RIDGWAY – Ridgway rancher Peter Decker has written non-fiction all his life. As a young man he reported from Vietnam for the Associated Press. As a professor at Columbia and Duke Universities, he wrote history. Now he’s written a novel, his first.
“It may also be my last,” Decker said, laughing. “Writing history, all the facts are there; you just fill in the blanks. This [fiction] was hard. It’s all in your imagination.”
Decker’s new book from Western Slope Press is Saving the West. He calls it “gentle satire.” The title is ironic.
Peter Decker will be signing copies at Cimarron Books and Coffee House in Ridgway from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27. Then from 6-8 p.m. the show continues at Between the Covers in Telluride.
Readers may be familiar with two of Decker’s previous books. The first, Old Fences, New Neighbors, from 1998, described the sometimes-painful transition in Ouray County from traditional mining and ranching economies, and cultures, to the new paradigm of recreation and hobby ranching. The Deckers, Peter and Dee Dee, straddled both worlds. They are not old-timers. They arrived in 1974 from intellectual careers Back East but ran their Double D Ranch with utmost old-school seriousness. (Peter’s online bio pokes not-so-serious fun at his reasons for coming west: “He recognized that he preferred to look up the hind end of 1,000 heifers every day than attend another university faculty meeting.”)
Kirkus Review said Old Fences, New Neighbors is “like the county it chronicles: small, but brimming with instructive examples of the hard choices facing the denizens of America’s last, best places.”
Decker’s other recent book, from 2004, is The Utes Must Go!: American Expansion and the Removal of a People.
Asked if Saving the West is based in his own experience, Decker demurred. “But you’ll recognize some of the characters,” he said.
It’s about a fourth-generation rancher named Marlow who loses his 60,000-acre spread to creditors. The ranch is saved from development by a national land conservancy whose chairman, a leading New York investment banker, ends up buying it himself and hiring Marlow to run it, a scenario that’s bound to ring some bells in the Ridgway area. This banker sponsors an annual Saving the West conference in Durango.
“Some Easterners,” Decker explained, “believe they have an almost god-given responsibility to save the West. The book is about the assumption that there are different cultures at work in the city and in the country. And they are not always in sync. In fact, at times they are very much at cross purposes.”
Hardly sounds like fiction at all.