A Sea Change for Terry Tempest Williams?

I spent the evening of February 15 in Bluff, Utah listening to Terry Tempest Williams read from her new book Mosaic: Finding Beauty in a Broken World, due out later this year. 

I have not felt inclined to like Williams’ work, though I’ve kept up with it.  Her intensely personal style results in stories that, to my ear, feel forced and nervous.  Many people like that about her — that emotionally, she’s on the edge.  It feels honest to them and strikes chords. 

But it seems to me that such a style makes whatever story she’s telling overwhelmingly  about her and less about her audience (whom she aims to persuade) and the subject (nature, art, science, etc.).  In a medium where the expressed purpose is to argue for conservation of the definitely not her and better behavior all around toward other species and peoples, I found that her methods of piecing together experience often got in the way of the message.  

And valid or not, her criticism of the LDS culture rolled marbles under the feet of aspiring LDS nature writers, and while I’ve not taken any of her criticisms personally, I count others’ reactions to her work as one of the obstacles  that must be faced in encouraging the development of this genre in the LDS writing community.  All the same, I respect her as a pioneering voice in the modern re-emergence of literary nature and science writing, a medium that’s very important to me.  I attended Friday night’s event out of professional duty with cautious interest, expecting more of the rhetorical same from her.

So the wonder and delight I felt as I listened to her speak about and read from Mosaic  took me by surprise.  “Something,” I thought, “has changed.”  In fact, as Williams talked about her experiences writing Mosaic, she said, “Writing this book was very different for me.”

With more grace and uncertainty than I recall ever having seen her show, she explained how, following experiences during and after the attacks on 911, it dawned on her that “My rhetoric was becoming as brittle as [that of the] the people I was railing against.  I needed to find my way back to poetry.”  While she has always shown an interest in engaging community, Mosaic appears to be an experiment for her in finding language “that opens our hearts rather than closes it.”

She described how, in her search for a rhetorical springboard, she stood on the eastern sea coast in New England, begging the sea to “Give me just one word, one wild word to follow” to begin her journey back to poetry.  The sea gave her the word: “Mosaic.”  She chased this word through Italy, where she enrolled in a mosaicists’ workshop, then she tracked it through prairie dog towns in the western U.S. and into the boneyards of Rwanda, where she acted as scribe during the building of a memorial for those who died during the 1994 genocide there.   This throwing herself to the wolves of faith and war seems to have given her writing something more than it had before.   The quality of her intelligent if not always hospitable prose appears to have been heightened through an infusion of two vital qualities: kindness and hope.

As she read from Mosaic, her reliance upon the repetition of images, phrases, and themes showed that she had, indeed, come back round to the music and dance of poetry.  With each line, she wove repeated phrases into new subjects.   Round and round she went: light, processes in the production of mosaics, light, community, bones, the death of her brother Steve in 2003, bones, prairie dogs, community, prairie dogs as mosaicists, light, the destruction of prairie dog towns, prairie dog bones, the unburied bones of women and others murdered in Rwanda, the construction of the memorial to the Rwandan dead, mosaic, hope, laughter, light, community, mosaic.  Her writing abounds with wordplay, an effective means for allowing a wide range of response in a variety of readers.   The spiralling repetition calls to mind a hawk’s or eagle’s flight as it circles above the ground it’s considering, circling, circling, all the while looping its way forward to its next point.   Poetically, this style is incantational rather than straightforwardly lyrical, yet I found it to have an emotional elegance reflective of lyrical style. 

Her point in the passages she read, made through juxtapositioning repeated yet widening phrases and themes, appeared to be that life on Earth might be viewed as a mosaic, its many individuals being cut irregularly to better engage the play of light across life’s surface.  Both human and wild species make up this mosaic.  Human beings build communities, and so do prairie dogs – vibrant communities upon which many species, including our own, are dependent.  She told, for instance, of a government proposition to the Navajo Nation to irradicate prairie dogs on a part of their land.  “But who will pray for the rain?” the Navajo elders asked.  The government agents chuckled at the question but went on with their project, eliminating prairie dogs from that area.  The result: without the constant churning of the soil and engineering prowess of the prairie dog infrastructure, the ground in that area turned to hardpan, resulting in nightmarish problems with runoff and erosion. 

