New and previously published essays from the well-known conservationist alternately rage and despair over national policies of land and wildlife conservation.
The election of Donald Trump spelled a dark moment for environmentalists like Williams (Writer-in-Residence/Harvard Divinity School; The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks, 2015, etc.), who increasingly sees a “world torn to pieces.” The erosion of the protection of public lands, most recently that of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, has compelled the author to become increasingly political, sometimes to the detriment of her personal life. When her longtime husband, Brooke, said that she “was too immersed in politics—‘obsessed’ was the word he used—and that it wasn’t healthy,” her response was telling: “We have to keep fighting….It’s not just about our species.” Owls, for which Williams has a particular affinity, would agree, as would countless other species, such as prairie dogs, wolves, and sage grouse, all of which suffer from the erosion of the Endangered Species Act (1973). A “totemic act,” it has “never been more relevant and never more at risk.” These essays—written between 2016 and 2018 and mostly high quality—take readers to extraordinary places, including the Great Salt Lake and surrounding areas; Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she saw “one constant: pronghorns”; the Alaskan Brooks Range (“in the Arctic, global warming is not an abstraction”); the Galápagos Islands, where the author discovered countless wonders on land and at sea; the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, where she observed gorillas amid a war-torn country bleeding itself for charcoal production. Elsewhere, she writes about how she confronted the religious politics of the Latter-day Saint patriarchy in Utah, where she lived, forcing her to leave her professorship for the unknown. She also confronts the traumatic, untimely death of her brother by suicide in 2018. Though the book contains mostly prose, there is also poetry and a long Q-and-A with fellow environmentalist Tim DeChristopher.
Not every piece is a winner, but this anthology of grief, anger, and even hope capably reflects Williams’ wise voice.