A greenhorn professor finds unexpected camaraderie and community when he takes a teaching job in Utah, challenging his preconceptions of small-town life.
Work (Windmills, the River & Dust: One Man’s West, 2005, etc.) serves up a gently humorous take on the classic “stranger in a strange land” narrative as he details his transition from an upstart English major in the 1960s to the lone non-Mormon professor at the College of Southern Utah. Accepting the position in conservative Cedar City on a whim, Work and his family sojourned outside of their comfort zone to experience a West that, while geographically not so distant, bore little cultural resemblance to their Fort Collins home. The Cedar Citizens forswore caffeine, tobacco and alcohol; attended their temple nearly every day; hunted jack rabbits with heavy artillery; and, in homage to the beehive’s omnipresence as Utah’s national emblem, sported heavily shellacked hairdos long after hippies had made straight, untamed hair fashionable. Despite some initial culture shock at the lack of coffee in the teacher’s lounge—a situation that the author countered by holding clandestine cocktail parties at his house for those willing to occasionally stray—Work came to respect his colleagues’ devotion to their faith as well as their industriousness and willingness to welcome an outsider. Musing on the prominence of deserts in religious mythology, he also explores the mystique of the Utah landscape and its powerful hold on the imagination, as well as the hidebound language that traditionally divides women’s accomplishments from men’s. Throughout this slim memoir, Work displays a genuine affection for his colleagues and neighbors that simultaneously allows him to spoof their eccentricities.
Distinctly regional in tone yet universal in scope, the book offers a cozy homage to a more innocent time and place.