Showing 1 - 2 of 2 annotations associated with Williams, Terry Tempest
- Carter, III, Albert Howard
This is a short piece, a scant twelve pages, in which Williams remembers Alan, an uncle who had mental deficits. During his breech birth, Alan’s brain was starved of oxygen. In the dominant American culture, Alan is called “retarded, handicapped, mentally disabled or challenged.” Williams concludes, “We see them for who they are not, rather than for who they are.” (p. 29) The title of the work refers to an Alaskan totem pole figure whose expression reminds her of Alan. In Tlingit culture, there’s a story of a kidnapped boy who lived with the Salmon People. When he returned twenty years later, he was seen as a holy man, not an “abnormal.”
To the young Terry Tempest, Alan demonstrated enthusiasm and spontaneity, for example bowling with reckless glee, regardless of where the ball went. When she asked him how he was feeling, he said, “very happy and very sad,” explaining that “both require each other’s company.” (p. 31) She liked his direct answers, those of a person we sometimes call a wise fool. Later, he lived in a “training school,” a joyless, ugly, and smelly place where abnormal children in Utah were sent and warehoused. Suffering from epilepsy, he wore a football helmet to protect him from sudden falls.
At age 22, Alan made the choice to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Williams describes the ceremony and how the family supported him through it (including yet another violent epileptic episode). When Alan died at age 28, Williams was 18. Looking at the totem pole, she remembers Alan, seeing him for who he truly was.
Terry Tempest Williams, a thirty-four year old Mormon woman and naturalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah, considers herself part of "The Clan of One-Breasted Women." Ten women of her family, including Williams, have been treated or have died from breast cancer. Is this just an example of the randomness of nature, or is it related to the fact that Williams and her family were residing in the "virtually uninhabited" plains downwind of the atomic bomb testing grounds from 1951 to 1962?
When her book begins, Williams' mother has just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the book follows the next five years of her life and death. At the same time, the Great Salt Lake is rising to record heights, flooding the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and scattering the birds and animals with whom Williams has lived her life. The interplay of the uncontrollable elements of nature and the inevitability of life and death make this book an elegant study of "renewal and spiritual grace," and an excellent and unusual telling of a daughter learning how to grieve for her mother.