Cortez author Chuck Greaves, aka C. Joseph Greaves, has written yet another notable work with the release of “Church of the Graveyard Saints.” This far-reaching novel covers a wide range of issues that are close to home in Durango and much of the Southwest.
Addie Decker, a young woman who was born and raised in McElmo Canyon near Cortez, is returning home to help bury her beloved grandmother, Vivian. Her family has owned the Triple R Ranch (Red Rock Ranch) for generations. Addie’s ancestors were Mormons, who set out for Utah but moved east to Colorado. Her grandmother will be laid to rest alongside their ancestors.
Addie is returning from UCLA, where she is a graduate student. With her is her boyfriend, Bradley Sommers, head of UCLA’s Center for Climate Change. His current aim is to thwart the efforts of Archer-Mason Industries in their attempt to expand extraction of carbon dioxide near Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, which just happens to be right next door to the Triple R.
The ranch is run by Addie’s father, Logan, with some help from her elderly grandfather. There is some discord between the two men on what to do about offers from Archer-Mason for their mineral rights. The ranch is failing because of the drought and other factors that threaten many small agricultural family -un operations in the Southwest. The mighty corporations of gas and oil bring jobs and money into areas that lack a robust economy and opportunity. Many find it hard to turn down the money.
But there is a dark side to the industry that is hard to ignore, though many try. There are dead livestock, bad water and poor crops. Even more difficult is the human cost. Strange illnesses and higher numbers of stillbirths among families where they either live or work near the wells. This is a classic example of new West versus the old West. The changing needs, and wants of a growing Earth’s population, slam against the preservation of nature and wilderness.
In addition to confronting her father, who tried to keep her from going to California for college, Addie must interact with her former boyfriend, Colt, and best friend, Brenda from her high school days.
When Addie left for college, she alienated both of them and was not surprised when she learned that they married each other. Now back, she’s surprised to learn they divorced.
After Vivian’s funeral, Addie and Bradley proceed with a plan to gain local support to block Archer-Mason’s plan to expand. Their efforts result in creating strong feelings and divisions in the area with a surprising and violent result.
Greaves has created a masterful sense of place in his depiction of the Southwest, especially of a small town with ranching roots. The history of the land and the people who populate it are interwoven into the very fabric of a plot that could grace the headlines in current news cycles.
Greaves’ main characters, Addie, Logan and Bradley, and others have rich, complicated inner thoughts. No one is all good, bad or sure of their role in their lives. There are regrets, challenges and complications that drive them in their choices and goals. “Church of the Graveyard Saints” is a novel with many layers with lots of questions, and some answers. One of the most important in this story is, can you ever really go back home?
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.