The Hundredth Meridian

The Silence of the Gila

The mystery of brightness is more profound than the mystery of darkness, and that of stillness perhaps the most profound of all.  In the noontime glare the heart of the Gila wilderness in southwestern New Mexico is both bright and still, the sole sound the drone of a circling horsefly, the only breath the imperceptible beat of its spotted wings.  Six human figures seated at the extreme end of a rocky point overlooking the Middle Fork of the Gila River 500 feet down are annealed with the silence, the immobility of the day.  The hawk poised on spread wings 100 feet below us seems motionless, the warm brown river frozen in its gravel bed by the early July heat.  The white clouds with their gray undersides look painted on the blue sky, but the slate-gray cloud mass expanding above the eastern mountains and the thinly forested mesas are poised to bring the warm monsoonal rains of afternoon, pouring and nearly perpendicular, unblown by the circulating winds thousands of feet above the wilderness of ponderosa pine and live oak parched by the intense heat and drought of May and June.  In the wilderness of the Gila, even the summer storms have a stillness, a silence of their own.

I had last traveled horseback in the Gila country in 1999, when I entered it from the southeastern corner, north of Silver City.  The topography is different there, smoother, softer, more rolling, with lush parks spreading between big...

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