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The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks

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America’s national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them.

From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.

397 pages, Hardcover

First published June 7, 2016

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About the author

Terry Tempest Williams

88 books1,191 followers
Terry Tempest Williams is an American author, conservationist and activist. Williams’ writing is rooted in the American West and has been significantly influenced by the arid landscape of her native Utah in which she was raised. Her work ranges from issues of ecology and wilderness preservation, to women's health, to exploring our relationship to culture and nature.

She has testified before Congress on women’s health, committed acts of civil disobedience in the years 1987 - 1992 in protest against nuclear testing in the Nevada Desert, and again, in March, 2003 in Washington, D.C., with Code Pink, against the Iraq War. She has been a guest at the White House, has camped in the remote regions of the Utah and Alaska wildernesses and worked as "a barefoot artist" in Rwanda.

Williams is the author of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place; An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field; Desert Quartet; Leap; Red: Patience and Passion in the Desert; and The Open Space of Democracy. Her book Finding Beauty in a Broken World was published in 2008 by Pantheon Books.

In 2006, Williams received the Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society, their highest honor given to an American citizen. She also received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western American Literature Association and the Wallace Stegner Award given by The Center for the American West. She is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfictionand a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in creative nonfiction. Williams was featured in Ken Burns' PBS series The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009). In 2011, she received the 18th International Peace Award given by the Community of Christ Church.

Williams is currently the Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah and a columnist for the magazine The Progressive. She has been a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College where she continues to teach. She divides her time between Wilson, Wyoming and Castle Valley, Utah, where her husband Brooke is field coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

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Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,851 reviews231 followers
August 17, 2016
#2016-aty-reading challenge--week 28: A biography, autobiography, or memoir.

A celebration of the centennial of the U. S. National Park Service, August 25, 2016.

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order." John Burroughs

"Perhaps that is what parks are--breathing spaces for a society that increasingly holds its breath."

"This is the Hour of Land, when our mistakes and shortcomings must be placed in the perspective of time. The Hour of Land is where we remember what we have forgotten: We are not the only species who lives and dreams on the planet. There is something enduring that circulates in the heart of nature that deserves our respect and attention."

A personal note: Instead of bringing home plastic souvenirs from vacations, my favorite thing to do is to find an indy bookstore and talk to them about a book they would recommend from a local author. This past June we were very fortunate to visit the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks and stopped at Dolly's bookstore in Park City, Utah where the proprietor suggested this new book. I said, Perfect: To not only enhance our visit to the parks but celebrate the year of the centennial of our National Park Service!

What I was expecting was a beautiful memoir of inspiring visits to twelve of our national parks. And there is quite a bit of that--gorgeous depiction of the landscapes and vistas she has experienced interspersed with black and white nature photos by various artists.

But Terry Tempest Williams is not only a nature writer but a conservationist and activist and she writes a great deal about the issues and problems that need to be addressed: such as, the continuing cleanup of the huge BP oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf that is still affecting that region, the constant battles needed to be waged to keep our western parks pristine and out of the greedy hands of oil and gas developers, the obvious effects of global warming and climate change on our parks, and the understandable desire of many Native Americans to regain the use of their sacred homelands within our parks.

I took my time reading this book--one park per day--savoring each essay.

1. *GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING: (Est. 1929) Williams and her family have been coming to the Tetons for generations and, having experienced the park for the first time myself this summer, I was eager to read every word. She provides some historical background so one can appreciate how hard people like John D. Rockefeller Jr. worked to expand the park and protect the land for future generations to enjoy.

2. THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, NORTH DAKOTA: (Est. 1978) "A gentle, peaceful place" that is being endangered by two causes: activity at the Bakken shale oil field and climate change.

Valerie Naylor, park superintendent: "The Bakken has changed everything. My work as superintendent used to be focused on the elk herds, the bison, shoring up the crumbling bentonite hills. But now my primary job is to mitigate the drilling on the boundaries of the park, and that is more than a full-time job. But I'll tell you, honestly, it's relentless and depressing and I'm tired."

The park is also being affected by climate change: "Average rainfall used to be fourteen inches a year. For the last five out of six years, we've been averaging twenty inches of rain. Our badlands now stay green until September. This is unheard of. With all the rain, the clay turns into a slippery slide on the slopes and it's affecting the roads. Literally, the ground is moving beneath our feet. We've had to close the visitor center on account of it sinking."

