Once in a while, not often --- certainly not often enough, a book comes along that distracts me from concentrated reading because names of people whom I just know are going to love it keep popping into my head. RED: Passion and Patience in the Dessert is such a book.
I want to share RED with people who enjoy reading a well turned phrase or a poignant thought. I want to share RED with outdoors types, who love long walks and broad vistas and the sounds of bubbling brooks and the smells of pine and autumn leaves. Most of all, I want to share RED with that special breed of brave, poetic souls who love the desert.
RED celebrates Utah's Monument Valley through essays, short stories, fables, and poetry. Some have been printed before, some are passages from other writers, many are new musings from Terry Tempest Williams that celebrate the special mystery and drama of one of America's most picturesque land forms. I must confess, as long as I've lived in the Arizona desert, I've never visited the stark, ethereal beauty of one of the world's most photographed and admired landscapes on our northern border. It's one of those places we have always meant to visit --- a trip we promise ourselves, then never take. But I've beheld this magnificent viewscape from a perspective I never imagined --- through the passionate eye and pen of a prolific author who has become an icon among nature writers.
Terry Tempest Williams's passion for preserving the vanishing open spaces is exemplified by a quote from Wallace Stegner in the opening of her book. "We were born of wilderness, and we respond to it more than we sometimes realize. We depend upon it increasingly for relief from the termite life we have created. Factories, power plants, resorts, we can make anywhere. Wilderness, once we have given it up, is beyond reconstruction."
Many of the gems that fill this slim volume are only two or three pages --- exquisite small meditations for brief, quiet moments or bedtime reveries. Some are sensual, some funny, and some will bring a lump to your throat. The shortest, and perhaps one of the most thought provoking is less than a page in length, entitled "Police Report."
"While reading the local newspaper, the Moab Times Independent, I came across this tidbit in the police report (December 9, 1998):
An officer was dispatched on a 'strange lights in the sky' call. The officer met with the RP (reporting person), who showed the lights to the officer. The officer noted that it looked somewhat like a planet, except it was changing colors; blue, green, red, yellow, etc. The officer noted that the light was way out of his jurisdiction and took no further action.
What is within our jurisdiction and what is not?
What do we choose to act on and what do we choose to ignore?"
The book ends with a prayer for Wild Mercy.
"The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands."
My list of people with whom I want to share this small marvel is growing. Beware the small, flat, rectangular package under the tree this year, my friends. It's a you-know-what again, but oh the joys it holds.
Reviewed by Roz Shea (HOST BKPG ROZ) on September 11, 2001
Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert