Literature: Terry Tempest Williams’ RED

“Each of us belongs to a particular landscape, one that informs who we are, a place that carries our history, our dreams, holds us to a moral line of behavior that transcends thought.”

–Terry Tempest Williams, in RED: Passion and Patience in the Desert (2001)

RED coverTerry Tempest Williams’ RED: Passion and Patience in the Desert is like a quilt sewn together with words. This patchwork collection of writings ranges in form from stories to environmental essays to erotic musings on landscape. The color red takes on both literal and symbolic meanings as Williams explores the desert landscape and the significance of wild places. “Where I live” says Williams, “the open space of desire is red. The desert before me is red is rose is pink in scarlet is magenta is salmon…The palette of erosion is red, is running red water, red river, my own blood flowing downriver; my desire is red.” She asks: “Can we learn to speak the language of red?” It’s a good question, I think, and Williams demonstrates how to do it by blending a sensitivity to place with a fierce commitment to its preservation.

RED is a book for anyone interested in reading more about the natural world, in general, and the desert landscape, in particular. It also contains delights for those who like writings that forge connections between spirituality and place. As in any collection, some of this book’s individual units are better than others, but most of the writings are short, so I never felt bogged down by a section that I wasn’t crazy about. Besides, I was reading the book from a tent pitched in the Utah desert, and the subject matter felt particularly alive for me there, sipping coffee in the mornings with red sand stuck between my toes.

Some RED gems:

“…this is not hard to understand: falling in love with a place, being in love with a place, wanting to care for a place and see it remain intact as a wild piece of the planet.”

“The stories rooted in experience become beads to trade. It is the story, always the story, that precedes and follows the journey.”

“I believe in the fire of an idea.”


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