Friday, January 28, 2005

An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field by Terry Tempest Williams

A Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 160 pages
# Publisher: Vintage, 1995
# ISBN: 0679752560
# $11.00

As the title of one of Terry Tempest Williams' essays states... this collection of immersions into spirit and place are "The Erotics of Place." That is, not just a bodily immersion into her subject, but one of totality. Williams accomplishes that sinking into her well-worded ideas that leaves only the tips of her hair floating on the surface, a faint rippling of the water where she stepped in, and nothing more - she is submerged. And that is a thing of quality.

The essays in this short collection touch on lives of people as well as life force of place. Williams writes about Georgia O'Keefe in "In Cahoots with Coyote" with evident love for the woman, the artist, the landscape: "What O'Keefe saw was what O'Keefe felt - in her own bones. Her brush strokes remind us again and again, nothing is as it appears: roads that seem to stand in the air like charmed snakes; a pelvis bone that becomes a gateway to the sky; another that is rendered like an angel; and 'music translated into something for the eye.'" The essay concludes with Williams, O'Keefe, and coyotes in the canyons of southern Utah howling in harmony.

Williams writes a eulogy for Edward Abbey, another spirit polished by desert sand. She sees Abbey as the leader of a growing Clan, a clan of human coyotes reclaiming their land, "...individuals who are quietly subversive on behalf of the land. And they are infiltrating our neighborhoods in the most respectable ways, with their long, bushy tails tucked discreetly inside their pants or beneath their skirts... not easily identified, but there are clues. You can see it in their eyes. They are joyful and they are fierce. They can cry louder and laugh harder than anyone on the planet..."

This is that total immersion Williams renders so well. Her people essays blend seamlessly with her place essays; they are the same, as they should be, she reminds us, the same. "We call its name," she writes of the earth around her, "and the land calls back."

Williams makes political statements in her work. It is her coyote howl to call together an awareness of the destruction of land all around us. She addresses nuclear testing not only as a naturalist, but as a woman born in a family riddled with breast and ovarian cancer. She addresses conservation as a necessity for continued life on earth, not merely as a question of quality of life. Her call is not militant - it is one of lyrical love for the preservation of the gift we have been given, the natural world that sustains us.

No comments: