Category Archives: Terry Tempest Williams

The Humanity of Cancer

On page 58, Williams’ narration details 5-6 separate means of potentially solving the water crisis afflicting the Great Salt Lake, each with it’s own set of pitfalls as well as positivities, both financial as well as otherwise. These parallel both in level of impact upon the afflicted body as well as in number of desirable/feasible options, the anatomical crisis which so centrally plagues Terry’s mother throughout the narration of the memoir.

This parallel of destruction lends itself to a consistent deepening of the ways in which one understands the multiple ramifications of these diseases which affect both the human as well as the land’s “body”. Cancer, as far as humanity can tell, is simply the inability of the cells within an individual’s body to self-detonate at the end of their life cycle, in order to make room for new, developing cells. Now, while natural land masses certainly don’t possess this same characteristic trait of self-maintenance, they are subject to the same finitude of the human body, when met with certain degrees of widespread corrosion & harm with regards to their physical matter. It’s this finitude that both humans as well as their environment are inherently possessive of, which is highlighted by Williams’ mother’s struggle with the disease as well as her own sympathies towards the treatment of the environment around her place of origin.

Circling back a bit towards the idea of cancer; it poses a certain cultural connotation likened to that of a boogeyman or some other fictitious creature intended to scare; but it’s particularly the unknown origin of this fear which gives cancer it’s specific air of insidiousness as well as a certain animosity. Almost as though the disease possessed a consciousness of it’s own, humanity’s language with which it describes its ‘fight against cancer’ certainly allows for a narrative to be articulated as time passes and other facts are found out about the affliction, which I think in part helps us to be able to stomach it’s strange and peculiar nature. Strangely enough, at least functionally speaking, cancerous cells are almost entirely healthy. They perform literally every function that a cell should be performing for it’s body; all except the pre-programmed death which all cells eventually meet as a result of their genes. And so eventually, the body ends up with more physical ground to cover in terms of supplying it’s cells with necessary nutrients like oxygenated blood from the heart, as well as ATP for fuel, etc. which it would need in order to survive, until the demands made by these immortal cells outweigh the actual biological resources of the body to the point where total death becomes inevitable. It’s this failure to die by the affected cells which allows the ominously connotated affliction all of it’s power. To think immortality, a notion which humanity has been obsessed with as a result of its own fear of death; has been achieved at the microscopic level by none other than some bizarre genetic accident; and it directly threatens our lives as we know it. Oh, the cosmic irony.

Still, it’s this parallel between the life cycle of the cell and the life cycle of humans which is directly struck upon by Williams throughout her memoir, allowing for a more multi-dimensional view of just what exactly ‘life’ may be, by more than one definition. When one begins to make a shift from thinking about life in terms of its seeming endlessness (the way I’d like to assume most healthily-minded and generally fulfilled people would go about thinking of it) and instead begins to look upon it in regards to its inevitable end, something very interesting begins to happen in terms of dynamics. The way almost everything begins to relate to each other is markedly changed. As illustrated above, in the context of humanity, an endless life might not seem like a bad idea at all to many; however, if one were to zoom in a few thousand nanometers, into the world of the cell, the characteristic takes on a completely adverse meaning for the being as a whole. It’s this almost paradoxical parallel which invites the reader to think about humanity as potentially cancerous or even about cancer as maybe, in some ways, more human than one might expect at first glance.

