Tuesday, September 27, 2011
138 - Wondering when our great Yellowstone will explode?
So there I was, in the middle of the most beautiful place in America, and on my mind was what a cataclysm it would be when Yellowstone explodes!
During my annual trek to my favorite place on earth, the thought that the Yellowstone Supervolcano Caldera explodes every 600,000 years or so, and the last one was just 640,000 years ago, well, it gave me pause.
But in-between those thoughts, I stopped by and said hello to Old Faithful and she erupted right in front of me. Good timing, once again.
Inside the Old Faithful Store, it was fun to chat with the clerks as they were telling tourist stories. The gal ahead of me asked them where to buy the tickets to the geyser showing?
Earlier that day someone had asked them who manned the crew that climbed down into the geysers for the periodic cleaning of the plumbing?
A fellow Wyomingite overheard us and said he encountered some foreign tourists asking a ranger, while they were all standing along the road frozen by 100 stopped vehicles, “are these bears wild?”
Earlier that month, they had had a power outage. Several tourists asked them if that would affect the eruptions of the geysers?
I went to the men’s room and this tall statuesque blond was standing in line to use the sit down toilet. Yes, she was European. The clerks said that same gal had been in a hurry when she asked them where the bathrooms were?
I was enduring and enjoying all this on Monday, Sept. 19. To us old-timers, we can remember a time when mid-September was a barren time in the park. The only people you would see would be locals – folks from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
But not anymore. I think it is probably mid-October now before you can enjoy any kind of solitude during the busy times at the park’s busy places. And this is just fine. Yellowstone is a wonderful place and it is owned by all the 300,000,000 citizens of our country. It is their right to see it as much as it is mine, although I sort like to think differently most of the time.
Driving through the park takes a lot of time. And all that time gets me thinking again about the pending eruption of a Supervolcano.
A TV show recently featured the top five natural catastrophes that threaten our country. The gigantic New Madrid earthquake fault in Missouri was #3 for example.
The Yellowstone volcano, of course.
Some scientists compare the possibility of such an event to what is known as “the human bottleneck” which occurred 74,000 years ago when another Supervolcano, Toba, exploded on an island off Southeast Asia.
Evolutionary biologists speculate that there were just 15,000 human beings left alive after that eruption.
This was one of the solutions given to a DNA mystery that tried to explain that if humans were millions of years old, why were there so few different types of DNA?
Reason was that 99 percent of the humans were killed in the Toba Supervolcano. Every one of us is descended from those hardy souls who managed to somehow survive somewhere on this decimated planet.
DNA scientists, in fact, have identified a male and a female set of chromosomes, which they have designated “Adam and Eve,” as our ultimate ancestors.
This theory might give a big boost to those folks pushing creationism over a Darwinism.
But since Yellowstone and Toba are two of the most prominent Super volcanoes, well, it got me thinking about such a situation.
I happened to watch one of just about the dreariest movies ever made recently. Called The Road, it shows a father and son trying to stay alive in such a decimated world. What they deal with is surely exactly what our world would be like in the wake of a Supervolcano.
Finally after staring at the Grand Prismatic Spring, I shook off all these negative thoughts and fears and just soaked up the beauty of Yellowstone.
It was a nice clear day. It was a little windy, but so what. We are in Wyoming, after all.
Or were we? The state of Montana recently captured the image I was watching along with other Yellowstone features and have splashed them in their national tourism ad campaign. Out here in the West, that sounds like poaching to me?
But visiting Yellowstone was like seeing an old friend again. And my friend was in fine form.
Monday, September 19, 2011
137 - Loraine Ocenas was Wyoming`s Funny Girl
This guy went to the doctor and complained about his sex life. He says that one time he gets all cold and shivery and the next time, he gets all hot and sweaty.
The doctor then interviewed his wife and asked her about it.
“It’s easy to explain, the wife said, once was in January and the second was in July.” – a favorite Loraine Ocenas joke
Loraine Ocenas was not an ordinary person, by just about any standard.
She looked stern but was one of the funniest people in the state.
She stood tall but would bend over to help anyone any time.
For years, she held a job that would cause many people to hate her, but most people loved her.
Loraine, 83, died Sept. 17 and she will be missed.
