Environmental advocate and nature writer Williams (Environmental Humanities/Univ. of Utah; The Open Space of Democracy, 2004, etc.) celebrates the “beauty of being brought together.”
Tesserae, the cut stone and glass and enamel used in making mosaics, usher in her leitmotif: that it is elemental to human nature and a measure of our compassion to recompose a unity that has been shattered. “I believe in the beauty of all things broken,” she writes, and mosaics provide a clear-cut example as she describes her apprenticeship in a mosaic workshop in Ravenna, Italy, where she found that “a spiritual history of evolving pagan and Christian perspectives can be read in a dazzling narrative of cut stones and glass.” Her other two instances of something broken are more oblique: the threatened prairie dog and violence in Rwanda. Prairie dogs are not charismatic animals like whales or wolves, especially not to golf-course managers and housing developers, and thus they test the range of human awareness and our remove from the basic rights of existence and commonwealth. Observing a prairie-dog clan, she immersed herself in their community. Her sentences are short, staccato, often incantatory, and arranged just so on the page (a mosaic of words). Williams stumbles a bit when trying to apply to humans her contention that “there is a perfection in imperfection,” as she witnessed in mosaics. It certainly doesn’t apply to those who committed genocide in Rwanda, where the author ventured as a scribe for a team building a memorial to the victims. Knitting together the Hutus and Tutsis will take a long time, she acknowledges, but she now shares beauty and community with her adopted Rwandan son.
A deep-running meditation on reaching for the sublime despite obstacles.