3. *ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE: (Est. 1916) America's first national park east of the Mississippi and the first park to be created entirely out of private land, most of which was donated (again thank John D. Rockefeller Jr. for this).

Williams writes that she has felt a deep connection to the park since her first visit in 1981. Recently, while researching her genealogy at the Mormon church's Family History Library, she discovered a reason why--a familial link to Maine and Acadia National Park before her branch of the family moved west to Utah. In this essay she seeks out a distant relative who still lives on Great Cranberry Island.

An interesting note is that another national park is being proposed in northern Maine on land donated by the Quimby family (former owners of Burt's Bees): Maine Woods National Park. Let's hope opposition to this park can be defeated!

4. *GETTYSBURG NATIONAL PARK, PENNSYLVANIA: (Est. 1966) Williams visits this park in various seasons and discusses the bloody history and the wounds that war inflicted on our national consciousness that still haven't completely healed. While viewing the battlefields, Williams comes to the realization that "all wars are political. We will fight for the myth that will support and sustain our point of view at all costs."

5. EFFIGY MOUNDS NATIONAL MONUMENT, IOWA: (Est. 1949) Located in the northeast corner of Iowa, this peaceful park protects 207 effigy mounds, 31 of them in the shapes of animals. According to Williams there were once tens of thousands of these earth mounds across the midwest territory and twenty-three different shapes of effigy mounds have been documented by archeologists. What happened to the rest? Plowed under to grow fields of corn.

Albert LeBeau, the cultural resources manager at the park, says: "The archaeological evidence supports the native understanding that these mounds were created and used for ceremonial purposes. It was seen as a sacred area."

There are more questions here than answers.

6. BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS: (Est. 1944) "This is my desire--to simply walk and witness the Chihauhaun Desert, where thousands of species of cactus will ask nothing of me but to be left alone beneath an overarching sky." Williams writes this essay of her daily experiences in the park through color--a different one for each day.

7. GATES OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA: (Est. 1980) Located 200 miles northwest of Fairbanks in the Central Brooks Range, there are no roads in the park so you must hike in. While Williams writes of her experiences in this park in short, descriptive sentences, her mind is really on a problem she is having with one of her brothers that seems to be upsetting and distracting her. I would have appreciated less of that and more about the park itself.

But I found this statement most poignant: "The legacy of the Wilderness Act is a legacy of care. It is the act of loving ourselves, beyond our own species, beyond our own time. To honor wildlands and wild lives that we may never see, much less understand, is to acknowledge the world does not revolve around us. The Wilderness Act is an act of respect that protects the land and ourselves from our own annihilation."

8. GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE, FLORIDA AND MISSISSIPPI: This was the hardest essay to read--Williams' first-hand experience of the magnitude of the devastation in the Gulf region caused by the massive BP oil spill in 2010 (from the BP-Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rigs).

Flying over the site in a private plane, Williams writes: "Five thousand feet below is the source of the violent blowout that created a geyser of oil for more than a hundred days, fouling the seas, floating onto shore, into the wetlands, into the food chain, into our bodies. Here is the source of our unconscious privileged lives where we remain blind to the harm we are causing to all that is alive and breathing and beautiful."

9. *CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK, UTAH: (Est. 1964) This is the area Williams calls home and about which she is most passionate. Her essay contains letters she has written to newspapers and friends (some now dead), even the Secretary of the Interior, about environmental issues in the west. Is civil disobedience needed to protect our vital natural resources? I might have to read Desert Solitaire.

Again Williams repeats that the main danger to our parks is in development: "I just read in a recent report by the Center for American Progress that forty-two national parks are threatened by oil and gas development--with twelve of them currently affected: *Arches, *Canyonlands, *Grand Teton, *Yellowstone and Glacier among them. This deserves not only our attention, but our resistance."

Although we've visited San Francisco several times and sailed past Alcatraz on a ferry boat and a cruise ship, I have never felt the slightest desire to tour the prison!

In this essay, Williams talks about a number of people who have been imprisoned for their beliefs. She and two friends, both activists, one who had served time for 'civil disobedience,' came to Alcatraz to tour an art exhibit entitled '@Large: Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz.' Ai Weiwei, a dissident Chinese artist, was apparently arrested in his own country on "suspicion of economic crimes" but more likely for giving the middle finger to power with his art.

Frank Dean, superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area believed the exhibit, which was on display from the fall of 2014 to the spring of 2015, "bolster[ed] and supplement[ed] the interpretive story of this challenging, multi-layered national park site--confinement and liberty; repression and release; despair and hope; and the role and responsibility of the individual to drive social change."

11. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA: (Est. 1910) In this essay, Williams writes a harrowing account of being caught in the wild fires of 2003 while hiking with family in the park.

Global warming is affecting this park in real, extreme ways: "In 1850, 150 glaciers were recorded within the boundaries of Glacier National Park. In 2015, only 25 active glaciers remain." Disturbing predictions say they could all be gone within fifteen years.

12. CESAR E. CHAVEZ NATIONAL MONUMENT, CALIFORNIA (Est. 2012) Cesar Chavez, the great labor organizer and activist said, "After thirty years of organizing poor people, I have become convinced that the two greatest aspirations of humankind are equality and participation." He is buried here where he worked and organized, his grave located in the midst of a peace garden.

And finally, in conclusion to this excellent book, Williams says:

"We are at a crossroads. We can continue on the path we have been on, in this nation that privileges profit over people and land; or we can unite as citizens with a common cause--the health and wealth of the Earth that sustains us. If we cannot commit to this kind of fundamental shift in our relationship to people and place, then democracy becomes another myth perpetuated by those in power who care only about themselves."

In this election year, vote carefully and vote your conscience.

I'm one of the nearly 300 million people who visit our parks each year. *Denotes parks I have been fortunate enough to visit.
Profile Image for Brooke.
327 reviews4 followers
July 4, 2016
This book was intense, unusual, poetic, political, and jarring with each chapter and prose shift. It made me uncomfortable at times, but I think that was a good thing. Much of this book serves as a wake-up call; a reminder to those of us who believe in preserving and protecting the natural world to not just believe, but to do something with that belief.
Profile Image for Debbi.
223 reviews
October 18, 2018
Two chapters in and I must own this book. Returning this copy to the library and buying my own. It feels like a bible for the naturalists among us, for historians, for politicians, for campers, for outdoor lovers, for everyday readers wishing to expand their horizons. Who knew that the stories of national parks and their people would be so interesting? Tempest Williams hits it out of the park with this one (no pun intended).
Profile Image for Mary Rice.
36 reviews13 followers
August 25, 2016
Terry Tempest Williams held the release event for this book in the small theatre in Moab.
There was a reception beforehand - my mother worked in the Park Service and was a special guest. I knew the bookstore owner who had helped Terry write the book - his elderly father is my neighbor. My sister and I shovel his driveway in the winter. He invited me to go to the invite-only reception when I came into his bookstore asking for a ticket to the release event.
There was a special, one-of-a-kind binding made for Terry by Andy - the bookstore owner - and some artisans who were his friends and Terry's. It was a surprise gift. Each sheet of paper pressed by hand. It was thick and ivory and the words were pressed into it like engravings on stone. The cover was polished walnut, smooth with oil, the title page rough-pulped sage paper with the imprints of leaves, and the book itself it held several chapters with pictures from local photographers, which had not survived the publisher's shears in the journey from manuscript to final printing. Terry, dressed in a long linen robe and scarf despite the 108 degree evening heat, wept at the presentation of such a gift. At one point Bruce Hucko, a friend of mine and one of the photographers, gave me the book, and I was terrified I would drop the jewel in my hands, conscious of the oils on my fingertips, afraid I would leave smudges on the unmarked walnut cover. Mom introduced me to Terry - whose works I read when I am at school in a dirty, crowded city a universe away from the desert to keep the red rocks warm in my soul - and I gave her back the book. I wondered what it must be like to be handed the work of your own mind enclosed within the work of someone else's hands. I stammered, and Terry was kind when she signed my own mass-market copy.

