Exploration on the Colorado Plateau

Where the Rain Children Sleep: A Sacred Geography of the Colorado Plateau, by Michael Engelhard

The Lyons Press. 206 pages

I n the interest of giving writer Michael Engelhard his literary due, this review won't categorize his new book as nature writing. The flooded genre tends to bury the authors who truly write about relating to nature instead of being obligatory environmental indoctrinators.

So, if you will, Engelhardrecently released collection of essays, Where the Rain Children Sleep: A Sacred Geography of the Colorado Plateau , is instead a series of prosaic vignettes of practical knowledge and experience with the Colorado Plateau as the backdrop.

In this book, Engelhard, a self-proclaimed "sagebrush scholar," provides readers 14 essays that are authentic and elegantly written. His prose is quiet and respectful. His thoughts and philosophies - of which there are many - are not drenched in naive political extremism, but are instead humble and relevant. In an essay explaining how the rumbling noises from off-road vehicles destroys the hearing of small animals in the desert, Engelhard, a conservationist, educates instead of launching into a finger-wagging screed.

As he travels various places throughout the vast Colorado Plateau, Engelhard creates a sense of place for readers with an amalgam of history and science. He isn't making brilliant discoveries. Rather, he's experiencing the awe and wonder of a region that is geologically and topographically so distinct from other parts of the West. He takes readers to sacred American Indian places, the Maze in Canyonlands National Park, down the Green River (wondering, on this trip, if he'd rather be floating with John Wesley Powell or Edward Abbey) and so many more places. All the while, he provokes thought while seeking his self.

Often, Engelhard writes about - or at least guesses about - the origin of place names. He has made a wry observation about how so many of the places have monikers related to hell and the devil. To wit: Devil's Slide, Hell's Kitchen and Satan's Gut. Yet, just as he ponders this, he stumbles in his next voyage upon someplace labeled saintly and angelic. He writes most about this in "Beelzebub's Weekend Retreat," where he eventually realizes that the desert, in spite of the names, is neither "evil nor benign."

More importantly, Engelhard's essays adequately convey the weight of silence and the need for gaining a perspective on life by getting lost. At times, he seems a mellower version of the itinerant Everett Ruess (who mysteriously disappeared in Utah's wilderness in the early 1930s). Practicing what he preaches, Engelhard writes: "The way to intimacy of perception is to toss your car keys. Lace up your boots and regain a pedestrian purity. Reclaim the openness of a toddler's first encounter with the world! It works equally well for touch, smell and hearing, and each newly awakened sense will sharpen your awareness exponentially. The Japanese call this 'seeing with the eyes of the heart.'"

Indeed, the author relies on his heart to connect with the natural world. Along the way, he presents the hope inherent in the world in words.







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