Her description of the prairie dogs’ overall status as undesireables among ranchers and other economic interests and her relating of the brutal suffocation of the dogs in their burrows might come off as overdone to some who find her placing of animals in the same moral plane as humans to be untenable.  Yet I found her movement from the razing of prairie dog communities to the genocide in Rawanda convincing, especially when she provided small details that flashed and burned with insight.  For instance, she revealed that the Hutu oppressors called the Tutsis they mass-murdered by a name that means “cockroach.”  Whether or not you can accept the elevation of prairie dogs above the category of obnoxious vermin, the real comparison lies between  acts of violence humans perpetrate against other species and acts of violence humans perpetrate against their own species.  

In spite of the somberness, even terror, that Mosaic gives voice to, Williams ended the evening on upbeat and, more importantly, convincing notes of hope and even joy.  She recounted her experiences with Rwandan children, orphaned by the genocide and by no doubt other ravages to their culture, telling how a group of them asked her to sing them a song.  The only song she could think of was a Jello ditty she had learned at LDS girls’ camp.  These children, who had suffered so much loss and horror, rippled with easy laughter when she explained through an interpreter what Jello was and what other words in the song meant.  “You cannot take hope from these children,” a guide told her.  The work that went into the memorial itself that she had gone to Rwanda to chronicle provided another focal point for communal healing and hope.  If a people who had lost so much could still have hope, she mused, how much easier ought it to be for we who have so much.

In Refuge, there’s a scene in the chapter titled “Red-Shafted Flicker” where Williams recalls coming home from school “devastated” because other children had made fun of her naturally curly hair.  Her mother takes her to the bathroom and sets her before a mirror.  She asks the crushed eight-year-old what she sees.  When Williams doesn’t answer, she says: “I see a beautiful girl with green eyes.  I want you to stay here until you see her too.”

Sometimes in her writing, it has seemed Williams was still stuck in front of that mirror.  Whether it was Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Eartly Delights or a pictograph of a woman giving birth, she looked hard for her own image in whatever surface was at hand.  There’s nothing unusual about imposing one’s image upon the landscape.  Certainly, psychologists, sociologists, and writer-philosophers assert that there is no “Other,” a “not you” of being and experience to get across to, only the “you” that experience or a landscape mirrors back.  Me, I believe Other does exist, and while people do project themselves with great devotion, do put in a great deal of time before the mirror, at some point that mirror ought to give way to a window, to the “not you” of experience and nature that makes it possible for you to become something other than you are.  

But if the samples I heard from Mosaic are anything to judge by, Williams has stripped the silver backing off the glass and made the mirror into a window, which she has thrown open wide, and we can see through her and past her.  She has created a generous rhetorical environment that permits the reader to make his/her own pertinent connections.         

As soon as this book is available, I’ll review it. Hopefully, it will live up to the promise that Friday night’s reading made to the hope-starved audience hanging on her every word.   Certainly, I came away from that reading feeling excited and hopeful and as if a burden had been lifted off. 

Author: Patricia Karamesines

Patricia has been described as a poet, a novelist, a folklorist, an editor, and a literary critic. Certainly at times she behaves as if she were any and all of these and a few other things besides. Patricia grew up in the rural Virginia countryside, where she imprinted deeply upon the local flora and fauna. When she left the East to attend Brigham Young University in Utah she brought her impressionability with her, transferring it, perhaps irrevocably, to the desert Southwest. A literary nature journalist by nature, she does tend to write about the natural world … a lot. Whenever she can, she travels to the desert, the nearest place where the infinite becomes the obvious, and wanders from shimmering horizon to shimmering horizon (within reason). A firm believer in the dynamics of language, how language does things to and for people, and in the power of narrative for pro-creation and re-creation, and in the abilities of all language to multiply and replenish or to exploit and ravage, she is a constant explorer of The Possible. Her opinions are fluid, apt to change with the slightest revelatory experience or if, as she’s said elsewhere, magic words are uttered. She truly believes that she is always wrong and that the point of her life is to become less wrong—for her, a liberating concept. Patricia lives (at last!) in southeastern Utah with her husband Mark and their three children.