At the release event, with every seat full in the old theatre, Terry read passages from her book. She had a microphone, but her soft, commanding voice carried well without its amplification. Her audience was silent, their attention was rapt. I could not tell where the passages of her book ended and her unscripted meditations began, so clear was her voice in her writings, and so articulate was the writer behind it.
She paused at one point, remarking how in San Juan County to the south of us, opposition to the proposed Bears Ears National Monument was so vehement that flyers were appearing in windows everywhere saying, "Backpacker Open Season" which displayed a target superimposed over the silhouette of a hiker. It was unsaid and universally known that the people who made those flyers were less than half-joking. I recalled my backpacking trips, both solo and with my mother, and the time when I was a little girl that someone sent dismembered animal parts to my mother in retaliation for her work enforcing grazing limits on public lands.
Terry then went on to describe the joys of seeing Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument given the prestigious Dark Sky designation in recognition of their preservation of Earth's scarcest and most delicate non-renewable resource. She talked about the victory of the local Park Service office in shutting down oil leases that would have put oil wells in the middle of the magisterial vistas that roll from horizon to horizon in Arches and Canyonlands National Park, how one park superintendent was arguing to the BLM that the national parks deal in vistas, not just earth, that the sky and air is as important as the rocks. I could see my mother smile at the subtle praise of the monumental endeavor that had been keeping her at the office for sixty-hour weeks over the last eighteen months.
Then Terry called my mother out by name and asked her to stand, and she said, "Thank you for the work you do to protect these sacred spaces. I honor you."
Every person in that theatre stood to give my mother what was likely the first and last round of applause she ever had received in more than 30 years working and fighting for the National Park Service.
And then Terry asked everyone under the age of 25 to stand, and for a moment, I stood next to my mother in a rare moment of equality. Terry said, "To the next generation, we apologize for our mistakes, and we honor you for your vitality, and your integrity, and your strength, because it is you who will shape the future. For this, we honor you."
I could feel the tears in my eyes at the coming-together, the stitching of many pieces, that was happening in that room, where everyone's eyes looked at me and at each other with a sort of clarity that recognized one another both for our past and for our potential, understanding the heavy, seemingly hopeless burden of environmentalism and conservation in the 21st century, but bright with the determination and will to forge change.

And this was the atmosphere Terry crafts in her book. Somehow, in her writings, there is a seamless unity between old and new, the imperfect past and complicated present of a National Park Service that is both her greatest joy and her greatest pain. She invites us into the beautiful places of the world, places where we confront our own pain, where we are forced to recognize and reckon with the pain of others, and with the devastating future of our own world. We walk with her through it all, together. Wondering.
"Prayers have to be walked, not just talked."
The wilderness is in peril. Ice melts, and so beetles survive to dig deep into trees and kill them which gives fuel to the massive violent fires that rage across the drought-stricken West because of the warming temperatures that caused the ice to melt and because of state lines drawn heedless of watersheds and millions of people raised to believe that the West can be irrigated and they can have lawns and sprinklers and golf courses and fracking, and all through the landscape at the legal borders of the scenic vistas the wildfires obscure with their smoke lie oil and gas wells whose emissions and product caused the warming in the first place.
Oil washes up on our shores and poisons our food and our skies and our children and our psyches.
Genocide against the people who first inhabited the land, and people who inhabit it now, goes unnoticed, unspoken, ignored.
Earth crumbles under erosion. Streams dry up. Animals are cast aside because they are not "interesting" enough to warrant a place on the Endangered Species List. Humanity calls the shots based on bureaucracy and whim.
"And what is a synonym for wild?"
All this Terry explores candidly. It is, in many ways, a scathing condemnation of the National Park Service. It is a scathing condemnation of the US Government. It is a scathing condemnation of enormous development and petroleum and gas companies.
Above all, it is a scathing condemnation of us. Of you. Of me. Of herself.

And yet.
There is a coming-together-ness in this book. Terry does not soften the blows of reality, but she does not shield us from its joys either.
"...do not fear darkness; it's where one comes alive."
She dives into the darkness to find those moments where the earth comes alive, and we experience it with her. In the despair of the BP oil spill, there are those who fight for transparency and regulation. In Canyonlands there are those who fight the oil leases. In Gates of the Arctic, Terry begins to come to terms with a rift between her and her brother. In Alcatraz, an imprisoned artist from China asks us to listen to the songs of hope and anger and joy from political prisoners around the world.
"Wilderness is an antidote to the war within ourselves."

A 28-year old college student went to jail for 2 years for interrupting a BLM auction of land parcels for development. Native Americans took over Alcatraz after it was abandoned and demanded it be returned to tribal trust.
"Lavender dares to become violet."

A massive wildfire in Glacier National Park, by virtue of a shift in the winds, narrowly misses a historic chalet and the 40 people inside.
"If the world ends, let me be here."

She balances fear with hope, walking with her reader into the depths of despair for our own soul and the soul of our land, and then walks with us to the peaks of joy for all we have been given, spurring us to action and recognition all along the way.
"Have you heard the thrumming of the Earth? It is here."

She spurs us to action, to passion, to rage.
"We forget the place of anger in the work of love."

