Prime Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place By Terry Tempest Williams –

Williams is an especially confounding writer, and part of it has to do with her voice it s very assured, but in that certainty lie the seeds of alienation and annoyance It s the assurance born of privilege, of money, and of an intact family She can speak of democracy all she wants and she does, especially in later works , but she s at the higher end of the social spectrum democracy or any system tends to work out for those people Additionally, she tries too hard to wring some elemental truth from her prose, which, in many instances, results in a feeling of artifice Interwoven with this tendency is perhaps the most irritating facet of her work what can only be described as degeneration into crystal gazing prose, or abstract, highly pretentious, spiritual drivel Much of her dialog rings untrue as do several moments in the narrative e.g when she sticks a middle finger in the face of the hicks On a mechanics note, her incessant use of passive verb construction acts as a sea anchor on the text On the other hand, and this is why she is so confounding, there are moments of sublimity, truth, and flat out dynamite writing that almost make the journey worthwhile She manipulates thematic elements throughout, balancing the concepts of isolation and solitude in a dialectical dance Solitude seems the goal, synonymous with refuge, an acceptance of life s rhythms including death And her use of the lake level is quietly effective the story begins and ends at the same level a subtle way of achieving a sort of closure. In The Spring Of Terry Tempest Williams Learned That Her Mother Was Dying Of Cancer That Same Season, The Great Salt Lake Began To Rise To Record Heights, Threatening The Herons, Owls, And Snowy Egrets That Williams, A Poet And Naturalist, Had Come To Gauge Her Life By One Event Was Nature At Its Most Random, The Other A By Product Of Rogue Technology Terry S Mother, And Terry Herself, Had Been Exposed To The Fallout Of Atomic Bomb Tests In The S As It Interweaves These Narratives Of Dying And Accommodation, Refuge Transforms Tragedy Into A Document Of Renewal And Spiritual Grace, Resulting In A Work That Has Become A Classic I hold tight hoping Terry Tempest Williams will devote an entire book to her grandmother Refuge was a beautiful book of love, loss of loved ones, loss of self and doing what you can to get it all back I love the opening of each chapter with the tracking of the elevation of Great Salt Lake during the flood of the 1980s how the lake began to embody everything for the author and to all of the people of Salt Lake City This is a personal story about being part of a bad and a good world community, living in a world ultimately controlled by natural forces, and human realization or denial of these forces It is also a very personal story of the author s love of nature especially the lake and the birds of Utah, her Mormon religion, and, her grandmother s world religion I ll be reading by Terry Tempest Williams. Yes, this is one of those books that I will list as amazing for me I had a difficult time getting started into this one but I pushed through for several reasons It was recommended to me by my grad school professor So, of course, I wanted to read to understand closely the mind of this mentor and I like the idea of the subtitle An Unnatural history of Family and Place I had not heard of Williams previously Initially it had too much naturalist talk for me and then its other subject matter is the author s mother s struggle with cancer So sad I put it down at one point because it made losing my own brother to cancer so fresh And my own fear of getting cancer emphasized But this is a bittersweet and sacred story of one family s journey through losing those they a mother, two grandmothers, and aunts to cancer love Williams speaks for herself, her deep personal intimate feelings which were some of the most moving parts of the book and speaks for the others remaining She is known for the essay at the end of the book that serves as the epilogue It is entitled The Clan of One Breasted Women The irony of this book is that these people all live in the western part of the country Utah where there was much nuclear testing during the 1950s and beyond Williams, a Mormon with clear lineage to the beginnings of the movement, presents the evidence that these research projects are the cause of the cancers in her family She also chronicles her concerns over the lack of environmental respect that is given to the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding region Part of her refuge is spending time in the bird refuge that edges part of the Great Salt lake While at first, I wasn t sure I would like this, I gave it a chance And I m so thrilled with the outcome How can one be thrilled with such a bittersweet book with death as an outcome Williams says that Grief dares us to love once That parallels a recent song I ve heard by artist Amy Grant Love has made me unafraid It s no mistake that two different people in the midst of the human experience have discovered this deep truth for themselves in entirely separate ways I m glad they brought to my attention something I knew but had not yet articulated. Reading this book is like watching the wetland landscape of your childhood home transform and disappear, and watching your mother and beloved grandmother succumb to cancer and die Just like.This book was stunning Like a cattle prod between the eyes And painful Like crying sand instead of tears And so familiar yes I lived in Utah, yes with all my ancestors pioneer histories, yes with the pervasive blessing and burden of Mormonism, yes with the inspiring and healing landscapes of mountain and desert, yes my mother died young of breast cancer it was too painful to even cry through it.Williams poetic style reminds me of the old time naturalists she is a keen observing soul out there in nature deeply woven into the natural world, intimate with the birds.Refuge is unique it came out of nowhere and knocked the wind out of me More of a talisman than a book. Lo mejor que he le do hasta ahora, duro y bello. I have lived in Salt Lake City for almost a year Its a place where family, faith and nature are interwoven into everyday life Nature and family are important to me, organized religion not so much I am not a Mormon However, there is something about living on the edge of the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountain Range that makes you want to reflect on your life and what it means to be close to nature on a spiritual level Terry Tempest Williams s book, Refuge, is the perfect book for women who want to turn their thoughts inward, especially when it comes to our relationships with our mothers and daughters It is a book about women, about