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Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

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In the spring of 1983 Terry Tempest Williams learned that her mother was dying of cancer. That same season, The Great Salt Lake began to rise to record heights, threatening the herons, owls, and snowy egrets that Williams, a poet and naturalist, had come to gauge her life by. One event was nature at its most random, the other a by-product of rogue technology: Terry's mothe In the spring of 1983 Terry Tempest Williams learned that her mother was dying of cancer. That same season, The Great Salt Lake began to rise to record heights, threatening the herons, owls, and snowy egrets that Williams, a poet and naturalist, had come to gauge her life by. One event was nature at its most random, the other a by-product of rogue technology: Terry's mother, and Terry herself, had been exposed to the fallout of atomic bomb tests in the 1950s. As it interweaves these narratives of dying and accommodation, Refuge transforms tragedy into a document of renewal and spiritual grace, resulting in a work that has become a classic.


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In the spring of 1983 Terry Tempest Williams learned that her mother was dying of cancer. That same season, The Great Salt Lake began to rise to record heights, threatening the herons, owls, and snowy egrets that Williams, a poet and naturalist, had come to gauge her life by. One event was nature at its most random, the other a by-product of rogue technology: Terry's mothe In the spring of 1983 Terry Tempest Williams learned that her mother was dying of cancer. That same season, The Great Salt Lake began to rise to record heights, threatening the herons, owls, and snowy egrets that Williams, a poet and naturalist, had come to gauge her life by. One event was nature at its most random, the other a by-product of rogue technology: Terry's mother, and Terry herself, had been exposed to the fallout of atomic bomb tests in the 1950s. As it interweaves these narratives of dying and accommodation, Refuge transforms tragedy into a document of renewal and spiritual grace, resulting in a work that has become a classic.

30 review for Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I read this book after a quick bout of reading envy. Another reading friend posted about it on her Instagram stories and it reminded me that the essay I read in the Writing Non-Fiction class I took, "The Clan of One-Breasted Women" comes from this book. In that essay, Terry examines the facts of radiation fallout in the Nevada/Utah desert and the high occurrence of cancer in the women of her family. One of my closest friends just had a bilateral mastectomy last Friday, and I've had that essay on I read this book after a quick bout of reading envy. Another reading friend posted about it on her Instagram stories and it reminded me that the essay I read in the Writing Non-Fiction class I took, "The Clan of One-Breasted Women" comes from this book. In that essay, Terry examines the facts of radiation fallout in the Nevada/Utah desert and the high occurrence of cancer in the women of her family. One of my closest friends just had a bilateral mastectomy last Friday, and I've had that essay on my mind. So when it came up again in social media, I knew I had to have it. Last year, I read When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, which is almost exclusively focused on Terry's mother, and the blank journals she left behind when she died from cancer. This much earlier book is also largely about her mother, during her last bout with cancer, but this also coincides with the Great Salt Lake's flooding periods, and the destruction of some of the bird habitats surrounding it. Terry is attuned to these issues because of her work. Each essay has the name of a species of bird found around the lake, the water level, and then may or may not have much to do with the bird. So the essays are about birds and climate change. And about cancer and family. And about the decisions the author makes that aren't exactly what is expected by her family or religion, and how she navigates them. But in being about all of those things, it is about so much more than that, and I just kept coming back to it. And for a book published in 1991, it sure seemed relevant. "We spoke of rage. Of women and landscape. How our bodies and the body of the earth have been mined."Actually when I read the very first essay where the rage quotation i is found, I immediately emailed my colleague at U-Mass Amherst, who is interested in the intersection of climate change and mindfulness, and told her she should read this book. And of course, books on grief have been following me around, or I pursue them. Her mother dies of cancer, but it almost walks the line of a holy, sacred experience. Or maybe that is how she needed to write about it. It's a little unreal, based on my own experience, but nice that her mother was at peace with dying (having battled cancer already once before) and all the things needing to be said were said. (Except we know that this isn't quite true, based on the more recent book, where Terry is desperate for more of her mother, and all she has are the empty notebooks. But sometimes we must grieve in stages.) And sometimes the experiences with the birds and their changing habitat help her process the grief: "When I see ring-billed gulls picking on the flesh of decaying carp, I am less afraid of death... My fears surface in my isolation. My serenity surfaces in my solitude."It is fascinating how Terry finds parallels between nature's loss and her own. In "Redheads," she talks about California losing 95% of its wetlands over the last 100 years (1891-1991) and how 85% of Utah's wetlands had been lost in the last two (1989-1991), and how when wetlands go, species go, and so on. Then over in the "Meadowlarks" essay, she says,"A person with cancer dies in increments, and a part of you slowly dies with them."Definitely a link there. This is a book I need to own.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Abe Brennan

