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Valley Voices, Mountain Dreams, an anthology

Review by Martha Quillen

Local Writers – February 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

Valley Voices, Mountain Dreams – An Anthology of Central Colorado Writers, 1998
Compiled by the Chaffee County Writer’s Exchange
Distributed by the Chaffee County Council on the Arts
ISBN 0-939101-04-1

THE FIRST ANTHOLOGY of the Chaffee County Writer’s Exchange is out, offering poetry, both rhymed and unrhymed, short stories, and even some non-fiction selections.

This collection runs the gamut from nature poems to love poems, to humor, in both prose and verse, and includes both traditional short stories and first-person accounts.

So there’s something for everyone here. But personally, my favorite pieces were the short prose selections set in our region.

In a story, place tends to set the mood, whether that place be the home of bayous, gators, cypress, and Southern dialect — or cactus, sheepherders, native superstitions, and a Spanish-English patois. Sometimes, however, I suspect a story’s setting looms so large it actually eclipses the whole point of the story.

So it was nice to read stories set where I live. In this case, familiarity bred a feeling of understanding.

Ann Cogswell, for instance, writes about being a lonely newcomer in a small mountain town, who finally comes to appreciate the place because of a good neighbor, Walt Fox.

He drove an old Chevy pickup and from the rearview mirror hung an Ortega chili pepper can that he used as an ashtray. Annie, his faithful shepherd, rode in the bed of the truck with her front paws on the roof of the cab…

The horses escape, and —

Walt Fox became my hero that day as he jumped into his pickup and rushed towards the highway in order to head them off and squelch their escape. I waited helplessly as he brought them home, fixed the fence and became my friend. He told me about the things that grew around our house and the critters that lived on our land. He showed me how to irrigate the grass and the way to fix whatever went wrong…”

Whether you’ve just moved to a small town from a major city, like the narrator, or you tend to view Buena Vista as a major metropolis, if you live in our region you’ve no doubt known someone very much like Fox. And thus it’s pretty easy to identify with the author’s deep affection for him.

The Hobbit by Barbara Merton Munyon depicts the trials and tribulations of trying to save transplanted trees. In her story, Munyon names, nurses, talks, and hand-wrings a litter of transplanted trees along — an experience I’m sure many high-altitude landscapers will identify with (although I suspect very few people are quite as passionate about trees as Merton.)

As her tale goes:

Hobbit didn’t die, but it sure was close… Around 1980, some heartless soul amputated his top for a Christmas Tree. I’m convinced he sobbed that night…

Like many of us, Hobbit wanted to grow in spite of childhood atrocities. He was determined to sprout again…

I’ve got to admit, I thought Munyon a little overzealous about trees, but I nonetheless smiled at her valiant devotion toward her beleaguered forest friends. Also, as the proprietor of a fenceline full of elms and a garden choked by saplings, I found it heartening to know that someone else was actually more sappy about trees than I am. Personally, I draw the line at setting my alarm clock to get up to check on trees in the wee hours. Yet even so, I thought Munyon’s story was warm, humorous, and heartfelt.

The Blue Box by Margery Dorfmeister tells the story of a woman trying to garden as she awaits the results of her husband’s recent medical tests. Dorfmeister does a great job of portraying the mix of anger, fear, and confusion elicited by this all too common experience. In The Mustang Boys by Suzanne Young an elderly couple encounters a group of pierced and tattooed youthful tourists, with some amusing results.

Altogether, Valley Voices, Mountain Dreams offers forty selections by twenty-three local writers. So I’ve touched upon only a small portion of the material. But the only criticism I have is that I missed the inclusion of authors’ biographies. Although the book listed a town next to each author’s name, it didn’t include those tiny squibs about the author that I’ve come to expect. (And the author’s hometown was hardly a distinguishing trait in a volume that included the work of twenty Buena Vistans, one Salidan, one writer from Fairplay, and one from Westcliffe).

Since for the most part I consider capsule biographies sheer fluff, I’m not sure why I wanted them. But even so I found myself paging through Valley Voices over and over again looking for them.

Upon reflection, I’ll admit that I didn’t even care what those biographies said. Whether the biography identified John Doe as a retired rancher — or instead revealed that he had spent the last decade at a local saloon absorbing local color for his work — seemed irrelevant. But print is more anonymous than radio or television, and sometimes it really does seem as though it’s all manufactured by some publisher’s syndicate in New York City.

Or maybe it just drops out of cyberspace.

Obviously, I know better than that. But even so I missed that sentence or two that establishes the writer as a real person who exists somewhere doing something besides writing. Besides, author bios were a small omission, and there are a lot of interesting pieces in Valley Voices to make up for them.

–Martha Quillen