Many of you know this by now, but I’m currently in an Upper Peninsula cabin. I’ll be here for several months, distilling the 2021 explorations so many of you followed–and supported–into something that more closely resembles a manuscript. I’ve been up since early January, and each day, the routine and the writing come more readily. To have autonomy over schedule is such a gift: I spend nearly all my time writing; most the other time is spent moving my body (through skiing…or clearing the driveway…) to clear the brain so I can write, or cooking the food my brain operates best on. When I ski, I’m frequently breaking trail, and I’ve noticed that, subconsciously, there’s something to pushing further, into less-easy going; less known tracks. It’s like this in the early stages of writing, too–at least, it is for me. It’s really just making a track where there wasn’t one; setting a route that makes future visits–by myself and others–less daunting.
Oftentimes, we exalt good writing for its ability to transport us elsewhere. Similarly, I’ve found it jolting to write intensely about somewhere else (today, the Gila River watershed), then look out my window and see an increasingly ice-bound Superior and a drift that’s roughly the same height as I am. Winter is, for many of us, a good time to be transported elsewhere, so I’m going to start sharing my favorite daily passages: Daily Passage from Passage Migrant, something like that… these sharings won’t be perfectly polished; they’re not complete, but hey–I am writing. It feels *so* good to finally say that.
Here is today’s:
At Yuma, the Gila meets the Colorado. If you were to follow the Gila upriver—it was navigable by boat, before the southwest was dewatered—you’d start in the Sonoran Desert; pass by saguaros. Cavities hewn by gila woodpeckers offer shade amidst the spines, but not for us. You’d go through Gila Bend. There, the river turns 90 degrees, and the thermometer has registered 122. Le Conte’s Thrashers scoot around the saltbush. Further up, east of Phoenix, on the Salt River at Papago Camp in the 1940s, a couple dozen German POWs tunneled out. They’d gotten their hands on a map: the Salt runs into the Gila, which runs into the Colorado, which runs into Mexico. By then, though, the rivers were too dry to float either their raft or their scheme. As the Gila climbs out of the desert above Phoenix, the terrain becomes rockier, the sort of place where gila monsters, H. suspectum, crawl through myths of the past and the future: monsters, suspect; near-threatened—for the same reasons the rivers are—but nowhere near a threat.
Upriver yet, the Gila crosses from Arizona to New Mexico; continues on through Gila Cliff Dwellings; Gila National Forest, where the headwaters are. 60,000 square miles of watershed have shaped a region, its vernacular, its history. Alice Cornow, traveling by stagecoach, describes crossing the Gila in the 1880s: The river was very wide there and in the middle of the stream the water came up so high that I had to put my feet up on the seat, where the water lapped at the edge…That was the last time even a boat could cross the Gila for five days.” I was on the verge of a crossing, too. The Chiricahuas, where I’d been, were getting comfortable—homey, almost—so I put them in my rearview mirror, headed for the Gila. When you’re south of Interstate 10, like me, wanting to get north, like me, and don’t actually want to drive on I-10—like me—options are limited. Interstates were designed to be smooth, direct, productive, efficient, linear. I, uh… I drive the slow roads. I headed up Stateline, jogged north and east through cattleguards and chatter bumps, dodged roadrunners and tumbleweeds. When I came out, finally, on a road that would take me across, avoiding the interstate had taken a half-hour longer than driving it. Fording I-10, with its concrete channels and tractor-trailer current, proves a more difficult crossing than most the rivers in the dewatered southwest.
This idea is still evolving, but I do feel like sharing a bit like this is good practice for me, and hopefully enjoyable reading for you 🙂