    Williams is an especially confounding writer, and part of it has to do with her voice—it’s very assured, but in that certainty lie the seeds of alienation and annoyance. It’s the assurance born of privilege, of money, and of an intact family. She can speak of democracy all she wants (and she does, especially in later works), but she’s at the higher end of the social spectrum—democracy (or any system) tends to work out for those people. Additionally, she tries too hard to wring some elemental tru Williams is an especially confounding writer, and part of it has to do with her voice—it’s very assured, but in that certainty lie the seeds of alienation and annoyance. It’s the assurance born of privilege, of money, and of an intact family. She can speak of democracy all she wants (and she does, especially in later works), but she’s at the higher end of the social spectrum—democracy (or any system) tends to work out for those people. Additionally, she tries too hard to wring some elemental truth from her prose, which, in many instances, results in a feeling of artifice. Interwoven with this tendency is perhaps the most irritating facet of her work—what can only be described as degeneration into “crystal gazing prose,” or abstract, highly pretentious, spiritual drivel. Much of her dialog rings untrue—as do several moments in the narrative (e.g. when she sticks a middle finger in the face of the hicks). On a mechanics note, her incessant use of passive verb construction acts as a sea anchor on the text. On the other hand, and this is why she is so confounding, there are moments of sublimity, truth, and flat out dynamite writing that almost make the journey worthwhile. She manipulates thematic elements throughout, balancing the concepts of “isolation” and “solitude” in a dialectical dance. “Solitude” seems the goal, synonymous with “refuge,” an acceptance of life’s rhythms (including death). And her use of the lake level is quietly effective: the story begins and ends at the same level—a subtle way of achieving a sort of closure.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I hold tight hoping Terry Tempest Williams will devote an entire book to her grandmother. "Refuge" was a beautiful book of love, loss of loved ones, loss of self – and doing what you can to get it all back. I love the opening of each chapter with the tracking of the elevation of Great Salt Lake during the flood of the 1980s -- how the lake began to embody everything for the author and to all of the people of Salt Lake City. This is a personal story about being part of a bad and a good world comm I hold tight hoping Terry Tempest Williams will devote an entire book to her grandmother. "Refuge" was a beautiful book of love, loss of loved ones, loss of self – and doing what you can to get it all back. I love the opening of each chapter with the tracking of the elevation of Great Salt Lake during the flood of the 1980s -- how the lake began to embody everything for the author and to all of the people of Salt Lake City. This is a personal story about being part of a bad and a good world community, living in a world ultimately controlled by natural forces, and human realization or denial of these forces. It is also a very personal story of the author's love of nature especially the lake and the birds of Utah, her Mormon religion, and, her grandmother's world religion. I'll be reading more by Terry Tempest Williams.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    Yes, this is one of those books that I will list as "amazing" for me. I had a difficult time getting started into this one but I pushed through for several reasons. It was recommended to me by my grad school professor. So, of course, I wanted to read to understand more closely the mind of this mentor and I like the idea of the subtitle "An Unnatural history of Family and Place." I had not heard of Williams previously. Initially it had too much naturalist talk for me and then its other subject ma Yes, this is one of those books that I will list as "amazing" for me. I had a difficult time getting started into this one but I pushed through for several reasons. It was recommended to me by my grad school professor. So, of course, I wanted to read to understand more closely the mind of this mentor and I like the idea of the subtitle "An Unnatural history of Family and Place." I had not heard of Williams previously. Initially it had too much naturalist talk for me and then its other subject matter is the author's mother's struggle with cancer. So sad. I put it down at one point because it made losing my own brother to cancer so fresh. And my own fear of getting cancer emphasized. But this is a bittersweet and sacred story of one family's journey through losing those they(a mother, two grandmothers, and aunts to cancer) love. Williams speaks for herself, her deep personal intimate feelings (which were some of the most moving parts of the book) and speaks for the others remaining. She is known for the essay at the end of the book that serves as the epilogue. It is entitled "The Clan of One Breasted Women." The irony of this book is that these people all live in the western part of the country - Utah - where there was much nuclear testing during the 1950s and beyond. Williams, a Mormon with clear lineage to the beginnings of the movement, presents the evidence that these research projects are the cause of the cancers in her family. She also chronicles her concerns over the lack of environmental respect that is given to the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding region. Part of her refuge is spending time in the bird refuge that edges part of the Great Salt lake. While at first, I wasn't sure I would like this, I gave it a chance. And I'm so thrilled with the outcome. How can one be thrilled with such a bittersweet book with death as an outcome? Williams says that "Grief dares us to love once more." That parallels a recent song I've heard by artist Amy Grant - "Love has made me unafraid." It's no mistake that two different people in the midst of the human experience have discovered this deep truth for themselves in entirely separate ways. I'm glad they brought to my attention something I knew but had not yet articulated.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sara Cranwell

