Holy Chicken Little, Batman, we didn’t see that coming! The door plug that blew off an Alaska Airlines jetliner in January made an unexpected landing in the yard of a Portland science teacher, KOIN 6 reported. It detached itself just minutes after the Boeing 737 took off from Portland and plummeted 16,000 feet, only to crash into a tree in Bob Sauer’s backyard. “In the flashlight beam, I could see something gleaming white in the trees in the back that isn’t normally there,” Sauer said. “And when I went to investigate it, it was very obviously a plane.” Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were delighted to retrieve the 65-pound, 4-by-2-foot chunk of airplane. We pause here for a safety reminder that even plugged emergency exits are never intended for mid-flight use. 

Speaking of airports, there’s good news: Portland International Airport introduced two therapy llamas, Beni and Prince, to help calm stressed-out passengers during peak holiday traffic, Oregonlive.com reported. Perhaps these no-drama llamas can also reassure anyone anxious about airplane door plugs crash-landing on their head while they’re visiting Portland. The city is a veritable mecca of cool vibes, and what better way to uphold its weird reputation than by greeting visitors with goofy quadrupeds straight out of a Dr. Suess book?

Credit: Armando Veve/High Country News


Never judge a book by its cover, or a cat by its cuteness. Fox59.com reported that the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City recently acquired Gaia, an adorable cat native to Africa. Gaia is a black-footed cat — though “black ops” cat might be a more accurate name for a species regarded as the deadliest hunter in the entire cat family, with an estimated successful kill rate of 60%. According to the PBS miniseries Super Cats, these “sneaky” little cats are capable of extraordinary patience, willing to wait, completely immobile, for up to two hours to pounce on their prey. So don’t be fooled by this new kitty’s cuteness; she means business. Black-footed cats are likely the smallest cat on the planet, with adults weighing between 2 and 5 pounds and standing about 8 inches tall. The species is listed as “vulnerable” due to habitat loss, and the Black-Footed Cat Consortium, which brought Gaia to Utah, is initiating breeding programs across the country. Fortunately, the Hogle Zoo already houses a male named Ryder. Here’s hoping that Gaia will decide to swipe, or paw, “right” when she finally meets Ryder.


Rangers cited Hollywood superstar Pierce Brosnan for “foot travel in a thermal area” and “closure violation” after he was spotted leaving the boardwalk at Mammoth Terraces in Yellowstone National Park last November, Backpacker.com reported. Bond, James Bond, wouldn’t be the first, or last, sightseer to ignore the many warning signs plainly displayed throughout the park. The park sees millions of visitors annually, and those who don’t comply with the park’s rules — legendary spies or not — too often end up getting burned or otherwise seriously injured. The Los Angeles Times reported that the actor, who pleaded not guilty, has a hearing scheduled for Feb. 20. Perhaps Brosnan was doing research for a sequel to the 1997 film Dante’s Peak, in which he played a volcanologist who visits a quaint mountain town (played by the quaint mountain town of Wallace, Idaho), where a slumbering volcano threatens to destroy all life within a hundred miles. Well, we’ve got an idea: Why not make a film about Yellowstone’s own massive volcano and spice it up with the cast from Mamma Mia? We can see it now: Caldera, The Musical: The West meets its “Waterloo”! 


Brian Hinds, an amateur herpetologist, was tooling around the San Joaquin Desert back in 2020 when he found an unusual yellow scorpion in a pile of debris. SFGate reported that he posted a photo to the iNaturalist app, but only recently was it determined that it’s an entirely new species, Paruroctonus tulare. (Better not say that while waving your magic wand.) Not only did Hinds discover a previously undocumented species, he also likely prevented it from becoming extinct. Lauren Esposito, the California Academy of Sciences’ curator of arachnology, thought it was only a matter of time before the scorpions’ den would have been bulldozed over, and the species could have disappeared before ever being identified. While this is clearly a triumph for scorpion aficionados, members of the arachnophobe community may find themselves asking: Do we really need yet another terrifying critter to worry about?   

Tiffany Midge is a citizen of the Standing Rock Nation and was raised by wolves in the Pacific Northwest. Her book, Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s (Bison Books, 2019), was a Washington State Book Award nominee. She resides in north-central Idaho near the Columbia River Plateau, homeland of the Nimiipuu.

Tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write heard@hcn.org, or submit a letter to the editor

This article appeared in the March 2024 print edition of the magazine with the headline “Heard Around the West.”

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