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A Conversation with Craig Childs

In Tracing Time: Seasons of Rock Art on the Colorado Plateau (February 2022) Craig Childs bears witness to rock art of the Colorado Plateau—bighorn sheep pecked behind boulders, tiny spirals in stone, human figures with upraised arms shifting with the desert light, each one a portal to the open mouth of time. With a spirit of generosity, humility, and love of the arid, intricate landscapes of the desert Southwest, Childs sets these ancient communications in context, inviting readers to look and listen deeply.

Craig Childs has published more than a dozen critically acclaimed books, including The Secret Knowledge of Water, Atlas of a Lost World, and his most recent Virga & Bone. He is a contributing editor at Adventure Journal Quarterly and his work has appeared in the Atlantic, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. He lives in southwest Colorado.


READ: Tell us about a book that shifted your perspective in some way, and/or made an impression on you.

It seems that every book I’ve read has nudged or outright pushed my perspective over an edge. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez altered my course as a thinker and writer. His thorough exploration of landscape from so many angles, tying them together through narrative, was boggling and beautiful for me.

REVEAL: What was revealed to you in the process of working on your book?

After a lifetime of seeing imagery on rock, my perception of it has been forever changed by writing this book. I saw petroglyphs and pictographs as strictly enigmatic and indecipherable. It’s not that I’ve stumbled on some secret meaning, but I see them now in a framework of traditions where every nick and stroke is intentional and part of a larger ongoing narrative. What I used to walk by thinking, how enchanting, I now stop and talk to, recognizing subtle motifs and how they are employed across the great distances.

REEMERGE: What is feeding/nurturing you these days? What are you looking forward to or stepping in to?

I’ve been nurtured by crisscrossing the land this spring, returning to so many sites I’ve visited over the years, meeting up with family and friends, hanging out on a friend’s porch in Flagstaff listening to them sing and play guitars. I guess it’s connectivity that is feeding me. Time, place, and those I love.

Why Torrey House Press?

This book is for the people of the Colorado Plateau and those who’ve found a sense of belonging here. I can’t think of a better press to handle the subject. If I’d taken this to a larger press in New York, I would have been urged to expand the scope and make the story larger, when I wanted the focus sharp and about this desert around the Four Corners. I wrote this book to speak to a select group of people, those who had walked out here and wondered. On top of that, I prefer being with a press where I know the people doing the work. A passionate crew focusing on a small number of excellent books is worth it all.


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