    Lo mejor que he leído hasta ahora, duro y bello.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I have lived in Salt Lake City for almost a year. Its a place where family, faith and nature are interwoven into everyday life. Nature and family are important to me, organized religion not so much. I am not a Mormon. However, there is something about living on the edge of the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountain Range that makes you want to reflect on your life and what it means to be close to nature on a spiritual level. Terry Tempest Williams's book, Refuge, is the perfect book for women I have lived in Salt Lake City for almost a year. Its a place where family, faith and nature are interwoven into everyday life. Nature and family are important to me, organized religion not so much. I am not a Mormon. However, there is something about living on the edge of the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountain Range that makes you want to reflect on your life and what it means to be close to nature on a spiritual level. Terry Tempest Williams's book, Refuge, is the perfect book for women who want to turn their thoughts inward, especially when it comes to our relationships with our mothers and daughters. It is a book about women, about birds, and how strong and resilient they both are. The most poignant part of the book for me is how Williams and her family dealt with her mother's cancer, her dying and the grief that comes after. My mother died from breast cancer over 20 years ago and I still feel that loss. Its a beautiful book, one to keep and reread as life changes and there is need for a "refuge".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Becca

    Reading this book is like... watching the wetland landscape of your childhood home transform and disappear, and watching your mother and beloved grandmother succumb to cancer and die. Just like. This book was -- stunning. Like a cattle prod between the eyes. And painful. Like crying sand instead of tears. And so familiar (yes I lived in Utah, yes with all my ancestors' pioneer histories, yes with the pervasive blessing and burden of Mormonism, yes with the inspiring and healing landscapes of moun Reading this book is like... watching the wetland landscape of your childhood home transform and disappear, and watching your mother and beloved grandmother succumb to cancer and die. Just like. This book was -- stunning. Like a cattle prod between the eyes. And painful. Like crying sand instead of tears. And so familiar (yes I lived in Utah, yes with all my ancestors' pioneer histories, yes with the pervasive blessing and burden of Mormonism, yes with the inspiring and healing landscapes of mountain and desert, yes my mother died young of breast cancer) it was too painful to even cry through it. Williams' poetic style reminds me of the old time naturalists-- she is a keen observing soul out there in nature-- deeply woven into the natural world, intimate with the birds. Refuge is unique-- it came out of nowhere and knocked the wind out of me. More of a talisman than a book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    There is something very different going on in Terry Tempest William's head than my own. Her mother is dying of cancer and she is a scientist who studies birds near Great Salt Lake. "The pulse of Great Salt Lake, surging along Antelope Island's shores, becomes the force wearing against my mother's body. And when I watch flocks of phalaropes wing their way toward quiet bays on the island, I recall watching Mother sleep, imagining the dreams that were encircling her, wondering what she knows that I There is something very different going on in Terry Tempest William's head than my own. Her mother is dying of cancer and she is a scientist who studies birds near Great Salt Lake. "The pulse of Great Salt Lake, surging along Antelope Island's shores, becomes the force wearing against my mother's body. And when I watch flocks of phalaropes wing their way toward quiet bays on the island, I recall watching Mother sleep, imagining the dreams that were encircling her, wondering what she knows that I must learn for myself. The light changes, Antelope Island is blue. Mother awakened and I looked away." I would never, ever write something like that. Ever. The entire book is like this, all 314 pages, and it gave me a headache. But hey, maybe this is your kind of thing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Dumonet

    this is no conventional book by a conventional author- it is written by a fierce nature lover and serious nature writer. though nature writing is not my favorite genre, tempest williams reached me in a way no author ever has. i've turned to this book like i would turn to a best friend over the past few years- it's always as good as i remember it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Terry Tempest Williams is a local author with a transcendent story. Part memoir, Utah history, Audubon guide, and observer, Williams tells the story of the rise of the Great Salt Lake in the 1980's and its destruction of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Alongside this historical and ornithological account, Williams relates her own search for refuge as her mother and grandmother die of cancer, Both "down winder" victims of the nuclear testing in Nevada during the 1950s and early 60s. It is a Terry Tempest Williams is a local author with a transcendent story. Part memoir, Utah history, Audubon guide, and observer, Williams tells the story of the rise of the Great Salt Lake in the 1980's and its destruction of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Alongside this historical and ornithological account, Williams relates her own search for refuge as her mother and grandmother die of cancer, Both "down winder" victims of the nuclear testing in Nevada during the 1950s and early 60s. It is a very moving narrative with profound and fluid orchestration linking these narratives. Williams prose is other worldy. A definite must read for local 'birders', and those seeking to find their own refuge amidst loss in this fragile existence.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    This book was listed as "suggested reading" for a nature-writing class that I took in college. The book is about the long, slow death of the author's mother from cancer. In Utah in the 50's, parts of the state were used for nuclear testing. Many people got cancer as a result. It's a sad book, but starkly realistic. Terry Tempest Williams is a naturalist, and I actually met her when I lived in Utah. She's lovely. This is a realistic American story of a family tragedy, how our environment can hurt This book was listed as "suggested reading" for a nature-writing class that I took in college. The book is about the long, slow death of the author's mother from cancer. In Utah in the 50's, parts of the state were used for nuclear testing. Many people got cancer as a result. It's a sad book, but starkly realistic. Terry Tempest Williams is a naturalist, and I actually met her when I lived in Utah. She's lovely. This is a realistic American story of a family tragedy, how our environment can hurt us, and what we have to do in response.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Virginia

