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A Song for the River

New Mexico Magazine

In May 2014, a fire in the Gila National Forest indirectly claimed the lives of three promising young people, an admired psychiatrist, and one of the trusty fire spotters who spend long summer days in their remote towers. Philip Connors, himself a fire spotter and an occasional writer for New Mexico Magazine, grieved their losses in the most beautiful way he could, writing his pain, anger, and wonder onto the page. A Song for the River blends a poetic voice with a naturalist’s knowledge and a journalist’s determination to document continued threats to the Gila River and its massive surrounding acreage, which became the nation’s original wilderness area in 1924.

As Connors makes clear, the rugged region can kill people—but also repair them. “For more than a decade,” he writes, “I had kept watch over those mountains and found the experience a two-hearted deal, living amid calamity and resilience. In the beginning I simply wished to remove myself from human company. I had my reasons, not at all unusual. But I kept returning for the communion of creatures that made my mountain hum, a beautiful Babylon of owls hooting and nutcrackers jeering and hermit thrushes singing their small and lovely whisper song.”

Connors details how, battered by health ailments as his marriage dissolves, he hit bottom. The healing ministrations of a woman led him back to the fire tower and into a new romance. His tender incarnations of the people who died tragically pull the reader into a shared sense of loss.

Connors’ 2011 book Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout won the acclaimed Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, among others. With A Song for the River, he secures a spot on the same bookshelf as Edward Abbey and Aldo Leopold.
- August 5, 2018  Visit Website

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