Novel and near miss

Larry McMurtry, the mule man and a couple of big fallen limbs

Larry McMurtry is my favorite novelist. I discovered him when I was 14 years old, after seeing the miniseries Lonesome Dove, a Western based on the book of the same name. My dad had videotaped the made-for-TV movie and I popped it into his combination TV/VCR one day while visiting his house. After a half hour, I was hooked. I sat glued by myself and watched the entire 6 1/2-hour series in a single sitting.

For a TV movie, it was epic. Like Thorn Birds epic, but better. I mean, it had cowboys and saloons and Indians and gunfights and brothels and hangings. And a cattle drive from Texas to Montana—the latter of which is one of my favorite places. It starred A-listers Robert Duvall, Angelica Huston, Tommy Lee Jones and a then-unknown Diane Lane.

I found out the novel was a Pultizer Prize-winner and binge-read it along with most of McMurty's other works, including many other Westerns. In college I started collecting hardbound copies, trying to find as many first editions as I could on a starving student's budget. A boyfriend of mine at the time managed to score me a signed copy of Lonesome Dove; not a first edition, but pretty cool anyway. I amassed a decent collection, although it's not close to comprising everything McMurtry's written.

I've converted friends of mine into fellow fans over the years by giving away or loaning out my paperbacks. Still, I realize I'm probably in an odd niche. So, what turns a teenage girl into a McMurtry devotee? For one thing, he's a master storyteller whose character development is unmatched. The other reason I can think of is that I grew up with horses and the idea of being on the open range with just my horse and my friends (and their horses) spoke to me. I fantasized about hitting the trail and leaving my adolescent problems behind.

So when I heard that a man passed through Chico with three mules and little else, and that he's done this all over the western United States, I knew we had to interview him. Staff writer Ken Smith tracked him down in Orland. He has a great story (see page 8).

Speaking of stories, check out Associate Editor Meredith Cooper's piece on Chico's stressed-out trees, which I'm paying closer attention to nowadays (page 10). That's because my colleague Jamie DeGarmo and I almost got nailed by a couple of falling branches. We'd walked downtown together last Wednesday in search of iced tea and stopped at her bank across from the CN&R on the way back. We paused just before leaving as I grumbled about something, and it's a good thing we did. As we stepped into the crosswalk at the roundabout, a tree on the opposite sidewalk started cracking and two large branches came crashing down, spilling into Second Street.

We stood dumbstruck as a bicyclist and a passing motorist, who also had a near-miss, pulled the long branches all the way onto the sidewalk. It was a close call.

Melissa Daugherty is editor of the CN&R