Her language soars to poetry. She includes the poems and songs and quotations of others. There are letters and emails, songs, photos - a multimedia presentation and a love-letter, love-song, love-story to the world beloved by naturalists, blue-collar men, and weary souls.
She invites us into the magnificent world we occupy, asking us to open our eyes, to see it clearly as we saw one another clearly in that theatre. She asks us to recognize the gifts around us, the gifts of people, of labor, of landscape. She asks us to contemplate the way landscape is erased from our sight (oil wells, virtual tours, souvenirs instead of memories) and from our minds (removed from our dictionaries, soothed into inaction by corporations). She does not ask for action but inspires it, inspires a fierce stewardship of the world.
She dares us to hope.

"We lose nothing by loving."
Profile Image for Patrick Macke.
802 reviews8 followers
August 2, 2021
starts off as natural history, evolves into a sermon, a poetry reading, a letter to the editor, an episode of 60 Minutes, a cry for help, an angry lecture, a therapy session, a drug flashback, a raised fist with a black glove, a guilt trip, a grand jury testimony, an indictment (maybe of the reader), a love letter, a ransom note ... i may believe that this is indeed the hour of land, i may see the healing power of nature and i may realize that parks and wilderness are powerful life forms that should be respected, preserved and honored; still, the book made me feel like i had stumbled into the camp of some cult (comprised of mostly women) and my only chance at escape is to agree to take militant action against something or somebody for their crimes against nature ... in the end, the book turns the beauty of our National Parks into a bloody crime scene (with the Feds and maybe all of us as the perpetrators) and beautiful words and the renewing power of nature turn into a doomsday siren ... it's sad, the talented author turned her own love song into a political bitch session (oh, the B&W images are wonderful)
Profile Image for Angela.
6 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2019
This is the kind of book that one keeps in the collection. Many, many sources of reference for future readings with regards to our national parks.
Profile Image for Kristen.
785 reviews45 followers
May 26, 2017
Between this book, The Nature Fix, and general work stress, I'm about to say fuck it and just go join the Forest Service and live in a look-out in the woods.
Profile Image for Robin.
2,093 reviews23 followers
May 13, 2016
Living here in Rhode Island where there are no national parks, I examined the list of national parks and the where they are around the country and discovered that I have not been to any of them. This book is very personal to the author because she and her family have spent a lot of time in various national parks in the west. It fascinates me when I read or hear about people who plan family vacations where they hike together. That's a whole different way of life than I've known.

I was very excited to have the digital review copy of this title on my Kindle after hearing the author interviewed on a panel with Ken Burns and Mark Kurlansky at the American Library Association Midwinter conference this past January. She is one of the many people you meet during the National Parks PBS series. I watched some of that series recently. Again, it fascinates and intrigues me to learn about how people traveled across the country to see these natural wonders back in the 1800s! I've complained about driving across two states in a mini-van with air conditioning and snacks!

This is not an easy read. Williams challenges us to think about how the land, and the people who lived on that land before the parks were established, are treated. This would be a great choice to read and reflect on during a library program or during a college course coupled with the PBS series and other materials. I won't forget this book anytime soon.
Profile Image for Trijntje.
52 reviews
July 29, 2018
I'm really sad to give this book such a low rating: I wanted so much to like it. And, in fact, I liked the beginning of the book very much. The first couple of chapters were a lovely mix of reading about a subject I love (National Parks) which were written by someone with a refreshingly beautiful command of language. It was a pleasure to read... at first.

Then things kind of degraded in the middle, and by the last few chapters I found myself skimming to get through it. It turned into a personal diatribe about, well, quite a few things. Environmental abuses, political abuses (of the native americans, for instance), and that theme just just became the main thrust of the last third of the book. These are important issues, I don't argue that, but it became not at all a description of parks anymore. Perhaps this is where her personal journey went as she was writing it, so it's fitting that's how her book evolved, but it wasn't what I thought I was getting into and I didn't like feeling so much worse about EVERYTHING when I was done. I already feel awful about most of what she was discussing, and a book I'd hoped would be an optimistic look at the beauty we are trying to hold onto with National Parks became a very negative shame-fest.