18 thoughts on “A Sea Change for Terry Tempest Williams?”

  1. I’ve been very put off by Williams’ political rhetoric the past few years. If she had decided that she’s been too harsh, that is good news.

  2. Hi, R.W.! I’m happy you swung round. Thanks for commenting.

    I can’t say what Williams has decided, though when she said, “My rhetoric was becoming as brittle as [that of the] the people I was railing against. I needed to find my way back to poetry,” that suggested to me that she is reassessing her methods, not just for her own well being and effectiveness as a writer but out of regard for her readers.

    BTW, I also attended the three hour writers workshop she held the following morning where I saw other signs of fairer weather in her intent. The workshop experience was also interesting but in a different way. If anybody is interested in hearing about the workshop, let me know (by e-mail or via these comments). I could either report in a comment to this post or put up a separate post.

  3. Thanks, Patricia. I too have steered clear of her work because I wasn’t sure that the time investment would be worthwhile. But any recognition of brittle rhetoric has got to be a positive thing.

    I would be interested in hearing about the workshop. And if you are going to take the time to write it up, I say put it up as a separate post.

    [quote]at some point that mirror ought to give way to a window[/quote]

    Yeah. And a lot of your own work has been about how that can happen. Thanks. :-)

  4. Thanks for the heads up. I read _Refuge_ and half of _Leap_, wanting to like it, but the fact that every page was all about the author was too much and I just couldn’t make myself care.

    I hope _Mosaic_ is indeed something different.

  5. OK Wm, I’ll put it in a separate post.

    By that quote you pulled out I don’t mean to say that a writer can’t stand center stage in his/her writing. If the subject is pointedly autobiographical, then I imagine the writer will be right in the middle of it all with good reason. When a piece is supposed to be about something else, I likewise imagine the writer ought to be transparent, or at the very least translucent. Otherwise, it’s like he or she is standing on a chair in the front row blocking everyone’s view of the stage.

  6. Thanks for the note, Patricia.

    I loved Refuge the first time I read it. It took me longer to love Leap. Like Anneke, the first time through, I only made it halfway. Six months later a few things had changed in me, and I read it cover to cover, though I didn’t like parts. The next time through, I deeply appreciated it.

    I suspect that says (as you’ve warned us about TTW) more about me than it does about the works.

    At any rate, I’ll keep an eye out for Mosaic, though I suspect that the near-spam of amazon.com will email me about it as soon as it becomes available.

  7. Anneke,

    I am counting on Mosaic being something different. If it is, it will prove to be valuable work for many reasons, including that it will offer an example of how to go about writing natural history/literary nature essays that aspiring LDS writers will be able to admire and emulate.

  8. greenfrog, Feel free to explain why you appreciated Leap, if you like. I’m sure you’ll have seen something I didn’t.

    And I don’t mean to warn anybody off liking TTW’s writing. I’ve attended one other reading she gave, watched her on documentaries, read like Coyote’s Canyon, Desert Quartet, and other work as well as books that she edited, etc. This is the first time I’ve felt taken with her style and overall presence. As a result, thumbing through Refuge this a.m. looking for the mirror passage, I found myself looking at her writing with a softer eye.

  9. Patricia,

    I hope you will post the highlights of TTW’s writers workshop and what you learned from it. I’d love to read about it.

  10. Hi, Patricia W.! I’m working on it. I’ll have the post up in a day or so.

    I hope it’ll be useful.

  11. Patricia K:
    Have you encountered Amy Irvine’s writings before?
    (cross-posted from the AML board)
    Environmentalist author Amy Irvine has a new book out this week, from North Pointe Press.
    The negative impact of Mormon culture on the envirnoment appears to be among her themes.

