Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

I am currently reading "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place" by Terry Tempest Williams. The book was graciously given to me by my very good friend, Micha, as a birthday present and is a montage of vignettes on the bird life near and on the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City, Utah, intertwined with personal accounts of the author's family life and its struggle with cancer.

While the idea of bird watching can cause one's eyes to glaze over-- I felt the same before my first rendezvous with the winged creatures-- I would recommend one to spend a few hours doing just that. I quickly became intensely aware of just how stunningly beautiful nature can be and how in tune one feels not just with one's surroundings but also with oneself.

Mrs. Williams' words capture all of this splendor, while, at the same time, informing the reader on each species of bird. Her ability to describe the social interactions of the avifauna, as well as its environmental intercourse, coupled with her personal family experiences, is griping.

I believe that every great book provides its reader with at least one nugget of superior writing, which ingrains itself indelibly in the reader's mind. While reading tonight, I found my nugget.

The understanding that I could die on the salt flats is no great epiphany. I could die anywhere. It's just that in the forsaken corners of the Great Salt Lake there is no illusion of being safe. You stand in the throbbing silence of the Great Basin, exposed and alone. On these occasions, I keep tight reins on my imagination. The pearl-handed pistol I carry in my car lends me no protection. Only the land's mercy and calm mind can save my soul. And it is here I find grace.

It's strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on.

If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to self. There is no place to hide, and so we are found.

In the severity of a salt desert, I am brought down to my knees by its beauty. My imagination is fired. My heart opens and my skin burns in the passion of these moments. I will have no other gods before me.

-- "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place" (p. 148)


BillBow Baggins said...

You want an easy way to meditate? Put a bird feeder near a window of your home and sit back and watch the beauty.


C.J. said...

I agree wholeheartedly. A bird bath does wonders too!