My recommendation: read the first part and when you start to wonder what the heck is going on, stop. It will just keep making you feel worse until the end and he insight in to the parks goes away anyway.
Profile Image for Feisty Harriet.
1,202 reviews37 followers
August 15, 2017
Part love letter to the National Park system, part memoir, and part political statement on climate change, land use, and the oil and gas industry...so, pretty standard Terry Tempest Williams stuff. This was probably 3.5 stars, I agree with most of TTW's political statements, however she does get a little more woo-woo about the land than I am, I think part of that is her, and part of that is the way she chooses to write about it, deliberately poetic and, as a friend aptly said, self-consciously beautiful. And sometimes that gets on my nerves. Overall, a lovely book about saving our public lands, supporting National Parks, and living a life deeply connected to the mountains, prairies and red rock canyons of the West (and a little bit about Gettysburg, the Mississippi Delta, and Maine thrown in for good measure).
Profile Image for Barb.
280 reviews2 followers
June 24, 2017
Terry Tempest Williams, the environmental activist who is the conscience of our nation looks at the national parks we all love and weighs their future. Will we be the stewards of the land as the book of Genesis requires or follow our basest instincts to despoil and destroy the environment for short term selfish goals? Read. Think. Act.
Profile Image for Leslie.
342 reviews13 followers
April 22, 2018
Excellent! My heart is weeping and smiling at the same time. I highly recommend the audio version.
Profile Image for Kerri Anne.
471 reviews37 followers
July 24, 2018
It feels fitting I read this beautiful book while spending a week nestled at the base of some of my favorite mountains, sitting next to and in a beloved alpine lake.

My favorite books are ones that make me think, teach me things, and remind me of my own deep, abiding, reverent connections to various wild and sacred places. They're books that spend time advocating for keeping places wild, that discuss and showcase increasingly important, earth-preserving conservation ethics. They're books that care about wild places staying wild for their own sake, as much as for the sake of future generations. They're books that instill a sense of wonder while also speaking openly and honestly about the dark history of our public lands (in this case: National Parks, many/most of which were created at the expense of Indigenous populations and their right to use and/or oversee the use of them).

This book isn't perfect (I'm never looking for perfect, for the record). Parts of it feel name-droppy (totally a word), and reading the section on Gettysburg was like crawling through a field filled with obstacles and dread (maybe that was intentional?), which I didn't particularly enjoy. But the majority of this book really spoke, whispered, shouted and sang to me, and for now it's firmly ensconced on my "must-read" shelf.

A "must-read" especially if, like me, you believe in wilderness for wilderness' sake, and are a lover/visitor/advocate of National Parks/public lands/a believer that sacred outdoor places need to remain protected above all else. And if you aren't already that person, maybe give this book a chance and see if it changes your mind even a little bit.

[Five stars for so much honest history peppered with personal essays on why wild places have always mattered, and why they matter now more than ever.]
Profile Image for Mark.
1,373 reviews104 followers
September 8, 2016
“This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history - an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent.”

“My spiritual life is found inside the heart of the wild.”

