Terry Tempest Williams O'keeffe
An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the field
  Georgia O'Keeffe, Red Hills with bones.

| Themes | A Question | Her Means | Summary | Metaphors | In Cahoots |






page #
In the Country of Grasses
The Architecture of a Soul
 In Cahoots with Coyote
The Village Watchman
Water Songs collecting intertidal creatures Pelham Bay
Erosion 'sense of place'
Undressing the Bear her mother's bear charm
Winter Solstice at Moab Slough
Stone Creek Woman
A Eulogy for Edward Abbey
An Unspoken Hunger
Yellowstone the Erotics of Place
Mardie Murie: An Intimate Portrait
A Patriot's Journal
All that is Hidden
The Wild Card
Old Faithful geyser.

Stories from the field (subtitle)




In the Country of Grasses

Serengeti plains

"the sensuality of predator prey relations is riveting" 7

 "what Samuel sees and what I am missing." "Home is the range of one's instincts." 9

 Masai elder, Jonas Olé Sademaki
"my people worship trees. It was the tree that gave birth to the Masai." 12

 clutching a handful of grass as a sign of humility grasses as "where the source of his power lies."



Coiled Shell O'keeffe

The Architecture of a Soul

Shells from her grandmother are the source of this story. She uses the familiar to convey the personal.

 Each shell is a whorl of creative expression, architecture of a soul. 15

 "They remind me of my natural history, that I was tutored by a woman who courted solitude and made pilgrimages to the edges of our continent that beauty, awe and curiosity were values illuminated in our own home."

Her grandmother instilled a concern for reading natural objects and hence understanding nature correctly.






In Cahoots with Coyote

(Georgia O'keefe painted like a Coyote, the trickster to Native Americans)

 "She transformed desert landscapes into emotional ones." 20

 "The art of perception is deception a lesson Coyote knows well" 21

Hopi and others refer to the Coyote as a trickster.

1916 Palo Duro Canyon, west Texas

"O'keefe saw this cut in the earth a a burning seething cauldron, almost like a blast furnace full of dramatic light and color."

 Art and the representation of nature, natural forms, landscape features, vegetation, flowers.

"Bones are shapes that I enjoy. . . . they please me."

Georgia O'Keeffe .

See Georgia O'keeffe talking about the high road to Taos, and the enchantment of scenery that is New Mexico

"An especially fine place for climbing." O'Keeffe on the Black Place.

O'Keeffe said of New Mexico that it is “where the nothingness is several sizes larger than in Texas.”

G.O., 1917

The Two Cultures Today. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz: Painting and Photography wed in America

by Joseph Siry
October 13, 2006
AGLSP Conference, Santa Fe, New Mexico





The Village Watchman

"Stories carved in cedar rise from the deep woods of Sitka" 27

 Tlingit and Haida totem stories are tied to her uncle Alan who was a unique child who died in his late 20s.

 "Wolf Pole is the totem with a village watchman atop of a wolf's head, holding the tail of a salmon in his feet, - a sockeye salmon poised to swim "downriver" (?)

 Uncle was born (breech) feet first, but deprived of sufficient oxygen at birth to leave him with seizures throughout his life.

 Normal is a motif here as she uses two cultures juxtaposed to ask what is normal? (Norma Jean)

 Latin: normalis, norma, a rule; conforming with or constituting an accepted standard, model, or pattern, especially corresponding to the median or average of a large group in type, appearance, achievement, function, or development." 29

 [me] Normative ? in ethics ? that which is because of the rule, rule of law, rule of custom, rule of course.

 Rainer Maria Rilke 36

 Two selections of his poetry

 "I find it curious that this spot in southeast Alaska has brought me back into relation with my uncle, this man of sole-birth who came into the world feet first." 37-38

 "On this day in Sitka, I remember." 38



Water Songs

American Museum of Natural History, NYC 39

Black Crowned night Heron, red winged blackbirds, cattails, all attracted to the marsh.

"brought together by birds." 40

Land, wetlands as a source of aquatic creatures and self discovery.

"the beauty inherent in marshes as systems of regeneration" 43

"Pelham Bay is her home, the landscape she naturally comprehends, a sanctuary she holds inside her unguarded heart." 48

Contrast of the urban city and the bayed marshes.






