Author Craig Childs is known for his attraction to remote landscapes, whether the Atacama Desert of Chile – one of the driest places on the planet; or the vast, whiteout desolation of a research station on Greenland’s ice sheets.
He is a rugged and experienced outdoorsman. And to hear him tell it in his books and at his public appearances, he’s not overly fazed by wet boots, tents sagging under deep snow, or even deadly blizzards and windstorms.
But an Iowa cornfield almost had him whipped.
Childs and a friend spent several days in the depths of endless cornrows. The plan was to study what happens in an eco-system that’s been stripped of all biodiversity, save for one cash crop.
By the end of the first day, they realized that they were in a place of little real life. They, the corn, and a few small spiders and species of fungi were the only other living things in the cornfield.
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But the adventurous Craig Childs also learned that trying to spend a few days in a Midwestern cornfield in the middle of the summer was as sure a test of his endurance as any ice-bound Greenland research station.
Yes, the heat. And the humidity. But also the density of the cornfield – and the tendency of the leaves to slash at the throat as one plunges through the rows.
It was another typical pursuit for Childs, who visits, studies and writes about some of the earth’s most challenging locales.
He recently shared his cornfield experiences in a presentation at Durango’s Fort Lewis College. He showed the audience pictures of him exhausted and sweaty, his face covered in corn leaf welts. It was the image of the intrepid explorer, deep in the plotted grids of Iowa corn-producing country, a farmhouse probably just a few miles away.
The audience laughed.
Then he showed them pictures of what life is really like in a cornfield.
What little life there is. The crowd was silent.
Craig Childs latest book, Apocalyptic Planet: A Field Guide to the Planet Earth catches some off-gaurd. They stop and think, what’s with the title?
It is a book about environmental cataclysm. About how the earth is falling apart. But also how it’s always been falling apart, and how such tumult leads to regeneration.
In Apocalyptic Planet, Childs takes us to places on the planet that he feels most illustratively state this truth.
But he also sees among this natural cycle of disorder an optimism about humanity’s ability to adapt to, and learn from the dynamic, chaotic organism we call home.