Terry Tempest Williams is one of my favorite writers of the Southwest. She is unique, independent, and poetic. She is also incredibly talented and thoughtful. The things she writes are things I think about deep in my head when hiking and backpacking. I think, I could have written that, because I also experienced it. To read Tempest Williams is to make a connection, within ourselves, outside ourselves, in the natural world, as well as the spiritual world. Tempest Williams is unlike any other female writer I’ve read, much less any other Mormon writer I’ve read. Her uniqueness is striking and yet she presents a common thread, a vein, a web, a beat that remains the same within each of us. That’s why her words are so touching and eloquent. She makes observations and states them, whether beautifully simple observations, or complex and high level observations.

Pieces of White Shell: a Journey to Navajoland (University of New Mexico Press) is Tempest Williams 2nd book, published in 1984. While one of her younger works, she is finding her voice and her niche. I love the essay format based on themes of elements in nature, tied with the Navajo beliefs and values. Presented in a manner that requires thoughtful time to read, Tempest Williams writes visually depictive essays that transport the reader to the Southwest. Full of beauty and resplendence, as well as the stark scenes and challenges in desert country, her essays demonstrate her understanding and empathy of the Navajo culture as well as the sands of time of the desert.

Pieces of White Shell is illustrated by Clifford Brycelea http://www.cbrycelea.com/ whose prints and artwork are stunning and again connecting humans with the earth and spirituality. His illustrations in Pieces of White Shell, depict a quiet simplicity with gorgeous observations of people, animals, and surroundings through the eyes of Native American influences. The illustrations and text also connect deeply with anyone who has spent time in the desert backcountry where life returns to the basics of food, care, shelter, observations.

Several of the essays in particular were personally connecting. The titles of the essays set the stage: Rocks, Sand and Seed; A Bouquet of Feathers Bound by Yarn; Wool; Pieces of White Shell. These essay headings alone let the mind ponder the wonderment of natural elements. Some of the essays are so personal without being too personal. Here’s where the beauty of that natural connection comes in. Tempest Williams’ writing will strike a chord of all colors with her readers. I was touched by her teaching and learning experiences with Navajo children. Such wisdom and maturity is shared along with lessons of communication and love. Again with words of simplicity, the messages are touching of both heart and mind.

My favorite quote from her last chapter “Storytelling,” is most striking to me. The quote says: “Her eyes are painted shut. I understand. To tell a story you must travel inward.” This invoked almost a lightbulb moment. I understand why poets and musicians often close their eyes as they are going inward to bring forth a story, in all its glorious forms. Doesn’t it just make beautiful sense?

Terry Tempest Williams is an author to revere, much like Henry David Thoreau, Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, and Wendell Berry. For a list of the author’s books and other information, visit http://www.coyoteclan.com/.

Until next time, enjoy observing nature quietly and contemplatively. Happy Reading!

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