BEHIND THE BOOK
A CONVERSATION WITH MORGAN SJOGREN
a defender of wild places contemplates what it means to be an explorer in her forthcoming book
Path of Light: A Walk Through Colliding Legacies of Glen Canyon
As the only nonprofit publishing house in the Intermountain West, Torrey House Press is proud to publish some of the best environmental writing — and writers! Our work is only possible because of donations from readers like you.
How did you come to know Torrey House Press?
I first learned of Torrey House Press when they published of Elen Meloy’s essays, Seasons: Desert Sketches in 2019. Meloy is a major writing inspiration to me and kindred desert spirit. Then, that same year, one of my best friends, R.E. Burrillo signed with THP to publish his first book, Behind the Bears Ears. From listening to his experiences, I knew that THP would be a thoughtful and knowledgeable publisher for my book also focused on the Bears Ears and Glen Canyon region.
What made you decide to retrace Bernheimer’s expeditions? What were you most surprised to learn along the way?
In the span of one week, three authors asked if I had ever considered retracing Bernheimer's Expeditions. I had just bought a copy of Rainbow Bridge: Circling Navajo Mountain and Explorations in the "Bad Lands" of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona and was reading it at my camp, where I was living in a snowy canyon. His 1919 and 1929 expedition routes passed by my camp, which further intrigued me to figure out where he went and follow his routes.
The grandest realization I've had is that, in following something that speaks deeply to me, that journey may defy explanation for long periods of time. But in trusting that instinct—what Harvey Leake and Wolfkiller explained to me as the "path of light" or inner light—I found myself n a journey that transformed my life and philosophy in every way possible. I met people who became dear friends, connected with local Tribes, learned how little I truly need to be fulfilled, and found the meaning of home in the desert. Above all, the healing power of place is potent. This is among the most important reasons we must look to Indigenous people and help them protect the places they recognize as sacred.
It's all pretty wild considering this emerged from living in my Jeep and walking around with some dead white guy's confusing notes.
What does it mean to be an explorer?
I personally believe being an explorer is an actualization of our curiosity. This can be applied to learning about a new topic, hiking in a new area, or travelling to a new country. Exploration can also be revisiting the familiar and seeking a new understanding, going beneath the surface, or shedding light on a new facet of it.
Personal exploration I think is one of the most rewarding and important endeavors. When we are grounded in place with ourselves, and curious and in tune with our own growth and changes, we can be more present and available for what we are called to do in our outer lives.
The best part of exploration is that it is limitless, there are no bounds, and what is available for us to explore is directly linked to our ever-expanding creativity. It is my hope that the next generation of exploration is applied to resolving climate change, decolonization, and forging a sustainable way of living that considers all sentient beings, not just humans.
Where do you write?
I write everywhere. Often stories blossom in my head when I am out running or hiking. I carry my phone or a notepad to jot ideas down on the fly. I love hauling my notebook or laptop out to the sunny rim of a canyon.
Path of Light was almost entirely written outside. I holed up for weeks at a time in the desert, basing out of my truck or travel trailer, writing uninterrupted and immersed in the landscape I wanted to fill the pages with. And of course, the second half of the book was born from the experience of retracing Bernheimer’s 1929 expedition, hiking for over one month in Bears Ears National Monument and Glen Canyon.
My life is nomadic, so I have learned to be flexible and adapt to the writing conditions available to me. I prefer quiet spaces. Always out of the wind, even if it is lying down in my truck bed. I am a sun worshipper, but I am known to finish stories in temperatures well below freezing while my laptop battery threatens to power off from the cold. This fall I found myself living in a small rural Utah town on the edge of Navajo sandstone canyons and a wild river. A generous woman named Fran McKay welcomed me to house sit her home while she traveled to care for family. She is a book lover and even her bed is built on a platform of books. I am certain this has sparked an extra surge of creative force!
"There are some books that have reached me at just the right moment in my life and either made me feel less alone in something or opened my eyes to a new way of seeing."
— MORGAN SJOGREN
What impact do you hope your book will have?
There are some books that have reached me at just the right moment in my life and either made me feel less alone in something or opened my eyes to a new way of seeing. I hope this book can touch people who need it in these ways.
Studying Bernheimer's expeditions and journals exemplified to me how falling in love with a landscape can directly correlate with giving back to protect it. For Bernheimer, this was through his writing but also using his wealth to fund research and conservation projects, like a proposal to protect portions of Glen Canyon and Bears Ears as a National Park. It made me contemplate how I could use my love and means to give back, which has primarily been through writing, social media advocacy/education, and volunteering.
I am grateful and excited for this book to find its way into the hands of anyone eager or open to reading it. I hope Path of Light inspires people to contemplate ho they can become stewards of the place they love as well, both near and far from their homes. i hope some readers will join a conservation group doing the heavy lifting to protect a landscape dear to their heart, especially groups that are led by Indigenous people or heavily allied with Tribal Nations.
MORGAN SJOGREN is an author, explorer, and defender of wild places. Her writing focuses on human-powered adventure, public lands, conservation, history, travel, and food. Sjogren devotes much of her time to advocate, educate, and inspire others to help protect endangered landscapes and the environment. She is the author of The Best Bears Ears National Monument Hikes, Outlandish, and The Best Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Hikes. A nomad by nature, Sjogren lives on the Colorado Plateau and feels most at home in the wild.