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“I like to call [the Gila River] a reference river, a place that we can come and learn how rivers used to work before they were dammed and over-diverted and dewatered,” says Martha Cooper, Freshwater Director for The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico.

Certainly, in New Mexico, we put our rivers to work. We treat them as conveyance channels for waters we want to use, and to dilute pollution we don’t want. Over the last few hundred years in the United States, this mindset has dominated our society. Rarely do we remember that rivers are their own creatures. And as living beings themselves, they have something to teach us. 

Joe Saenz’s mom would talk about water as a spirit, he says. “She would talk about water like my grandfather used to talk about trees, like they were people.”

With funding from The Water Desk, a journalism initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism, the Our Land crew went to the Gila River this summer, to visit the river, including a stretch that would have been changed forever if New Mexico had moved forward on a controversial diversion.

In this special Our Land segment, we consider what lessons the Upper Gila River holds for the future—and the rest of the Colorado River Basin. 

Lastly, I don’t want to share all the news of the world, or even of New Mexico—even though there are important things happening and many journalists working hard to cover those events and issues. 

Instead, I think you should step away from the cacophony, for at least a spell. If you’re compelled to try tackling any of the myriad challenges the world is facing right now, from the global level down to your local neighborhood, resist the urge—which is ultimately a distraction—to follow every crisis and to spread yourself so thin that you dissolve and disappear. 

I think often of advice from Sarah Jaquette Ray, who wrote A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. Take some time today to do an easy writing exercise: Focus on one issue, that combines your passion, skills, interest, and potential impact—and find, as she says, “your big yes.” It’s impossible for each person to take on every issue. But working collectively, we can treat one another kindly and compassionately, while working through challenges—without despairing and without giving up. 

With that, I have a request: Disconnect. Delete social media from your phone. Shut down your computer. Sit with a friend or loved one. Go for a walk if that’s possible for you. Pray, if that’s something you do. Watch the sky. Pay attention to the changing season. And, listen.

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