Cody Cortez: A faux-file of the West's most mysterious writer

  • Stephanie G'Schwind


As fiercely reclusive as he is enigmatic, Cody Cortez is probably the most compelling Western writer you've never heard of. He lives off the grid and loathes the trappings of the literary life, spurning bookstore readings and appearances on National Public Radio. Among devotees, though, the pages of his books-in-progress, especially his memoir-in-the-making, Cowboy Rinpoche, have the reputation of sacred texts not unlike the illuminated manuscripts that Italian monks secretly pored over during the Middle Ages.

While his published ouvre is modest: a poetry chapbook, Meditating to Get Even, a children's book, G Is For Gerbil: The Creatures We Live With, and a recent critical study, Language Poets of California: Why?, the upcoming memoir may finally vault his hermitic genius into the consciousness of word lovers worldwide. HCN writer John Calderazzo caught up with him recently in an aspen grove in the high Rockies.

High Country News Cody, why all this wolverine-like reclusiveness? It's almost as if you don't really exist.

Cody Cortez First, I prefer to live with animals in the backcountry, a Thoreau-Bass-Lopez-Matthiessen-inspired deal; it keeps my writing from being culturally compromised. Second, I've finally decided to confront my past. It all started in 1959, at Camp Hale, near Leadville, Colo. During the Cold War, the CIA desperately wanted to stop the Communist Chinese incursion into Tibet, so the U.S. secretly flew more than 200 Tibetan fighters to Colorado for military training.


Cortez Well, one of those Tibetans, a tall Khampa warrior so intense it was said he could make an enemy's head explode just by meditating, struck up a romance with a former rodeo queen from Cody, Wyo., who worked at the camp and had a lively interest in Tantric sex, unusual for back then. But then Pop -- that's what I've always called him -- was shipped back to Lhasa, and likely died fighting the Commies. A month after he left, Mom discovered she was pregnant.

So I'm half-Wyoming cowboy, half-Tibetan warrior. Thus, Cowboy Rinpoche, which I think has a nice ring to it. My editor loves the book's haunting theme of abandonment mixed with stoic, high-altitude mysticism.

HCN What's your next project?

Cortez I'm plunging deep into the Colorado River water wars with a novel: Barista! The Girl Who Re-Watered the West. A hydrologic engineering student, who works in a coffee shop in Fort Collins, is pouring a cappuccino one day and gets this idea to divert part of the Mississippi River to the West. Something about the foam rising in her cup o' joe re-kindles a memory of a childhood trip to Hannibal, Mo., where she was shocked to see a volume of churning brown water unimaginable to most Westerners; the Big Muddy's a mile wide there. Her scheme calls for diversion tunnels which branch off to refresh the endangered Ogallala Aquifer and purify thousands of fracked oil and gas wells along the way. The remaining river water is then pumped to the surface in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, feeding dried-up Western rivers. Word is that Spielberg's very interested.

HCN We've also heard you're investigating the real reason behind Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe's denial of climate change.

Cortez I've got to nail down the details, but let's just say Inhofe's rage against climate science may stem from a hush-hush trauma in his childhood. Sources tell me he was a bookish and sensitive boy, until he found himself attending the same summer camp as a much more muscular kid from Tennessee, a bully all the boys called "Big Al."

HCN How have you managed to make a living over the years as a writer?

Cortez Ultimately, it's all about the work, about getting it done. Despite living frugally in the woods -- I kind of jump-started the mountain yurt movement, by the way -- it hasn't been easy. I used to ghost-write Himalayan travel stories for some big-name writers who couldn't manage to dig up the material I already had, thanks to all my pilgrimages back to Pop's home sod. I also did some movie stunt gigs. Remember the final scene in Thelma and Louise? Who do you think was behind the wheel of that convertible, wearing a red wig, with a parachute tucked out of view? The way of the artist is incredibly hard, but you've got to cowboy up.

Don C Foster
Don C Foster says:
Oct 05, 2011 06:19 AM
I was unable to find his children's book, "G Is For Gerbil: The Creatures We Live With" on Amazon. Any clues as to where one could find it?
Don C Foster
Don C Foster says:
Oct 05, 2011 06:22 AM
And thanks for the article. Would liked to have had a taste of his poetry.
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson says:
Oct 05, 2011 09:03 AM
Just to clarify, this profile (or as we called it, a "faux-file") was meant as a joke. Cody Cortez is a figment of John Calderazzo's imagination. Sorry we didn't make it more obvious that this piece, which appeared in our annual books/essays issue, was meant as a spoof. Sincerely, Jodi Peterson, HCN Managing Editor
Ron Heard
Ron Heard says:
Oct 05, 2011 10:40 AM
Ya Know... I think my humor is as well developed as anyone, but I also was searching for his books on Amazon. Don't you guys have better things to do... like introduce your readers to real writers who may need the exposure?!?
Dennis Murphy
Dennis Murphy says:
Oct 05, 2011 10:44 AM
Funny, funny. Enjoyed reading the article. Believed it till almost the end. Finished the article thinking, "B*ll Sh*t!!!" But still wasn't sure until I looked at the previous comments. One does need a powerful crap detector to sort through the environmental "literature" (pro and cons) Is John Calderazzo the real Cowboy Rinpoche? ;-)
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson says:
Oct 05, 2011 11:01 AM
The books/essays issue included profiles and Q&As with four real writers (in addition to this spoof), plus reviews of 6 new books, many from little-known writers who deserve more attention. See Sincerely, Jodi Peterson, HCN Managing Editor
Don C Foster
Don C Foster says:
Oct 05, 2011 09:11 PM
Yeah, so I received it as an email article, straight goods, no context. Perhaps a little too whimsical, this inside joke. My take.
Stephanie Lewis
Stephanie Lewis says:
Oct 06, 2011 11:13 AM
Oh man, I was so excited to hear about this guy! And pretty sad to realize he didn't actually exist.... I think we need more Buddhist cowboys.
melitta smith
melitta smith says:
Oct 06, 2011 04:49 PM
So the Thelma and Louise stunt should have clued me in? I'm from the staid Midwest and although it is pigeon-holing we secretly yearn for a little of the life in the wild, wild west. Sorry, even my world is full of people who would have done it for the thrill. I bit, hook, line, and sinker and wanted more. So I Googled him and found the site Brevity, where a side bar advertised in non-fiction a work by the author Dinty W. Moore. I had considered HCN the one place to find truth. Now, I will have to wonder if you are pulling my leg. Still, I enjoyed John's article.
Mark Harvey
Mark Harvey says:
Oct 09, 2011 02:20 PM
Hilarious! Pitch perfect.
Dennis Murphy
Dennis Murphy says:
Oct 09, 2011 08:04 PM
In this same issue there are four other articles on Western writers. When I finally went back to read these, I was fascinated by the discovery that so far the article about Cowboy Rinpoche is the only one with comments by readers.

Tried to see what the other articles have in common with each other and why the made up story is so much more interesting. Is it that the other articles read and look like the the back of dust covers? Is it the carefully posed portraits, all but one in black and white. Maybe we are not too impressed by the over loaded lists of degrees and accomplishments. And who caught our attention? Cowboy Rinpoche. Cowboy is probably just a real as any of the others. We just don't know exactly where to find him.
Sally Buttshaw
Sally Buttshaw says:
Oct 12, 2011 10:38 PM
amazing, I was excited that this guy existed too, except till he didnt. but actually it has been my idea for a number of years to build pipelines from the Mississippi and other eastern rivers to the west. it wuld help the east during flood season and would bring fresh water to the west where we badly need it.