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O N A S I P O R I N Utah State University Terry Tempest Williams and Ona Siporin: A Conversation William Stafford once wrote: justice will take us millions o f intricate moves. The intricate moves of Terry Tempest Williams in her efforts towards environmental justice are to turn the kaleidoscope ninety degrees, to listen to a shell (Pieces o f White Shell), to translate the calligraphy of herons in flight (An Unspoken Hunger), to name the snows (The Silent Language of Snow), and to trace the rapid unrav­ eling of the lives of the women in her family (Refuge). Time spent with Williams reveals a woman whose intriguing power, determina­ tion, and ambition remain half-obscured by seeming contradictions. In late April of this year, at the request of Western American Literature, I drove up canyon out of Salt Lake and introduced myself at Terry’s door. She showed me into a living room where we sat by the windows and talked. I wanted to hear how Terry would situate herself. Perhaps it should seem obvious. She is the naturalist-in-residence at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, has a master’s degree in environmental education, and has won the Southwest Book Award. In her many works it is clear that her concerns are with the Great Basin and the deserts. Still, I wondered how she would define her own place of enchantment. She started slowly: “ . . . I think of a triangle, and one of the points of the triangle, probably the central point, would be Great Salt Lake, the Bear 100 Western American Literature River Bird Refuge—a landscape of my childhood associated with my family, my grandmother in particular. The long-legged birds, great blue herons, avocets, stilts, ibis, shoveler, teal . . . the names evoke the presence. To the south, [the point] would be somewhere on the Colorado Plateau in the confluence of those canyons between Canyonlands and Escalante. The red rocks— [it’s like] being inside of an animal—the stillness there. . . . With the desert it’s about heat, it’s exposure. It’s very much of the body. With Great Salt Lake it’s the whole notion that nothing is as it appears. The breaking down of mythologies, even my own. . . . Also, whenever you’re out at the lake you inevitably face Salt Lake City, so in a way it’s the tension between a domesticated life and a wild one. And then the point north would be in the Yellowstone plateau, in the Tetons, in Yellowstone, and that would be a place of enchantment that includes animals: grizzlies, moose, elk, weasel, trumpeter swans. So that’s a storied landscape with Other. And that would be the tri­ angle that I stand in. . . .” I asked her if it was the triangle she always intended to stand in. “I can’t ever imagine leaving Utah. It has such a wonderful radius . . . five hours north, you’re in Yellowstone and Jackson Hole . . . and five hours south we’re in the Colorado Plateau. . . . It’s interesting though—the one landscape I have not written about is the landscape north and that might be the most private and potent landscape of all for me. It’s where I have written all my books; it’s where I feel a very strong sense of community . . . our family always spent the summers in Jackson Hole. And it’s also where I think I was mentored—at the Teton Science School—and where those ideas in terms of the land ethic were really born in me.” “What changes are you seeing?” “The changes I’ve seen in the Yellowstone plateau, Great Salt Lake, and in the Colorado Plateau are the changes we’re all seeing in the American West. Certainly, it’s much more inhabited. In many ways the threats are greater, in terms of extractive industries that are always looming over the Kaiparowits Plateau. Or whether it’s the wilderness bill that was brought to the American people by the Utah delegation that [had] inadequate acreage and inadequate pro­ Siporin/Williams 101 tection. Whether it’s AMAX out at Great Salt Lake and the draining of the...


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pp. 99-113
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