In this gorgeous collection of 12 essays, published to mark the centennial of the National Park Service, Terry Tempest Williams provides a poetic and searing portrait of the land and, by extension, of America itself.
Philanthropists loom large in the history of our national parks and Williams draws them in compelling detail: Teddy Roosevelt riding out to North Dakota wearing spurs he bought at Tiffany’s, Laurance Rockefeller donating his family’s ranch to Grand Teton National Park and having every object meticulously cataloged (including the positions of ashtrays) so the ranch could be recreated later. She describes the difficult test that would-be tour guides in Gettysburg must take (since 2012, only two have passed). There’s the pleasure of journalism, the unexpected detail that never disappoints, the feeling of seeing something from an inside angle. But there’s poetry, too.
The intimate moments Williams experiences in these parks, often accompanied by beautiful photography, speak to the reader—what it’s like to witness the body of a bison eaten by other animals on the plain; what kind of lichen grows on the chilly tundra; what oil-soaked sand feels like between the toes. “To bear witness is not a passive act,” she writes.
Williams’ reverent eyes catalog how humans have impacted the wilderness, but The Hour of Land is a hopeful book. “We are slowly returning to the hour of land,” she writes, “where our human presence can take a side step and respect the integrity of the place itself.”