Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Refuge

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and PlaceRefuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes there seems to be a certain magic in how a book comes to you. While I was reading Williams’s words on land use, transformation, & the bonds between land & families, the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve (a site mentioned briefly in the book) played out, giving the conflict in Refuge a new urgency as I read it. Williams’s story: the Great Salt Lake is rising, threatening man-made development & forcing the birds of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to seek out other nesting sites. Paralleling the conflict between nature & man is the insidious blight of cancer slowly affecting the women in Williams’s family & community. The book focuses on her efforts to navigate these crumbling environments in search of hope & regeneration.

While I do feel that this book came to me at a charmed moment, I do wonder if I should have read this before When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice. While Birds was certainly strong enough to stand on its own, Refuge felt like the missing piece that was eluding me when I read the previous book. I also mentioned that the standoff at Malheur lent a certain angle to my reading–I also think that I would not have synced up so well with Williams’s environmental concerns if I had not been more aware of Virginia’s own wetlands endangered by the rising sea & the efforts of the waterside community to negotiate with the changing conditions. I don’t mention this to suggest that readers must have some prerequisite interest in environmental activism. I’m just trying to convey the sort of awareness & wakefulness that Williams’s writing inspire in me as a reader. Her attempts to encompass multiple levels of experience & seek out the connections in direct, honest way keeps me coming back to her work.

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