Back in July of 1996, Loraine was being roasted for working for the county for 50 years and I wrote the following about her:
For not only is Loraine Ocenas known as one of the best county tax assessors in Wyoming, but she is also known as probably the funniest woman in the state.
She has been the guest comedian and most often-used emcee in Fremont County for decades.
“Humor helps out, when you are the tax assessor,” she says.
(Some of her favorite jokes are in italics throughout this column)
Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game but dumb enough to think it’s important
To Loraine, the year 1946 was a very big year. She graduated from Lander High School in May, started work at the courthouse in August and on Christmas Eve, got married to her husband Joe.
In 1996, some 50 years later, she was being honored for her dedication to the people of the county by having a day declared in her name by the county commissioners.
“I know a couple that got a new water bed. He loves it and calls it his master bed. His wife calls it the dead sea.”
Humor has always been important to Loraine. She wouldn’t call herself a class clown, but said she had “a quick wit” and often got into trouble by provoking her classmates to laughter during her high school days.
A good student, she finished 1/100th of a point short of being a valedictorian or salutatorian in her 1946 graduating class.
She grew up in a family that enjoyed a good joke, she says. Her late father, Clinton Cox, was a good public speaker and was a funny person, as was her mother, Blanche, who died just before her 99th birthday in 1989. Her older brothers, retired teacher Rollie Cox and Japanese missionary Ralph Cox, are both humorous people, she said.
I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats I don`t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercise.
Loraine has won some humor competitions. She competed 15 years ago in Casper in an event that was sponsored by KTWO-TV. She was with eight other comedians, all of whom were much younger than her. She won. The prize was a trip to the Jay Leno show.
“There’s a local guy here who willed his body to science. But I understand the medical school is contesting the will!”
Her career at the courthouse started with a job working for Ben Fischer in the Clerk’s office from 1946 to 1950. She then worked for Ernest Hartman in the assessor’s office in 1950 until Hartman died in 1968.
Loraine has always been a Democrat and found herself in the wrong party as she applied for the appointment to the County Assessor position. The Republican-dominated county commissioners, instead, named Bill Redfern of Riverton to the job. Redfern offered her a job, but she declined, telling him she planned to run against him 16 months later.
Long-time County Clerk Jim Farthing gave her a job in the interim, for which she says she is eternally grateful.
Loraine says old age can creep up on you. Gravity is not your friend. She says: “I used to be a 38D. Now I am a 44 long.”
In 1968, the Nixon landslide covered the nation, but here in Fremont County, one Democrat managed to narrowly win election. It was Loraine.
She said the race was nip-and-tuck all night long, but a late Lander precinct came in with a heavy vote in her favor and she was elected. She took office Jan. 1, 1969, and she was never been defeated for office since.
“A local man went to the doctor. He wanted to get his sex drive lowered. It was all in his head.”
Loraine was the emcee at my 50th birthday party, where she coined my slogan: “how does it feel to have your future behind you?”
She and husband Shorty were married 52 years before he died of cancer. A tough blow for her. She always helped my wife and me at the Lander Relay for Life events, which is a project to raise money for cancer research.
We were not able to attend her send-off this past week but we hold a special place in our hearts for Wyoming’s Funny Girl. She was a total original.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
136 - One governor`s most unusual One Shot Antelope Hunt
One of the perks of being Wyoming governor is inviting your political friends and big donors to the annual Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander.
Gov. Matt Mead was at his first one this past weekend and it brought back lots of memories of other governors for me.
As a former historian of the famous hunt, it was my job to tag along with governors and celebrities and record interesting stories about what happened.
One of the most interesting of these stories involved former Gov. Jim Geringer back in the late 1990s.
Wyoming’s governors always serve as hosts of the annual Lander hunt, which is known in outdoor circles as The Super Bowl of Shooting Sports.
Lots of famous people including 20 astronauts, Roy Rogers, Chuck Yeager, every Wyoming governor, senators and many others have participated in the annual event.
Last weekend was Gov. Mead’s first hunt, which he co-hosted with Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado.
But back to the story about this hunt with Geringer.
When he shot his buck, he only wounded it. The buck went over the hill. What to do now?
