in the whole state of Wyoming, and woe to the team sponsor who keeps a busload of teenagers away from one of them whenever one is near) and our motel.

Which we shared with Wyoming Indian's boys and girls teams.

And a few screaming, bratty little children... babies, toddlers, the odd pre-schooler.

You see, more than one of those girls basketball players were mothers. Some had more than one child. And they were still going to high school and playing basketball, and playing it damned well, with the kids in tow even on away trips. No, they weren't state champions, and I'm not saying it's a great thing they got pregnant while still in their teens, but I'm still going to say bully for them for keeping the kids, trying to raise them, and still trying to finish their own educations.

And play boobs to the wall, tough, physical basketball.

I hope someday, someone notices them, too. Hail to the Chiefs... and also the Lady Chiefs. And the little Chiefs they're already raising and teaching to play.

And hail to Daniel Junge for showing them to us without sentimentality, without a relentless agenda, without a smothering weight of interpretation and explanation.

More, please.

OK, dear readers, here's where your youngest councilman really, really needs your help. This is not a rhetorical request; I really need to hear from any of you who actually care about the following.

No matter how we've looked at it, in Saratoga and elsewhere, the municipal revenue situation pretty much sucks. Sales tax collections are down, and with them many other revenues we, your town government, depend on to pay for the services we provide you.

The budget sessions that will commence in less than two weeks are already looking painful, as we begin to balance interests that already compete fiercely even in good revenue years, figure out what we can and can't touch, what is already irrevocably committed and what goes on the chopping block.

In the midst of all of this, your town hall staff has presented us with drawings and a price tag for a project that was near and dear to the heart of our recently-ex-recreation director (the Minister of Fun in these pages): a skateboard park.

The departed MOF was one of the original small band of kids who built the skate park that once occupied the very spot – one of the tennis courts on Veterans Island – onto which this new equipment would be installed. They did it because they wanted it and were willing to work for it, to pay for it, to maintain it.

Tragedy of the Commons time: After the park's builders grew up and went away (they were my immediate contemporaries, ranging in age from a year older than me to about five years younger), the equipment fell into disuse and disrepair, neglected pretty much altogether until, many years later, some kids in Encampment decided they wanted a skate park down there, and cannibalized the Veterans Island equipment with the Town of Saratoga's tacit blessing.

Skateboarding is still somewhat popular today, but since the stuff at Veterans Island is gone, today's kids do it downtown, much to the annoyance of a few local business owners whose property gets damaged betimes, through accident and, alas, occasional vandalism.

A few of the youngsters approached what was then a Recreation Department of two – laughably, given my campaign stance that recreation is not a legitmate function of government and government's coercive powers, I was the second of those two – and asked if something could be done to bring back the skate park at Veterans Island.

As I recall, the MOF's response was "sure, what do we want to do?" with an emphasis on "we" because he knew very well the council's general stance on projects like that: we don't throw town money around on projects that just a couple of people want unless that couple of people can demonstrate widespread support for them in the form of, yes, donation money!

I.E., take the Playground Ladies, who held countless fundraisers, distributed countless coin cans around town, wrote countless grants, and mounted a full-on media campaign to come up with the necessary funds to buy the fancy playground equipment they installed – again as a community effort – at Kathy Glode and Veterans Island parks, as your model. They got help, cooperation, and some of the funding from the town, but they knew better than to demand that the taxpayers foot the entire bill for their little dream.

Ditto the dog park, built partially with town funds but mostly with money raised by Pals for Pets and with their volunteer labor and in-kind donations from local businesses and dog lovers.

The kids asking to revive the skate park, predictably, said whatever it took to get the MOF to start working on a plan, which he did, with some input from the young'uns as to what kind of equipment they'd like best.

The MOF even went so far as to make some coin cans for the kids to use to start collecting donations to support their project, admonished them frequently that this park was only going to happen if they took ownership of it (in the hope that because they'd invested in it themselves, they would take care of it instead of letting it get trashed or vandalized. Hey, the MOF and I are still a little young; allow us a bit of hopeful naivete from time to time, wouldja?).

Alas, predictably, as the MOF began to beaver away at a small stack of grant applications, the enthusiasm for making this a group effort appears to have disappeared. He reports the last few meetings he called to work on the project were attended by... the MOF himself and no other.

Fine, then.

We did not stop the MOF's grant writing efforts, but I personally, at least, clicked the park's icon then and there and moved it into the delete bin. If the people who say they want it so bad can't be bothered to do the work to make it happen, that tells me everything about their attitude toward it, toward us, toward the concept of public property and common resources.

BUT... (there's always an enormous "but") in the wake of the MOF's departure, others among the town hall staff have chosen to take this program and run with it.

Last night, two of them plunked a plan down on the table in front of us, and a price tag of over $30,400.

Now, there is some controversy over a grant the MOF wrote to support this venture at this point. How much is it for? When will we know if we get the funds, etc.?

