Water Book Club: Justice Hobbs’ Living the Four Corners

-William Cass

Greg Hobbs and grandson, K.J. rafting the Grand.

Living the Four Corners is a multi-dimensional journey through the Southwest and its people, land, waters and laws. At first glance, it could appear intimidating with its 420 pages and large, seven and one-half by ten-inch format. Thanks to good typography, the profusion of photos, and well-presented subject matter, it is a very worthwhile read indeed.

Noting the Cataloguing in Publication section confirms that the book covers a lot of territory in addition to law: Colorado history, poetry, water resources, government, education, and conservation along with essays on the Navajo and Philmont Scout Ranch. Then we realize that taken all together, these subjects contribute to a book which is also autobiographical.

Greg’s Brother Will Hobbs at Lee Ferry

Readers are taken on a wide-ranging expedition through life with the Hobbs family beginning with Greg’s origins as the son of a career Air Force officer whose assignments endowed a young Greg Hobbs with the perspective of having lived in Panama, Alaska, Virginia, California, and Texas not to mention extensive travel in Western Europe all by the time he was age eighteen. Living the Four Corners is an intensely personal journey with marriage to Bobbie, law school, legal practice in Denver, and the arrival of children and grandchildren; its essays and poems introduce us to all Hobbs family members and take us with them as they follow their passion for the outdoors as expressed in backpacking, river rafting, fishing, and natural history.

We meet Hobbs’ heroes, the men who helped shape him into the Colorado Supreme Court justice, family man, outdoorsman, poet, and writer that he is. Some of them are from the pages of history such as Abraham Lincoln. Other men have had a more direct influence: Colonel Gregory Hobbs, Sr., Judge William Doyle, General Felix Sparks, and Philmont’s Joe Davis to name a few. As have women who taught Hobbs the law, about writing, and of the Navajos and education: Herma Hill Kay, Kathy Winograd, and Katie Gilbert, respectively.

The judicial passages are not daunting to those of us who are not legal eagles, and all are sufficiently brief and crisply written with a significance that makes for interesting reading. Water and its related law are dominant themes in this book. It is easy for those of us who grew up in the verdant Allegheny Mountains to lose sight of the fact that water is a precious, if not priceless, commodity elsewhere – even if we have had a long association with the American Southwest. And that is one of the book’s great strengths; it takes “water law” and makes it personal and pertinent. For those who thirst for water law in greater depth, the second edition of Hobbs’ The Public’s Water Resource: Articles on Water Law, History, and Culture was published concurrently with Living the Four Corners, serving in effect as a narrowly-focused companion piece.  

Good poetry is like a great symphony or an old master’s painting. It deserves to be revisited from time to time. Readers who have enjoyed “Consummate Forester,” “Old Goose Down,” “On My Way to You,” “Rangers He and She,” and “Trekkers” will have an opportunity to enjoy them again among the nearly sixty poems appearing in the book. Yet the great value of the book’s poetry is the preponderance of new poems, many of which focus on water. What is remarkable is the way Hobbs frames such a basic material in that poetry – as a backdrop to Portuguese seaside cliffs, as the trout fisherman’s milieu, as carrying a wedding anniversary raft, as the source of seashells to delight a young granddaughter, as the carver of canyons, as one of the pioneers’ lodestars, as the farmer’s sine qua non, and as the shaper of history just to name a few.

Surely guiding many camper crews along Philmont’s Rayado Creek, appreciating the flora and fauna, enjoying a full arc, double rainbow over the bordering prairie, seeing distant ponds and lakes while enjoying a sunrise from atop Philmont’s highest peaks, and hunkering down during a mountain thunderstorm had something to do with how Greg Hobbs developed a passion for the environment and its related law.

Living the Four Corners is that rarity in today’s book marketplace – an absolute bargain. The book is richly illustrated, not just with many black and white photos, but also by an eight-page bank full of color photos. Where else can a reader get so much pithy writing and enjoy such an abundance of good photography for just twenty U.S. dollars?

William F. Cass is retired from a thirty-five year career as a Philadelphia marketing communications executive. He enjoys trout fishing on western rivers and mountain streams. Among his book credits are Harnessing Creative Power, Return to the Summit of Scouting, The Last Flight of Liberator 41-1133, and two biographies: Alaska’s Father Goose and Carry On!, The Life Adventures of Joe Davis.

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