Jay Cowan: The bard of Woody Creek
December 29, 2017
Gaylord Guenin, the bard of Woody Creek who passed away recently, was of French-Huguenot stock. I know this because he wrote it to me in the first contact I ever had with him, more than 40 years ago. He was the editor of Mountain Gazette and I had written an unsolicited satirical piece for them that was harshly rejected by someone on the staff who considered one passage insensitive to a particular group of people. When I objected to that characterization, Gaylord wrote to explain to me that even though he understood what I was trying to say, and was himself of French-Huguenot descent with no real dog in the race, he too thought I had over-stepped.
He was right, of course. It turned out to be typical of the man. The note was an unusually long one to a young nameless writer whom most editors would have curtly dismissed out of hand. But Gaylord was warm and generous and funny, in addition to being a very good writer and editor, most likely due to those qualities. And once he moved to the Aspen area, I got to know him well.
It deepened my understanding and appreciation of him when I learned he was born and raised in Montana. Having arrived in Aspen from Wyoming, myself, I felt a kindred spirit with him, in a community where most were either third- and fourth-generation locals, or from various chic places around the globe that didn't usually include nearby and largely rural states.
Gaylord found his true home in the area fairly quickly and spent most of the rest of his life in Lenado and Woody Creek. Having lived there for years myself, I know what he appreciated about it. Though it was fun and convenient to hang in Aspen off and on, we both preferred the slower paced, friendlier lifestyle in the county's less self-absorbed reaches.
In addition to its many charms, Woody Creek has had a lively tavern for years, much on the model of Gaylord's Montana — a place where important business and socializing always happens in ranching and farming communities and to which Gaylord was instantly drawn like a native. It was a great fit for everyone, since it gave Gaylord a stage, generated attention for the bar and worked for people like me who usually knew where to find him and have a good talk about almost anything.
He wrote clever ads for the tavern; smart, sensitive columns about life in his world just a few miles and half a century away from urban Aspen; and co-authored a definitive book on Aspen's "Quiet Years," with Kathleen Daily. Gaylord held court at the Woody Creek Tavern, inviting the Bush and Thatcher entourages there during their visit to the Aspen Institute, and putting out tip jars for the alleged swindler Ken Lay and the alleged actor Don Johnson at different times, to sarcastically help them through financial difficulties. He was one of the first and primary sources of information about the death of his close friend Hunter Thompson as reporters besieged the tavern. And he always kept us apprised of his dogs, his recipes, and comings and goings at his home in the old sawmill camp of Lenado.
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Every time another iconic member of the local community passes we lament that we will not soon see their like again. Never was that more true than with Gaylord, and once again we are all poorer for it. I will miss his acerbic wit, his pungent descriptions, huge grin and eager, informed engagement with the world, that easy laugh, and even his occasional tempers. I will miss one more good and decent human in a world sorely in need of them. RIP.
Writer Jay Cowan lives in Snowmass.