Literature of place has been with us forever, from the heroic journeys there and back again (think Homer and Gilgamesh) to the writers-who-stay-in-residence (Dickinson and Thoreau). Whether we travel far or spend most of our time engaged with our local parks and backyard gardens, place has staying power in our hearts and minds.

This week, on my way to giving literary readings in Colorado and Arizona, I’ve been revisiting a few places in Utah and Colorado that inspired parts of What I Never Told You: Stories (2022). Seeing valleys and rivers that have never lost their grip on me, I wanted to share them with you, along with references to the book.

Here are just six photos taken on the road during the last, sweet days of September. I’m still traveling so can’t include shots of the wall at Nankoweap Creek in the Grand Canyon, or Sonoma Creek in my home valley, or my mother’s leafy hometown in upstate New York; but the sights, sounds, and scents of each of those places—and more—haunt me. They also work their way into stories and help shape the characters living in them.

What are a couple of places that have never let you go?

From “A Real Cafe”: “[Jack’s] truck hummed and his taillights burned red and receded beyond the sage and rabbitbrush. He was headed toward the music and dance floors of town, far past the bend in the road where the river sweeps south.”
From “The Road to Bonanza”: “[The driller] and Antonia had been on different schedules since before they met. Jet hadn’t slept in two days before arriving in Utah: he’d flown nonstop from Anchorage, checked in at the company’s Salt Lake headquarters, and declined to take a motel there, saying, ‘Too many temples in that town.’ He’d opted instead to drive the flatbed east up aspen-lined Parley’s Canyon and continue south of the Uinta Mountains to Lavern.”
From “Sandstone”: “Erv had dropped out of high school to work full time. When he got to the quarry job years later, he learned to detail the [dinosaur] bones right where they lay, with ice picks and soft-bristle brushes. That was the meanest work, the hunching over with tiny tools for hours at a time.”
From “Sandstone”: “They met at the library and sat out back at the picnic tables. The air was full of the sound of cars cruising Main and the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa from beyond the neighborhoods.”
From “A Real Cafe”: “Take Jack and me . . . when we first met, I found him as serious as sunstroke. He was all protocol on our raft-patrols of the winding canyons of the Yampa River and the deep, red gorges of the Green.”

Come hear more from What I Never Told You on October 4, 2023, in Grand Junction, Colorado; October 5 in Dolores, Colorado; October 6 in Durango, Colorado, or October 11 in Flagstaff, Arizona. More details here. I’d love to see you.

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Like “Place”? Find my 2023 International Rubery Book Prize shortlisted What I Never Told You: Stories (Wavegirl, 2022). And discover more short pieces here.

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