Terry Tempest Williams
Find us on Facebook

An Unnatural History
of Family and Place


Quote from Refuge

"There isn't a page here that doesn't whistle with the sound of wings."
--Wallace Stegner, author of Crossing to Safety

"Remarkable....Her demonstration of how deeply human emotional life can become intertwined with a particular landscape could not be more relevant to our lives."
--Barry Lopez

"Profoundly moving...one of the most significant environmental essays of our time."
--Kansas City Star

An Unnatural History
of Family and Place

Pantheon Books
September, 1991, Hardcover.
ISBN: 0-679-40516-X

An Unnatural History
of Family and Place

September, 1992. Trade Paperback.
ISBN: 0-679-74024-4

REFUGE was released in a new paperback edition with a special afterword to celebrate the 10th Anniversary Edition in Fall, 2001, by Vintage.


As Utah-born naturalist Terry Tempest Williams records the simultaneous tragedies of her mother's death of cancer and the flooding of the Bear River Migratory Bird Sanctuary, she creates a document of renewal and spiritual grace destined to become a classic in the literature of nature, women, and grieving.

Disaster is at the center of this haunting book by Utah naturalist Williams (Pieces of White Shell, 1984), as the Great Salt Lake rises to break all records, submerging roads and driving the resident wildlife away, and as the author's mother dies of cancer at age 53. In the case of the lake, there's no one to blame except the developers who have so despoiled the wilderness that there's nowhere left for fugitive wildlife to go; in the case of Williams's mother, it's difficult not to blame the federal government. After her mother's death, Williams tells her father about a recurring dream of a blinding flash of light; he informs her that she actually saw it: an above-ground detonation of a bomb that she witnessed as a child while sitting on her pregnant mother's lap, innocent spectators trusting their government to protect their welfare. But, in fact, federal policy in the 50's dictated the confining of nuclear testing to a ``virtually uninhabited'' section of the country, considering that an adequate safeguard. Six aunts, a grandmother, the author's mother, countless neighbors in the Mormon community in which Williams was raised--all cancer victims- -were some of these ``virtual uninhabitants,'' Williams says. It is worth enduring the heartbreak of this intimately observed death in order to reach the author's culminating insight into the place where her only refuge from such grief lies. Williams's evocations of the austere beauty of the Utah desert, the Great Salt Lake, and their wildlife also offer great rewards. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Related Links:

The Hour of Land The Story of My Heart When Women Were Birds Finding Beauty in a Broken World Illuminated Desert The Open Space of Democracy Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert LEAP New Genesis: a Mormon Reader on Land and Community Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness Great and Peculiar Beauty: A Utah Centennial Reader Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place Coyote's Canyon Between Cattails Pieces of White Shell Secret Language of Snow