Terry Tempest Williams is the Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. She is the author of many books including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place and Leap. She opens this passionately written paperback with the commencement address she delivered to graduating seniors at the University of Utah in 2003 on "The Open Space of Democracy." She makes a good case for a spiritual perception of our responsibilities as citizens in a free country; these entail political obligations to seek justice for all and to be good caretakers of the earth.
Williams shares some of her impressions of a trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which is in peril of being violated by "the relentless push to drill for oil." The author marvels at this wondrous and layered wilderness where "migrating birds create blizzards with feathers, where polar bears walk on water, and where white owls circle solitary men, reminding them of their limitations." In this inspired passage, Williams charts what she learned on her trip:
"You cannot afford to make careless mistakes, like meditating in the presence of wolves, or topping your boots in the river, or losing a glove, or not securing your tent down properly. Death is a daily occurrence in the wild, not noticed, not respected, not mourned. In the Arctic, I've learned ego is as useless as money.
"Choose one's traveling companions well. Physical strength and prudence are necessary. Imagination and ingenuity are our finest traits.
"You can change your mind like the weather.
"Patience is more powerful than anger. Humor is more attractive than fear.
"Pay attention. Listen. We are most alive when discovering.
"Humility is the capacity to see.
"Suffering comes, we do not have to create it.
"We are meant to live simply.
"We are meant to be joyful.
"Life continues with and without us.
"Beauty is another word for God."
Williams also discusses her participation in the Castle Rock Collaboration, a local democratic experiment in Utah where citizens have banded together to preserve 3,000 acres of desert land from business interests who wanted to develop more leases for oil and gas. She concludes: "The preservation of one's homeland is the preservation of the planet."