After a year of virus-inspired virtuality, organizers of the annual Gila River Festival in Silver City were hoping things would be closer to normal.
Due to ongoing health mandates, the Gila Conservation Coalition is going with a hybrid model with some in-person, outdoor events and some online discussions, said Allyson Siwik, coalition executive director.
“The theme this year is ‘Reconnecting with the River,’ ” she said. “We were hoping everybody was going to be able to come and we would be out of it by now and we could be welcoming people back to the Gila. People are still coming it’s just not going to be any gathering in a big theater and having lots of presentations.”
While gatherings will be limited and socially distanced, the idea to “celebrate our connections to the river and nature and one another,” remains very much a goal, Siwik said.
Set for Sept. 16-19, the event will feature a free, virtual keynote speech at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, from philosopher and author Kathleen Dean Moore, a longtime professor at Oregon State University who has now turned her attention to “climate action and the extinction crisis,” she said.
Borrowing from poet Mary Oliver, Moore said, “my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”
And the Gila River very much falls under that category, she said.
“I’ll be making the case to celebrate it,” she said of the Gila. “Praise it, connect with it, come into alliance with it. And I will work also to warn about the damage proposed to it and to act to protect and restore it.”
Moore, who now lives in Alaska, has not had a chance to visit the Gila River, yet she feels very in-tune with the magical way in which it transforms what would otherwise be a barren landscape into a living, breathing entity that is a haven for critters large and small, the lifeblood of growing things and the sustenance for countless peoples.
“What I’m proposing is that the reconnection takes the form of an alliance with the river rather than merely an awareness of it,” she said. “It has the power to power to heal and to grow. The beauty of its waters. The question is, it’s easy to love a place that is lovely, alive with birdsong and moving water, but what more can we do? This is a call to celebrate, but it’s also a call to keep it from harm and protect its life-giving beauty.”
Other free, virtual presentations include:
Registration-required workshops include: “Observing the Gila River through Nature Journaling,” “Getting the Big Picture – Hell’s Half Acre Photography,” “Wildcrafted Drinks Workshop,” “You are Not Separate from the River – Meditation,” “Backyard Composting,” “Moths of the Gila” and “The Grant County Art Guild Paints the Big Ditch.”
Limited-personnel field trips, some of which also require fees, will explore everything from kayaking the river to local horseback riding opportunities to bird watching to a clean-up project among many other adventures.
One of the special attractions, Siwik said, will be a riverside performance by Borderlands Ballet.
“To close out Sunday morning, there will be a gathering at the river, COVID-safe,” she said. “We’ll be doing poetry and Native American drumming, have an Apache river blessing and Borderlands Ballet will be performing on the banks of the river some ballet pieces.”