Author Mark Rozema grew up in Flagstaff, but has lived all over the West working as a photographer, fisherman, firefighter and teacher. His first book is called “Road Trip.” It’s a collection of personal essays that chronicle his travels and examine how the natural world molds our relationships. Mary Sojourner interviewed Rozema for this month’s Southwest Book Review.
Mary Sojourner: This book is largely about grace, which means it’s about hard times, and it’s about the gift of being in the natural world. Could you say a little bit about that?
Mark Rozema: I’ve thought how important the idea of taking care is in the book; there’s a lot of caretaking in it of people, of places, and grace seems related to that. A lot of the book is about my father who was a man, I think, who was full of grace. And I also feel like the country around here, which I love so much, has kind of graced me over the years. So, that’s a great word. I’m really glad you used it.
MS: You’re very honest and open in a lot of the essays. You talk about your own hard times, and part of what becomes very clear is that being out in the natural world has been a part of what got you through those hard times.
MR: That’s true. The natural world the place where I’ve felt peace in times in my life when I’ve been confused, frustrated, depressed, discouraged, I would go so seek help from being in the mountains, or in the canyons.
MS: Your writing, it springs from the natural world. You certainly talk about people and connections with people. So, let me ask you, do you find the Internet particularly inspirational for your kind of writing?
MR: (laughs) That’s a double-edge question. I’m kind of Luddite and my family often makes fun of me because I can barely use a cell phone. Texting a brand new thing to me. But the truth is, I do use it. I’ve found out a lot about places through the Internet. So it’s kind of a mixed feeling that I have toward it. But so many people today live with their devices almost constantly, and something’s lost there. There’s something you can get from being out in the world by yourself for at least a day if you can manage it, and if you can manage a week even better. The Internet can be a trap. People get stuck there in their seat. But as a jumping-off place and for doing research it’s terrific. So I have kind of a mixed feeling toward it.
MS: The Internet only stimulates two sensory systems – it stimulates visual and it stimulates auditory. And your book is full of so many rich descriptions that far beyond just visual and auditory. I believe that for you to do the work you’ve done in this book, you had to have all your senses engaged. Could you say a little bit about that?
MS: Well, I didn’t ever intentionally set out to use all five senses in my description. I don’t plan things that precisely. But in a lot of the work I’ve done, there’s smells, there’s taste. I’ve been a commercial fisherman, a firefighter and there’s a lot, you’re right, that engages all your senses. And anytime you really get involved with a place it comes through every sense you have.
MS: The other thing I’ve experienced in the book is a deep humility. Not a puffed-up, put-on humility, but the awareness of somebody who’s been alone in places that remind us of how tiny we are.
MR: Well, it’s good to be reminded of how tiny we are. I’ve had my struggles with pride, so it’s not like humility is something that you have and doesn’t slip away from you at times. I think there are a few essays in the book that talk about being brought down from pride. I have one essay that’s about coming in second place all the time, and that’s tough for me because I’m a competitive person.
MS: So, I’ve been talking with Mark Rozema about his beautiful book, “Road Trip.” I heartily recommend it.