    Oh, a difficult book. Heart-rending and heart-lifting. Refuge weaves together two tragedies: a catastrophic flood of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah and the death of Williams's mother from cancer. Terry Tempest Williams is one of my hero-writers. The solid science of her naturalism is balanced by her mysticism. She writes desert prose from the desert: it can be harsh and unsparing, but there is so much beauty to be had. Recommended for grievers and bird-watchers.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    "Everything about Great Salt Lake is, exaggerated--the heat, the cold, the salt, and the brine. It is a landscape so surreal one can never know what it is for certain." "When most people had given up on the Refuge, saying the birds were gone, I was drawn further into it's essence. In the same way that when someone is dying many retreat, I chose to stay." I finished The Hour of Land, late last summer and fell hard for Terry Tempest Williams and wanted to read everything she has written. Well, nearl "Everything about Great Salt Lake is, exaggerated--the heat, the cold, the salt, and the brine. It is a landscape so surreal one can never know what it is for certain." "When most people had given up on the Refuge, saying the birds were gone, I was drawn further into it's essence. In the same way that when someone is dying many retreat, I chose to stay." I finished The Hour of Land, late last summer and fell hard for Terry Tempest Williams and wanted to read everything she has written. Well, nearly a year later, I am finally getting around to Refuge. It grabbed me immediately. This was written nearly 25 years ago, but her prose just sings with strength and passion. This one deals with her dying mother and the threatened survival of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, at the Great Salt Lake. Excellent.

  14. 4 out of 5

    María Sánchez

    “¿Por qué la muerte os resulta siempre tan sorprendente a los estadounidenses? ¿No os dais cuenta de que la danza y la lucha son la misma cosa?”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Raquel

