An uncommon encounter with Craig Childs
CMC Common Reader’s “Animal Dialogues” author to visit CMC campus near you
By Carrie Click
Ravens are superior to humans – and to every other creature. That’s the way these large, smart and sometimes boisterous black birds perceive it anyway, according to Craig Childs.
Childs writes of numerous profound encounters he’s had around the world with ravens and dozens of other animals, from mosquitoes to jaguars to bighorn sheep, in “The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild.” The book is Colorado Mountain College’s 2022 Common Reader.
Every year since 2007, a committee of CMC faculty and staff selects a book to read together with students and community members. In addition to a Common Reader art and creative writing contest, CMC faculty members build lesson plans around the book and the college invites the author to CMC campuses for free live talks open to the public (see sidebar).
The desert southwest and beyond
Childs is from Arizona and now lives in Colorado. He started his life of inquiry and adventure early as a 12-year-old chasing a bear through the forest with a camera. As a teen, he worked for what he refers to as a “fly-by-night canoe outfit” running trips on the Yampa, Gunnison and Colorado rivers.
Since then, Childs’s life has been grounded in the desert southwest interspersed with venturing much further afield. He has a bachelor’s in journalism with a minor in women’s studies from CU Boulder and a master’s in desert studies from Prescott College. A river guide, faculty member, natural history field instructor, adventurer and writer, Childs has authored over a dozen books about human migration, wilderness, archeology, nature – and wild animals.
He has won the Orion Book Award and has twice won the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, the Galen Rowell Art of Adventure Award and the Spirit of the West Award. Among others, his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Outside and High Country News, and he is a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition.
‘To be invisible’
Each chapter in “The Animal Dialogues” is a complete, self-contained story of one of Childs’s encounters. According to the author, the book is meant to be read slowly, in whatever order the reader wishes.
Childs stressed it’s not his goal to befriend the wild animals he encounters. They could be friends, but then again, they could not. Besides, it’s better if his subjects don’t see him at all.
“I see them,” he said. “Sometimes they see me, but it’s better if they don’t. What I really want to be is invisible. I don’t want to be part of their story. If, for instance, a mountain lion sees me, the spell is broken.”
That desire to be invisible, even though Childs’s book has the words “dialogue” and “encounter” in its title, is what sets him apart from those such as infamous bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell who was attacked and killed in Alaska in 2003 after setting up camp smack in bear territory. Treadwell was known to get extremely close to bears, sometimes even playing with cubs.
“His story might eventually become mythic,” Childs said. “He was the man who became a bear. He wasn’t satisfied observing a bear over there doing its thing. He wanted to be part of the bear’s story.”
Childs said he’s aware that reading “Animal Dialogues” may inspire some to seek out wild animals and have the encounters that he’s had. However, the days of running after bears with cameras are over. He knows the dangers and he says he figures out the margin of error to determine how much risk he’s willing to take. Some less experienced may not.
“Years ago, I didn’t think to write disclaimers,” he said, “and that may mean something tragic may happen on a lot of levels. Now, I at least try to preface my behavior.”
Childs said he only needs a chair and a ‘mic’ at his upcoming author talks. There’ll be stories, and maybe some Q&A. Until then, he’s got a suggestion.
“Open the door and go outside,” he said. “Sometimes we forget the box we’re inside of. Don’t forget to open the door.”
Meet Common Reader author Craig Childs
“The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild”
This free event is open to the public and will include an author talk and book signing opportunities.
Books are available at local and online bookstores, your local campus or CMC location; audiobook versions are available through the CMC Virtual Library through the Libby app.
March 22: CMC Rifle – 6 p.m.
March 23: CMC Aspen – 10 a.m.
March 23: CMC Spring Valley – 7 p.m. (also streamed live)
March 24: CMC Vail Valley at Edwards – 6 p.m.
March 29: CMC Salida – 12 p.m.
March 29: CMC Leadville – 7 p.m.
March 30: CMC Breckenridge – 7 p.m. (also streamed live)
March 31: CMC Steamboat – 7 p.m.
Art and creative writing contest
- Entries inspired by “The Animal Dialogues”
- April 15 submission deadline
Visit Common Reader for details, streaming links and more information.