Colorado curmudgeon defends the rural West

  Review by Ken Wright





Ed Quillen isn't exactly a voice crying in the wilderness; he's more like that guy with a beer and a Camel Straight in his hand, yelling from the sagging porch of the house down the street - the one with all the weeds and the 1975 Jeep Cherokee on blocks in the front yard.


Quillen has been a columnist for The Denver Post since 1986, writing from the recently gentrified mountain town of Salida, Colo., where he also publishes Colorado Central, a monthly magazine dedicated to his area's small towns and rural life.


As any reader of his columns can tell you, Quillen doesn't rest easily in any of the handy traditional political or philosophical categories. He hates pandering politicians from either party and hypocrisy from both big business and the environmental movement. He distrusts concentrations of power, either political or economic, including the police (-It isn't the saying that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns," he warns at one point. "It's that if guns are outlawed, only cops will have guns." ) He also likes the impoverished, rough-hewn life once offered in Colorado's mountain towns and believes freedom should include the freedom to be both poor and irresponsible. And he loathes water diverters of any type.


And so on and so on, as he grabs another beer and sparks another Camel ...


You get the idea: There's something here for everyone to both cheer and fear. Deep in the Heart of the Rockies is a hefty helping of some of Quillen's finer ravings, doled out in brief and unconnected doses perfect for the outhouse privy (where Quillen would prefer to be read, I'm sure), or the top of the water closet of a modern mandated low-flow toilet (which he, of course, also gets around to poking fun at).


Quillen fires some of his literary mortars at growth in the rural West. "We mistakenly believed that more water, more industries, more tourists would make us prosper," Quillen muses. "We never saw a dime of that prosperity. And we lost most of those intangible qualities that made Colorado a pleasant place to live," where, he explains, "nobody made much money, but nobody needed much money."


Not only do our Western economic emperors have no clothes, Quillen believes, they're not decked out with morals or visions, either. Now, he mourns, "they're trying to make it illegal to be poor in Colorado."


Quillen has a clear sight on an enemy in this battle. "Apparently, the best way to ruin a community is to have it discovered by people with taste and money, who like the town so much that they move in and change everything they liked about it ... How do you destroy a laid-back and ramshackle little mountain town? Easy. Just add money."


So why doesn't Quillen give up and move on? "As to why I've stayed in Colorado, I suspect it's mostly sloth. Moving is hard work. It's easier to stay in place and put up a fight against all these folks who, merely to enrich themselves, are bent upon destroying everything I like about my home." n





Ken Wright writes in Durango, Colorado.