    «Qué tiene de especial la relación con una madre, que es capaz de curarnos o herirnos? Su útero es el primer paisaje que habitamos. Es donde aprendemos a responder: a movernos, a escuchar, a nutrirnos y a crecer (...) El entorno materno es perfectamente seguro: oscuro, cálido y húmedo. Es una morada dentro de lo Femenino». 🌾 🌾 🌾 Estaba esperando a llegar a mi refugio Zamorano para poder leer este libro que reconcilia con lo salvaje, lo esencial, lo primario. Tempest trenza en él Ecología-Cáncer-Adap «Qué tiene de especial la relación con una madre, que es capaz de curarnos o herirnos? Su útero es el primer paisaje que habitamos. Es donde aprendemos a responder: a movernos, a escuchar, a nutrirnos y a crecer (...) El entorno materno es perfectamente seguro: oscuro, cálido y húmedo. Es una morada dentro de lo Femenino». 🌾 🌾 🌾 Estaba esperando a llegar a mi refugio Zamorano para poder leer este libro que reconcilia con lo salvaje, lo esencial, lo primario. Tempest trenza en él Ecología-Cáncer-Adaptación y el resultado es una obra didáctica, comprometida y tierna a la vez. Didáctica porque nos va hablando de las especies de aves que habitan el Gran Lago Salado, esa región de la America profunda, Utah, tan desconocida como misteriosa; comprometida porque cada perla de sabiduría es también una reivindicación ecológica y política; tierna porque narra cómo su madre afronta el diagnóstico de cáncer preparándose para morir mientras toda la familia se resiste a ello. 🌾 🌾 🌾 Una obra que tiene todo: momentos para indignarse, para aprender, para llorar, para reír, para reflexionar, para soñar, sentir el calor del sol y la brisa, darse un baño salado, dejarse llevar sin resistirse... mientras te acribillan los mosquitos. La vida misma. Esas conversaciones de tres generaciones de mujeres: abuela-madre-hija son inolvidables. Un libro que reconcilia con la vida y nos empuja a apreciar lo que tenemos; un libro que nos enseña a amar la naturaleza salvaje pero que nos obliga a despertar ante el desastre ecológico que estamos provocando. En definitiva, un libro para abrazar y después ir a abrazar a los que amamos. #Refugio #TerryTempestWilliams #MaternidadesLit #Ecologismo #Cáncer #Vidaymuerte #Librosquedejanhuella #Vocesdemujeres #Librosquesanan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I finished Refuge at least two weeks ago and have spent a lot of time wondering why I didn't like it as much as I expected to. That's not to say there was nothing I liked about it. I learned more about the Great Salt Lake--its structure and the birds that make their home there--than I have in years living near by. I loved that and the way she made me think about these valleys and mountains as shared places: native species with an ever burgeoning population. Maybe my familiarity with the area was I finished Refuge at least two weeks ago and have spent a lot of time wondering why I didn't like it as much as I expected to. That's not to say there was nothing I liked about it. I learned more about the Great Salt Lake--its structure and the birds that make their home there--than I have in years living near by. I loved that and the way she made me think about these valleys and mountains as shared places: native species with an ever burgeoning population. Maybe my familiarity with the area was the downfall of my enjoyment. It started with a small thing, okay, a really petty thing that nearly drove me crazy. Evidently the author and others who spend lots of time communing with the lake and its inhabitants don't use the article "the" when they refer to it. She'd say something like, "I drove to Great Salt Lake." Most locals would say, "I drove to the Great Salt Lake." It pulled me out of the flow of the reading every time. It seemed artificial and after a while even reverential. I swear I could hear James Earl Jones saying, "Great Salt Lake" every time I read a sentence like that. I started to feel like I needed to genuflect or light incense. There was a mystical, mythological sense she was bringing to her description of the lake that I just couldn't buy. At the center of the book is the weaving of her mother's cancer and the floods in 1983. My family has been no stranger to cancer in the last few years, and I did connect more to that part of the story. I respected the author's willingness to talk about the profound experiences possible while dealing with the suffering that cancer can entail. Here the spiritual quality felt genuine and I could understand that she would carry that sense with her as she spent time with nature. I must speak to one thing; a very different perception of the women in a shared religion and culture. She said of women who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), "In Mormon culture, authority is respected, obedience is revered, and independent thinking is not. I was taught as a young girl not to 'make waves' or 'rock the boat'." Like Williams, I come from a family of Mormon pioneers, and my perception of our women is one of profound wisdom and strength. I was raised by a mother who believed wholeheartedly in our beliefs which she passed on to me, and she never taught me I couldn't ask questions or rock the boat.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    To say this is very much out of my wheelhouse is an understatement; I only took it up because a colleague in my thesis-writing group is focusing her project on Williams. Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised how immediately familiar the physical and mental landscapes felt—I too experienced a rural upbringing, snugly sheltered by religious belief and close familial/ community bonds—while at the same time I was constantly struck by how differently my own response to such environmental factors ha To say this is very much out of my wheelhouse is an understatement; I only took it up because a colleague in my thesis-writing group is focusing her project on Williams. Nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised how immediately familiar the physical and mental landscapes felt—I too experienced a rural upbringing, snugly sheltered by religious belief and close familial/ community bonds—while at the same time I was constantly struck by how differently my own response to such environmental factors have subsequently been. From the beginning I was plotting escape, desperate to disappear into the urban jungle, as the natural world is not something I have ever felt much affinity for, or deep connection to. Which is all to say that reading Refuge turned out to be a curious experience of double consciousness, constantly shifting between a sense of recognition and sense of deep disconnect—and perhaps more often than not experiencing both of those sensations at once. What I did unfailingly connect with, however, was its sense of disorientation and deep loss. Williams’s book famously details how cancer strikes relentlessly against the women of her family; in the first page of the prologue Williams matter-of-factly testifies: “Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family.” It’s a devastatingly bleak sentiment to base an entire narrative on, and the implications inevitably reverberate through every word that follows. And as over the last three months I’ve had two people very close to me—one just several years older than I, one several years younger—diagnosed with cancer, it inevitably echoed loudly through my own current emotional state as well. Not that I specifically recognize the manner in which Williams goes about wrestling with the pain and apprehension threaded through her everyday—she acts, thinks, speaks, nor processes pain in a manner at all familiar to me—I nonetheless appreciate, and empathize with, the manner in which she spirals around the ineffable, attempting to synthesize and understand grief from any variety of directions, and ultimately to locate, as she writes in the epilogue added to the 10 year anniversary edition, “the new configuration[s] born out of change.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    My copy of this book is covered with notes and underlined passages. Williams uses her intimacy with nature to adeptly describe her intimacy with people, relationships, core beliefs, and life's meaderings. I identified with many of her images and experiences--not because I share her love of birds, but because I share her poet's heart. I am always thinking in parallels and comparisons. It was validating and liberating for me to read of someone else doing the same. I also have seen cancer death up- My copy of this book is covered with notes and underlined passages. Williams uses her intimacy with nature to adeptly describe her intimacy with people, relationships, core beliefs, and life's meaderings. I identified with many of her images and experiences--not because I share her love of birds, but because I share her poet's heart. I am always thinking in parallels and comparisons. It was validating and liberating for me to read of someone else doing the same. I also have seen cancer death up-close with Jon's mom, and those chapters rang very true. And I agree wholeheartedly with the belief that death can be a very sacred time. I would have given 5 stars, but the ending was so disappointing. The strength of the book is its objectivity. In its simple, moving core, it avoids casting overt moral judgement. That is not the case in the final chapters. Whether I agree with Williams' political stance or not, I was offended at her dogmatic approach. She serves her case much better when she is more subtle.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

