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The Secret Knowledge of Water : Discovering the Essence of the American Desert Paperback – May 1, 2001
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The "essence of the American desert," as the subtitle of Craig Childs's book has it, is water. A desert, by definition, lacks it, but when water does come, it comes in torrential, sometimes devastating abundance. Childs, a thirtysomething desert rat with a vast knowledge of the Southwest's remote corners, knows this fact well. "Most rain falling anywhere but the desert comes slow enough that it is swallowed by the soil without comment," he observes. "Desert rains, powerful and sporadic, tend to hit the ground, gather into floods, and are gone before the water can sink five inches into the ground."
The travels that Childs recounts in this vivid narrative take him from places sometimes parched, sometimes swimming, from the depths of the Grand Canyon to the dry limestone tanks of the lava-strewn Sonoran Desert. As he travels, Childs gives a close reading of the desert landscape ("the moral," he writes at one point, "is that if you know the land and its maps, you might live"), observing the rocks, plants, animals, and people that call it home. Some of his adventures will remind readers of Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire--save that Childs writes without Abbey's bluster, and with a measured lyricism that well suits the achingly lovely back canyons and cactus forests of the Southwest. By turns travelogue, ecological treatise, and meditative essay, Childs's book will speak to anyone who has spent time under desert skies, wondering when the next drop of rain might fall. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Childs's obsessive quest to find, map, observe and get wet in the waters of America's deserts has personal roots. Born in the Sonoran Desert of West Texas, this naturalist, river guide and author of four previous books (most recently, Grand Canyon) grew up learning to revere water, that fickle, scarce, elemental sustainer of life. More than a fiercely lyrical travelogue through Arizona, Utah, the Grand Canyon and northern Mexico's cottonwood-willow forests, his hypnotic new book describes an existential adventure. Trekking for days or weeks, alone or with a companion, in search of random waterholes, rare creeks, waterfalls, springs, shrimp-filled pools and sudden, furious floods, Childs mingles personal observations with a cosmic perspective ("Most, if not all, water on this planet came from countless small comets thumping against the atmosphere... ") to make readers feel an integral part of earth's hydrologic processes. Far from being arid, his narrative ripples with adventure. He descends into a slot canyon full of 800-year-old handprints left by the Anasazi people; spots desert fish found nowhere else and believed to be holdovers from the Ice Age; survives an Arizona chubasco, a violent convective thunderstorm that rips roofs off buildings and creates myriad waterfalls. Childs's sources are diverse: conversations with archeologists, ecologists, ranchers, conservationists, geologists; Native American legends; tales of backpackers, explorers and illegal immigrants who fell victim to the desert; and a meticulous, 300-year-old desert map made by a Jesuit missionary from Spain. His highly personal odyssey combines John McPhee's gift for compressing scientific knowledge and Barry Lopez's spiritual questing. Five-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Until I read Craig Childs' essay, I never gave much thought to water in the desert except that without it you die. Childs paints a vivid picture of the juxtaposition of desert and water in all of its manifestations. I can still picture the pools of water in the tinajas of the barren, sun-baked Cabeza Prieta and the thunderstorm-fed floods on the Arizona Strip. I can feel the terror he must have felt squatting on a ledge in a feeder canyon of the Grand Canyon as flood waters rose and swirled around him and his relief as they receded, leaving behind tons of debris. I can also feel his awe at the power and majesty of nature at the same time. I can feel his exhilaration as he bathes in a deep, cool waterpocket after a long day's hike. And I can sense his deep respect for the original peoples of the desert and how they have adapted to its caprice.
It is obvious from his style that Childs has an abiding love for the desert. If you know and love the desert, you will find The Secret Knowledge of Water a fascinating read and come away with new respect for the desert and for the waters which both nurture and shape it.
The book is divided into three sections: still water, streams, and flood. We discover that if one knows how to search for it - and the first inhabitants of these areas did know - there is water to be found in plentiful supply. Likewise, there are spring-fed streams that flow during certain seasons, and in and along both kinds of water there is a host of different life forms, plants and animals, each place representing a specific and evolving ecosystem. Childs' eye and ear for detail and his scientific knowledge join to create vivid accounts of the discoveries he makes as he explores. We learn, for instance, how pools of rainwater in the desert wastes become populated with forms of aquatic life and how these survive, even through long periods of extreme drought.
For me, a particularly harrowing adventure was his exploration of a system of caves from which a stream of ice-cold water emerges high on a canyon wall near the Grand Canyon. Others include his pursuit of floods in the making in this same system of canyons following summer cloudbursts, and he underscores the perilousness of his curiosity by describing the deaths of other hikers and campers taken by surprise by flash floods. Often he travels alone for days and weeks at a time; sometimes he takes along a companion. What he writes of his experiences is consistently full of wonder, as well as a realization that human interference with the natural order (pumping from aquifers, as just one example) is rapidly and permanently altering ecosystems that have adapted to the desert environment over millennia.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Craig Childs is such a special human being with an amazing perspective on wilderness and water and the desert.Read more