It’s The Call of the Woman

There’s a real sense of importance stressed on the woman of the world Terry has given us. It’s similar to the energy radiating from Linda Hogan’s woman of “Solar Storms.” I’m not trying to point fingers and say mean are to blame for all these ecological struggles, but it seems there’s this pattern of overly concerned and considerate concern stems from how the damage has impacted their families and communities. These ladies have been strong, smart, and resilient in the face of pure, unrelenting evil.
We are creatures of nature, and as such are subject to all the same adversaries we inflict upon our environment. In Tempest’s memoir, the ways humans destroy the environment just go back to haunt them. From nuclear testing in the desert, all sorts of medical issues arose, and in ten times a more detrimental a form. Nuclear testing within the twentieth century has effectively sent harmful radiation through any cell it could have hoped to touch, including cells attached to people who weren’t even immediately apart of the testing. These hazardous conditions have formed deadly growths within our bodies, and have effectively ravaged humanity.
When reading, the energy of estrogen fueled rage overpowered the very passive acceptance. In the passage where Tempest describes first learning of the nuclear testing her family had lived through, her father is entirely nonchalant about this. Instantly, Tempest is upset (and so was I). There’s no urgency to her father, and maybe it’s his age… but it feels like it’s his lax and acceptance of “the Man.”
Maybe Tempest and I share an eye for flaws of the patriarchal world… But our other authors see this to, so it’s not just us. But the women really see this truthful corrupt world we live in.

Refuge

My Nanny and I, Sept. 2015

What defines solitude? Is it the absence of other people, familiar surroundings, or is it simply a state of mind that one reaches based on their own feelings and thoughts? Terry Tempest Williams exhibits a variety of ways that we can view the concept of solitude. She uses a variety of experiences, including those of her family, to shape and define the obscure and challenging term.

Terry’s Mother encounters “solitude” or the idea of it while fighting her cancer. Several times she admits that her definition of solitude changes with her experiences. Refuge is written in a virtuous tone, very conscious of family and ethical values within a community. William’s struggle to understand the disease and the destruction it leaves in its wake. Simultaneous to the problems of William’s family, the Bird Sanctuary of Salt Lake is slowly being flooded and damaged more and more by rising levels of lake water. The destruction is slow and mostly irreparable, similar to the devastating and quick power that cancer can have on a body.  William’s use of descriptive language allows the reader to process her text as a story, opening up her life as if the reader was there with them. Not all stories of disease end in sadness and despair. Refuge helps illustrate the wide spectrum of thoughts and ideas that go hand and hand with life and death. Terry creates this perspective by addressing both her thoughts as well as those around her.

I hadn’t thought about the concept of solitude being a shared experience. Solitude,  by the nature of the word, gives me thoughts of an enclosed presence. Williams breaks down this expectation, showing that personal perspective often shows true feelings. The word seems to symbolically clash with the title “Refuge”. Refuge implies an escape from something, danger or a troubling pursuit, wheres solitude breaks away all outside influences. Certain circumstances, as our society has shown, has linked the term to incarceration. Prisoners who misbehave or break the rules can end up in “solitary confinement”. When I think about the term “solitude” this is the image that my mind conjures. So when the term was used by William’s, her mother, as a feeling associated with cancer, I was truly shocked.

I have seen Cancer take the lives of family members. Recently, this was my Grandmother on my Mother’s side. Janet Roy, passed away surrounded by her family and friends after Lung Cancer had taken her. She confronted her disease with the same ferocity and spirit that she had running throughout her persona. As her time grew shorter, we noticed that “Nanny” as we grandkids affectionately called her, was coming to terms with her mortality. She knew that the disease separated her from the rest of us, even though we all wished to help fight the battle anyway we could. She knew she was headed towards a “good death”. We’ve discussed the concept of “Good Death” in my Civil War class, the Western Hemisphere based idea of being with family and friends, looking upon familiar faces, at your home, with someone to listen to your last words, your mark left on the Earth. Nanny knew she was headed towards this “good death”, and in the end, I believe that thought and reality, was a refuge within itself. The Cancer, her mortal wound, had certainly secluded her into a solitude of being the case. She was not, by any means, locked out or trapped away from the loving embrace of life and family in the time she had.

I see similarities in Refuge to my nanny’s fight with Cancer. It tells a story of triumph, and defeat, as well as love and hate, natural and unnatural aspects of our world.

