An explorer who has paddled a raft on a series of rivers across the West shares his experiences and appreciation of nature in a new collection of essays. Utah-based journalist Zak Podmore’s book “Confluence” takes us on a journey on some of his recent rafting trips on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon…to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state and south to the Rio Grande along the Texas border with Mexico. Podmore will discuss his adventures in Flagstaff this weekend and he spoke with KNAU’s Steve Shadley…
Shadley: “Hello, Zak…thanks for joining us…”
Podmore: “Hi, there thanks for having me…” Shadley: “People who read these essays …these writings…what message do you hope they come away with?” Podmore: “I hope river runners who read these stories think more than they currently do about the way that rivers draw the landscape and the American West more generally together. The more time you spend on rivers the more you realize how much water is a defining factor in the west and how much it draws our culture and our history and our future with climate change together into a single narrative...” Shadley: “You take a kayaking trip and a little hike…a river trip…in the Little Colorado River here in northern Arizona. And, the way I understand it there was a recent flash flood there. What did you experience?” Podmore: “It was one of the most incredible trips I have ever undertaken. Mostly just because the water is unlike any other water I’ve ever paddled on before. It kind of feels like its more sediment than actual liquid beneath you and it splashes your face. It leaves your eyes veiled in a brownish-red fog and your looking out through the color of the canyon. And, it dries on your skin..and dries and pulls when you speak.”
Shadley: “Zak, you also mention in the book that there comes a time when there comes a rhythm of paddling a kayak, a raft. And, you wrote ‘There’s no distinction between mind, body, raft and river. The river flows through us as we flow through the world.’ What does that mean?”
Podmore: “It’s one of the things I like most about running whitewater. You’re completely in the moment and relying on all of the practice training you’ve done in other, more safer conditions, leading up to that moment. So, you’re working in concert with the river and to paddle through the current, you paddle through the tongue and the waves to push you the right way. But, you’re also relying on the responses that have been worked into you muscle memory over weeks and months of practicing. And, it’s the combination of all of those things at once that I find so magical about paddling whitewater.”
Shadley: “Let’s give our listeners a style of your writing and storytelling. Zak Podmore, if you don’t mind, if you could perhaps read from the start of the page 29...”
Podmore: “Sure, this is from the first essay in the book which deals most explicitly with my childhood and my mother’s death in 2014. This is a scene where we’re on the Colorado River where we’re going to spread her ashes: ‘We traveled down the Colorado River for two nights with a box carrying the dust of my mother. The specks of her bones. My father was sick outside of his tent the night before we released her. He insisted his sickness was caused by a real parasite. A physical problem. Not the other problem of a wife in a box lined with a plastic bag beside a river. She had asked to be released in the Colorado. When I die let the ashes flow down the river. Let my soul roll down to the Utah state line. We’ve been here a hundred times as a family. The borderlines of our life…the place where the river runs west…where the water flows through the steeped terra cotta canyons. The ashes swirl dry on the surface of the water for a few moments. Then they were gone.’”
Shadley: “That was beautiful, very touching. Author, river runner and adventurer, Zak Podmore thank you for spending time with us today…”
Podmore: “Yeah, thank you so much for having me on…”
That was KNAU’s Steve Shadley speaking with Zak Podmore about his new book “Confluence: Navigating the Personal and Political on Rivers of the New West.”
Podmore will appear at a book signing in Flagstaff at 5:30 Saturday afternoon (11/16/19) at Mountain Sports at 24 north San Francisco.
His book is published by Torrey House Press.