Astragalus-Locoweef. Photo by Terry Tempest Williams.
Terry Tempest Williams is a Utah native, writer, naturalist, activist, educator—and patient. In this free-flowing piece, Terry wonders what belongs to this moment in all its fullness and sorrow.

23 April 2020
Castle Valley, Utah


ind. Roots. Sky. We are walking on the backside of Castleton Tower – I feel like I am walking on the backside of my life, what no one sees when we stand face to face. If the novel coronavirus is invisible to its host that would be me, you, us – I wonder what else we are not seeing, have not seen until now – during this pause on the planet – I am having a hard time even seeing what it is I want to say, putting words on the page as if I am writing in the dark – I am talking about one thing but I am thinking about another – the exposure of roots – All along this wash I am fascinated by the visible roots seen now because of the sand-soil that has been eroded away by water and wind – So many of these plants, especially the small ones are hanging by a hair, a thread, a network of fine strands – yet still, they are alive – who knew roots in the desert ran so deep?

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Photo by Terry Tempest Williams.

Thank heavens, this breeze keeping the no-see-ums at bay, fierce tiny creatures whose jaws seen through a microscope look like razor blades capable of slicing skin, injecting poison, identified later as an itch, a wound, an ooze, a scab, a scar – I have many – and I feel like I am living on the backside of my life – let me say it again – I feel like I am living on the backside of my life and no, I will not indent for a new paragraph because it’s all part of the same ongoing thought that I can’t see what’s behind me or ahead I can only feel myself standing here facing the wind – channeled through a red sand wash with crumbling banks head high on either side of me – pinyon jays – a flurry of them brush by and congregate in the juniper: silver-blue birds in a silver-berried tree green-boughed and black-branched in the shadows, imitable they are – these trees – I am losing my ability to write legible sentences, can you see, I do, my syntax is slipping, altered, rearranging itself to the place where words fly like ravens on bright light sky in clouds that dissipate like my mind and I have no desire to correct myself, I just want to follow something forward anything even if it is only a word or phrase misplaced at this moment in time in the desert where time is a mirage reappearing in the rocks leading me back to my roots when I decided to give in to my age that said your hair is now white – 

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Photo by Terry Tempest Williams.

What may not make sense to you is not making sense to me and as I said, I have no desire to make myself clear on the page because as far as I can see clarity does not exist here, now, this moment – my sensibility is changing – I use to believe in perfection, try to make things right but so much feels wrong, it is beyond hope, yes, I still have faith – perhaps that is why I am drawn to roots, roots exposed like the character of a place, our country, as a person of my privilege my roots are exposed, my impatience, my shame and fear and the roots of my terror ignite – this insecure life, our delicate lives so precious and precarious, at once.

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Photo by Terry Tempest Williams.

These roots in the wash are hanging from trembling walls that lead me back home to a safe hamlet in the desert, the place I never want to leave and if I did leave now where would I go – back to my father, do you know him? John Tempest is now 87 years old – the roots of my longing and sadness are exposed, will I ever see him again – and if I do will we recognize each other – do you feel this too? Our mothers and fathers, our children and grandchildren, grandparents we are isolated, friends near and dear, just the thought of an embrace moves me to tears – my own private ceremony – and I will ask you again, do you feel this too? It is raining in the desert.

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Photo by Terry Tempest Williams.

I keep walking toward home on the backside of the tower that is the backside of my life that is made of sand and I notice still walking how the roots of big sage are strong and messy – like us in the fragility of our relations – and then, I remember how sage when lit burns bright at night sending endless sparks toward a canopy of stars where the eyes of our ancestors shine through the darkness as their wisdom pours over us from the ladle of the Dipper – big and small, my roots dissolve – I am on my knees – kissing the ground – wondering what matters in an unedited pandemic and I remember it is: This.

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Photo by Terry Tempest Williams.

Terry Tempest Williams

Writer-in-Residence, Harvard Divinity School

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