Normally, the Lander men who serve as guides get back into the vehicles and try to track the animal down. Antelope are the swiftest animals in North America, capable of running 50 mph, and there is no way a human can stalk one on foot.
Until this hunt.
Geringer told his guides Bill Gustin and Travis Moffat that he would take off on foot. He encouraged them to go find a buck for his hunting partner, the former Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson.
It took Jackson, a tall rangy, slow-talking feller, just 29 minutes to bag his antelope.
We would see Geringer walking along the tops of the high hills and ridges. After awhile, we finally were able to drive up and meet with him. He had been on his own for over an hour by then and had hiked four miles.
Geringer jumped into the pickup and we drove for about five minutes before he decided the country was too big and he felt he needed to be on the buck’s trail of small blood spots. He said he would meet us at Diamond Springs, which was a long, long ways off but it was in the direction the antelope was going.
So, we left him there on the ridgeline and headed back to Joaquin where Travis was cleaning that animal.
We gradually headed over to a high area and waited. And waited some more.
The guides on the One Shot are among the best around. They often joke that they’ve never lost a hunter in 70 years. Gustin may have been thinking aloud when he said, “I wonder if anyone has lost a governor before?”
We found out Geringer was now on the Oregon Trail, which was over five miles away.
Geringer had met three carloads of Utah LDS folks retracing the Mormon Trail. They saw this orange-clad apparition walk up on them out of the intense fog (they didn’t know it was opening day of hunting season). Who was this solitary man with a gun over his arm and a funny medicine bag around his neck?
“I told them that I was governor but they didn’t react very well. Finally, one of them got his Wyoming highway map out of the car and said. “By golly, he really is the governor?”
Geringer was getting tired but still looking for that doggone antelope. So we drove for about ten minutes along a ridge, but no luck. We were now ten miles from where the original shot was taken and both Gustin and I were wondering just how determined in this guy?
Later, Joaquin said he thought Geringer was “the stubbornnest guy I ever did see.” Geringer comes to his stubbornness naturally. His dad moved to America from Russia because they wanted to own their own land.
Finally, Geringer was getting impatient and suggested we turn around and head back and he got out and walked over the ridge. Pretty soon, he motioned that he thought he had found that buck.
Geringer quickly loaded up, took aim, shot and put the injured buck out its pain.
The governor had walked 12 miles over four hours over some of the roughest terrain in Wyoming. He crossed Rocky Ridge three times. He had forgotten his hunting boots and ended up wearing his formal cowboy boots on the hunt. His boots had several big holes in them.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
135 - Getting used to "the new normal" in our lives
The “new normal” is a phrase that my friends Ralph and Dorry hate to hear.
Like many, they have had a tragedy in their lives that forever changed things. They hated having to get used to a new type of living. They loved their old life and missed it terribly.
Their daughter had died of cancer and left two little girls and a husband. Ralph and Dorry loved those girls but were haunted by the images of their lost daughter whenever they were around them. The girls were spitting images of their lost mother.
Their “new normal” was to miss their daughter who was gone forever and they dreaded the time when their son in law would find someone new to take her place.
We know another person who has lost his good job and there is absolutely no chance of him ever able to replace it. Let’s call him George. Engineers in India now do his job.
He is in his 50s and so far has not found anyone who will even talk to him about a job similar to his old job.
He and his wife squabble all the time. Their savings is gone and they feel desperate.
He is sick of what his counselor advises him to get used to – the “new normal.”
“Get over it, George,” he says. “It was not your fault. You have to adapt.”
Easy for him to say, George mutters.
He is convinced his life is crap and he even feels suicidal at times.
I know a couple in Florida who thought the way to make money was to buy houses outside of their means and flip them. Dick and Judy got caught up in the sub-prime mortgage mess and now face both bankruptcy and losing their home.
As a couple, they are just about finished. Their kids are reacting in bad ways. From the outside looking on, it looks pretty hopeless. How can this family survive in their “new normal?"
Our friend Margaret, who was widowed two years ago, took us aside one day and said if one more person mentioned “God’s plan” in reference to her husband’s passing, she might just poke them in the nose.
“I know they mean well,” she says. “But at some point, it just flat out seems unfair. Everyone else still has husbands with them to take care of them. But I don’t? Why? Why?”