Terry Tempest Williams: Seeing the Truth in Death

 

For Terry Tempest Williams, caring for her mother in her time of need was a spiritual journey. Williams was transformed by this journey in many ways. One of the most important things she learned from watching her mother’s slow decline was to embrace death. We often see death as the end to something great. Life is something to be celebrated and it seems that death takes everything that life holds away. She says “I know it is not the trials we are given but how we react to these trials that matters.” Williams does not want to hide from death, she does not want death to make her feel helpless and weak. Through her religious beliefs as well as her own reasoning, Williams is able to see her mother’s death not as the end of something, but as a part of life and one of the many tribulations that she must face.

The Mormon faith believes in the idea of an afterlife. After your body is gone, your spirit will continue to live on, just as all the other creatures of the world will live on through their spirits. If we are able to see death for what it is (a natural part of life) then it wouldn’t be such a daunting idea. Williams has dealt with the possibility of her own death when she battled cancer. She suggests that we should never “take life for granted” because then when our final hour is here we will have not lived fully. Williams’ mother does not want to be complacent during her final time on earth. She embraces her death by wanting to live without chemotherapy or radiation. When she realizes that there is a chance she will live, she chooses to go ahead with the treatment.

One stage of death is denial. It clouds our vision and makes us see things the way we want to see them even if that vision is incorrect. Williams says that “Denial stops us from listening.” It stops us from listening to the incredibly important truth; what we want does not always happen. Williams wants her mother to be ok, she wants her life to continue on as normal. By living in this way, she is living a false existence. Only when she accepts the inevitability of her mother’s fate will she be able to value the time she has left with her. In a way, death is the ultimate truth—the only thing we can say with any certainty. Death “brings life into focus one day at a time.” Williams firmly believes in living life in the present and stopping to savor every precious moment. Every laugh, every tear should be seen as an incredible gift. Our battles only serve to make us stronger and appreciate the good times even more.

The truth about death is that it holds so much wisdom. It informs us on how to live our lives to the fullest extent that we can. When she battles cancer, she explains that she is “torn between the excitement of what I am learning about life and the sorrow I feel in that I have no future.” How does knowing that you do not have a future effect your decisions that you make day to day? It gives a different perspective; that you are no more or less important than any other form of life. This insignificance is not something sad or depressing. Knowing that you are going to die focuses your attention inward to the fabric of your being, but it also opens your eyes to a dying world. Every living being is on its march toward death. Even the earth will eventually meet its end—no one and nothing is safe.

Cancer shows that death is usually random and unfortunate. There is no good time for death to happen. This disease does not pick and choose, sometimes it is just fate that decides who goes and who stays. Death narrows the scope of life. Instead of viewing a long-term perspective of existence, the possibility of death shrinks that range from years to days. We begin to value life in all its finitude. Many people say “life is short” as a phrase but most don’t think about how “short” it actually is. Most see the average life span as somewhere in the high seventies, but Williams understands early on that sometimes we expect to have a certain amount of time with people, but that time can be cut short. Death comes with no warning. “Living in the now” is the only true way to prepare for death; because it can happen at any moment.

Death allows us to evaluate. At the end of each day, it allows us to look back and ask “did I make the most of this?” Evaluating ourselves is important because it is the way that we improve and better ourselves. If we believe that we have all the time in the world to experience mistakes and correct those mistakes, we will never change. Life is full of immediacy, we can never count on there being another day. If we are unsure of tomorrow, then today becomes that much more important. Consider your entire life’s goals. Then consider what goals you might focus on and what goals you might put to the back burner if your life was cut in half.

Another truth of death is that it allows us to help others. Once we understand that after we are gone, our only legacy will be the people that surround us, we begin to focus on the good and happiness of others. Williams’ mother says that “when we are fully present, we not only live well, but live well for others.” Williams and her family want to see her mother happy and living her life the way she wants. It brings them inherent joy to allow Diane to make her own decisions.

