[click "Play" to listen to Peter Decker's conversaton with Susan]
Saturday, November 27, 6 – 8 p.m, Telluride’s five-star Wilkinson Public Library and Between the Covers bookstore co-host a triple header: authors Peter Decker, Corinne Platt, and SarahLee Lawrence, each with a unique spin on the American West. The readings take place in the Program Room of the Library, followed by a meet-and-greet book signing.
In the comedy hit “City Slickers” about cowboys and mid-life crises, three disillusioned suits decide to participate in a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado in order to “find themselves.” All’s well that ends well: the guys go home. What happens if they had chosen to stay is more or less Decker’s tale of woe – or whoa.
In “Saving the West,” Decker revisits the theme of his non-fiction biography of Ouray County, “Old Fences, New Neighbors”: the cultural clash between the all-hat-no-cattle urban ranchers and old-time “dirt-bags.” (So named by the interlopers.)
Decker’s is not the mythic West of Louis L’Amour and Zane Gray. L’Amour and Gray wrote about heroes whose star billing has long since lapsed into cliche. Decker’s real-world hero does not peacock around like the boys in a John Ford flick are wont to do. His hero is feeling blue.
John Marlow is a fourth generation Colorado rancher who has lost his family’s spread to creditors. When the 60,000 acres are acquired by a New York investment banker and Marlow is hired to manage the old homestead as an environmental showcase, the cowpies hit the fan.
Pete Decker is what might have happened to Billy Crystal were his character not so attached to a fat pay check and loafers. Decker is, himself, a reformed New Yorker turned Ridgway rancher and agricultural consultant. He holds a Ph.D. in American History from Columbia University and once wrote speeches and served as a policy analyst for Senator Robert Kennedy during his presidential campaign. Decker also worked as a war correspondent in 1970 for the Associated Press in Vietnam and Laos. He moved permanently to his Ridgway cattle ranch – the Double D, named for his wife Deedee Decker – after he realized he preferred to look up the hind end of 1,000 heifers every day than attend one more faculty meeting. (Decker taught at Columbia and Duke Universities and Barnard and Manhattan Colleges.)
Pete Decker is also the self-appointed commodore of the Ridgway Yacht Club and a new best friend, a man capable of dispensing Darwinian truths with a twinkle in his eye.
To learn more about Decker and his latest work, “Saving the West,” click the play button and listen to his interview. And after listening to the interview, check out an excerpt from the book, below:
John first stopped at the Valley Hardware store. The usual gang of six retirees was huddled around the potbelly stove with their coffee and spit cans. The group traced its origins to an invitation some years ago from hardware store owner, Jake Kerrick to Slim Warren, an elderly local customer. Jake had suggested that Slim warm up by the potbellied stove and have a cup of coffee. Within a week, five of Slim’s friends, hearing about the free coffee, joined the gathering: a retired miner, a former ranch hand, a retired heavy-equipment operator for the county, the retired manager of the county dump and the high school history teacher who, town folks claimed, had retired the day after he taught his first class 35 years ago.
The group prided themselves on knowing everything that was worth knowing in Pine County. The men viewed strangers to the store with deep suspicion, recognizing that “outsiders” brought with them unwelcome change which, like a virus, could devastate a community. They called themselves, as did everyone in town, the “Circle of Knowledge.” When pressed, the Circle often bragged that they could predict the future even though they found it difficult to remember the past.