We can no longer deny the destiny that is ours by becoming women who wait—waiting to love, waiting to speak, waiting to act. –Terry Tempest Williams
What if your mother, whom you have always been very close to, dies too young after a long struggle with cancer. (She is 52. You are 34.) What if, as she is dying, she tells you–her "dearest friend"–that she wants you to have her journals. What if, after you have honored her wishes by opening the first of the hardcover books only after she has passed, you find the pages covered, not with the beautiful penmanship you cherish, but with nothing at all. What if you find all the pages of all the books blank? This is precisely what happened to Terry Tempest Williams, author, naturalist, and activist. "The blow of her blank journals became a second death," she writes, and then she transmutes the blow into a delicate and fierce meditation on womanhood that pays homage, not only to her mother and her grandmothers, but to voice. In When Women Were Birds (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Sarah Crichton Books, 2012) Williams writes about the elementary school directors that would not allow her to use the word "biology" in the science classes she taught there. She describes being told by a member of the U.S. Congress, as she testified on behalf of wilderness: "'I'm sorry Ms. Williams, there is something about your voice I cannot hear.'" The book carries me back to my twenties when I was caught up in the heady swirl that was my personal discovery and exploration of literature by women and feminist thought. I read The Yellow Wallpaper and The Awakening and the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth. I read Writing a Woman's Life and Woman and Nature and the poems of Judith Minty. And I began to understand that it (1980s America) was a very exciting time and place to be a young woman learning to speak from the core of her own experience. It would be a number of years before I would realize that this did not have to mean turning a deaf ear to men's voices (as much as anyone can in this man's world). Perhaps I'll write about that another time. Meanwhile, I'll be poring over Terry Tempest Williams's books again, and I highly recommend When Women Were Birds.