Diseased Bodies, Diseased Planet

Cancer is something I think a lot of people have a hard time talking about, myself included.  It resides at the very top of the list of things I fear the most.  My family has a long history of it, as I am sure many families do.  As humans we already have an extremely difficult time dealing with death.  However when someone dies of cancer we tend to take it much harder.  It is a disease that is difficult to understand not only for families, but for doctors as well.  As human beings if there is one thing that we fear, it is the unknown.  This makes cancer particularly malicious to us.  It has become synonymous with death, that other thing that we fear because of the unknown.  I have talked in past posts about how humans tend to remove themselves from their bodies.  In order to see ourselves as being more highly evolved than the rest of the world, we ignore the things that tie us to the earth, our bodies.  We separate mind from body the way we separate human from nature.   It is just as difficult for people to talk about the disease of the planet as it is for them to talk about cancer of the body.

In Terry Tempest Williams’ non fiction novel Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, she addresses these issues.  She believes that both the pollution of the planet and the pollution of our bodies has lead to the disease of both.  As the story progresses, so does Williams’ mother’s cancer.  The water level of the lake rises more and more every chapter and is documented right at the beginning of each.  As the book goes on we as the readers watch both the health of Williams’ mother and the health of her home decline.  Both are unfathomable to us.  We live in an industrialized world in which we deny our natural existence.

“‘You Americans, why is death always such a surprise to you? Don’t you understand the dance and the struggle are the same?” (Williams 245)

Both Williams’ and her mother had been exposed to the same atomic bomb testing fallout.  This is what she believes caused her mother’s cancer and the cancer of the women in her family.  When reading about this unnatural disease, caused by other humans, I can’t help but think back to reading Rachel Carson.  The idea that we are poisoning our planet and our bodies is just as baffling as death itself.  Maybe the worst part about cancer is the uncertainty that comes with it, not only the uncertainty of the fate of the afflicted, but the confusion of coming to terms with the fact that we could be doing this to ourselves.

 

An Unnatural Disease

Refuge, published in 1991, is a memoir by Terry Tempest Williams which focuses around her journey of coming to terms with her mother’s fatal cancer and the human manipulation of the Great Salt Lake. Throughout her memoir, Williams offers an enlightening parallel between her mother’s disease and the destruction of nature at the hands of humankind. This connection between the natural and familial world is established early on as she recognizes how two very important parts of her life are now being forced to change, “I could not separate the Bird Refuge from my family. Devastation respects no boundaries. The landscape of my childhood and the landscape of my family, the two things I had always regarded as bedrock, were now subject to change.” (40). In this passage Williams is reflecting on both the devastation of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and her mother’s fatal diagnosis. Due to the Great Salt Lake’s fluctuating water levels becoming a risk for highways to flood, the city of Salt Lake is inclined to try and control the natural existence of the lake and in doing this, the Bird Refuge is disturbed in the process. This passage signifies the parallel Williams draws between the manipulation of the Great Salt Lake and the “landscape” of her family, as her mother’s inevitable death will leave them all forever changed. By building a connection between these two essential parts of her identity, Williams is able to represent the full embodiment of change and how difficult it is to accept the reality within that.

Great Salt Lake causeway (Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News)
(Photo: Paulette Thomas)

In another passage Williams goes further with her connection as she relates the commodification of nature to the creation of cancer. After seeing a bowl full of seashells that she has collected over time, Williams picks up a crab claw and is repulsed as she refers to the claw as being “cancer” (43). After this, Williams goes into a long meditation on cancer regarding the language that is used surrounding it and the connotation of shame that it carries with it, she then goes on to write, “Call it a mass, call it a tumor. It surfaces and demands our attention. We can surgically remove it. We can shrink it with radiation. We can poison it with drugs. Whatever we choose, though, we view the tumor as foreign, something outside ourselves. It is however, our own creation. The creation we fear” (44). By following the observation of the crab claw with this quote about cancer, it can be seen that there is a link that can be formed between the claw, a symbol of the natural world becoming a decoration for human pleasure, and the creation of cancer by humans. I interpret the claw as being representative of the human tendency to be the all powerful masters of nature. Humans are in the position to make a disjointed limb of what once was living thing, now simply a knick-knack that exists on a shelf. In this situation, humans are all powerful, and it is well-known by most that humans exert this dominance on the natural world in more gruesome ways than simply collecting seashells.

