Southwest Book Award, BRLA
Notable Book, Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award
Amazon Book Review Best Nonfiction of 2018
2018 Publisher's Weekly Best Books of the Year, Nonfiction
2018 Southwest Books of the Year
Outside Magazine Pick for Best Adventure Books of the Season
NPR Summer Reading List Pick
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.
This powerful work belongs with the classics of the nature writing genre and is equally important as a rumination on living and dying.
Readers who enjoy personal narratives and nature writing will be drawn to this book, which is a nice companion to the author's earlier work, Fire Season.—Venessa Hughes, Buffalo
Intensely intimate, Song feels written for the Gila, the souls lost and those who love them, but ends up a beautiful, voyeuristic experience that brings the reader into the fold.
A heartfelt, well-written volume of vignettes and reflections of a man who—much like his long lineage of fire lookout forebears—gladly chooses to escape civilization for the natural world.Creative Nonfiction, vol.73
Connors apportions the essays and arranges them so that the reader is able to grow with him—to watch as, despite all those losses, he extends past his naturally lonesome self...In essay after essay, he struggles to come to terms with the changing landscape and the death of friends. By the end, Connors has become a more symphonic self—no longer isolated in his solitude, unafraid to speak of and for those he has lost, capable of hearing music in the river, capable of sharing it. —Beth Kephart
Love for the wilderness is compellingly conveyed. In moving snapshots of those touched by the Gila, A Song for the River shows the myriad ways that naturalists and nature touches others.
Connors’ wonderfully digressive musings offer thoughtful glimpses into the more sociable aspects of fire-watching, such as they are, and expresses longing for a bygone era of nature conservation.—Jonathan Fullmer
[Connors’] prose is simple, yet eloquent and elegant, and reminds you, amid talk of walls, of the powerful forces of nature.—Alfredo Corchado
It is no ordinary song and no ordinary river.—David Steinberg
Creative Nonfiction, vol.73
Connors apportions the essays and arranges them so that the reader is able to grow with him—to watch as, despite all those losses, he extends past his naturally lonesome self...In essay after essay, he struggles to come to terms with the changing landscape and the death of friends. By the end, Connors has become a more symphonic self—no longer isolated in his solitude, unafraid to speak of and for those he has lost, capable of hearing music in the river, capable of sharing it.—Beth Kephart
Books We Love by Books & Books
Produced by the award-winning independent publisher Cinco Punto Press, Philip Connors’ A Song for the River is a much-needed balm in our current age of fever-pitched distraction and tumult. It is an urging toward silence, stillness, and reflection… It is a song in the name of looking closer, looking harder… And, ultimately, it is a supplication to not turn our backs against the wild, or against each other, which, as Connors’ beautiful, understated writing intimates, are really the same thing.
New Mexico Magazine
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.
Amazon Book Review
A new book from Connors is always welcome, and A Song for the River—both an elegy for lost friends and a "biography of New Mexico's beautiful Gila river—delivers more of what made his previous efforts so compelling: humanity, lyricism, and top-notch nature writing.—Jon Foro
Southwest Books of the Year, Pima County Library
An evocative nature writer, Connors takes the reader into the aerie of his perch over the wilderness and meditates on the need for and nature of fire. And — although his occupation is by definition solitary — this is also an elegy for lost friends, a paean to the importance of human connection, and a lyrical encomium to the restorative powers of nature.—Christine Wald-Hopkins
High Country News
[A] singular book, resistant to categorization. Is it nature writing or confession? Obituary or farce? Consult Walden all you’d like, but Thoreau never wrote any side-splitting descriptions of backcountry prostate massage. Nor, in a canon dominated by stoics, are you likely to encounter vulnerability this naked...—Ben Goldfarb
The Inkslinger - The King's English Bookshop
Edward Abbey meets funeral pyre in this dirge by Connors…His is an important voice in the fight for the soul of the West.—Michaela Riding
Pages of Julia
This book is essential.
Alfredo Corchado, Dallas Morning News border correspondent, author of Midnight in Mexico
[N]othing short of spectacular. With deep, clear-eyed honesty, Connors weaves the tragic story of friends gone too soon within the tale of a region, its haunting wilderness, and a meandering river. He sets out on a quest for answers, only to remind us of our common humanity. Beautifully nuanced and written in masterful prose, this is a necessary read.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, author of the PEN/Faulkner-winning Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club Everything that is absent in the current political crises of this nation is abundantly present in Philip Connors’ A Song for the River: humility, quietude, forgiveness, and gratitude. His writing is pure, exact, compassionate, and often elegaic...I loved this book.
Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding
Philip Connors redirects our attention from the trivial to the timeless: fire and water, ash and rock, death and rebirth. He shows us what we lose when we dam our rivers, and what we gain when we unleash our souls. He writes of nature as of a dear friend, and of his friends as though they were pieces of nature. This is the ethics—the ecological humanism—that we sorely, sorely need.
Tom Bissell, author of Apostle
Once again, Philip Connors demonstrates why he’s one of the most interesting writers in America. His prose—confessional, angry, wise, mesmerizing—has never been better. A Song for the River is about wildness within and without, and it’s as bracing as an early-morning chill. I loved this book.
Nina MacLaughlin, author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter
Philip Connors is the best sort of writer, one alert to the mysteries and attuned to absurdity. His concerns are elemental: fire, water, earth, and air. Add to that loss. Add to that love. And A Song for the River becomes a potent, moving tribute to wilderness, solitude, and some extraordinary people gone too soon. In the face of gaping pain, Connors, with courage and vulnerability, maintains a devotion to seeing what next season brings. In so doing, he shows us that our most scarred, charred places can be the source of the mightiest kind of beauty.
Doug Peacock, legendary naturalist, protector of wilderness and writer
In the literary tradition of Gary Snyder and Edward Abbey, Philip Connors climbs down from his fire lookout to tell his story of love and loss along the sacred waters of the Gila River, the heart of the Gila Wilderness, a place of rock and ruins, juniper and pine. The book was a page-turner for me, lyrically paced and a real pleasure to read.