An Evening in Moab with Author, Adventurer, Naturalist and Poet, Craig Childs
Each year since 2005, I have visited Moab Utah in the fall. For my taste, the summers in Moab are too hot and the winters too cold. In the spring, the wind blows and the dust kicks up. In October 2006, I experienced almost fifteen inches of rain, but this fall the weather was as dry as a bone.
In October 2007, I was in Moab for a week and wanted to learn more about the town and its culture. Checking the events calendar, I saw that Craig Childs was in town, introducing his then new book, “House of Rain”. Until then, my only connection to Craig Childs was hearing him speak on the NPR program, Morning Edition. Not having read any of his books, I decided to go and hear him speak.
That evening, I arrived early at the Moab Information Center. With an auditorium that holds no more than seventy-five people, I was happy to sit in the front row. In the left-front corner of the room stood a stocky man dressed in clothing from the trail. As the attendees filed in and took their places on chairs or the floor, the man softly played a wooden flute. Only when he moved to the podium did I discover Craig Childs was the flautist we had just heard. Craig’s lyrical flute had created a mood for the slideshow and discussion to follow.
Demonstrating how important the book, “House of Rain” was to the career of Craig Childs, his personal website still goes by that name. Never using the phrase, “Great Disappearance” in that seminal book, his subject was the displacement Native American cultures from the Colorado Plateau around 1200 CE.
With painstaking academic research and fieldwork, alone or with paleo-scientists, Craig charted a course of migration that defined the culmination of the pre-Puebloan era. With Craig’s written guidance, I later visited and wrote about many of the places mentioned in that book. From Homolovi to Hovenweep and Mesa Verde beyond, Craig painted word-pictures of each sacred place.
In October 2008, I had the privilege of attending Confluence: A Celebration of Reading and Writing in Moab. Among the many guest authors, Amy Irvine, Jack Loeffler and Craig Childs each taught classroom and field seminars. The class was limited to forty budding authors, each paying $450 for the honor of close work with three authors. For his part, Craig Childs took our group a few miles north of Moab to a place called Seven Mile Canyon. There, among petroglyphs and sacred sandstone grottos, Craig encouraged each of us to feel the canyon sands barefoot before writing that day.
In October 2012, Craig Child’s latest book, Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth arrived at Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab. With a crowd of about 250 at Moab’s Starr Hall that opening night, Craig Childs proceeded to electrify the audience with stories of catastrophe and redemption. From a campsite on the rapidly melting Greenland Ice Sheet to the still warm lava flows of Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, Craig elucidated the constancy of violent change occurring all over the Earth.
Not wanting to use an electronic flash that night, I tried to photograph Craig Childs in a still moment. Gesturing to his own image on the screen behind him, I watched as Craig’s animated motions transported him into his own photography. Craig on the stage merged into Craig, sitting on the front porch of the doomed Greenland camp. Later, as he swept his arm toward a small patch of island greenery surrounded by an active lava flow, Craig Childs could have been Moses, pinpointing the place where he had found the stone tablets.
Although I had videotaped parts of the presentation, I later erased all of my video from that evening. Electronic media cannot do justice to the poetry of Craig's words and voice. Standing barefoot on stage that night, reading excerpts from his new book, I saw and heard the essence of author and naturalist Craig Childs.