Nuclear bomb at Nevada Test Site, 1957 (Photo: International Campaign to Abolish Atomic Weapons)

The imagery behind the crab claw is then followed with Williams assertion about the irony of cancer. People try to destroy cancer as they treat it as if it were some intruder in the body, but Williams then makes the astute observation that really, cancer is nothing more than our own human creation, and the same can be said for the destruction of the natural world by humans. Every day people claim to be environmentally conscious. They talk about how much they care for the well-being of animals and their habitats, and how horrible climate change is, but how many of these people have actually changed their lifestyles in order to help accomplish this? It is not any individual’s fault however because our very existence has been constructed to depend majorly on the exploitation of nature’s resources. In this parallel, Williams has connected how humans have created the cancer of degradation within nature, and how they have also created the actual disease within human beings. Furthermore, a very important point is raised in the memoir’s epilogue surrounding the testing of nuclear weapons within Utah from 1951-1962, which very well could have been the cause of her mother’s cancer in later life (283). What this means in terms of Williams’ thoughts on cancer then, is that humans created cancer through their need to destroy others lives with nuclear power. With that being said, the parallel raised between destruction of nature and the creation of cancer is clearly categorized as being derived from the human need to have control and power within all aspects of existence.

As I stated before, the parallels that are made about her mother’s disease and the destruction of nature are very enlightening. Williams has formed a connection between the disease that is killing our planet and the disease that is killing humans, and the one thing that both have in common is the source in which these deadly cancers derived from in the first place: Humankind. When thinking about the very prominent existence of these two unfortunate truths of our society, finding a cure can seen almost hopeless at times. We have come to live comfortably with the cancer that is inflicted on the natural world on a daily basis, and we have become complacent when it comes to addressing the prevalence of cancer within 38.5% of the US population. Williams reflects on this within her memoir as she writes, “I sat on a lone boulder in the midst of the Curlews. By now, they had grown accustomed to me. This too, I found encouraging — that in the face of stressful intrusions, we can eventually settle in. One begins to almost trust the intruder as a presence that demands greater intent toward life” (147). Here, Williams is again comparing the intrusion of humans in the natural world with the invasion of cancer on the human body. In this passage, she ties both concepts together as she notes that things that seem outside ourselves can then become a part of us. In other words, the curlews have learned to accept her presence just as her mother has learned to embrace her cancer because adapting to this new environment is their only choice.

Although on the surface it may seem like a depressing thought to become used to what is destroying you, it can also be seen as hopeful because at least Williams is recognizing that by coming to terms with the existence of pollution within nature and cancer within humans, their presence in society “demands greater intent toward life”. Williams responds to this human creation of disease in the natural and familial worlds by performing an act of civil disobedience, as she protests nuclear testing which just so happens to threaten both the well-being of the planet and the humans who live in it. I find this moment of protest extremely inspiring as throughout the entire memoir she is expressing how difficult it is to accept the devastation of change, and by ending her memoir with this powerful stand, I am left feeling hopeful that we can grow from merely existing within our destruction to becoming active advocates for the health of our people and our land.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service/Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge)

 

Featured Photo Courtesy of: Bird Watcher Routes

Hope in Refuge

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words

And never stops – at all – (Emily Dickinson ).

Photo Credit: Vittorio Zamboni Unsplash

How do we cope with trauma? How do we find a feeling of safety in a time of darkness and isolation? Terry Tempest Williams attempts to answer these questions in her 1991 edition of the book Refuge. This book is written in memoir as a form of healing for the author. She mentions this in the prologue. “Perhaps, I am telling this story in an attempt to heal myself, to confront what I do not know, to create a path for myself… I have been in retreat. This story is my return,” (Williams 4).  In a way, this book is about healing, the way Terry Tempest Williams is saying. In other ways, the book is about response to loss, death, grief, and trauma.