    I first read this book in 2000, and I knew it was "good," but it didn't draw me in. I've taught her epilogue, "Clan of the One-Breasted Women," several times, and I'm rereading *Refuge* because I assigned it. It is brilliant. Tempest Williams writes, about her mother's ovarian cancer--and that of her grandmothers and aunts--which Tempest Williams believes was caused by nuclear testing. But it's about more than that: it's about how the land and water are tied so closely to our bodies and the dest I first read this book in 2000, and I knew it was "good," but it didn't draw me in. I've taught her epilogue, "Clan of the One-Breasted Women," several times, and I'm rereading *Refuge* because I assigned it. It is brilliant. Tempest Williams writes, about her mother's ovarian cancer--and that of her grandmothers and aunts--which Tempest Williams believes was caused by nuclear testing. But it's about more than that: it's about how the land and water are tied so closely to our bodies and the destruction that has affected the entire system. She also shows how her love for nature was ingrained in her by the Mormon culture, the very system that encourages obedience--an obedience that is contributing to the destruction. It's pretty deep, man.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    This series of essays is written by a woman who happens to be Mormon. The fact she is Mormon seems to do more with geography in this book, than by choice. It is a wonderful series of essays because she is a naturalist in writing. The Salt Lake and the environment around there take on almost a divine beauty in the way she describes it. There are some poignant, wonderful tender essays about the land, and her mother and her writing style is just that - tender.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kerri Anne

    This book is the sort of beautiful that makes your soul ache. I've seen reviews criticize the dialogue as not sounding at all natural enough, and while I think those criticisms are indeed fair, I'll admit I hardly noticed, so swept up was I in the maternal relationships of the book, and of an ever-changing bird refuge as a metaphor for a family's wholeness. This book is about so many stark and important and timeless truths, but for me, this book is about saying goodbye to people who make up the This book is the sort of beautiful that makes your soul ache. I've seen reviews criticize the dialogue as not sounding at all natural enough, and while I think those criticisms are indeed fair, I'll admit I hardly noticed, so swept up was I in the maternal relationships of the book, and of an ever-changing bird refuge as a metaphor for a family's wholeness. This book is about so many stark and important and timeless truths, but for me, this book is about saying goodbye to people who make up the very fabric of your being, and how so often that leaves you reeling. I really haven't read a book that better encapsulates what it's like to watch a loved one pass from this world. The sheer sacredness of that time is something so difficult to comprehend if you haven't been there, but something so tangible if you have. It's like belonging to a secret club no one really wants to join. If you're struggling with the loss of a loved one, I highly recommend reading this book. Even if you're not, haven't ever, I still highly recommend reading this book. Empathy is such a gift. This book is also a good fit for birders, for conservationists, for anyone living in Utah or just traveling through, and definitely for anyone who has ever been fascinated by the Great Salt Lake. [Four-point-five feather-laden stars for so many beautiful birds, and for the women who teach us how to fly.]

  22. 4 out of 5

    Easton Smith

    After reading "Finding Meaning in a Broken World," or at least trying to, I was skeptical. I was worried that this book, too, would have too many loose ends, too much 'everything is everything' sentimentality. But no. This is a heart buried deep as a root for us to find thirty years after, when the Great Salt Lake is now receding rather than expanding, and it's meanings are all fermented in the best way, now. I loved this book. Mothers and lakes and birds. Loss and healing wrapped into place. A After reading "Finding Meaning in a Broken World," or at least trying to, I was skeptical. I was worried that this book, too, would have too many loose ends, too much 'everything is everything' sentimentality. But no. This is a heart buried deep as a root for us to find thirty years after, when the Great Salt Lake is now receding rather than expanding, and it's meanings are all fermented in the best way, now. I loved this book. Mothers and lakes and birds. Loss and healing wrapped into place. A revealing of the secret matriarchy that exists in Mormonism.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    One of those books where you aren’t the same person once you’ve finished it. My boss said to me the other day that “she doesn’t waste your time”, and I couldn’t agree more. Every moment felt purposeful & poignant. Just a wonderful, honest book about grief & survival. I loved every second.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jade Warwick