    Publishers Weekly review:
    In this clouded memoir, Irvine, former development director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), pursues her tortuous trajectory from a loosely Mormon upbringing to strident environmental activism. Irvine writes from the fresh grief of her father’s suicide: a fierce atheist with a Mormon pedigree, her father divorced her mother when Irvine was 10, drank heavily and gradually grew estranged from his family before shooting himself in the heart. With her mother and sister, Irvine grew up a Jack Mormon (one whose belief in the Church of the Latter Day Saints has lapsed), endured a brief marriage with a yuppie vegetarian and found true love with a lawyer named Herb, with whom she moved to San Juan County, Utah. As Irvine, a grant-proposal writer, and Herb both worked for the SUWA, their advocacy for public lands pitted them in uncomfortable opposition to the pro-development, cattle-friendly interests of their largely Mormon neighbors. Irvine structures her memoir cannily around the four eras of local Native American prehistoric culture (Lithic, Archaic, Basketmaker and Pueblo), each reflecting a period of migration and settlement in her own life. However, her work is filled with so much tertiary detail that emotional resonance is rare. Still, her views on wilderness preservation ring passionately and her research is sound. (Feb.)

    Library Journal review:
    It took a flight to the desert after the suicide of her estranged, alcoholic father and a crisis in her marriage before activist Irvine (Making a Difference: Stories of How Our Outdoor Industry and Individuals Are Working To Preserve America’s Natural Places) finally accepted herself and the harsh forces that have shaped her life. Nestled amid descriptions of the stark, red-rock desert of the Colorado Plateau, speculation about ancient inhabitants, and reflection on the Mormon migration west is Irvine’s own story, which she unfolds gradually while moving seamlessly between past and present. Growing up in Salt Lake City under a cloud because she was a “half-breed”-half Mormon and half Gentile-Irvine suffered from chronic alienation that worsened after she moved to a desolate country of God-fearing Mormons who viewed outsiders, especially environmentalists, with suspicion. In a story at once compelling and exasperating, Irvine is like a fictional heroine bent on self-destruction. Finally, at the height of crisis, an epiphany occurs, and the author reveals what was heretofore hidden-that this is a story of love and reconciliation. This beautifully written work deserves a place among memoirs and Western writings in public and academic libraries.

    Publisher blurb:
    Trespass is the story of one woman’s struggle to gain footing in inhospitable territory. A wilderness activist and apostate Mormon, Amy Irvine sought respite in the desert outback of southern Utah’s red-rock country after her father’s suicide, only to find out just how much of an interloper she was among her own people. But more than simply an exploration of personal loss, Trespass is an elegy for a dying world, for the ruin of one of our most beloved and unique desert landscapes and for our vanishing connection to it. Fearing what her father’s fate might somehow portend for her, Irvine retreated into the remote recesses of the Colorado Plateau—home not only to the world’s most renowned national parks but also to a rugged brand of cowboy Mormonism that stands in defiant contrast to the world at large. Her story is one of ruin and restoration, of learning to live among people who fear the wilderness the way they fear the devil and how that fear fuels an antagonism toward environmental concerns that pervades the region. At the same time, Irvine mourns her own loss of wildness and disconnection from spirituality, while ultimately discovering that the provinces of nature and faith are not as distinct as she once might have believed.

    Back-cover comments:
    “Trespass is a book full of transgressions because Amy Irvine has dared to examine the nature of orthodoxy, be it religion, environmentalism, or marriage. What saves this book from simply becoming an indulgence is her fidelity and love for all things beautiful and broken, especially the redrock desert of southern Utah. If erosion is the face of a changing landscape, Amy Irving has written erosional prose. This is a transformative memoir that dances between shadow and light.” —Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place and Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

    “Trespass is the story of one woman’s escape: from the Mormon Church, from her father’s demons, from her own self-sabotage. Irvine’s take on early Native Americans in the Southwest and hunter gathering as a way of life is extraordinary and original, as is the way she uses these thoughts to better understand her own place in the world. Trespass is also a tangled, fevered, ambivalent love story—the true kind.” —Nora Gallagher, author of Changing Light and Things Seen and Unseen

    Irvine and Terry Tempest Williams will appear at the Salt Lake City Library, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m., to kick off her book tour.

