Refiguring the Map of Sorrow
Nature Writing and Autobiography
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: University of Virginia Press
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Table of Contents
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Reading and writing about autobiographies has given me great appreciation for the innumerable chain of events necessary to get a person to a particular point in a life, such as acknowledging the debts incurred in the writing of a book. My first such debt, for obvious and less obvious reasons, is to my parents, George and Shirley Allister....
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Writing as a way to work through grief is as old as art itself. And ever since romanticism’s glorification of reflective individual expression, such writing has often taken the form of autobiography. From Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, ...
Chapter 1: Writing the Self through Others
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Each of the thirty-six chapter titles of Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge focuses on a particular species of bird. A naturalist by profession, Williams fills her book with careful descriptions of the numerous avian species that flock to Great Salt Lake or the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge for resting or nesting. For example, in her chapter...
Chapter 2: Living the Questions, Writing the Story
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In her essays “Bad Government and Silly Literature” and “The Edge of Town, Duluth, Minnesota,” Carol Bly, a long-time farmer, writer, and teacher from rural Minnesota, decries the lack of ethical consciousness in most American writing and sees the act of “nature-describing” as an avoidance of naming that which is evil, wrong, or...
Chapter 3: An Unnatural History Made Natural
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Refuge and Hubbell’s A Country Year serve as bookends for this study. Whereas Hubbell sets the “present” of her book near the end of her grieving, as she is moving from disorganization to reorganization of her life, Williams writes from the beginnings of her trauma—when her beloved bird refuges begin to drown, when her mother is diagnosed...
Chapter 4: When All the World Is Cancerous
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The books in this study confound the catalogers at the Library of Congress. A Country Year is listed under Natural History, Missouri and the Ozarks; and Country Life, Missouri and the Ozarks. Refuge is listed as Williams, Terry Tempest–Health, Breast Cancer Patients Utah Biography; and Natural History, Utah and the Great Salt Lake...
Chapter 5: Constructing a Self on the Road
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Near the end of his stay at the racetrack, Barich recalls lines from a Grateful Dead song that have taken on symbolic significance: “Lately it occurs to me / What a long strange trip it’s been.” Though he has left his home and taken up residence at the track, Barich’s strange trip has been internal, a matter of emotions and psychology, depression...
Chapter 6: A Pilgrimage to Fashion a Zen Self
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Like Heat-Moon, Matthiessen begins a journey in grief, leaving for a two-month trek through the Himalayas not long after his wife dies of cancer. But unlike Heat-Moon, who sets out with no plan other than to drive the blue highways of America in a loop, Matthiessen intends to make a religious pilgrimage to the Crystal Mountain in Inner...
Chapter 7: Making a Home on the Range
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We all know now how the founding of the American West was made legendary, was and is romanticized. We know that there were and are many Wests, and that this “founding” of a land that had been found centuries before uprooted long-established cultures of Native Americans and Mexicans. We know that the history of the European-settled...
Epilogue: “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live”
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Joan Didion, in a masterful essay about California culture, “The White Album,” juxtaposes fifteen vignettes to capture the bizarre qualities of the sixties, from the politics of the Black Panther Party to the nihilism of The Doors’ Jim Morrison. Her collage of snapshots attempts to make sense of a time that has become so senseless to her...
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Page Count: 199
Publication Year: 2001