By Joanna Keane Lopez
October 19, 2015
Being in the Gila Wilderness was really beautiful. There was so much life along the river. The first day there I saw javelinas running across the trail at sunset. At night I could hear them walking around my tent, along with other creatures like deer and skunks. We worked and learned from local artisan, Orien Macdonald to learn about local natural materials and the art of basketry. We harvested and processed willow whips from the banks of the river to make our own individual baskets and then as a group we collectively created a four-foot olla. The last day in the Gila we carried out a collaborative performance where we carried the olla to the river and wove it in and out of the water to a site on the bank where we planted it into the ground to root and regrow.
Local ecologist Carol Fugagli explained to us the importance of “wild rivers” and how their natural rhythm of flooding is elemental to creating habitat and the health of a riparian system. She explained to us how rivers are living organisms and how they need room to swell and contract. This is how they breathe. The Gila River is the last undammed river in New Mexico. Currently there is a proposal to divert and dam it in order to provide drinking and irrigation water to the surrounding communities and counties. One thing in particular that Carol mentioned, that has especially stayed with me is that we as humans have a moral obligation to allow the right of other creatures their own evolutionary process. This includes allowing rivers to remain wild and undammed.