When a person is feeling trauma, to them the world is ending. There’s no light to the end of the tunnel. There’s no sun they can see. Everything is in a fog and feels unreal. So while everyone else is going about their normal lives, someone out there is suffering. Before the book starts, Terry Tempest Williams inserts the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. Here, she explains this disconnected feeling. “Tell em about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on,” (Mary Oliver). This afternoon I heard some disturbing news that someone near our campus committed suicide. For the rest of the day, I was in a funk that I couldn’t escape. I thought about life, death, and Refuge. Was there a place I could feel safe? Did I want to be around people, or did I just want to be alone? What could make me feel better? And no matter what I came up with, it didn’t help.

Photo Credit: Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

I say that I thought about this book, Refuge, because it’s true. This book made me think about trauma when I wasn’t feeling it, so when I was feeling it, the book felt that much more real. What’s special about Refuge is that it doesn’t just talk about trauma. It also talks about hope. Although it might be near impossible to be hopeful during times of darkness, Terry Tempest Williams had to have some piece of hope to make it through everything that she did. She even uses metaphors of hope throughout the entire book whether she meant to or not.

Emily Dickinson has a poem in which she claims, “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul.” Terry Tempest Williams quotes it on page 90. I find it interesting that Dickinson compares hope to a bird, because hope does feel like an innocent bird that flutters its wings within you. The bird has hope that it can fly and that you can fly. Dickinson also mentions that hope “never stops – at all.” That’s such an inspiring line because even though some people try to abash the little bird, it never stops singing. It’s the piece within you that never gives up. I also notice that Terry Tempest Williams mentions birds in the title of every chapter. It’s almost as if the beginning of each chapter is giving the reader a sliver of hope, which is a powerful use of metaphor that extends further than just the reading. It’s engrained in the book itself.

Photo Credit: Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

There is one point that Terry Tempest Williams says, “We miss the eyes of birds, focusing only on feathers,” (Williams 95). I think this is important to look at because the idea of feathers is such a big metaphor. Feathers are light, and perhaps that’s why Emily Dickinson compares hope to feathers. It’s what makes you feel like you can fly. In another sense, feathers are happiness. It tickles us inside when they flutter. Once someone feels a sense of trauma, the fluttering goes away. The bird stops flying, but it does live there. So what does Terry Tempest Williams mean when she says that we focus only on the feathers?

Perhaps she means that in times of trauma, we only focus on trying to be happy, but not what’s actually staring us right in the eye. Earlier in the same paragraph, she mentions the beauty in the eyes of each bird. This metaphor says we as humans try so hard to be happy, when all we need to do is accept the beauty what’s there. Terry Tempest Williams mentions on page 53 that, “Dying doesn’t cause suffering. Resistance to dying does,” (Williams 53). In other words, resistance is what hurts you, acceptance is what gives you peace. When you try to focus on the feathers that you want, you don’t notice the eye in front of you. If hope is the feathers, the eye is reality. It’s hard to see reality when you’re living in the fog of trauma.

Photo Credit: Andrea Reiman Unsplash

How do we cope with trauma? How do we find refuge? Terry Tempest Williams gives us the answer in a couple different ways. One thing she says is that we find refuge within. On page 267, she mentions, “Refuge is not a place outside myself,” (Williams 267). We find refuge in solitude and isolation, when we begin to listen to ourselves. That’s when we feel safe in ourselves. I also make that connection to Emily Dickinson’s idea of hope. Hope lives inside us and never stops at all. Our birds are our refuge, what makes us feel safe. It’s the light inside us that sings a song. It’s the feathers that flutter in our souls. Maybe that’s why birds mean so much to Terry Tempest Williams – because they remind her of that hope that finds refuge and a home within us.