With this in mind, and knowing the background of this project as I do, and knowing the ugly revenue picture we're already facing, I was prepared to give this the thumbs down last night if the issue of whether or not to spend that much money was to be forced then and there. As it was, I urged the rest of the council to wait until we knew the status of that grant before deciding on this. If we've got $25,000 coming from the Tony Hawk foundation, this becomes a bit less difficult to contemplate. If we've got to pay for the whole thing out of Town revenues... I'm inclined to say no.

But I was elected to represent you, the people of Saratoga. It's not just my wishes that count here. So I really need, within the next two weeks, to hear what you all think.

If I don't hear from any of you, on the street, by e-mail, whatever, then I am going to vote my own political conscience: town revenues are to be spent to benefit the entire populace and not just small interest groups. You as a taxpayer do not have a choice as to whether to contribute your share to the kitty; ethics thus dictate that I spend this money on things that all of you use. Roads. Fire protection. Ambulance service. Police. Bridges.

(Some have already quibbled that not everyone will use the community center that is to be built partially with sales tax. To them I point out: you get a direct choice on this on May 6 of this year, when the voters of Carbon County get to decide whether or not to approve the Capital Facilities Tax. If you don't want this facility, then vote no. BUT, shut the hell up about how we need one if you do. People have been demanding some form of this thing for my entire life, and it's getting old. It will get older still if that tax gets defeated. Get it?)

I cannot logically place a skateboard park in the same category with these other services that pretty much everyone agrees are necessary, if not essential to a town.

Can you?

But, if you guys really want one, if you really, really think this is a legitimate use of funds, you'd better tell me now.

Before you decide, though, contemplate the opportunity cost we would be incurring. $30,000 is about half the cost of a fire truck. $30,000 is more than last year's entire operating budget for the ambulance service. $30,000 is about what we lose annually in keeping the swimming pool open (and that's after we factor in the admission fees, the fees for swimming lessons, etc. – which brings up another point: there will be no financial return on a skate park. Ever. Just an operation and maintenance drain at best, if it gets used beyond the span of its novelty value). We're catching up on deferred maintenance on the streets – crack sealing, pothole filling, etc.

What do you think, folks?

Monday, March 31, 2003


aka "Lynx, schmynx"

Let me start off this entry with a great big "mea culpa."

I've been totally wrong in my attacks on the Medicine Bow National Forest's draft management plan. Totally wrong.

Oh, don't get me wrong; I still consider this document to be 25 lbs. of the worst quality of crap imaginable. I have just been laboring under a delusion that this was so for all the wrong regions.

I got my first hint that something was amiss when I realized that your Forest Service was concerned, not with Canada Lynx themselves but with lynx habitat. See, it really doesn't matter that there ain't never been no such animal in the Snowy Range, at least not since the last ice age (perhaps); it's the habitat that's important.

You know, in case any lynx want to drop on by sometime. Wouldn't want to be churlish and not have a guest bedroom ready, would we?

So, I started thinking that I needed to ease up on these poor folk who just want to make our forest friendly for the animals who don't live there... but then, as I leafed through the thick sheaves of 25 lbs. of crap over this last weekend, I noticed something truly horrifying.

Dear readers, I am stunned and dismayed to learn that there is not a word in this thing about your favorite and mine, the common snow snake (Thamnophis sosemanuk).

Ahh, the snow snake! Winter sports enthusiasts are doubtless familiar with Sosemanuk, the popular Cree Indian game inspired by this remarkable creature, in which two or more players chuck sticks or "snakes" down a snow-covered hillside to see whose stick slides the farthest. Opinions differ on whether or not actual specimens of T. sosemanuk were once used where sticks are employed today, but it is generally agreed that the practice of using live snakes today would both impractical and unethical due to the increasing rarity of these creatures.

But even without the use of live T. sosemanuk in sport, it is a certainty that of all the animals in the Bow whose habitats are threatened by human activity, the snow snake is the most vulnerable. Why, just yesterday in the Sierra Madre mountains above Encampment I personally observed a cross country skier (who will of course remain nameless) wantonly skiing right over a snow snake trail (snowsnake trails being easily recognizable by their two-track appearance, as these creatures always travel in parallel pairs) without any concern for disturbing the noble animals which had created what he doubtless thought was an easy track laid down just for him.

On this particular trip, I did not see any actual snakes, but their trails were everywhere. I could only conclude from this evidence that we had harried them into hiding, as they are known to be a most introverted snake, or that the animals who had made the trails I observed had been cruelly run over by a skier and killed.

It is also possible that they were there but I just didn't see them, for they are of a mottled white and grey pattern on their scales to allow them to blend in with the wintry landscape in which they thrive, escaping predation from lynxes and sphinxes alike (and no, I've never seen a sphinx up there, either, but that doesn't mean they're not there, surely?).

Friends, how long are we going to allow this to continue? Sightings of these lovely creatures are becoming more and more seldom as the years progress. It may already be too late!

Time is running out on the comment period for this management plan! Write our local forest ranger, his district master, whomever you can, and tell them to help save the snow snake.

You know you won't be able to live with yourself until you do.