Robert Root (Artist-in-Residence, 1993)

A photo shows a man taking a break from hiking with a scenic view in the background
Robert on the Greenstone Ridge, 1993

Isle Royale Reflection

"At the Dassler Cabin, fetching and filtering my water, chopping firewood, reading by lantern light, and falling asleep to the sounds of lapping lake waves, I centered on the essentials of living. I didn’t feel solitary for long, ever more aware of birdsong and wildlife rustlings as I walked the island, of drifting waterfowl whenever I canoed. I was simply another passerby in their neighborhood. Occasionally I would speak to a moose or a loon or a white-throated sparrow, but most of the time I was silent, my thoughts focused on the trails and the landscape they passed through.

I took photographs hoping for future entrance into memory, portals allowing me to relive those moments. Each evening I would write in my journal, hoping to preserve what I had seen and felt that day. My wife joined me for the second week and together we rambled what was now familiar terrain for me and then went beyond it, sharing our island lives. At the end of the residency, we drove eight hours from Houghton back home to Alma without turning on the radio, trying to keep the outside world at a distance, hoping to keep the island within us as long as we could."

- Robert Root, December 2018

Robert Root Portrait
Robert Root

About the Artist

Robert Root was an Artist-in-Residence at Isle Royale National Park from July 16th to July 31st, 1993. Drawing on his research on Isle Royale copper mining history, he edited “Time By Moments Steals Away: The 1848 Journal of Ruth Douglass (1998) and later wrote the scholarly memoir Recovering Ruth: A Biographer’s Tale (2003), named a 2004 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. With Jill Burkland, then Executive Director of the Isle Royale Natural History Association, he also edited The Island Within Us: Isle Royale Artists in Residence 1991-1998 (2000), which won the 2002 National Parks Service Cooperating Association Interpretive Media Award, and Diaries of an Isle Royale Fisherman by Elling Seglem (2002). His essay “Thinking Like an Island” was published in Isle Royale from the AIR: Poems, Stories, and Songs from 25 Years of Artists-in-Residence, edited by Phillip Sterling (2017).

After his residency on Isle Royale, Bob was an Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Acadia National Park in Maine, and he has continued to write essays and books centered on place. A video of his book talk at the Wisconsin Historical Museum about Walking Home Ground: In the Footsteps of Muir, Leopold, and Derleth (2017) is available online.

An Emeritus Professor of English at Central Michigan University, Bob also has taught writing for the Ashland University MFA Program in Ohio, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, and the Loft in Minneapolis. He has written audio essays for Michigan public radio and, more recently, for Wisconsin Life on Wisconsin Public Radio. He and his wife live in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Learn more about Robert on his personal webpage.


Last updated: December 13, 2019

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