1910 Japanese immigrant Kinji Kurumada-- came to America.

He grew crops of canyon lettuce and would deliver them to clients on the 4th of July 49

Despite his patriotism his children were sent to camps for Americans of Japanese descent 50

"an uncanny gift for recognizing soils.... grew out of his intimacy with the land"

Kinji Kurumada "Knew his ground, establishing a firm 'sense of place' for himself and his family." 50




Undressing the Bear

"He came home from the war and shot a bear." 51

Bear stories bear becomes a woman, dream of embracing the beast 52

 "For me, it has everything to do with undressing, exposing, and embracing the Feminine." 53

"a commitment to the wildness within" "our hunger for connection..."

We are taught not to trust our own experience."

 Paradox preserves mystery, and mystery inspires belief."

 Ancient association of female qualities, "the Feminine, and Bears, ursus arctos. Artemis, Callisto 53

 Artemis is Ursa Major, Pole star the axis mundi of the heavens 54

 flash flood in a dark canyon in an empty stream bed. 55

 emotional intimacy with the land explained 56

 "It is this tenderness born out of our connection to place that fuels my writing" 57

 Sorcery of literature and the power of writing and "We are healed by our stories." 57

 Bear attacks and kills an elk calf 58-59

 Fierce, unpredictable, nurturing - wicked & sublime -- qualities of women 59

 "we commit our vulnerabilities not to fear but to courage-- the courage that allows us to write on behalf of the earth, on behalf of ourselves." 59

This is a key passage to uncover her modus vivendi & operandi





Winter Solstice at Moab Slough

"I am here as an act of faith?"

 Hopi celebration of Soyálangwul ? "the time to establish life anew for all the world." 61

"My heart finds openings in these wetlands, particularly in winter"

[ME] {Abandoned as these areas are by 150 species of birds 62

TNC nature reserve of over 800 ACRES

"?celebration of this oasis in the desert, this oxbow of diversity alongside the Colorado River" 62-63

 Wallace Stegner's "a geography of hope" 63

"That these delicate lands have survived the people who exploited this community is a miracle in itself" WS

 Quotes DH Lawrence, "In every living thing there is a desire for love, for the relationship of unison with the rest of things. 63

 "It is a vulnerable exercise to feel deeply and I may not survive my affections." 63

 The consequences of not caring are on p. 64-65

 "decisions based on a terror of loss." 64

 "We are a tribe of fractured individuals who can now only celebrate remnants of wildness. One red-tailed hawk. Two great blue herons." 65

 Wildlands' and wildlives' oppression lies in our desire to control and our desire to control has robbed us of feeling."

 "Blood knowledge," says D.H. Lawrence. "Oh what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year, from his unison with the sun and the earth. This is what is wrong with us. We are bleeding at the roots." 65

"The land is love. Love is what we fear. To disengage from the earth is our own oppression. I stand at the edge of these wetlands, a place of renewal, an oasis in the desert, as an act of faith, believing the sun has completed the southern end of its journey and is now contemplating its return toward light." 65

This selection has a good summary



Stone Creek Woman

mile 132 on the Grand Canyon 67

 SCW is she explains "?guardian of the desert with her redrock face, maidenhair ferns, and waterfall of expression. Moss the color of emeralds drapes across her breast." 68

 "I discovered her by accident" up a side canyon of the Colorado River

 "she monitors the floods and droughts of the Colorado Plateau." 70

 Water in the west is blood 71,¶1

Deserts defined 71, ¶2

 Where there is water the desert is verdant." 71,¶3

 Wallace Stegner, in his book The Sound of Mountain Water, says, "In this country you cannot raise your eyes without looking a hundred miles. You can hear coyotes who have somehow escaped the air dropped poison baits designed to exterminate them. You can see in every sandy pocket the pug tracks of wildcats, and every water pocket in the rock will give you a look backward into geological time, for every such hole swarms with triangular crablike creatures locally called tadpoles but actually the first cousins to the trilobites who left their fossil skeletons in the Paleozoic." 71 72.

 "But in the solitude of that side canyon where I swam at her feet she reminds me we must stand vigilant." 72

She has good summaries here and in the "Moab Slough story"





A Eulogy for Edward Abbey


Edward Abbey was a desert naturalist and unflinching antagonist of modernity "and we grieve."

Is this a discussion of our needs, his needs, her needs?

