Tempest Tossed

Writer Terry Tempest Williams believes the chaos and terror of recent weeks could bring about a restoration of place and spirit in America

"You think 'seismic shift,'" Williams says. "Could this seismic shift be experienced as a shift in consciousness, and out of this chaos and terror a new peace really does emerge through reflection?

"I walk through airports and look at people's faces, and there is an innocence that has been lost. And I think that's good, if we can be really present with it and realize that this is the world, and we're not immune. We're not isolated. We have believed that. That's been the great luxury of this country."

We're here. And presence requires observation, seeing and understanding relationships between here and there. Living in desert places, Williams has experienced the lack of recognition such landscapes receive from those who drive through at 80 mph (in "wilderness-equipped" vehicles). "When one of us says, 'Look, there's nothing out there,'" she acknowledges in Red, "what we are really saying is, 'I cannot see."'

Terry Tempest Williams: "It's going to require bravery for people to break out of the hollow patriotism to a patriotism that is in our tradition -- and that is a tradition of questioning."
Ann P. Tempest
Terry Tempest Williams: "It's going to require bravery for people to break out of the hollow patriotism to a patriotism that is in our tradition -- and that is a tradition of questioning."

"I've been thinking a whole lot about the notion of how absence is presence," Williams says. "You certainly tend to know that in the desert." Desert places are where mystics go for spiritual renewal -- Jesus, Mohammed. "It's because of the absence. It's not that the desert is devoid of sounds; it's devoid of abstractions. It's the negative space that creates that presence. You go to the Grand Canyon, it's not so much for me what remains but what has been washed and eroded away. Where I live in Castle Valley, I'm so mindful of wind and water and the whole weathering process and the whole notion of erosion and how powerful that is -- spiritually powerful and geologically powerful."

Williams then turns these observations to the urban landscape and the urban monuments that have just been destroyed. She talks about how the original conception of the World Trade Center was as a monument to peace, until money, power and real estate pushed the original design beyond the human scale. "Isn't that interesting that now, only in their absence will the presence of peace remain?"

Red is the color of blood, the stain that remains after great damage. Red is the color of danger, and red is the color of passion. Williams offers, as a gift, a red stone from the country where she lives. "We're talking about restoration," she says, "restoration of the land, restoration of our souls. I don't think you can separate the two."

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