“There are Two Ways to Die in the Desert: Thirst and Drowning”-A Book Review

Written by Ali Brehm, ESLLC 2015-2016


This past weekend at Keystone, I (finally!) finished Craig Childs’ book “The Secret Knowledge of Water”. The book guides us through personal stories of those affected by water in various ways: through hardships and sadness and triumphs and exotic life, but with an emphasis on Childs’ own personal experiences.

Childs, born in the Sonoran Desert near a river sacred to his family, takes adventure to a new level when he travels for days, weeks, and months across deserts in the American Southwest and Mexico in search of elusive puddles, springs, waterfalls, and other forms of water, helping to protect the teeming life of the desert. He tells the reader of floods that kill and hidden tropical springs that seem to come out of nowhere. He tells of Native American stories of children being sacrificed to save the land from being flooded. He puts you in these situations with his eloquent writing which makes it seem as if you’re travelling alongside him in search of those elusive life-giving pools.


What Childs does best is tie the reader to the Earth and her hydrologic processes through cosmic and existential observations. We, like all living things, are dependent on the water in our lives. Craig Childs gives the readers the feels when he says things like “Like any stage of the hydrologic process, we have our own peculiarities, our organs making us nothing more than water pools or springs of bizarre shape, filled with pulsing tubes and chambers”. We, through Childs’ eyes, are connected wholly with our environment.

This book gives the reader and immense sense of connectedness and even a little bit of other-worldlyness. This book makes the reader feel the need to go out and DO.

This book was extremely difficult to read large portions of at any one time. There is so much to absorb about the way our deserts work, that it takes time to take it all in. I actually think that this is a benefit of the novel. It forces you to think about what it means to live in such a unique and amazing place.

I, personally, would love to meet this man. He lives off the grid in Western Colorado, presumably walking naked through the desert in search of crystal clear pools, warmed by the sun and filled by rain.


Rating: A+. I would recommend this book to anybody with even the slightest interest in deserts, floods, living, and crazy dudes who love water. 

On that note, I have a copy that anybody can borrow if they’d like to, as long as they don’t mind me trying to have a deep existential conversation based on the book with them while they read.

Childs has several other books about the Grand Canyon and the Canyonlands.


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