Vail Daily column: A One Valley mystery
See, I figured this guy for some native-born rancher who toyed with writing when he got bored chasing cattle and playing a beat-up harmonica.
But no. This isn’t quite a tale of yee haw, good gosh and then some fancy folks in New York published this here story out of the blue and told me to keep going.
Wyoming local, indeed. This ol’ boy was college educated. In the arts no less. Not only that, he’s another in a long line of Easterners come West, in love with our open spaces and the cowboy myth. A regular Teddy Roosevelt, Sam Clemens, Edward Abbey, Zane Grey. Another of this tribe, David Gessner, tracked Abbey and Wallace Stegner through the West in “All The Wild That Remains,” a 2015 title well worth your attention.
I already knew by reading Annie Proulx and watching Dick Cheney that there’s more to Wyoming than might meet the eye. Maybe this helped tip me off.
Suspicious isn’t quite the right word, but the blue jeans, cowboy stance to go with the hat, and the country yarns came with this odd dissonant note when he spoke to a full house at Colorado Mountain College this week. Dude was dropping references to Shakespeare, Stegner, Steinbeck and the human condition for chrissakes. And all too naturally. You know, like he’d actually read them, maybe even more than once.
OK then. Fine. Guess I will buy one of Craig Johnson’s books. I had rather studiously, with maybe a nose in the air, avoided the whole Longmire thing — the books, the TV series, the One Book One Valley campaign.
Last year’s One Book One Valley featured one of my wordsmith heroes, Craig Childs, and “Finders Keepers.” My kind of writer, too, one of those who got out and lived rather than tacking on letters to his name from fluorescent experiences in MFA programs and such.
I’m a Louie Amour and Tristan Jones guy. You know Louie even if you’ve never read him. Tristan was a Brit who turned a life mainly in the merchant marines into a sort of retirement sailing his little boat everywhere from the Arctic (getting stuck) to Lake Titicaca. He wrote thrillingly if perhaps with, ahem, exaggeration about the experiences.
Point is both these guys lived, sometimes hard, as well as obviously read a lot, too.
I started to get that feeling about Johnson as he regaled us with stories, each funnier and more slyly insightful as he went along.
My one act of rebellion here was to choose a different book than the One Valley dictate — so, there! — and I got in line for the signing.
Lady ahead of me was engaged with Johnson as they chatted about his “Jack Kerouac” period traveling and moving across the country and doing all sorts of different things before he settled in Ucross, population 25. He made a joke about MFA programs and students aiming to write tomes about … the MFA experience. I think he snorted, though softly and good naturedly. And quoted Steinbeck again.
You know what I’m thinking by now.
Rancher, my ass.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2920.