  12. Thanks, Andrew. Definitely of interest.

    It does sound ready-packaged for the liberal academic elite, though.

    Trangressive! Environmentalism! Native Americans! Apostate! Escape from the Church and the Father!

    Also:

    “of learning to live among people who fear the wilderness the way they fear the devil”

    That doesn’t sound like the people I knew in Kanab. Perhaps my impressions were filtered through my childhood eyes and so I was blind to the “real” attitudes. And perhaps that sentence is just lame marketing copy and the book goes a lot deeper than that. I certainly hope so. I’ll have to check it out.

  13. Andrew, thanks for bringing up Amy Irvine. Yes, I’ve encountered her writing but not much because she’s shiny new. And I’m aware that Williams is mentoring her. When Williams fell ill and wasn’t able to attend the Bluff Arts Festival in November, she called Amy and asked her to step in for her. Along with Mary Sojourner and others reading from their work, Amy read from Trespass, which was then trembling on the brink of publication release. Irvine seems quite young and I hope we can show her the patience and charity the young need to make up their minds.

    The weekend I spent in November at the Bluff Arts Festival struck me hard. I had never heard so much fear, longing, sorrow, loss, and desperation expressed in concert. One of the writers, whom I hadn’t seen in four years, pulled me off to the side and listed everything she had lost during the four years that had passed since we’d met. She thought the world was falling apart.

    I think many nature writers are people of conscience who are clinically or marginally clincally depressed, just like a lot of other people are. They feel a native impulse to reconcile events in their lives, but that’s a difficult and long-running process. This is something I understand because of the long and difficult process of negotiating my disabled daughter’s condition and position in the world, especially when I faced the pedestrian forms of manifest destiny doctors displayed toward people who live with the degree of challenge that she does. Since I had no map of the world for where I was with my daughter, I did and said things not knowing whether the language I used or the actions I took would bear fruit or not. Try having faith when people you depend upon to give you something to go on don’t have faith. It’s hard — epic. Where are our patterns for epic journeys? Many are fading.

    Since so much of the population at large is operating at as broad of a feeling of loss, disorientation, and anger as some (not all) of these writers are, everybody seems disposed to see only the flash of swords in the crowd around them. Only natural environments have come through to provide such people relief from the anguish they frequently suffer. So naturally, they defend their places of solace as they would their lives. To them, they are defending their lives.

    Even where the cultural critism strikes sparks of truth, I hope Mormons can show these writers charity and not commit the same grave error of throwing the baby out with the bathwater that the writers themselves frequently do. Unfortunately, many nature writers cannot recognize chilling degrees of manifest destiny in their own language.

    One real way to travel the troubled waters of literary nature writing is for Mormons to learn what’s necessary and then write material that offers people something more compelling. Along with everybody else, Mormons have room for improvement when it comes to caring — about anything — and once they learn how, they should learn how to write in such a way as to make it possible for others to care about what they care about.

  14. Someone says they were put off by William’s political rhetoric the past few years? Where you been living? The Ross Ice Shelf? For anyone who cares about wilderness, wild animals, and the future of our public lands — and Willams and I both care with a vengeance — the last seven years have been a nightmare from hell. If you care about the environment and you aren’t political and outraged, you’re asleep.

  15. Thanks for your expressing your opinion, David. I’m not sure that the question at hand is whether or not any of us are outraged or even simply concerned about the environment, but rather about whether or not we are interested in reading Williams’ work and/or what personal and literary value we get out of it.

    And of course, this isn’t an environmental blog. There’s plenty of outrage out there on the Internet for environmental (and many other) issues. Instead this is a blog that, when it focuses on nature writing, focuses on literary environmental rhetoric and how that intersects with Mormon discourse.

    Patricia has written many very interesting posts on nature writing and Mormonism.

  16. David, I took R.W.’s statement about Terry’s politics not primarily as a condemnation of those politics but as an expression of his hope that Mosaic will speak to a wider audience that could include him. As I understood him, he has not felt part of TTW’s target audience.