Despite that despair, she manages to keep her sense of humor. Her beautician set her up with a guy on a blind date who has three ex-wives and brags about taking $20,000 in cash to casinos. “Woo hoo,” she says. “Do I look this desperate? Is this my new normal?”
We have a relative who has had a successful career in the telecom industry. Yet in recent years, there is no job security. Everything has changed. “It makes you paranoid,” he says. But it is the new normal in his business life.
Some friends in Buffalo have had heartaches and finally said they “had to get over it.” Yet, you really “cannot get over it, but you can’t keep blaming yourself” or it will devour you.
It could be argued that America is losing its edge and that our country’s “new normal” means economic hardship. It may mean our children will have it worse than we did. It means each citizen reportedly owes more than $50,000 in federal debt.
So, the “new normal” can be societal, as well as those people who are in pain and wondering why fate can be so cruel to them.
Lately, we seem to be seeing more and more people who are dealing with permanent negative changes in their lives. How do you cope when life throw you the ultimate strikeout pitch?
How easy it is to talk about the “new normal.” And how hard it is to really have to deal with it.
Well-meaning folks will tell their troubled friends to somehow find a bright side. They are alive. They live in a free country. Nobody is threatening to put them in jail. Even if the future looks bleak now, at least you have a future. Lean on your faith.
Mother Theresa always said when things look bleakest for you, go seek out someone who has it worse then you. Then you should reach out to them and help if you can.
At least when you do that, you can perhaps help improve that other person’s “new normal” even if you cannot see it helping yours.
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
134 - How do we replace Wyoming`s lost generation?
Wyoming may offer some opportunities for folks looking for a state job (despite a hiring freeze) or any other professional job due to something that occurred 25 years ago.
Riverton journalist Randy Tucker referred to this situation when he posed this question to then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal during a forum a few years ago: “What are your views of Wyoming’s lost generation?”
Folks who work in economic development are aware of what Tucker was asking about. And folks, who lived in Wyoming during the horrific 1980s, also know what he was asking about.
To just about anyone with a memory, the 1980s started out with a bang but quickly turned into a big bust as oil prices plummeted and jobs in the energy sector vanished.
Thousands of middle class families with children fled Wyoming never to return. This is what is meant by the lost generation.
In my town of Lander, we saw an entire middle class disappear. At one point, more than 600 homes were on the market out of 3,000. Our Main Street was photographed for the front page of the Denver Rocky Mountain News above the headline “Modern Ghost Town.”
Yes, times were tough. And a lot of desperate people just left. The jobs that required their considerable skills no longer existed in Wyoming. It is almost impossible to describe Lander as “mining center,” but it may have been the state’s biggest mining town, per capita in 1982. But it ended almost overnight.
Former Gov. Ed Herschler always said Lander was hurt more by the bust of the 1980s than any other Wyoming city or town. Besides the depression caused by low oil prices we saw all our mines close. The uranium mines that employed 2,000 people closed and 600 highly paid workers at an iron mine above Lander saw their jobs vanish.
So what about that lost generation business?
Gov. Freudenthal answered Tucker that evening by addressing a problem close to his heart, Wyoming’s 7,000 state employees. He pointed out that an abundance of them are approaching retirement age and there is a big gap in employees moving up in the ranks to take these soon-to-be-open jobs. It seems the workers in their 50s and 60s who are pondering retirement had been able to maintain job security back in the 1980s, when younger folks ended up losing their jobs or just moved on to other states. Another factor was that with no new jobs opening, there were no new hires.
Ultimately in the early 1990s, the Wyoming economy started bouncing back and by 2003, was booming again. Most people then were too pessimistic to believe we were headed for a boom, but by now, eight years later; most people are embracing that theory.
State government, as well as most of the school districts in Wyoming, is facing a situation where retirement seriously cutting the ranks of their employees. Where are the new employees going to come from?
The always-articulate Gov. Freudenthal, back then, also referred to the current economic windfall as a “childless energy boom.” It seems that people were moving to Wyoming but not a lot of kids were coming along. School enrollments generally were not booming. These projections fly in the face of the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent for new school buildings across the state.