In celebration of the centennial of the national park service, Terry Tempest Williams offers us a tribute, as she visits twelve different parks. She is a naturalist, an activist, a conservationist and one helluva writer. Her prose hums with strength, beauty and passion, as she takes the reader on a tour of her favorite American treasures, from Wyoming, to Maine, to Alaska and Texas. Her segment on Gettysburg will bring tears to your eyes and her visit to the Gulf, to witness the Deep Horizon oil spill, will make you see red.
This is my first book, by this author and I think I found a new favorite. I listened to this on audio and it is narrated by Williams. I can not imagine a professional voice actor, doing a better job.
Profile Image for Kate.
77 reviews
April 27, 2017
First of all I love our national parks and was under the assumption this book was about our park's vast and interesting history. Instead this book is more of a political piece on public lands and the opinion of the authoress of how they should be managed and protected. While I can appreciate all opinions on public lands, I am always suspect of anyone who attempts to portray that there is only one definitive use for all land-whether they are industry or environmental activists. I believe the battle over our lands has become so polarized that we can hardly have an objective discussion anymore-which means that everyone loses. This book had a few interesting historical background stories and truly some beautiful prose, but the heavy-handed approach and "preachy" tone outweighed the finer points. I don't think this book would sway anyone who is not an environmentalist to be one-so if you already lean that way and like books about environmental activism and want to read about some of the environmental battles going on in our national parks-this is the book for you! (And yes I did finish the book because I believe in listening to dissenting opinions.)
Profile Image for Anita Edwards.
65 reviews
May 15, 2017
I knew going into it that Terry Tempest Williams writing style was not my cup of tea, but after I attended a lecture by her that was enjoyable, moving and thought provoking, I thought I'd give it a try. My misgivings were borne out. This memoir / self-conscious beauty / proselytizing genera just isn't my thing.
That said, I pretty much agreed with her concerns about the environment and the need for us to conserve / protect this country's areas of irreplaceable natural beauty. I learned several things I didn't know about the national parks and was reminded of what we stand to loose if we do nothing. Not an altogether bad reward for plowing though some 300 pages.
My main recommendation is to go see her live, she is much more engaging in person. I will also always be grateful to her for buying up oil and gas leases near or adjacent to National Parks in Utah (thus helping to preserve them) despite the fact that it cost her her job and a tidy sum of money. She truly walks the walk as well as writes about it.
Profile Image for Grace Sanchez.
113 reviews4 followers
May 12, 2017
This book is a deeply felt tribute to the formation of the national parks as necessary as a place of refuge for our souls, a call to protect the parks, and a sharp focus on how climate change is impacting the parks and the world. The author implores the reader to explore and act on conscience about injustice in the world. She invokes the poets and artists who dare to speak out for human rights all over the world. Everything is connected in the world and the thread that binds these essays together is the different national parks and national monuments that she visits. I think this book is a masterpiece. For anyone who's ever been to a national park this book pays homage to the wisdom of the formation of these special places.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,520 reviews
July 3, 2016
There is so much I admire about this book. Williams outdoes herself, using a poem by Jorie Graham, photographs by various artists, and her friendship with a vet named Doug Peacock as framing devices that lead her into myriad reflections on a group of national parks and historical sites. Our changing view of the land, our relationship to it and what it can be reimagined as in the future, is at the heart of the book. I found each essay/chapter intriguing in its own way. All are about passion, about encroachment, about evolving relationships, about seeing deeply into a place. So beautiful.
Profile Image for Sara.
66 reviews
August 24, 2016
I'm at a loss for words about this
book. The books pulled me in so many directions. I now want to visit the parks she described. At Alcatraz, I felt I was there in person with Terry. I learned new history and refreshed on old history. Her letters in Canyonlands were personal, but opened my eyes to so much. If you are a lover of our National Parks or just nature, you should check out the book.
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
990 reviews329 followers
October 15, 2016
A disappointment indeed

I've read some of Williams' shorter writings before, and while not actually a fan, didn't really dislike her.

But, this book somewhat predisposed me against Williams from the first page of the "Note to the Reader."

While some cairns in the desert are necessary guides, like when a trail crosses hundreds of yards of slickrock, or takes a turn out of or into an arroyo, most — especially in national parks — are not. I got the feeling that Williams probably likes cairns in general, including all the unnecessary ones. Some of those were stacked for "I was here" reasons; others, even worse, especially if not right along the trail, are New Agey ones. I suspect Williams likes all three types, and very much the third type.

Per a recent piece in "High Country News," I'm a cairn-kicker when I see unnecessary cairns.

On to the meat of the book.

First, if I'm wanting to seriously read "sweeping" nonfiction about the modern West, I want something like Reisner's "Cadillac Desert," Worster's "Rivers of Empire" or Powell's "Dead Pool." This book is not it.

Second, I wasn't really looking to read a book of family mini-memoirs as part of reflections on NPS units.

Third, I REALLY wasn't looking to read a book with name-dropping of Mormon relatives.

Fourth, the piece allegedly about Canyonlands barely touches the park.

Fifth, there are factual errors.
1. We are NOT "evolving faster than Darwin could have imagined." This nonsense's major error confuses biological and cultural evolution. As far as biological evolution, Darwin, having seen his famous finches, knew how fast biological evolution could work. (282)
2. John Wesley Powell didn't resign from USGS, he was pushed out. (286)
3. John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s younger life was NOT an age of "civility" versus "garish" modernity just because it was still primarily a horse-driving world. (89, 92)

Sixth, this book is otherwise puffery. There's no critical take on the NPS' poor record in recruiting minorities, for example. JDR, per the above, is extensively puffed. Even vis-a-vis topography, there's no critical analysis of the NPS taking over the desert National Recreation Areas caused by BuRec's dammed dams. There's no mention of NPS's commercialization of its centennial, even though the Canyonlands piece includes a copy of a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Profile Image for Kayleigh.
49 reviews
February 5, 2017
First non-fiction audiobook I've ever listened to and glad I chose the audio format. This audiobook is read by the author and I could listen to her all day. She touched on a bunch of different topics and issues. My favorite part of this book was her talking about a Gettysburg's guide named James Tate who my family actually had the privilege to get a private guide by him around 2004. It was a shock to hear her tell about his life and all his accomplishment since we had no clue. I did not the read the description in depth because I was thinking this was all about national parks, but in the description it says " part memoir, natural history, and social critique." My only wish is that this had been more about the national parks and less social/environmental issues Ex: the last few cds were talking about Cesar Chavez and the Bp oil spill. I learned so much from it though and overall great listen.
Profile Image for Amanda Mueller.
66 reviews
October 14, 2018
This book was not what I expected, or what I wanted. I was hoping for imagery and history of the national parks. What I got was a lesson on the authors life and style of prose.

