Craig Childs

May 29, 2015


by Paul Cooley

Adventurer, author and kindred soul to desert hiking enthusiasts, Craig Childs, spoke to the Sedona Westerners on May 14, 2015 at their Spring Cookout held at the Elks Lodge in Sedona.

Craig Childs is known for his up close and personal, "in your face", descriptions of his hiking adventures in Southern Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. One particular example that he addressed before the Westerners was the beginning passage in House of Rain, where he is presented with a flash flooded Chaco Wash, being on the opposite side, from what is his intended destination. Childs, unlike most of us, jumps into the flooded stream and floats along for five miles along with tree trunks, sunken cars and other storm debris until he reaches his destination and exists the wash. His explanation for this behavior is the same explanation he gives for many of his adventures and why he is out with nature instead of sitting in a building in the middle of an urban area: when you are out there (in the desert) you follow your heart and your mind and are led by the landscape as it is presented before you.

Mr. Childs explains that "outdoors" is where we were meant to be, and where we were until fairly recent time. He says that he is interested in "context", that when he comes across an ancient artifact in the desert, it is like a time machine to him. He looks at the artifact as something that happened in that place before we were here, and transports himself, in his imagination, to the landscape as he imagined it was at the time of the creation of the artifact. When Childs made these statements, he projected before the audience a photograph of an Atlatl dart point which he stated was about 700 to 1000 years old.

Childs was exuberant when he explained that he liked to hike out in the desert with children (on occasion with his young son and his son's friend) and watch how they interact with the landscape and various artifacts that they come across. He theorizes that the behavior of the children are very similar to the same movements and actions of the ancient people that once populated the same landscape. He showed a short clip with the children interacting with a small waterfall created from a rain storm and animal bones that they came across during a particular outdoor excursion.

A particular, and some might say peculiar, activity of Childs on his outdoor ventures is drinking untreated water. He admits it may be "stupid" but he likes to drink from pooled water, where he can see the area that has drained into the rain pocket, and know what may be in the water, as opposed to drinking "moving water" where he does not know where the water has been and therefore would have no idea what is in the water. In his description of this, one gets the feeling that he ingests the water so that he is in touch in the most sensitive way with the land and the basic behavior of the ancient people that had lived in the desert before. Childs admitted that he did get sick once from what was a combination of this idiosyncrasy and his exuberance at finding a coyote skull and using the skull for the drinking container for water coming out of a spring in a cow pasture.

Childs addressed the question of what he does when presented with an unusual and potentially valuable artifact. In one instance that he gave, he and his hiking companion had discovered an ancient intact seed jar. It was all the more interesting because it had a crack in it that had been mended by using Yucca strands as mending thread. The question was to remove it or to leave it. It was decided they would leave it. The process of removing it may have destroyed it, as it was seen to have a multitude of cracks in it which were filled with sand. 11 years later, as a part of a Radio Lab program Childs, his wife and friend returned to check on the jar and discovered that the cliff face had collapsed and buried the jar under tons of rock. Was his decision the correct decision? If they had taken the jar to begin with, it would have been preserved for the future. But, was it theirs to be taken in the first place? Childs said he had to overcome the impulse to appropriate the jar, which, if he had done so, meant he became a part of the history of the artifact, intriguing, but not sufficient to overcome what was the right thing, as far as his ethics were concerned, to do.

Craig Childs lives with his wife and two children in the Elk Mountains of Western Colorado and was a neighbor to singer Joe Cocker until Mr. Cocker's death on December 21, 2014. Mr. Childs has written numerous stories and published several books including The Secret Knowledge of Water, Soul of Nowhere, The Desert Cries, The Way Out, House of Rain, The Animal Dialogues, Finders Keepers, and the just released Apocalyptic Planet.

Craig Childs

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