Refuge is an important book because it takes us out of our own worlds and reminds us that other people are going through trauma in different ways. It helps us understand ways of coping with our trauma and why some ways don’t work. At the same time, it reminds us to stay hopeful because hope is a bird that lives within us. It lives in our soul. The next time you’re going through something traumatic, try reading Refuge. I can’t promise it will heal you, but it will open your eyes to different ways people attempt to heal, and maybe give you a little bit of hope that will one day lead you to acceptance.

Hope in Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge

Written by naturalist, Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge intertwines the tragedies surrounding the death of Williams’ mother due to cancer and the flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Sanctuary. By relating her own personal tragedy to an environmental tragedy, Williams’s text addresses the issue of disaster within both human relationships and the natural environment.

In Williams’ memoir, her unification of environmental disasters with human tragedies such as cancer illustrates a more relatable case for environmental awareness than the more scientific diction found in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. While the empirical data Carson communicates to the reader is valuable to construct a well-informed individual position on environmental issues, Williams’ text offers a more novelistic approach to raising environmental awareness which effectively makes the material relatable to readers who may have previously been acquainted with the environmentalist movement.

The element of this work that I think really speaks to the reader is Williams’ portrayal of her mother’s battle with cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is a too familiar reality for many families. Personally, I would recommend this book to my uncle who was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was around twenty years old (he is healthy, and now in his early thirties). While I was very young at the time he was diagnosed, I vividly remember how his appearance drastically changed throughout treatment and how his diagnosis impacted the rest of the family. Now that I am around the age he was when he was diagnosed, I cannot imagine having to deal with such a life-threatening condition at such a young age when you should be excited about preparing for your future.

Williams’ mother, Diana’s, steadfast determination to maintain a positive attitude throughout her illness reminded me of my uncle’s unwavering commitment to living life to the fullest regardless of what hardships came his way. For example, the author decides to take her sick mother on a hike for a “change of scenery” (Williams, 158). Williams writes, “We reach the lake, only a mile and a half away, but each step for Mother is a triumph of will. She rests on her favorite boulder, a piece of granite I have known since childhood. She leans into the shade of the woods and closes her eyes. ‘This feels so good,’ she says as the wind circles her…” (Williams, 158). This scene in the text is one of many that illustrates how Diana seeks to find pleasure in the minute things in nature rather than dwelling on the complications of her illness. Both Diana and my uncles’ commitment to appreciating the smaller things in nature can be a lesson to many people (including myself) who sometimes miss the natural beauty of the natural environment. While my uncle could have given in to a depression due to his illness and given up on his education and friends, he persevered and graduated Fairfield University with his class. Similar to Diana’s tenacity in Refuge, my uncle’s ability to overcome a life-threatening illness has always proved to be an inspiration for me. Currently, he is a considerable supporter of the American Cancer Society and Livestrong.

William’s book Refuge is relatable to anyone who has experienced the devastation cancer inflicts. While cancer is a horrible disease, Williams’ book offers some hope to individuals who are dealing with the effects of cancer on themselves or on their loved ones. Williams introduces an interesting concept about the universality of cancer in that it can strike anyone regardless of race or socio-economic status. This quality of Refuge makes the work appealing to readers as an environmental and a philosophical work.

Natural vs. Unnatural

Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams is a memoir that takes the battle of cancer head on. This novel touches upon the beauty of the natural world meanwhile learning how to deal with the unnatural, like the horrible disease of cancer and the effects of nuclear weapons testing during this time period around 1991 in the west.

This memoir is about how to deal with change, and makes many connections between the natural world and the impact that humans have on their surroundings. Williams uses the flooding of the Great Salt Lake and the decline of various bird species at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to make these connections and stress the importance of saving our environment.

