Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gila Descending by M.H. Salmon

Having visited southwestern New Mexico in May and hiked several day trips around the Gila Wilderness, I looked forward with anticipation to reading Gila Descending, an account of Silver City, NM resident M.H. Salmon's trip by foot and canoe down most of the length of the Gila River in New Mexico and Arizona. In the end, I was a bit disappointed. I didn't much like the author as he portrayed himself. He's a self-described "houndsman" and coyote hunter, and he never lets you forget it. I have no problem with hunting for meat or to maintain an ecological balance, but M.H. Salmon clearly loves to pursue and kill coyotes (whose pelts he does sell, at least). Nevertheless, his love of hunting was a turn-off for me.

I also disliked his writing style. He informs his readers that he writes for outdoors magazines, so clearly he is able to sell his writing, but I found his style to be affectedly "down-homey"; it didn't ring true to me.

It was also irresponsible of him to bring a cat along with him on this trip. The cat could easily have wandered off, and in one instance, the cat nearly drowned when the canoe capsized with the cat leashed to the struts. But, like nearly everything else in the author's life (according to irritating little hints dropped throughout), he had a truly ambivalent relationship with the cat.

Salmon is not good at describing the landscape and the countryside. I did not come away from the book with a clear, well-developed picture of the rugged landscape of the upper Gila.

Though Salmon reports that the Gila disappears well short of its historic mouth at the Colorado River, he ends his trip before he reaches the de facto "end" of the river. I kept waiting for him to discuss the river's demise in the irrigated deserts of Arizona, but he didn't.

The book, divided into three sections, would benefit from more maps. There is one map of the entire Gila drainage at the beginning of the book, but a more detailed map of each of the individual sections would have been a welcome addition.

While I have gone into great detail about why I was disappointed by the book, it was by no means a waste of time. His trip was interesting and depicted with enough sense of adventure that I'd like to try it myself some time. Furthermore, the author's heart is certainly in the right place when it comes to enjoying and defending the Gila in particular and wilderness in general. So, all in all, the book's a good--but not a great--read.

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