Old Friends

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Oz, not much of a reader, nonetheless finds books by my friends to be of comfort.

It is clear, if we start taking inventory, that I have a lot of books. Too many, really, for our down-sized up-size. I already have more books than shelves, and once I started toting up real estate yesterday, I realized that my self-reliant bookcase and the wall-length shelf that Dusty installed in my room do not come close to replacing all the shelving given over to books in the Before Time. So what I didn’t need to do is open another box of books.

I still have a lot of packed boxes from our move, many of which are labeled “books.” I’m sure you will tell me the prudent thing to do, if I boxed these books a full year ago and haven’t needed them since, would be to donate them to the library that currently isn’t open.

Instead, I opened Pandora’s box and found a trove of books written by friends. Of course I need to keep these!

Some of them are written by people, mostly poets, I don’t really know but who passed through Gunnison for one literary event or another. Others are written by people, mostly poets, who return to Gunnison time and again, who have become friends.

Chris Ransick, former poet laureate of Denver, did not become my friend, but he always recognized me, even if he couldn’t come up with my name, when I would approach him after a reading. I am sad that I missed his last visit to the valley, which came a few months before his death by pancreatic cancer last November.

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer of Telluride likewise has to ask for my name, but she will recognize me even as she sees me in the audience. I like her work so much that Lynn and I asked Rose Gaylen to read one of Rosemerry’s poems at our wedding.

Aaron Abeyta, who needs some day to be the poet laureate of Colorado for his lyric celebrations of deep family roots down in tiny Antonito, hard by the New Mexican border, has become a friend, and so has Art Goodtimes, mushroom farmer, basket weaver and county commissioner from San Miguel County. None of us are as good at staying in touch as we should be, and I don’t always make it to the literary events they attend in my corner of the world, so it’s good to have their books close at hand.

Then there are the people I already knew before they became famous authors. Hard as it is to picture, John Nelson was my seventh-grade science teacher before he abandoned the school classroom for the broader teachings of nature as a guide and outfitter. Along the way he became quite the cowboy poet, dispensing advice like never accepting oranges from your guide, who uses that fruit to clean the knife he’s used for everything else. Everything else.

I worked at the newspaper with Sandy Cortner, and then at Pat’s when she ran the Crested Butte Arts Festival. She did this area a huge service when she chronicled the stories of Crested Butte’s old timers.

Mark Todd and I met when I interviewed him about dog sledding. Since then he and wife Kym O’Connell Todd have roped me into all manner of things, including but hardly limited to: teaching at Western Then State, sponsoring the college rodeo club, learning Egyptian hieroglyphs, horseback riding, and reading drafts of their books.

Together they produced their Silverville trilogy, about a fictitious town in Colorado that might possibly resemble Gunnison. It starts with Little Greed Men, where any number of people attempt to cash in on a UFO sighting, and moves on to The Magick Outhouse. Lately they’re focused on more-or-less non-fiction accounts of ghostly locations, and Mark, a winner of several regional awards, also has several poetry books and a science fiction novel to his credit.

George Sibley, a prolific writer himself, once introduced me at some function by saying I had written “millions of words” about the Gunnison Country — a statement I only then recognized as true. George, who writes many millions more words than I do, is big on periodical writing, but on my shelf I have Dragons in Paradise, a book compiling several of those columnar efforts.

All of the books from these folks come from regional presses, but I do have some national publishers on my “local” shelf as well.

There’s the one book I own from nationally-known author John Barnes, once a faculty member at Western Then State. The one title I have is more fantasy, but he made his name in science fiction, and ramped up his stature considerably when he “co-authored” — which I’m sure means he did all the real work — a book with astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Sally Malcolm, who from clear across the pond in London provided the impetus for Lynn and I to meet, turned her virtuoso productions of Stargate fanfiction into several officially-licensed novels.

Last are the books from the people no longer here. I don’t know that I would call Mac McGraw a “friend,” but we certainly moved in a lot of similar circles, including many writing groups. (Mac, considerably older than me, surprised the socks off me one day when he announced he was going to his parents’ anniversary. It was their 75th.)

It never mattered who was around, for many years Mac would preface his work, always about the early days in Gunnison, about how none of us could ever know what it was like to be a real cowboy. He would say this repeatedly in front of Judy Buffington Sammons, a lifelong rancher in the valley. (She has written several books, and I’m not sure I own a single one. I need to rectify that error.)

Jim Greer, another man of many hats, including big-time business management, wrote about his days as a guide and outfitter. (He was also the subject of a John Nelson poem called the “Dally Mama,” about a guest who somehow managed to hook her bra on the saddlehorn — Greer flashed his knife and cut the offending garment in half.) If you were ever to meet a storyteller, it would be Jim Greer.

Artist and life student Pat Julio — man, I know/knew a lot of creative people with huge arrays of interest — came out with a cookbook a few years before he died. I’m not much of a cook, but it’s fun to page through, especially for the witticisms he posted at the bottom of each page. None of them come from him, but it’s very easy to measure his personality through his selections.

Like many names on my shelf, I met Ed Quillen, revered Denver Post columnist, through George Sibley’s Headwaters Conferences at Western. Ed and his wife, the writer Martha Quillen, once came over from Salida expressly to speak, gratis, to the fiction class I was teaching. Afterwards they talked about the period of time they wrote “adult” westerns, where the instruction came down from on high to write the “adult” scenes as a teenage boy imagined sex.

I think George is also the one who talked Betty Light into putting her poems in a book. She truly was a light in my life.

All of these books yesterday went directly onto a shelf of my new bookcase, right at eye level while I am lying nearby — a source of comfort and companionship that endures through the medium some naive people think of as “just” books.



One thought on “Old Friends

  1. I’m glad you are surrounded by such comforting friends. And they belong front and center on your first self-made book shelf. Especially as we are all on house arrest.


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