Finding the door
Fire and light

From the archives: When Women Were Birds

Birdie copyright T Windling

This was first posted back in 2012, but seems relevant to the conversation this week....

I've recently read Terry Tempest Williams' new book, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, and I'm completely under its spell. It's a beautiful meditation on land, love, family, faith, activism, and art...all rooted in the red rock of southern Utah; a book that I already know I'll return to often in the years ahead.

When Women Were BirdsWhen it ended, I found myself so unwilling to part with William's clear, honest voice in my ear that I pulled out a stack of her previous books: Refuge, Red, Leap, etc.. They are wonderful to re-read all at once, in the sequence of publication, which allows one to follow the evolution of her work, politics, and spiritual beliefs. And although I first read these volumes when I, too, lived in the American South-west, returning to her books from the green hills of Devon underscores how universal our need is for connection to the wild.

Today's quote is from When Women Were Birds -- excerpted from a passage in which Williams reflects on the powerful art installation pictured below, in which the birds are made out of X-ray film from hospital MRIs. The author comes from a family that has lost many of its women to cancer (almost certainly due to radiation from bomb testing in the Utah desert), and had been diagnosed with cancer herself at the time that she wrote these words:

"Now, in a shift of light, the shadows of birds are more pronounced on the gallery's white wall. The shadow of each bird is speaking to me. Each shadow doubles the velocity, ferocity of forms. The shadow, my shadow now merges with theirs. Descension. Ascension. The velocity of wings creates the whisper to awaken....

"I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Swoop by Julia BarelloThe installation art above is "Swoop" by Julia Barello. Please visit the artist's website to see more of her work. The sketch above is one of mine. For a previous "Into the Woods" post on on the folklore of birds, go here.