 Arches National Park, 5/20/1989

 "He is Coyote, a dance upon the desert." 73

"For my own part, I am pleased enough with surfaces."  Writes Abbey "the face of the wind. What else is there, what else do we need?"                        74

She says Abbey knew and practiced the art of keeping in touch, simple correspondence.

She quotes him:
"What most humans really desire is really something quite different from industrial gimmickry --liberty, spontaneity, nakedness, mystery, wildness, wilderness."

And also:
"Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."    75-76




An Unspoken Hunger

Eating avocados with a sharp silver blade knife "risking the blood of our tongues repeatedly."

page, 79.

What is an unspoken hunger except an ever deepening lust that pulses through our identity with such vigor that we sense, but cannot or will not express, its desires for a union with and a commingling of our destinies with those of another, such that what happens to one exists also for the other. In some primal symbiotic encounter, we yearn for --and yet it eludes us-- a recovery of that dance from which we were born, grow, mature and decay. What is unspoken is the endless necessity of finding that ecstasy in the lives of others for whom we recognize that rhythm. We speak not about how by joining together, we experience intimacy unbound, and that discovery of reunion is fleetingly possible -- if only we dare.

Unspoken because in our gestures, our subliminally felt need to nourish one another eludes any words that can only accompany, but never substitute for, the actions of devotion and delight. Hunger because in our daily activity we crave but do not satiate that impulse to render all of our attention to those with whom we love to conspire; breathing together and invigorating one another's senses in ways that bind us back to the ancestral, if not original, union from whence we are banished in the birth pangs of differentiation and the labor of separating ourselves from one another.

The unspoken hunger dwells deeply, abides within my unconscious emerging as a sweet spring from beneath the parched earth tethering me in unimagined ways to all that has been here and all that sense here an eternal spawning of one thing as it turns entirely into another.

J V Siry, 3:41 PM, May 2008




 Yellowstone the Erotics of Place

Haiku formulation of sorts is the opening of this piece.

 "Steam rising. Water boiling, Mud pots gurgling. 3 then 4 beats to the measure 81
3-4-4-4, 3-4-3-4-, 4-3-4-3, -4-4-4-3-3 17 sentences open the piece.

Yellowstone 81
Echo System homonymous play on ecosystem

"Echoes are real, not imaginary." 81

 "We call out and the land calls back. It is our interaction with the ecosystem; the Echo System." 82

 Echo and Pan told in terms of this thermally alive spot. 82

 Pan struck Echo dumb for not returning his advances so all she could do is repeat what she heard.

Shepherds tore her body to pieces.

 "Gaia, the Earth Mother, quietly picked up the pieces of Echo and hid them in herself where they still retain their repetitive power." 82

the antiquity of the woods and landscape features.

 Pan and Echo story told in respect to and in light of an alluring landscape

 Pan is therianthropic, half man half animal-- he is a dangerous creature

p. 83.

"It is time for us to take off our masks, to step out from behind our personas whatever they might be

and admit we are lovers, engaged in the erotics of place.

Loving the land. Honoring its mysteries. Acknowledging, embracing the spirit of place there is nothing more legitimate and there is nothing more true."

p. 84.

 pansexuality described and evoked repeatedly

 "There is nothing intellectual about it" loving the landscape

p. 84.

"we love the land. It is a primal affair." 84

 "Rituals. Ceremonies. Engaging with the land. Loving the land and dreaming it." 85

 "If we ignore our connection to the land and disregard and deny? 86

 "Biologist Tim Clark says at the heart of good biology is a central core of imagination. It is the basis for responsible science. AND IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH INTIMACY, SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE."


 "I believe that out of an erotics of place, a politics of place is emerging. Not radical, but conservative, a politics rooted in empathy in which we extend our notion of community, as Aldo Leopold has urged, to include all life forms plants, animals, rivers, and soils.

p. 86-87

 "The enterprise of conservation is a revolution, an evolution of the spirit."

 She returns to the same 3-4 pattern of description of mud pots. "Wolves howling into the Yellowstone"

p. 87

The grand canyon of the Yellowstone River at or near the headwaters of the river's source.




Mardie Murie: An Intimate Portrait

Mardie Murie: was a wilderness biologist and defender of wildlife and the habitat that sustains the vast biological wealth in which fisheries and wildlife flourish.


