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RED by Terry Tempest Williams


Passion and Patience in the Desert

by Terry Tempest Williams

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-42077-0
Publisher: Pantheon

From naturalist Williams (An Unspoken Hunger, 1994, etc.), a powerful and lyrical collection ranging from sudden pieces of fiction and hip-shooting creative nonfictions to manifestos and eroticism, all taking their cues from the American Southwestern deserts.

From a tough, sere, minimal place, Williams offers these testimonial, protective essays. The desert has undone her, she has sung its praises long and hard, and here she continues her canon of stories that animate the countryside. As a poet of place she abides, calling on all that restores and redeems in the landscape. It might be an organic dance on a high plateau, or flute music spilling through the night while she camps at the foot of Keet Seel, or an anything-but-simple list of place names: Sewemup Mesa, Box-Death Hollow, Diamond Breaks, Lampstand, Gooseneck. These are creation stories in the sense that they create within the reader a respect for a place. Williams reads character lines in the topography; she experiences the land bodily and slowly. She invites the canyon and wash and mesa right into the family, as ancestral as any great grandmother. She makes it understandable how a desert might conjure feelings of empathy, desire, and humility. Polemical forays, by contrast, are not her strong suit: arguments supporting the protection of place cannot rest on such leaps of faith as a landscape “reminding us through its bloodred grandeur just how essential wild country is to our psychology,” or non sequiturs like “it’s hard to take yourself very seriously when confronted face-to-face with a mountain lion.” (Mortality is, after all, a fairly serious business.) And to say “there's so much land, stretches of land so vast you cannot see it all, certainly not in a lifetime” weirdly echoes antienvironmentalists’ notions of infinite resources, endless frontiers.

It is heart-gladdening to know that someone of Williams’s passionate conviction and transporting prose is striving to protect the redrock.