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In ‘Confluence,’ Zak Podmore Explores How Rivers Shape Who We Are

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Daniel Rayzel/KSJD
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The San Juan River snakes through canyons in southeast Utah.

Zak Podmore says much of his reporting comes from a deep love for traveling rivers.

 

“When you’ve run a river through a new landscape, you definitely connect with it in a really unique way,” Podmore says. “Something that I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time is going past the typical places where people take out.”

Podmore is a Bluff-based reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune and the editor of the Canyon Echo. In his upcoming book, he travels past those typical places to reflect on years of rafting and reporting in the West.

 

Confluence: Navigating the Personal & Political on Rivers of the New West” finds the common threads in Podmore’s life. The collection of essays draws on contemporary issues, such as the book’s opening essay on the White Mesa uranium mill, and personal memories, like the death of the author’s river-rafting mother in 2014. Each essay ultimately finds its way back to the rivers that have shaped the West and the people that have shaped him.

 

Podmore joined KSJD’s Daniel Rayzel to talk about incorporating his personal life into the book and how water and rivers became a constant in his life.

 

Interview Highlights

On opening up his personal life as a reporter

 

It was something that was new to me to write scenes that could be considered part of the memoir genre. Even though the book, as a whole, I wouldn’t say is in that genre. I think part of the reason I’ve become a full-time reporter now is to stand back and tell other people’s stories, perhaps because it was a little uncomfortable.

 

The reporting that is included in all of the essays is a big part of it and is important to the way I wanted the book to turn out. But I think in order to really talk about my experience on these rivers — most of them are based around a river trip — I think those more personal scenes were necessary to bring the reporting down to the river level and make it more of the personal first-person experience I wanted to get across.

 

On water as a foundation of his life

 

Right after college, I did a “source to sea” kayak trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers and really saw in a visceral way how water ties the West together.

 

Those weeks after my mom’s death, that experience began to take on a new shape where the water, the rivers were holding my life together in a more personal, intimate way than previous experiences where it was the more geographic thread that’s pulling the landscape together.

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Credit Courtesy of Torrey House Press

 

On connecting with the West through writing and rafting

 

When you’ve run a river through a new landscape, you definitely connect with it in a really unique way. Something that I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time is going past the typical places where people take out.

 

I think writing all of these essays did help me connect to these places and connect to some of the issues in those places, and the people that I interviewed as well, in a deeper way than if I had just gone there to vacation or if I was just passing through and not doing the river trip.

 

Confluence: Navigating the Personal & Political on Rivers of the New West” comes out Oct. 8 on Torrey House Press.

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