Although it would appear that Wyoming is not over-run by state employees, the opportunity to allow workers to retire and not replace them would look mighty good to executives in other states.
Plus the state continues to have a hiring freeze over adding new employees.
National statistics are daunting when it comes to revealing how many government employees are in place today.
For example, today in America there are nearly twice as many government employees (22.5 million) as manufacturing employees, (11.5 million) according to the Wall Street Journal. Nearly half of the $22 trillion spent by state governments is spent on workers.
And, as usual, Wyoming looks pretty good compared to other states. That same Wall Street Journal article claimed Wyoming has six times as many government workers as manufacturing workers. Of course, these stats do not include energy workers, which I would argue could be a form of manufacturing.
But meanwhile, Wyoming employers (including the state) have to worry about a vast number of workers who are retiring or getting ready to retire. Who will take these jobs?
Sounds like an opportunity to attract some outstanding folks to the Cowboy State.
Thursday, September 01, 2011
133 - It is time to encouraging building power plants here
August was a cruel month for people and the utilities that serve them in the hotter parts of America.
The sights of what is called rolling brownouts occurring in many major cities as the power companies could not keep up with the demand to air condition homes, office buildings, retail stores and factories was a big news item.
One of the reasons for these power shortages has been the decisions of major utilities to suspend construction of coal-fired power plants in their regions.
And that may provide a wonderful opportunity to the state of Wyoming to get more directly into the power business.
It is now time for the leaders of Wyoming to become more pro-active in getting power plants built here in our state.
The advantages of having the plants here and exporting the electricity are so obvious. Good-paying permanent jobs are created. Property taxes are collected. Construction jobs are utilized.
My hometown of Lander was the leading “mining” town in Wyoming 30 years ago. Today that employment sector is almost non-existent. Why? Because it is much easier to close a mine (or shut down a natural gas field) than it is to shutter a power plant. Rather than remaining a colony, which provides the raw materials for big facilities in other states, we should create those jobs here.
Wyoming needs more plants to provide the power that the rest of the country desires. We need big thinkers in our big state to figure out how to do it.
I am a great believer in public-private partnerships. There are many big companies out there that are compelled by local officials to build power plants locally, thus providing jobs and property taxes in those states far from Wyoming,
But if Wyoming becomes a partner, we can insist that the facility be built here so we can enjoy the jobs and ultimately shift it to private ownership, so it would pay property taxes, too.
Our constitution has some restrictions against putting public money into projects that could ultimately benefit private concerns.
But perhaps now is the time for some big thinkers to come forward in our state government. Seems to me that we have lost most of our great visionaries. But a project like this one could perhaps bring these folks back to life.
Wyoming has almost $15 billion in the bank. How much better risk is there than to bet on ourselves?
How much better risk is there than to bet on the concept that the rest of the country is going to need power in the future? If there ever were a sure thing it would be that there is an almost unquenchable thirst for more electrical power going forward.
Are we tired of serving as a colony for powerful international interests that take our coal and natural gas out of here as fast as they can? Why don’t we figure out a way to control our own destiny and take steer these trends to our own benefit?
Personally, I love the concept of an energy reservation that would utilize coal-fired plants, natural gas fired plants and wind farms as ways of generating power plus money to build new power lines. For the fun of it, let’s call it Wyoming Energy Reservation (WyER).
To me, a concept like WyER is just what we need here in Wyoming, what with the national economic doldrums of 2011. It would be easy to find national investors to buy the bonds or put up the money in some other creative way during this time of stock market uncertainty.
New transmission lines would be a key to the success of the project. Much like the state’s public-private efforts to create pipeline authorities to help build outlets for our natural gas, it would need to be key part of this project.
Natural gas-powered plants would also have to be a major part of the mix.
So where would you put this energy reservation?
The Gillette-Newcastle area makes sense. As does Casper. As does the Cheyenne-Wheatland corridor. So does SW Wyoming. Even the Big Horn Basin and the Wind River Basins would be candidates. There seems to be coal and gas everywhere in Wyoming and there is abundant wind everywhere but Lander and Sheridan.
Finding the right location would be the least of our problems.
The time has come for our leaders to think more strategically on how Wyoming can create the future it wants for itself, without outsiders always dictating to us.