    Wow, wow, wow. I finished this book a moment ago, and I pressed it to my chest and closed my eyes and listened to my heart beat against it. This is a book about grief, love, birds, acceptance, and the willingness to live life, even when you know pain. "Pain prepares us for peace."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Beautiful, soulful meditation on death, natute and the natural cycles of life. It's not as tight or elegant as TTW's later books as she was growing into herself as a writer still but you can already see the sublime genius she became at work here.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Riah

    This is a beautiful and powerful memoir of observations about birds, the Great Salt Lake, Mormons and cancer. It sounds like a random combination, but it isn't. She ties everything together and it makes a very coherent story about what it means for her to live in that part of the world as someone who cares about nature.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ivar

    This book was too personal to talk about. I just want to say that if you are at all interested in a women's studies/nature studies/mormon studies memoir please find a copy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I read this book in college when I was 20, kind of forgot about it, and then had it pop into my mind about a week before my mom passed away from cancer. I was meant to read it again when I did. As William Nicholson wrote, "We read to know we are not alone." This book helped me feel like I wasn't alone as I helped my mom through hospice, watched her pass away, and now begin to cope with life without her. The author’s experience with her mother's cancer and death was so similar to my own, sometime I read this book in college when I was 20, kind of forgot about it, and then had it pop into my mind about a week before my mom passed away from cancer. I was meant to read it again when I did. As William Nicholson wrote, "We read to know we are not alone." This book helped me feel like I wasn't alone as I helped my mom through hospice, watched her pass away, and now begin to cope with life without her. The author’s experience with her mother's cancer and death was so similar to my own, sometimes I just had to stop reading, just sit, and shake my head. I am so grateful to have had this book to read when I needed it, to have something that put my own feelings into beautiful words and helped me process the most difficult time of my life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book is too deeply personal for me to even begin to discuss. As someone who recently lost a close relative to cancer, this was a tough read, but it brought some comfort and made me want to find my connection to the world and my meaning within it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rach