Death is a natural part of life, because we are only human we find it very difficult to cope with. Accepting change is a hard task in itself, but to be told by a doctor that you have a disease that puts a time limit on your life is a tragic event to have to deal with. To be a family member of someone with this disease is also tragic, to be forced to watch someone you love struggle is heartbreaking. The most important thing is how you choose to deal with the tragic news, and in Refuge, Diane, Terry’s mother, takes the situation head on and decides she wants her and her family to live their lives to the fullest. “I am slowly, painfully discovering that my refuge is not found in my mother, my grandmother, or even the birds of Bear River. My refuge exists in my capacity to love. If I can learn to love death then I can begin to find refuge in change” (Williams 178). Accepting death is a really hard concept to make peace with. Williams has the right idea saying that she must turn to love in order to find her refuge. I cannot even begin to imagine how someone could begin to love death, but maybe if one can find peace and come to terms that it is only a natural part of life, just maybe it will be a little easier to live their lives everyday. The most important thing to realize is that you need to reach out to your loved ones in your time of need. It is very important to have a loving support system when having to face an obstacle as difficult as losing a loved one.

The women in this memoir have a deep connection to the natural world, and feel very passionately about the birds in the refuge. The women are quick to realize the effects of the government because of the rise and fall of the lake.

They realize how most of the birds at the refuge end up disappearing because of their need to find somewhere else more suitable for them to live.

Diane and Terry find solitude in the bird refuge. They use solitude to find peace within themselves and help themselves except the situation that they are inevitably in. They also use solitude to find their own connection in nature. No matter how hard times became for their family, they were always able to turn to the solitude they found in nature to comfort them in their time of need.

A War not a Battle

Refuge brought a lot to mind while reading but what stood out the most to me was the battle with cancer that takes center stage while reading. It’s something that stood out to me and made it hard for me to read because Cancer is a disease that has often shown up in my life and caused havoc upon my family and my childhood. I’ve seen many of my family members and friends battle various types of cancer and while some have beaten it many lost their battles. The one battle that I witnessed that affected me the most was the battle that my brother fought when I was only in second grade. Battle is definitely the correct word for cancer, although maybe war would be a better fit because with cancer there are victories and defeats throughout the course of treatment. The victories are the days that it seems like cancer has gone into remission, when the chemo is working, or the days that the medicines that you take and the chemo you go through doesn’t prevent you from going out and living your life. The defeats, on the other hand, are those moments when you can’t get out of bed because you are too weak or when you learn that the cancer despite all your efforts is still growing. Every day is a battle with cancer which is why war should be the term for fighting the illness. It’s a disease that tries to take and when it is done taking away from the person who it’s in it takes the person away from their family. When cancer wins it is never satisfied enough and must deliver that final blow.

While other thoughts and memories of my life have faded and been forgotten or filed away elsewhere in my mind the entirety of his battle has remained cemented in place. I can still remember the smell of the hospital as we walked into it week after week, the smell of industrial cleaner and the faint smell of food being cooked in the kitchen. I can remember the sounds of the hospital, the carts in the hall, the hushed conversations, the ringing of the phones, and the beeping of the heart monitors. I can remember seeing my brother, the one person in the world who I truly looked up to as a symbol of strength, laying in the hospital bed with a bandage around his head from his initial surgery and tubes and wires attached to his arms. I remember being so afraid in that moment and hating myself for showing that fear and making my brother think that I was afraid of him even though what I was afraid of was losing him. I remember the days after his first trip to Boston Children’s Hospital, the good days where the family seemed to be normal if only for a fleeting moment and the days where I knew our family would never be the same again. My brother’s war in total lasted 9 months, December to September; though he fought hard and kept fighting harder and harder the cancer too fought more and more. The battles he fought were long and strenuous and still impact my family and me to this day. His cancer took him away from me and in the process ripped a hole in me that I don’t think can ever truly be closed. I don’t ever really publicize my full story and I rarely tell even my closest friends that I’ve made because I’m afraid of being pitied or that people will look at me with a different lens other than who I am. I often feel like I’m forced to hide a part of myself from the world, a part that has caused a lot in my life.

 

This is a work in progress and will be updated tomorrow when I feel more up to it. It’s a very difficult story for me to talk about let alone put into words but I will fully finish this assignment