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An inside look at Laramie County Library Foundation’s ‘Summer Soiree’ featuring Wyoming Authors

On a stage from left to right sits Grady Kirkpatrick, Dave Freudenthal, Bob Budd and Rod Miller.
Laramie County Library Foundation
Wyoming Public Radio
From Left: Grady Kirkpatrick, Dave Freudenthal, Bob Budd, Rod Miller

Wyoming Public Radio’s Grady Kirkpatrick recently moderated the Laramie County Library Foundation’s forum of Wyoming Authors. We present you with an inside look of the event.

Editor's Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Rod Miller: Calico Dreams of Wyoming. The Calico wife went mad again because the wind never stopped. Laundry mildewed in the hamper because the wind never stopped. She refused to walk to the clothesline because the wind never stopped. And he was never home. Why cook? Why clean? Name something lonelier than the wind when it blows both dust and snow through cracks in the house and never stops. It winds you into a curl on the floor. The clock stops but not the wind. The nightmares arise from the future, like pictures of great-grandchildren on 21st-century milk cartons that tumbled down a dry empty street that jump and bounce and go mad from a wind that never stops.

Grady Kirkpatrick: Rod Miller reading from his book of poems, “The Dog's Pancake.” Mr. Miller was raised in a pioneer Wyoming ranching family on a legacy cow outfit in Carbon County. He was part of the Summer Soiree in a conversation with Wyoming authors hosted by the Laramie County Library Foundation. Christy Wallen, director from the foundation, talked about the idea behind presenting Wyoming writers.

Christy Wallen: And thinking about who the authors are, we realized we have such talent in Wyoming. And this would become a series that featured Wyoming authors. And this year, we're just delighted to have Governor Freudenthal, Bob Bud and Rod Miller, as our, This Is Wyoming. So it's just been so much fun. And it seems like our supporters of the Laramie County Library Foundation just loved this event.

GK: The panel members discussed the inspiration for their books, all of which explored different facets of Wyoming. Rod Miller talked about the process of writing.

RM: Poetry in terms of language like Auguste Rodin, described as sculpture, and sculpture, according to Rodin, is just removing the unnecessary stone. And that's what a poet does. It's really easy, man. And poetry is the lazy man's genre of literature so it fits my pistol well.

GK: Former Governor David Freudenthal was on the panel and read from his book, “Wyoming: The Paradox of Plenty: The Allure and Risk of a Mineral Economy.”

David Freudenthal: Nearly every gathering of any size in Wyoming eventually turns into a discussion of the need to create jobs, diversify the tax base, and grow alternative economic sectors. Inevitably, someone brings up Wyoming’s singular dependence on the mineral industry for employment and tax revenues. How did this happen? They ask. After some rain pans and gnashing of teeth, the discussion dies and everyone returns to daily life. But the discussion shouldn't end. After one such discussion, my friend Butch, a successful businessman in Cheyenne, asked how Wyoming became so dependent on minderal taxes. Having been honored to serve as Wyoming governor, I felt obligated to answer. Of course, it was the passage of the first mineral severance tax in 1969, which coincidentally was the year I graduated from high school. Upon reflection, my response seemed too glib and hollow, a substantive reply needed research. Sadly, the answer is contrary to Wyoming's aspirational attachment to the cowboy ethic. The ruggedly independent self made carry your own westerner. Wyoming's reliance, some would argue addiction, to mineral revenue is not the consequence of a single action. A series of decisions and nondecisions over more than 100 years, submitted this reliance.

GK: Author David Freudenthal reading from his book, “Wyoming: The Paradox of Plenty: The Allure and Risk of a Mineral Economy.”

The book examines the political history of Wyoming.

DF: It covers from statehood to essentially 1987. And the reason it spans that is that the original tax structure was created at statehood during territorial and early statehood days. And then the most significant second transition period in the state's history was the energy boom with the onset of the severance tax, and then the corollary to that being that we took taxes off of everything else. So the span of it, it's hard to select out of that. What is cause versus what is correlation.

GK: The Summer Soiree also included author Bob Bud, a fifth generation Wyoming native. He's worked throughout the west on natural resource issues for more than 40 years.

