I'm reading "Storm Watch, the new novel by Chuck Box. Y'all might know him by his nom de plume, C.J. Box, but to me he'll always be Chuck.
Chuck and I have some history that may or may not be fodder for a future column. I was a character in his first book, "Open Season," and way before he got famous he threw the second-best party I ever attended.
In "Open Season," published more than twenty years ago, the world was introduced to Joe Pickett, a game warden with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Chuck's protagonist. Scores of novels and a television series later, Pickett is recognized around the globe as an endearing Wyoming Everyman.
So, I had this brainstorm. Instead of just doing another book review, I want to talk about Joe Pickett and, more specifically, his footprints on the literary canon of the West and today's WGFD.
There is an entire generation of red-shirted, green pickup-driving Wyoming game wardens who came of age reading about and identifying with Joe Pickett, and I found myself curious about how that has affected their work.
So I called my source, a retired officer with the Game & Fish, to get the skinny. I'll not use his real name, to protect his glistening reputation within the outfit. For our purposes here, we'll call him Sweetwater Wally Omohundro, his stage name on the cowboy poetry circuit.
Pickett is notorious for trashing state-owned vehicles in the discharge of his duties, so I asked my source if WGFD has seen a marked increase in vehicular carnage in the last twenty years as new wardens emulated Pickett's driving skills. Omohundro said no, and in fact, damage to green pickups dramatically decreased after his own retirement from the outfit.
Quod erat demonstrandum. Or not.
I next asked Omohundro if this new generation of wardens spent as much time scouting the landscape for exploding cows and underground Taliban bunkers due south of the Desert Bar in Wamsutter as they do for poachers. Again, my source said "no," but added that it's always a good idea to keep an eye peeled for threats to our western way of life.
So I asked my source -- point blank -- if Joe Pickett had any effect at all on Wyoming game wardens. Sweetwater Wally became uncharacteristically pensive before he answered. "Yeah," he said, "he taught us a lot about how to behave as good humans."
"Joe Pickett ain't no gunslingin' western action hero. In fact, he's clumsy and not a very good shot." I could tell that my source was choosing his words carefully.
"Tough guys are a dime a dozen, and if you want ninja cowboy stuff, you gotta look to Nate Romanowski." Romanowski is Pickett's friend and a certified latter day kung fu falconer.
"Joe Pickett gets the job done through old-school doggedness, not shooting outlaws or throwing his political weight around. He knows the power of the personal. He knows how to connect. He'd rather talk an opponent down than shoot him down."
"Joe Pickett has caballerosidad," my source told me in his Spanglish drawl. "It's hard to define but it's something like a gentlemanly state of cowboy-ness."
After a lengthy pause, Omohundro concluded, "So yeah. I like to think that part of Pickett has rubbed off on us all a bit."
I couldn't have said it better. I think that's the legacy Chuck Box leaves us through his hero, Joe Pickett. Pickett loves peace, his family and his state. He is a walkin', talkin', truck-wreckin' exemplar of the Code of the West, warts and all. We should be grateful his lives among us.
ps.Sweetwater Wally Omohundro is NOT Walt Gasson.