A Song for the River
Best Nonfiction Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly
Best Books for the Summer 2018, Publishers Weekly
The mountain he loves goes up in flames. His friend and fellow lookout dies. He falls in love. Wilderness endures.
From one of the last fire lookouts in America comes this sequel to the award-winning Fire Season--a story of calamity and resilience in the world's first Wilderness.
A dozen years into his dream job keeping watch over the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, Philip Connors bore witness to the wildfire he had always feared: a conflagration that forced him off his mountain by helicopter, and changed forever the forest and watershed he loved. It was merely one of many transformations that arrived in quick succession, not just fire and flood but illness, divorce, the death of a fellow lookout in a freak accident, and a tragic plane crash that rocked the community he called home.
At its core an elegy for a friend he cherished like a brother, A Song for the River opens into celebration of a landscape redolent with meaning--and the river that runs through it. Connors channels the voices of the voiceless in a praise song of great urgency, and makes a plea to save a vital piece of our natural and cultural heritage: the wild Gila River, whose waters are threatened by a potential dam.
Brimming with vivid characters and beautiful evocations of the landscape, A Song for the River carries the story of the Gila Wilderness forward to the present precarious moment, and manages to find green shoots everywhere sprouting from the ash. Its argument on behalf of things wild and free could not be more timely, and its goal is nothing less than permanent protection for that rarest of things in the American West, a free-flowing river--the sinuous and gorgeous Gila.
It must not perish.
Cinco Puntos Press, 9781941026915, 246pp.
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. The author has an unusual job: fire lookout. What were your perceptions of a “fire lookout” prior to this book? Did his description of the work surprise you in any way?
2. Several tragedies and cataclysms punctuate the story, including human losses and forest fires. Did you find the author’s quest to find redemption amid those losses persuasive?
3. Ashes and water are two of the recurring elements in the book. How does the author weave them into the story, and how does he weave them together? What do they represent, separately and together?
4. A major thread in the book involves friendships lost, and friendships made in the aftermath of loss. Did the author’s description of those friendships mirror anything in your own experience? What role does grief play in his friendships?
5. The landscape is as much a character as any of the humans in the story. Did you find the author’s description of it vivid and convincing? Use three adjectives to describe the author’s characterization of the landscape. What is the story arc for the land, and how is that woven into the story arc for the author?
6. The author admits to flouting some of the conventions of the typical “nature book,” particularly in regards to the unusual beginnings of a love affair. How did you react to his description of that relationship?
7. In some ways, this story is very human–about relationships, and loss, and grief, and love, the sorts of things we all relate to. In another way, this is a very political book making a specific argument about the human relationship to nature and our responsibility towards the wilderness that still exists. How did you engage with the political argument? Were you persuaded? Why or why not?