Williams takes bold stand for the land in 'Red'
by JOANNA ROSE, published 09/23/01 in the Oregonian
Terry Tempest Williams' new book, "Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert," is a collection
of essays, fablelike pieces, stories and scenes from her life, all written in her delicately
I dearly love this voice for its courage in the face of its own community, conservationism
being generally no friend of Utahans or Mormons, of which Williams is both.
I also love this voice for its willingness to use pure language in the face of laws that need to
be changed and lawmakers and citizens who need to understand that there is another way
Those who have the mind-set that conservationism is at best a luxury, at worst a waste of
resources, are not in a position to make that decision until they have read and understood
works such as "Red" or Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac" or Mary Hunter Austin's
"The Land of Little Rain," two among many such works that Williams weaves into "Red."
She has always written of family, and in "Red" she looks onto the larger family of humankind
with no distinction.
She says simply, "Wilderness holds an original presence. . . . Wilderness revives the memory
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on this country, and how we must respond to them, it is
difficult not to see metaphors everywhere.
The piece "To Be Taken" includes some of her finest writing, simple sentences and images
that are impressive feats of the ordinary. The male members of her family at an annual
gathering: "Their polished boots could kill spiders in corners."
As that family gathering becomes a heated discussion of the Endangered Species Act and
a particular species of desert tortoise, Williams stops to speak of that particular desert
creature: "The tension tortoise inspires calls for wisdom."
And there it is again -- the surprising metaphor. She goes into how tortoises nest in groups
together, year after year, and live for a hundred years; their struggle to co-exist, and then,
back to the family argument, and the human struggle to care.
Her graceful movement in and out of a scene; elegant juxtapositions that are what Terry
Tempest Williams is, at her best, all about.
"Red" includes some previously published pieces from Desert Quartet and Coyote's Canyon.
It also includes her address to the Senate Subcommittee on Forest and Public Lands
Management in 1995. "Red's" appendix includes the text of the America's Redrock
Wilderness Act as well as a list of names of those members of the House who introduced it.
The Redrock Wilderness Citizens' Proposal includes the names of specific sites in a list that
speaks in the ancient language of story.
And there is a list of supporting organizations, including phone numbers and e-mail
addresses. And so "Red" becomes a demand for citizen action and a practical handbook
within its last few pages.
And it is the right place to speak such a truth as this: "It is no longer the survival of the fittest
but the survival of compassion."
Joanna Rose of Portland regularly reviews fiction for The Oregonian.