June 5, 1977 Denver Colo. Ms. Murie gave testimony concerning the Alaskan Lands Bill

 MM was the first to testify "as an emotional woman" 89

 "Beauty is a resource in and of itself. Alaska must be allowed to be Alaska, that is her greatest economy." 90

"Do we have enough reverence for life to concede to wilderness this right." MM asks 95




A Patriot's Journal


Persian Gulf War I

This is actually in the form of a daybook or "Journal" January 4, 1991 to January 17, 1991.

International Mass Demonstration & Nonviolent Direct Action at the Nevada Nuclear Test site

Stop nuclear testing pilgrimage

Mirage Hotel ? volcano erupts red water?

 They go to the test site to protest with her ex-State Senator uncle Richard a conservative conservationist.

 Prayer circle and bread breaking. 102

 Russian ? American Comprehensive nuclear test ban 103

 "The point now should be to take care of life." Says Olzhas Suleimenov, Kazakh poet/pol 103

 "the burden of political heartlessness." That people must bear. 103

 Uncle Richard, We "who started this nuclear madness" "Maybe its up to my generation to stop it." 107

 USSR and nonaligned nations want an end to underground testing; US & UK call it "a waste of time and money."

 Peter Matthiessen quoted, "the same American psyche that wants war is the same psyche that doesn't want wilderness." 108

 "rooted in a sacredness of life." 108

 "the war against the imagination." 108-109

 The drumbeat for war is juxtaposed against her own feelings that give voice to protesting the nuclear arms race 109

 505 nuclear tests as of 2/21/1968

 Jan. 16, is the anniversary of her mother's death 112-113

 Jan. 17, 1991 War explodes in the Gulf battering Iraq 114

 "..how does one translate madness?" 114




All that is Hidden

SaguarosBombing range and civil resistance to wrong laws

Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range 115

Four facts listed that allegedly absolve the Air Force.

 "I want my government to be accountable." 116

Cabeza Prieta wildlife reserve (and bombing range)

 counting desert bighorn sheep ovis canadensis

Seven mile walk to Sheep Mountain 117

Saguaro cactus indigenous to the Sonoran desert, North America.

"meandering to through mesquite, paloverde, ocotillo, and cholla."

 "The animated postures of the giant saguaros create a lyrical landscape, the secret narratives of desert country expressed through mime." 117

 Big horn sheep can survive extremes, documented that they have gone without water from July to December. 118

Pack-rat midden could be 1000s of year old 118

"this truly wild place." 119

Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. See National Park





1991 Pacific Yew taxa Brevifolia 125

role as a preventive medicine in Ovarian Cancer (her mother died of OC in 1987)

 "heartless" leaders? 131


The Wild Card

As a critic of society "do we live on the page or do we live in the world?" 133



For Wendell Berry 143

Coyote crucifixion on a western rancher's fence Cows and sheep are "sacred too"

"Jesus Coyote, savior of our American Rangelands" 142




My Summary

She mixes styles, voice, and other authors' words to convey her deep, moving, and reassuring sense of affection for the land's many forms, moods and even inhabitants.

 The landscape is introduced as a lover, always faithful if not always tender and giving.

This implies a deep relationship where tow participants engage one another -- work with, listen to and actively listen to one another.

Mary Austin


T. T. William's Means:

Juxtaposition is a frequent tactic in the book.

"The idea of finding anything natural in the built environment passing my window (city bus) seemed unnatural." 41

 Familiar with family that is unfamiliar

The road to wars and the paths to peace

Totem pole and her cousin



Her metaphors:

Coyotes, sheep, wetlands, mountains, waterfalls, wolves, are all means to teaching us lessons ? didactic.

 A clear-cut becomes a lesson in veracity and identification of Yew trees,





book'Is the book an introduction to her community?

 "We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery." 58

 Her relationship with her mother, father, uncle - cousins, all are preludes to her attachment to place.

Soil,     Japanese immigrant
Trees,     testimony on BLM clear cutting policy and yew trees
Rivers,     flash flood, side canyon of the Colorado
Mountains     Yellowstone
Marshes     Moab Slough, Pelham Bay
Waterfalls     Stone Creek
Desert         Utah, Nevada, New Mexico
Places imbued with meaning, experience, understanding, passion and ultimately a fierce loyal love.

Animals and the peculiarities of coyotes, wolves, sheep, and bears are all used to explain people, places and an intimate attachment to landscapes that evoke in her a wild delight.



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| Themes | A Question | Her Means | Summary | Metaphors |