The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

Find this book in the catalogLast weekend marked the centennial of the National Parks Service in the United States, these places Ken Burns has called “America’s Best Idea.” It’s a perfect time to read the diverse essays in Terry Tempest Williams’ “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.”

It’s not an ordinary guidebook – no maps, or color spreads, no lush prose. There are a few stunning black and white photographs, but the primary focus is on the words. Williams’ writing style ranges through poetry, memoir, letters, even genealogy – and at times is intensely personal. Williams takes a big chance as writer in this approach, and it’s mostly successful. “The Hour of Land” is as sprawling, complex, and contradictory as the histories of the parks themselves.

In each of the twelve essays, Williams weaves together a personal visit to a specific park with an exploration of the history, wildlife, and the current challenges. At times the stories are painful. The casual erasing of Native American sacred spaces. The devastation at Gulf Islands National Park after the BP oil spill. Glacier National Park, melting, too, as our world warms.

I learned that the armed standoff last winter at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge had historic precedent.

In each essay, Williams also explores why we seek wilderness, what it does for us as individuals and as a culture. Her conclusion? “Perhaps that is what parks are – breathing spaces for a society that is increasingly holding its breath.” – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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