Parts of this book were very good, but large sections of it did nothing for me. I would have rather skipped them.

I think my impression of this book can best be summarized with a Quote in the canyonlands chapter. The author is telling us some advice given to her by Lady Bird Johnson. "Beautiful language isn't enough... You have to be very smart about what you are doing when talking about the environment. You have to reach people where *they* are - not where you are. You must find out what they care about and build relationships with them, involve them in your cause. Then you can speak like a writer, but until then, you must speak like one of them."

I would say the author has a long way to go before she has followed this advice.
Profile Image for Maughn Gregory.
1,020 reviews29 followers
May 24, 2017
I can barely tell how wonderful this book is, or how important to me. It brings together TTW's genius / wisdom for politics, nature, history and spirituality, conveyed in her peerless beauty of writing. This book makes me deeply proud and deeply ashamed to be an American, and recommitted to live a life of fearless, direct action on behalf of what matters most: the Earth, its endangered species, its oppressed people, and the best parts of ourselves -- all of whom, like her, I have encountered in our (US) national parks.
Profile Image for Sharon.
753 reviews
June 11, 2017
An incredible, indelible, view-changing book. Each essay on its own is a masterpiece; taken as a whole, wide-ranging though they are in structure and, at times, tone, they are a blistering beauty. I'll be recommending this often with the caveat to read when you have time and space to read slowly and sit quietly with the paragraphs, because it will create an eerie reverence in you, at times heartbreak, at times anxiety, that will be jarring compared to your everyday world. This is one I'll return to again (and now I must find everything else she's ever written)
Profile Image for Joanna.
714 reviews7 followers
December 3, 2017
Topically, this was great. I enjoy reading about the National Parks and TTW does her research about the history and challenges of the parks she writes about. But: The book so often turns into a preachy sermon (hey, I picked up your book. I'm already on your side) and a one-sided competition about who is more into nature: TTW or anyone else on the planet. I found the essays to be scattered. Some were great (Gettysburg), some were...not (Canyonlands). But it made sense as a personal topography, so I think she did what she set out to do, I just didn't enjoy it.
Profile Image for Rhiannon.
38 reviews6 followers
April 15, 2017
This is a beautiful and interesting book, but it is extraordinarily painful to read post-election. I had to keep putting it down to let the pain subside.
Profile Image for Jessie.
129 reviews
March 18, 2020
I first started reading this last year on a road trip with some wonderful friends. We took turns reading it aloud to each other on long drives. Then I took a break from reading it for more or less a year--I was waiting for the right time to continue (basically anytime spent camping or otherwise immersed in the outdoors). It's just so beautiful that I didn't want to read it inside. But now that I have lots of time to read what with physical distancing and all, I decided to pick it back up.

The Hour Of Land is a stunning reflection on the U.S. national parks and monuments. Terry Tempest Williams writes poetically about the national parks through many lenses (all with some sort of personal connection, as this is a memoir): family history, spirituality, Indigenous rights and resistance, political prisoners, divestment from fossil fuels, environmental, climate, and social justice, and so much more. I'm so glad I own this book as there were many, many lines I felt the need to underline, sometimes for their poeticism and sometimes for their poignancy, but most often for both.
Profile Image for Shannon.
122 reviews2 followers
July 29, 2021
Loooved this book. I can certainly relate to Williams’ personal history and was surprised how frequently she wrote about it which was really interesting for me. I adored walking through these national parks with her. Each one held its own emotional gravity, either because of the history she provides or through the immersion into her own emotional journey. It made me both fantasize about the beauty of an Earth without humans here destroying it while also appreciating that humans like Williams exist in the world. “The world is not a safe place. Perhaps it never has been, but it is still a beautiful place.”
Profile Image for Jeimy.
4,539 reviews33 followers
February 4, 2018
I’m not sure what I expected, but I relished the reflections inspired by each park.
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