    Indeed, if environmental rhetoric can create a hospitable environment where people who care but don’t necessarily feel outrage can likewise engage their passion for the natural world, it might become even more productive. Many people want to do better but don’t quite know how to start. Statements like “If you care about the environment and you aren’t political and outraged, you’re asleep” don’t go very far toward helping them figure it out.

  17. I came upon this blog post while looking up a quote from one of Terry’s books, and must say I am glad I did. Not because I necessarily agree with all the ideas hear but because I always love to hear another view point. I also attended Terry’s reading and workshop in Bluff, and was highly grateful for all that I took from it. I would like to share some things that came to mind as I read the entry and its subsequent comments.
    I can appreciate that her style may not appeal to all, but I feel that to assume because it is not what engages you that it cannot accomplish what it sets out to do is to discount a viable audience of readers. In our voyeuristic society light is often shone on new topics by an autobiographical approach for many people who would not engage in those issues otherwise. I feel like when you say “In a medium where the expressed purpose is to argue for conservation of the definitely not her and better behavior all around toward other species and peoples, I found that her methods of piecing together experience often got in the way of the message.” you are making a very definitive statement about the author’s intentions and desires that I wonder if you are qualified as someone outside of the inner workings of her heart to make. I put forth that maybe her writing is about a lot more than conservation. This statement seems to lock her in a tiny box. As I see it, her medium is simply language, and the ideas that feed her work are many beyond her love of environment.
    I would also like to touch on the discussion of her criticism of the LDS church. In my conversations with her personally about the LDS faith I have only felt a great love of the religion and the people coming from her. I have never felt reading her works any animosity towards the church. As a member myself I was so overjoyed when I found her work and felt I had finally found someone wrestling with the same ideas as I was in my faith and political views. I would like to recommend “New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community.” if you haven’t read it. There are some articles that come from a more critical point of view towards the church, but for me the main message it conveyed was that indeed conservation is part of the teachings of the gospel and our roles as stewards of the land. To be in harmony with the Lord we must be in harmony with the land and all of His creations.
    And finally I would like to address the discussion on the passionate voice she uses at times in her writings. I am a passionate person myself and I love passionate discourse and so it speaks to me. There is in honesty in reacting strongly to things that are most precious to us. I can also appreciate there are many who don’t feel comfortable with the “making waves” approach. And yet, I hope you can appreciate that the fervor of some her work elicits emotion and when people feel emotion, good or bad, it engages them, and from there we get the blessing of discourse and debate which I feel can never be bad things. Just as physical pain alerts us there is something we need to be aware of in our bodies, emotional discomfort often brings things to our attention we would have otherwise ignored.

  18. Welcome, Amanda Jean! I’m glad someone else who attended the reading and workshop has come ’round to comment. For me, these two events proved personally valuable and I’ve adjusted goals for my own writing because of them. I’m grateful that Terry donated her time and that the folks in Bluff organized and advertised the event so that I could seize the opportunity. They really were lovely events.

    You’ve raised a few points in your comment I’d like to address. First: “I can appreciate that her style may not appeal to all, but I feel that to assume because it is not what engages you that it cannot accomplish what it sets out to do is to discount a viable audience of readers.”

    One thing that cannot be discounted is Terry’s very large, very passionate, and very devoted audience, and I do not discount that audience nor Terry’s effective influence upon it. I acknowledge that influence in the second paragraph of this blog post. Just this past Saturday, March 8, I quoted her in a positive light in a paper I presented at the Association for Mormon Letters Annual Meeting.

    Terry’s work does engage me, but not on the deeper levels that, say, Craig Childs’ writing engages me. If her work did not engage me, I’d wouldn’t be writing about the reading or the workshop. In fact, I wouldn’t have gone, since I typically don’t attend events involving authors that don’t engage me to one degree or another.

    Second: “I put forth that maybe her writing is about a lot more than conservation. This statement seems to lock her in a tiny box. As I see it, her medium is simply language, and the ideas that feed her work are many beyond her love of environment.”

    No argument that her writing is about more than conservation.

