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Naturalist, Writer, Environmental Activist
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”
The Ecology Hall of Fame, adding Terry Tempest Williams to its
honorees, noted that she “combines all the major strains of
environmental passion.” Her life has focused on opposing resource
destruction, especially that affecting human health; a love for the
desert, and other naturally beautiful places; and land stewardship over
many generations, which ties her to the region where she was born and
Williams is a Utah native, descended from five or six generations of
Mormon pioneers. “I write through my biases of gender, geography, and
culture,” she says. “I am a woman whose ideas have been shaped by the
Great Basin and Colorado Plateau.”
Williams is perhaps best known for her book Refuge: An Unnatural
History of Family and Place (Pantheon, 1991), in which she chronicles
the epic rise of Great Salt Lake and the flooding of the Bear River
Migratory Bird Refuge in 1983, alongside her mother’s diagnosis with
ovarian cancer, believed to be caused by radioactive fallout from the
nuclear tests in the Nevada desert in the 1950s and 60s. Refuge is now
regarded as a classic in American nature writing, a testament to loss
and the earth’s healing grace.
Williams’ other books include Red: Patience and Passion in the
Desert, 2001, a collection of essays, An Unspoken Hunger (Pantheon,
1994); Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape (Pantheon, 1995); Coyote’s
Canyon (Gibbs M. Smith, 1989); and Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to
Navajoland (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984). She is also the author of
two children’s books: The Secret Language of Snow (Sierra Club/Pantheon,
1984); and Between Cattails (Little Brown, 1985).
In 2004 Terry Tempest Williams published The Open Space of Democracy,
in which she tries to define how we can break down the partisanship and
polarization in our society so that we can come together to solve the
political and environmental problems which threaten our democracy and
our land. In it she says, “I do not think we can look for leadership
beyond ourselves. I do not think we can wait for someone or something to
save us from our global predicaments and obligations. I need to look in
the mirror and ask this of myself: If I am committed to seeing the
direction of our country change, how must I change myself?”
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