A very long time ago I published this brief review of Reg Saner's essay collection Reaching Keet Seet: Ruin's Echo and the Anasazi in the Spring 1999 first issue of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction:
"These essays on the Four Corners area of the Southwest vividly recount Reg Saner's travels among Anasazi ruins and give readers both a sense of place and a sense of connection across time, space, and culture. Investigating such Anasazi sites as Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and Keet Seel, observing the summer solstice in Chaco Canyon, he reflects on Anasazi relationships to the natural world and to other cultures past and present (ancient Hebrews and modern Hopis). Throughout the book, in lyrical, insightful prose, he examines the compelling sense of spiritual presence that the Anasazi inspire as well as his own attraction to their abandoned ruins. He feels that 'through Anasazi vestiges we perhaps pay our respects to what's missing in us, thus honoring . . . a people able to live out lives undivided from themselves.'"
Reg's book had been published the year before; my essay about the Anasazi had been published in North Dakota Quarterly in 1991, although my wanderings with my then-future wife happened ten years earlier. I'd been haunted by Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon but only the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage to the New World and encounters with its indigenous peoples had prompted me to complete the essay for publication.
My connection with Reg Saner was a complicated one. At my colleague Susan Schiller's encouragement, I'd emceed an environmental conference in Estes Park, Colorado, where I met Elizabeth Dodd, who knew and admired Reg Saner, who also spoke there. Years earlier, at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont, I had met his former student David Gessner, who mentioned him in his own Colorado book. When writers you admire recommend a writer they admire, you have to read that writer.
I was more than a little daunted by Reaching Keet Seel—a work about the Anasazi by a more lyrical, learned, observant, and thoughtful writer than I felt I had been. I didn't think my essay had anywhere near the scale and the depth of what he had written.
And then, over time, we moved to Colorado, not far from where Reg lived in Boulder. He met me one day at the canyon where David Gessner had lived in graduate school, the locale at the heart of David's book Under the Devil's Thumb. We talked about that canyon and Reg invited me to join him on a day hike into the Front Range, up to Arapahoe Peak. He offered to take my photo against that backdrop and let me take his. His photo of me is still on my website. A week or two later, when my wife had Labor Day weekend off from her new job, I took her to the same place, now unexpectedly snowy, to show her what Reg had shown me.
The truth is that, because Reg lived close to wilderness in the near-outskirts of Boulder and had written lively and vibrant essays about walking his mesa, I never walked that part of Boulder—or for that matter, anywhere else in Colorado—without thinking of walking with Reg or about what he had written about his walks in the Southwest. I spent two weeks as an artist-in-residence at Rocky Mountain National Park and reread Reg's essays while I was there, often setting off to explore the landscape as alertly as I imagined him doing.
Last week David Gessner reported on Facebook that Reg Saner died on April 19, at the age of 93. I hadn't been in touch with him in a very long time, but his death struck me harder than most of the deaths of creative people I've learned about in the past year or two. He'd been a generous man and an honest and attentive writer. I wondered where I'd stored his books—The Four-Cornered Falcon, Reaching Keet Seet, The Dawn Collector—and found them on nearby shelves, among other books I value most, as if after all this time I still needed them there, close at hand.
I examined the pages in Reaching Keet Seel where I'd turned down the corners to see if I could find what I hoped to recall the first time I read them. In "The Pleasure of Ruin": "Trying to see things as the Anasazi saw them may be like drinking the water of a mirage." In "Hovenweep": "As one of this planet's talking creatures, I've a stake in any loss of beauty and intelligence among us." I again wander rugged landscapes and Anasazi ruins with Reg Saner—feel again all I gained from reading him and, especially, from knowing him.
Root, Robert. "Anasazi," North Dakota Quarterly, 59:4 (Fall 1991), 145-154. Reprinted in Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007: 185-195) and Postscripts: Retrospections on Time and Place (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012: 83-95).
Root, Robert L., Jr. Review, "Reader to Reader: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Field of Vision, About This Life, Thistle Journal and Other Essays, and Reaching Keet Seel," Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction 1:1 (Spring 1999): 171-73.
Saner, Reg. "Over the Rainbow, My Kind of Place," Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place. Ed. Robert Root. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007: 220-228).
Saner, Reg. "Mesa Walk," Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place. Ed. Robert Root. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007: 220-228). Originally published in The Georgia Review (Vol. 55, No. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 290-311) and reprinted in The Dawn Collector: On My Way to the Natural World (Santa Fe: Center for American Places, 2005: 66-93).