    Third: “I would also like to touch on the discussion of her criticism of the LDS church. In my conversations with her personally about the LDS faith I have only felt a great love of the religion and the people coming from her. I have never felt reading her works any animosity towards the church. As a member myself I was so overjoyed when I found her work and felt I had finally found someone wrestling with the same ideas as I was in my faith and political views.”

    Good! I happy that Terry’s language resonates with you. It’s those her language doesn’t resonate with I’m interested in, because I am interested in promoting the reading and writing of nature literature among Mormons and have found significant obstacles in the way of doing that. You’ll notice that in paragraph 4, I say, “I count others’ reactions to her work as one of the obstacles that must be faced in encouraging the development of this genre in the LDS writing community.” I don’t say, “I count her work as one of the obstacles …”

    You can see from some of the comments above that some harbor attitudes ranging from strong resistence to to complete disinterest in her writing. Among Mormon readers, such attitudes toward her are not unusual. As I wrote in a private e-mail to another respondent to this post, I know of instances where people have actively worked to block her speaking at BYU. Now, I’m not interested much in whether or not these attitudes are justified; I’m only interested in how to work with them to bring Mormons and literary nature writing together. I will guess that you would not object to writing that is not done by Terry Tempest Williams but that speaks with passion about stewardship and the natural world to a larger LDS audience than Williams typically reaches. And what if Mosaic does prove more engaging to a larger LDS audience than her earlier work has been? I, for one, would cry tears of gratitude and relief.

    About this: “I would like to recommend ‘New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community.’ if you haven’t read it. There are some articles that come from a more critical point of view towards the church, but for me the main message it conveyed was that indeed conservation is part of the teachings of the gospel and our roles as stewards of the land. To be in harmony with the Lord we must be in harmony with the land and all of His creations.”

    I have read it, and while it does strive to assert the points you make in your last lines, it has hardly caused a revolution in the church. Why hasn’t it? Maybe that’s a topic for another post.

    Fourth: “I am a passionate person myself and I love passionate discourse and so it speaks to me. There is in honesty in reacting strongly to things that are most precious to us. I can also appreciate there are many who don’t feel comfortable with the “making waves” approach. And yet, I hope you can appreciate that the fervor of some her work elicits emotion and when people feel emotion, good or bad, it engages them, and from there we get the blessing of discourse and debate which I feel can never be bad things. Just as physical pain alerts us there is something we need to be aware of in our bodies, emotional discomfort often brings things to our attention we would have otherwise ignored.”

    Here’s a passage from my novel, The Pictograph Murders:

    “Alex had read or listened to words from others like herself who adored Nature and spoke of preserving it. Some pilgrims, stricken by visions that the earth and her skies conjure, seemed to try to make of it a lover, a parent, a goddess. Alex suspected that at least a few who sought to defend Nature from the ravages of humankind in turn exploited it on other levels by forcing upon it imagery and intentions shaped wholly upon fixed self-images, sorrows suffered, innocence lost. Then in such cases, and to varying degrees, perhaps it was themselves they were hastening to defend, salvage, or preserve.

    But then … maybe that was exactly right — voices of the earth speaking loss and longing. Parts of the earth mourning over exploitation suffered, struggling to survive. Yes, Alex mused, it was possible: being of the earth, people shared its fate right down to the cellular level and all that trouble raised voice in these ways, crying out.”

    But what if there’s a better will and a better way? Something that someone hasn’t yet written? Language that, like nature itself, creates an awe-inspiring wordscape that makes it possible for more people to heal, engage, bring about increase? Ideas that in the very thinking of them engender human progression and advances in human to human relations and human relations to the natural world?

    I take you would have no objection to the prospects.

    BTW, reading other posts I’ve written on related subjects might provide a more thorough context for understanding my thinking regarding Mormons and nature literature, if you’re interested. Some can, of course, be found here on AMV:

    http://www.motleyvision.org/?cat=33

    And there are some here, too:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?author=100&poststart=1

    But of course that’s a lot of reading, and I’m no Terry Tempest Williams.

Comments are closed.