Leeanna T. Torres reflects on the Gila Anthology one year post-publication

Take a look at my book, one year later, dozens of dog-eared pages folded over on both ends, and a creased spine opened wide it curves easy like a canyon while pages turn. Inside the book, among chapters and words, are highlights and notes, circled sentences, penciled-in exclamation points beside sections I just knew I needed to remember, return to. Such is a writer’s well-loved book. Underlined words, asterisks and arrows.

One year later, this book remains one I return to again and again. A book now among my favorites, not only because of the diverse stories and views its writers reveal, but also because of the writers themselves, some of them I’ve come to know over the past year.

“First & Wildest” published in early 2022, gave voice to the Gila Wilderness thru the writings of twenty-seven different writers, perspectives. As humans, we are so often connected to place thru experience and story, both of which this book offers.

Leeanna with Leia Barnett of WildEarth Guardians with a copy of the First & Wildest. Photo by Michael Stevens.

As a contributor to the book, this past year I’ve had the privilege and honor to attend events surrounding not only the book, but gatherings promoting the action to further protect the Gila wilderness & river. It was here I met other writers of this book – Laura, Renata, Martha, and Joe – just to name a few. And what I realized while meeting and interacting with these writers is they too are the heart of the Gila. The great and expansive Gila. Not just a place, but a community. Don’t believe me? Just open this book, read how this place – the Gila – is able to lead people into connection, insight, understanding, empathy, and even action.

The Gila wilderness – the first federally designated ‘wilderness’ of our Nation. But more than this, somehow, mysteriously, more than this. We are connected to place. Somehow, in many undefinable ways, we are connected to place.

And as work continues to federally ‘protect’ the Gila River waters, legislation still trudging along to get portions of the Gila River in New Mexico designated as ‘Wild & Scenic’, all some of us can do is return to the stories, the witness of connection to place as told in this book.

“For words and wild places,” signed publisher Kirsten A. on the interior of my book, “and with fierce and grateful love…”. These hand-written words in black-pen-ink as I open the first page set the tone for it all, even a year later. With fierce and grateful love ; there are those who do what we can, large and small, to promote actions to protect the places we’ve come to love.

This past summer, I traveled with my boy, to the Gila; it was his first visit to this place become so important to me. During the drive, my boy, obsessed with the song “I’m Just a Clown” by musician/artist Charlie Crocket, kept asking me to put the song on repeat. Over and over again, the song seeped into our remembrance, and the tapping to the tune became instinct as my truck dropped into the Mogollon valley, closer and closer to the great Gila. Eventually, we stood at the confluence of the East & West Forks of the Gila River. My boy played with rocks and dirt and water, and I watched, sometimes joining in, other times just gazing at both water and boy. A September sun above us, and a river providing blessings and life.

I want this river, and the whole of the Gila, to become seeped into my boy’s remembrance, the tapping of its swift-water-tune to seep into his soul as much as it’s in mine.

My son’s first visit to the Gila River. Photo by Leeanna Torres.


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