Brad Feld

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Book: Ted Conover’s Colorado

Jan 17, 2023
Category Books

I read two books by Ted Conover over the weekend.

Amy gave me the first one as a present. A few years ago, we bought a bunch of land about an hour’s drive away from Aspen. I’ve been spending a lot more time in the middle of nowhere Colorado, especially now that I have a trailer on the land and Starlink. My hikes and trail runs (without Starlink, but with a Garmin inReach for safety), which are still in the day hike category, take me deeper into the middle of nowhere.

Amy’s been highly supportive of this new hobby of mine. She’s not interested in the hiking or trailer, but she likes to visit the middle of nowhere for limited periods, as long as she gets to drive back to Aspen.

Conover’s Cheap Land Colorado was outstanding. He writes about his experience in the San Luis Valley, where he lived part-time for extended periods (commuting back to New York to see his wife and teach at NYU.) Conover didn’t just observe – he became part of the community. He eventually bought some land and made it habitable for him. The texture of his writing is beautiful. The characters are fascinating. The history was all new to me about a part of Colorado I know little about and have only been to once when I visited the Great Sand Dunes.

Looking through his biography, I noticed another book by him titled Whiteout: Lost In Aspen. He’d written it 30 years earlier. After Amy and I bought a place there in 2017 and started living there part-time, I read a few books about the history of Aspen. But I hadn’t read much recently other than The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden, which I discovered when reading the extremely disheartening Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West.

Even though it was written 30 years earlier, Conover’s style was similar. Whiteout: Lost In Aspen (as does Cheap Land Colorado) takes an ethnographic research approach, similar to what I learned from a graduate school class I took with John Van Maanen in 1988. In the parallel universe / path not taken life, I’d be an ethnographer. Maybe there is still time.

Aspen of 1991 has a lot of similarities, and issues, to Aspen of 2022. As I’ve gotten to know people who have lived there full-time for more than a decade, I hear many of the same complaints that appear in Whiteout. The names of the restaurants are different, but the feel of the town and surrounding area is the same. The notion that Aspen was about to lose all of its beauty and special magic was a big part of the narrative in 1991 and is still around today.

Amy and I have lived in Colorado for over 27 years. This is home now. Conover writes beautifully about it.