    While there are things on which author Terry and I greatly disagree, I can't shake the way her words reach into my heart. She and her mother were obviously very close, and the way she links her grief over the loss of her mother with the environmental loss of bird habitat provides a new perspective of looking at both. Cancer is a beast, regardless of when it hits your family and friends, but thinking of losing either of my parents at age 55 is just heartbreaking. My dad went through the second of While there are things on which author Terry and I greatly disagree, I can't shake the way her words reach into my heart. She and her mother were obviously very close, and the way she links her grief over the loss of her mother with the environmental loss of bird habitat provides a new perspective of looking at both. Cancer is a beast, regardless of when it hits your family and friends, but thinking of losing either of my parents at age 55 is just heartbreaking. My dad went through the second of his three battles with cancer at 56, my senior year of high school, and if I had lost him then, I can't even imagine the person I would be now. The inevitability of losing him now, at 76, is hard enough to comprehend, and so I read. Nature is the sanctuary in which Terry processes and heals, in the open air, with the sounds and the scents of the earth as her comfort. The solitude is soothing, and that commune with nature becomes her refuge. Some people might think it strange or morose that I've been reading so many books about cancer journeys this year, but it has been really vital for me in processing all the various emotions about my own impending loss. Terry puts it this way: "Perhaps this is the compassion and courage that comes to us when we realize we are not alone in our suffering." I don't always have the words to explain how I'm feeling, and sometimes I don't even have the energy to try to find those words. But I can read the words of others, and see myself in them, and say, "Yes! That's it!" As Terry says, "In the act of reading, words touch our hearts, relationships are forged, we breathe a book alive." A few other notes regarding the environmental issues Terry raises. I have no doubt that the extreme rise in cancer in Utah, specifically in Terry's family, is specially linked to nuclear testing in their deserts throughout the 50s. It's a travesty that our government decided that testing weapons without knowledge of their fallout was more important than the lives of their citizens. Moreover, the fact that they refuse to admit their culpability in the matter is unexcusable. My dad's situation is similar: there is ample reason to believe that his prostate, colon, and brain cancers are all linked to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, yet the army only officially recognizes their culpability in one of those types. I would not be surprised if it is also proven in the future that my oldest sister's death from leukemia and my dad's first wife's death from uterine cancer were also linked. The time period Terry covers in her book highlights the way the rising waters of the Great Salt Lake threatened to destroy not only the natural habit of the birds living on it and migrating through the area, but the homes and industry that we as humans have placed upon its shores. What we are facing now, though, is almost the most extreme opposite: the lake is at an all time low, receeding 22 feet in 25 years, and shrinking from 3,300 square miles to less than 950. As drought and global warming continue to worsen, how long do we have until the lake as we knew it no longer exists? Terry notes, "we will survive our personal loses; they are ultimately what give us our voice. I know they gave me mine. But the losses of the larger world-call it the pain of a grieving Earth-threaten our sanity and survival." Terry's takeaway is that we must remain engaged, vigilant, and proactive in campaigning to protect our Earth. As I mentioned at the start, Terry's words really effected me; I think I underlined more statements in this book than I have in any other. Having gone back through my notes, here are my some of the lines that meant to most to me. "In the same way that when someone is dying many retreat, I chose to stay." "Restraint is the steel partition between a rational mind and a violent one. I knew rage. It was fire in my stomach with no place to go." "It's strange to feel change coming. It's easy to ignore. An underlying restlessness seems to accompany it like birds flocking before a storm. We go about our business with the usual alacrity, while in the pit of our stomach there is a sense of something tenuous. These moments of peripheral perceptions are short, sharp flashes of insight we tend to discount like seeing the movement of an animal from the corner of our eye. We turn and there is nothing there. They are the strong and subtle impressions we allow to slip away. I had been feeling fey for months." "You know, I hear the words on the outside, that I might have ovarian cancer, but they don't register on the inside. I keep saying it to myself, this isn't happening to me, but then why shouldn't it? I am facing my own mortality--again--something I thought I had already done twelve years ago. Do you know how strange it is to know your days are limited? It have no future?" "In the long run I didn't think one month would matter. In the short run, it mattered a great deal The heat of the sandstone penetrated my skin as I lay on the red rocks. Desert light bathed my soul. And traveling through the inner gorge of Vishnu schist, the oldest exposed rock in the West, gave me a perspective that will carry me through whatever I must face. Those days on the river were a meditation, a renewal. I found my strength in its solitude. It is with me now." "We wait. Our family is pacing the hall. Other families are pacing other halls. Each tragedy has its own territory." "The curse and charisma of cancer: the knowledge that from this point forward, all you have is the day at hand." "What is it about the relationship of a mother that can heal or hurt us?" "I asked her if she thought my life was selfish without children. "Yes," she said. "But I'm not saying that's bad. By being selfish a woman ultimately has more to give in the long run, because she has a self to give away." "Do you think I should have a child?" I asked. "I can't answer that for you," she said. "All I can tell you is that it was the right choice for me." "Suffering shows us what we are attached to--perhaps the umbilical cord between Mother and me has never been cut. Dying doesn't cause suffering. Resistance to dying does." "We are all anxious, except Mother. She says it doesn't matter what they find, all we have is now." "Why couldn't I have respected her belief that the outcome mattered less than the gift of each day. We had wanted everything back to its original shape. We had wanted a cure for Mother for ourselves, so we could get on with our lives. What we had forgotten was that she was living hers." "I have refused to believe that Mother will die. And by denying her cancer, even her death, I deny her life. Denial stops us from listening. I cannot hear what Mother is saying. I can only hear what I want. But denial lies. It protects us from the potency of a truth we cannot yet bear to accept. It takes our hands and leads us to places of comfort. Denial flourishes in the familiar. It seduces us with our own desires and cleverly constructs walls around us to keep us safe. I want the walls down. Mother's rage over our inability to face her illness has burned away my defenses. I am left with guilt, guilt I cannot tolerate because it has no courage. I hurt Mother through my own desire to be cured." "Death is not the enemy; living in constant fear of it is." "It brings life into focus one day at a time. You live each moment and when you see the sunset at the end of the day, you are so grateful to be part of that experience." "Don't be so strong, Tammy, that you won't cry when you want to. Let people help you and love you. I can't tell you how important it was for me to let people do things for me." "Sometimes you have to totally rely on the arms, tears, and loving hearts of others, that this is truly where God's love lies, in the support of family and friends." "I feel like a failure because I am losing my compassion. We are spent." "A person with cancer dies in increments, and a part of you slowly dies with them." "Faith defies logic and propels us beyond hope because it is not attached to our desires. Faith is the centerpiece of a connected life. It allows us to live by the grace of invisible strands. It is a belief in a wisdom superior to our own. Faith becomes a teacher in the absence of fact." "But the feeling I could not purge from my soul was that without a mother, one no longer has the luxury of being a child. I have never felt so alone." "An individual doesn't get cancer, a family does." "Do not squander time, that is the stuff life is made of." "Since Mother's death, I have been liberated from my optimism. I have nothing to hope for because what I hoped for is gone." "The world is in motion. We are in motion. We have all lost loved ones. We have all danced with grief and we will one day dance with death. We embody the spiral, moving inward and outward with the loss of fear, a love transcendent, and the courage to create new maps."

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