Geographer’s book binds ‘intricate, complex landscapes’
HOTCHKISS – From the spacious lens of glass on the second floor of the Leroux Creek Inn near Hotchkiss, a viewer sees well-manicured vineyards stretching into the distance and the gentle fall of land dipping north to the North Fork River and then climbing again to the distant mesas and patchwork tablelands of Fruitland Mesa.
All of us, asserted writer/geographer Wallace Stegner, are “conditioned by climate and geography, ” those “forms and lights and colors” of the natural world that have shaped us.
For Thomas Huber, also a geographer and author, the landscape stretching out before his gaze brought to mind another “climate and geography” – one more similar than different: that of the Provence region of southeast France.
“Seventy-five percent of the two valleys are the same,” said Huber Saturday afternoon, standing on the inn’s flower-laden deck just prior to a dinner marking the West Elks Wine Trail celebration. “The main difference is the vineyards here are 15 years old while the vineyards in Provence are 2,000 or more years old.”
Shaky history aside – vineyards have been planted in the North Fork Valley for much more than 15 years – it was fitting that Huber was in Delta County this weekend for the fourth annual West Elks Wine Trail, a celebration focusing on local-produced wines and foods, with several of the West Elk AVA wineries hosting special dinners.
Americans are wont to source, correctly or not, the current trend of locavore-istic noshing to ‘les agriculteurs et viticulteurs’ of the French countryside (and to a degree that of Italy and Spain) and Huber’s most-recent novel “An American Provence” is a scholarly and highly entertaining treatise on the connective roots shared by people thousands of miles apart who love and work the land.
Inspiration for the book came during an early morning amble in 2002 when Huber and his wife Carole first visited Leroux Creek Inn and Vineyards, owned and operated by Yvon Gros and his wife, Joanna Reckert.
“For an instant my sleep-addled brain found itself in Provence,” writes Huber of that first morning wandering through the inn. “An instant later the mental fog lifted and I was back in western Colorado but wondering why the Provencal image had not flashed into my mind sooner.”
He already was familiar with Provence, thanks to visits there with French-born Carole to visit her mother, who had raised her daughter to “love and honor France and Provence.”
Huber, a geography professor at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, found a particular connection between the North Fork Valley and that of the Coulon River valley in northern Provence.
That connection, Huber said, “set in motion my desire to chronicle, these two complex, intricate, and intimate landscapes.”
He notes the differences in the geology (Provence has thick beds of limestone while the North Fork Valley is predominately sedimentary shales) and the different plants and trees.
“But really, there is the same valley terrain, the same aspect, the same sort of ‘garrigue’ and the same type of people focused on the landscape and working that landscape,” he said while speaking to some of the 60-plus guests attending Saturday’s Provence-style dinner prepared by chef and winemaker Yvon Gros.
Curiously, “garrigue” refers to a Mediterranean, limestone-rooted shrub ecosystem but it’s also a term occasionally heard in wine tasting referring to the warm, earthy scents of autumn often found in rustic-style wines.
With chapters with such titles as “Places”, “The Land”, “Villages”, “Wine” and “Food”, Huber takes readers on an intimate journey into the unexpected intertwining of two cultures separated more by distance than outlook.
As Gros, himself a native of Provence, said, only half in jest, “Perhaps Tom’s book will convince people who don’t want to travel to France to come and get a brief taste of the Provence in the North Fork Valley.”
“An American Provence” was published by University Press of Colorado and is available through Amazon.