“Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
This book was on a recommended reading list several years ago and has become a treasured addition to my library. It was the first book that I ever read by Terry Tempest Williams and as I have acquired more titles by her, I find her writing to be evocative and deeply inspiring. She is an author, conservationist, naturalist, and activist with a strong focus in the west where she was raised as a Mormon. Her writing ranges from womanhood, to environmentalism, to family, to deep reflections of soul and spirit. She has been described as a “citizen writer” and speaks out for an ethical stance on life.
“For far too long we have been seduced into walking a path that did not lead us to ourselves. For far too long we have said yes when we wanted to say no. And for far too long we have said no when we desperately wanted to say yes. . . .
When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
When Women Were Birds – Fifty-four Variations on Voice (published April 2012) has 54 chapters, 54 voices. Her mother died at 54, the author is 54 at the writing, and she takes us through her surprising discovery that the journals that her mother left her to be read after she died of ovarian cancer are all blank. Over the next few decades, she uses the journals and fills them with her words. Williams’ exploration of grief and finding her own voice in the face of the “paper tombstones” left by her mother is heartfelt and we are drawn into her story by her storytelling abilities and deeply emotional observations. While her story is personal, her reflections and experiences will intersect with most women, touching chords that may have been buried or forgotten.
“If a man knew what a woman never forgets, he would love her differently. What a woman never forgets is when she allows a man to make love to her, she enters a pact with angels that should a child be conceived in that moment, she holds the life of another. A man can come and go, he pulls out and walks away. But a woman stays and remains tender. She wants to be held. She wants to talk. She wants to revisit that motion made inside her because in the lovemaking, a woman is remade – because until she bleeds, she knows that man is the father of her child, whether she ever tells him or not. Because until she bleeds, her body has been rearranged through his ecstasy and hers, which will become theirs. Because until she bleeds, repeat it again… repeat and repeat because until she bleeds, she imagines every possibilty from pleasure to pain to birth to death and how she will do what she needs to do, and until she bleeds, she will worry endlessly, until she bleeds.” ~Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
I did not read this book cover to cover. It invited slow pauses, contemplation, and I appreciated the format of the book that broke her writing up into the smaller chapters. Make a cup of tea, curl up somewhere comfortable, have your own journal handy, and dive in. Prepare to have emotions rise up, to find healing within the covers, and to hand it to the women you love so they can read it too.
Wonderful 2013 Interview with Terry Tempest Williams for Guernica Magazine
Other recommended titles by Terry Tempest Williams