Bob Bud: Most of my life lessons have come from ranchers. Almost every one of them tried to control nature at some point in their life and nearly all determined that notion as foolish as the idea of training a wife. There have been many others along the way. Miners and loggers, merchants and beggars, environmentalists, truck drivers and lawyers, artists and hermits. They are not uniform in their ethnicity, political party, intelligence, gender, age or sexual preference. The people who inspired this work hold three important constants. They are honest, sometimes to a fault. At the same time, they are patient and tolerant of new ideas. Most common to all of them is a deep reverence for the natural world, and the place humans occupy in that realm. We are part of the environment and that will not change. At best we are all learning organisms. At worst, we quit thinking and cease to challenge ourselves. When you live a long way from the end of the pavement, you come to appreciate things you will never understand. And you come to revere them as much for the mystery as the elegance. In doing so you honor your own short existence, and give way to those who come later to prove you both wrong and right. In doing so you find not equilibrium, but balance, you find a way to remove chaos from your mind and leave it where it belongs in the natural world. Sometimes you walk home from the barn and stare at the dirt. Sometimes you walk home and see only the stars, but always you come home to the people you love.

WK: Author Bob Bud reading from, “The Otters Dance: A Rancher's Journey to Enlightenment and Stewardship.” Mr. Bud talked about the primary audience for his book.

BB: I don't know that there is a main audience. I think the most humbling and gratifying part of this has been…that we were in Big Piney yesterday. And some of those octogenarian ranchers came up and had read it and said how much they appreciated it. And at the same time, I'll get an email or a text from someone who is in their 20s and never set foot on a ranch or rode a horse who find something in it. And to me, it's incredibly humbling. But I hope that is the audience because if we don't refind our middle and our radical center. I fear for where we go as a state and the nation. I mean, we've done everything we've done because we could find commonality over something. And this book is about finding commonality.

GK: One of the questions for the panel members was, how has Wyoming changed over the past 10 to 20 years?

RM: Geologically, nothing has changed and it won't until Yellowstone blows up. What is changing in the state and as much as we like to consider ourselves insulated from what's going on outside our borders and independent cowboy ethic kind of stuff…the state is more divided now than it has been politically, sociologically…and that's a hard pill for me to swallow. I often write and say in Wyoming, the word neighbor is a verb. Because you actually neighbor with someone. I think I'm seeing less and less of that. And my kids and grandkids I think it's gonna get worse in their time. I don't know what the antidote to it. Other than to point to the Constitution that Dave mentioned. If we, as citizens of Wyoming can live up to our Constitution, we'll be fine. Particularly the part that says all members of the human race are equal. If we can treat each other like that, then the word neighbor will have a little bit more meaning. But to do that, we've got to swim upstream against some pretty strong tides from outside our border.

DF: If you read Wyoming's constitution, it is an incredibly human document. At the time it was viewed as progressive. I don't even know what those words mean anymore, conservative and progressive, just a mess. What I do know is that our Constitution is a pretty phenomenal document, in terms of its expectations of an embodiment of essentially a wildling live and let live. It's a pretty amazing place and it's still in some ways, we are not going to hold on to it by looking back. We got to figure out how do we take these values and mold them into the world and say the world is molding them out of us.

RM: There's a great scene in Cormac McCarthy's “No Country for Old Men.” These two old sheriff's are talking about the crime spree down on the border and, you know, drugs and murder and you know, Texas kids walking around with bones through their nose and green hair. And one sheriff says ‘You know it's started when you stop hearing sir and ma'am.’ Stop having mutual respect human being to human being, which is unconstitutional in Wyoming.

Grady has taken a circuitous route from his hometown of Kansas City to Wyoming. Sometime after the London Bridge had fallen down, he moved to Arizona and attended Arizona State University and actually graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. ("He's a Lumberjack and he's OK……..!") He began his radio career in Prescott in 1982 and eventually returned to Kansas City where he continued in radio through the summer of 1991. Public Radio and the Commonwealth of Kentucky beckoned him to the bluegrass state where he worked as Operations/Program Manager at WKMS in Murray and WNKU in Highland Heights just across the Ohio from Cincinnati.
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