A Song for the River

By: Philip Connors

Mountains burn, friends die, and green shoots sprout from the ashes. Connors reminisces on his time as a fire lookout as he makes his way down the endangered Gila River.

Categories: Adult | All Books | Memoir


The river that runs through the wilderness opens his heart: the mountains burn, friends die, and green shoots sprout from the ashes.

The Gila River and Wilderness are the heart and soul of A Song for the River. Every summer since 2002, Connors has been perched in a tower 50 feet above the Gila Wilderness, watching for fire. His first book, Fire Season (30,000 sold), recounted the deep lessons learned about mountains, wilderness, fire, and solitude. A Song for the River, its sequel, updates and deepens the story: the mountain he loves goes up in flames; a lookout on another mountain whom he has come to love as brother dies in a freak accident; and three high school students he admires die tragically in an airplane crash while researching the wilderness and the wild river they wish to save. Connors channels their voices 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.

Awards and Accomodations

Sigurd Nolson Nature Writing Award, Notable Book
Best Nonfiction Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly
Best Nonfiction of 2018, Amazon Book Review
Southwest Book Award, BRLA
Best Books for the Summer 2018, Publishers Weekly
Southwest Books of the Year, Pima County Public Library

20 reviews for A Song for the River

  1. Albuquerque Journal
    It is no ordinary song and no ordinary river.—David Steinberg

  2. Library Journal
    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

  3. Publishers Weekly
    This powerful work belongs with the classics of the nature writing genre and is equally important as a rumination on living and dying.

  4. Kirkus Reviews
    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.

  5. 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.

  6. Foreward Reviews
    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.

  7. Booklist
    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

  8. Pages of Julia
    This book is essential.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. Texas Monthly
    [Connors’] prose is simple, yet eloquent and elegant, and reminds you, amid talk of walls, of the powerful forces of nature.—Alfredo Corchado

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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