birds, and how strong and resilient they both are The most poignant part of the book for me is how Williams and her family dealt with her mother s cancer, her dying and the grief that comes after My mother died from breast cancer over 20 years ago and I still feel that loss Its a beautiful book, one to keep and reread as life changes and there is need for a refuge. There is something very different going on in Terry Tempest William s head than my own Her mother is dying of cancer and she is a scientist who studies birds near Great Salt Lake The pulse of Great Salt Lake, surging along Antelope Island s shores, becomes the force wearing against my mother s body And when I watch flocks of phalaropes wing their way toward quiet bays on the island, I recall watching Mother sleep, imagining the dreams that were encircling her, wondering what she knows that I must learn for myself The light changes, Antelope Island is blue Mother awakened and I looked away I would never, ever write something like that Ever.The entire book is like this, all 314 pages, and it gave me a headache But hey, maybe this is your kind of thing. Terry Tempest Williams is a writer with a deep and active interest in environmental education and conservation, Refuge is both a memoir of a period in her life when she accompanied her mother through the illness that would claim her life, and shortly after her grandmother, leaving her the matriarch of the family at the age of thirty four.Although this is the book she is most well known for, I first read and reviewed her writing and encountered her mother in a recent, and equally extraordinary book, When Women Were Birds Fifty four Variations on Voice which was written twenty years later when the author was 54 in 2012 It was also the age her mother was, when she succumbed to the illness written about in Refuge I recommend it equally, they are a unique pair, in their insights, their confusion, their ultimate compassion and understanding.Throughout the memoir, she spends time with her mother, and equally has concerns for the Great Salt Lake, which sits on their doorstep, it is the place she grew up in, a landscape and wildlife she is obsessed with, one I knew nothing about, but became increasingly intrigued by, this enormous, terminal lake with no outlet to the sea.Great Salt Lake wilderness adjacent to a city a shifting shoreline that plays havoc with highways islands too stark, too remote to inhabit water in the desert that no one can drink It is the liquid lie of the West.Natives of the area speak of the lake in the shorthand of lake levels, it s not deep, but it is vast, so it doesn t take much precipitation for significant rises to occur In the mid 80 s when she was writing this book it was first published in 1991 talk on the streets of Salt Lake City was of the lake s rapid rising, everyone had concerns, the airport, the farms, the railroad, survival.My interest lay at 4206 , the level which, according to my topographical map, meant the flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.She writes about her family history, her genealogy with its deep roots in the American West her Mormon culture has preserved and their connection to the natural world, infused with spiritual values.The birds and I share a natural history It is a matter of rootedness, of living inside a place for so long that the mind and imagination fuse.As the author shares the drama unfolding within her family of which she is the eldest child and only daughter, there is always the metaphor of the lake, the simultaneous restlessness of its birds, as if they too sense change coming she wonders if they are better adapted to it than humans.The thirty six short chapters each carry the name of one of the bird species that inhabits the lake environment, they may only be mentioned in one sentence, but they are all listed, noted, observed over time, throughout the pages, they represent the life cycle of species, moving on, migrating, adapting to change, dying, making way for the young.William s both observes beauty and dissects suffering as she observes her mother s and her own and tries to make sense of it, through nature and her current philosophical understanding.Tonight I watched the sun sink behind the lake The clouds looked like rainbow trout swimming in a lapis sky I can honour its beauty or resent the smog in this valley which makes it possible Either way, I am deceiving myself.Birds are entwined with local folklore, the Californian gull rescuing the Mormons in 1848 from losing their crops to crickets They still gather to tell this story.How the white angels ate as many crickets as their bellies would hold, flew to the shore of Great Salt Lake and regurgitated them, then returned to the field for We honour them as Utah s state bird.It s a book where you could highlight a passage on each page, one you can open on a random page and find some meaningful, reflective passage on life, an interesting bird fact or a brief history lesson.The writing is at times poetic, sometimes scientific, passionate and honest There s a perfect balance between the personal and the environment that makes it a compelling read, but also one that you ll want to savour.The mother and daughter get their astrology charts done and read each other s I liked the part about Terry being neat and meticulous, teased Mother I remember standing in the middle of your bedroom when you were about thirteen years old Everything in your closet was on the floor, art and school papers were piled high on your desk I remember thinking, I have two choices here I can harp on her every day of her life, making certain her room is straight or I can close the door and preserve our relationship As the Great Salt Lake continues to rise, a deep sadness washes over her that all has been lost.I am not adjusting I keep dreaming the Refuge back to what I have known rich, green bulrushes that border the wetlands, herons hiding behind cattails, concentric circles of ducks on ponds I blow on these images like the last burning embers on a winter s night.There is no one to blame, nothing to fightOnly a simple natural phenomenon the rise of the great Salt Lake.There is also refuge in poetry, in other writers and the book is interspersed with memorable quotes from those whose words soothe her during this period of grief, as her mother goes into decline. Oh, a difficult book Heart rending and heart lifting.Refuge weaves together two tragedies a catastrophic flood of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah and the death of Williams s mother from cancer.Terry Tempest Williams is one of my hero writers The solid science of her naturalism is balanced by her mysticism She writes desert prose from the desert it can be harsh and unsparing, but there is so much beauty to be had.Recommended for grievers and bird watchers.