When Women Were Birds : Terry Tempest Williams

This summer I read Terry Tempest Williams‘s last book.  When Women Were Birds.

This last book, a beautiful, wonderful book, as some of the reviews describe it, more like an attempt to explain something, and maybe a written meditation.

I had never seen any author lectures or readings before I moved to Portland, 20 years ago.  Mark had mentioned he had attended a few, with this beautiful chance to meet the author.  I always thought of it as something special.

Then, many years ago, I had the chance to see Terry Tempest Williams reading at Powell’s.  I had read her book, and I sat there, listening, watching her, watching her read the words she had written.  I was in awe.  I was mesmerized at the beauty of the moment.  That hour or so of her standing in front of us, holding her own book, pages filled with her thoughts, reading her own words.  I found beautiful.  It was beauty in every way.

Then I read another of her books, and another.  Saw her one more time in 2001 when I had my copy of Refuge signed.  Haven’t seen her since.  Herself reading has stuck with me all these years. Her calmness, her beauty, her voice, something magical about her.

And then this last book. I’ve read it, and re-read pages, and chapters, trying to memorize her words, trying to deeply understand her meaning.  I find it a beautiful book.

Terry Tempest Williams.  Photo from this site.
Terry Tempest Williams. Photo from this site.

I wish I can see her again read from her books.  I wish I had seen her last year when she came to Powell’s.  I missed it.

For some reason, back then, many years ago, the meeting of few authors, anchored me into this city.  Back then, as a young couple, without kids, just married, we had moved a few times. But it made Portland special.  We started creating memories together.  In small ways, they’ve become small traditions.  It made this place a little more like home, where I could find things I had never done before.  Things I needed.  Things I wanted.  Including making this meeting of authors and their words in person, possible.  An unknown for me until then.

I have her book from the library, still, next to my bed.  I’ve re-read paragraphs, pages.  Trying to understand and think to be in her place.  What it would mean to me to find a treasure like the one she had left from her mother.  Three shelves filled with journals, left all blank.  What would I make out of this?

She writes in her book about the words she had written in her own journal from 1970.  She says she was 14.  Depending on the month, I was probably just born or soon to be.  She writes:

“We seated ourselves on an old knotted log that had been struck with lightning many years ago and listened, listened to the silence.  I heard nothing but a beautiful stillness.”

And from that same 1970’s journal entry, and the same trip she took with her grandmother to the mountains, she writes:

“Once at Bud Lake, I looked at my grandmother’s face, and I felt a deep message was inside her.  She was staring out at the lake and I guessed she was thinking of the soothing repeat of nature. The assurance that bare branches will bring the buds of spring, that yellow dandelions will become white with seeds, and that each life is precious unto itself… Mimi turned to me and said, “We are part of nature –“

At 14, she seems to have intense thoughts and beautiful words.  I wonder where my journals are. I know some got lost in one trip we did with Mark long ago, and our suitcases got stolen from the airport as we arrived.  But I think I still have some around. I wonder what they say.

I did write some when I was young, but I’ve kept more journals as adults.  Maybe because my adult life has been longer than my young adult life… I guess I’ve passed that point in life, haven’t I?  This, this blog, a public journal I guess.  I’m thinking some day I’ll print it, and have it bound to keep in shelf for us to read.

I also do have a shelf of blank journals ready to be used.  I love paper.  I love notebooks.  I’ve learned to bind books.  I love pens.  I love the feeling they both have when they touch each other.  For me, there’s different pens for different occasions and for different journals.

Yes, I do have a shelf of blank journals.  But it’s nothing more than a collection of beautiful papers, with beautiful covers ready for the moment we need them.  Some from far away places, some from near.  A few, I’ve made myself.  Different covers, different bindings, different papers.  Some with watercolor paper.  Others with ruled paper.  But mostly, I like the pages of my journals to be blank.  No lines.  Open ended.  Open for whatever.  For whatever reason we need them for.  To write, to do math, or to paint or draw.  They are ready for us.  All of them, and each of them, with a story behind of where they came from.  And ready to hold and tell stories.

I wonder why Terry Tempest Williams’s mother had these shelves of blank journals.  I wonder why she collected and saved these blank journals.  I wonder why.

Note: These paragraphs were copied from the book, When Women Were Birds.  With permission by Terry Tempest Williams for our personal use here in this blog .