The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

“The Hour of Land” was conceived as a celebration for the National Park Service centennial. Terry Tempest Williams gives readers a collection of poignant ideas, with photos as cutting and unpredictable as her poems, letters, emails and essays.

Traveling through a dozen national parks, Williams pours her raw passion on the page. Her musings are social, cultural and environmental — and her concerns are acute.
The book opens with the voice of an Iraq war veteran who has wandered the national parks since 1991, as a volunteer seeking solace: “As the human population increases, the wild places not only become more valuable but more threatened. It’s another way for me to protect our homeland.”

He explains, “wild places can unwind a mind.”

Williams knows this, too. She unwinds her mind on America’s physical wilderness and the ground’s political landscape, exploring rough edges and mucky trails surrounding the most prized public lands.

“What is the relevance of our national parks in the twenty-first century — and how might these public commons bring us back home to a united state of humility?” she asks.
She reflects on unsavory truths: our parks reek of the “muscle of privilege,” by which Indians and predators were wiped away to contrive a “mythical landscape.” She re-brands national parks as “holograms of an America born of shadow and light; dimensional; full of contradictions and complexities.” She morphs the narrative from America’s “best idea” to “our evolving idea.”

The stories are deeply personal to both a proud nation and her nuclear family. In Grand Teton, Williams introduces the Rockefellers as the first family of America’s national parks, then unpacks the spiritual wealth her relatives have gleaned among those craggy peaks. Public lands make everyone land rich.

In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Williams travels with her father, a man who laid gas pipe all his life. Together, they go beyond park boundaries to confront stark realities of being a preserve in the heart of the Bakken oil fracking boom. By the time Williams’ dad saunters through a man camp, their environmental concerns become mutual — a sincere lament for something grim infringing upon something glorious.

Williams’ voice remains distinctly Western. She acknowledged, upon entering Maine’s Acadia National Park, “I find sanctuary from the painful politics surrounding western wilderness. I don’t know enough to have my heart broken in the east.”

Yet she does not stray from her mission. Gulf Islands National Seashore helps relay the desperation of a post-BP-blowout landscape — an illustrative tale about what we are losing. During seasonal visits to Gettysburg National Military Park, she winds readers through a quagmire of moral contemplation. At the Gates of the Arctic National Park — a journey into Williams’ personal wilderness, as well as a trip to the sparse Frozen North — she observes, “Consumption is a progressive disease.”

She does not shy from controversy surrounding the potential designation of a Maine Woods National Park — and in her storytelling, readers taste the grandeur of what seems should become our next national park.

But in the end, she brings us back to Canyonlands, the space that lets Williams be Williams. This landscape makes her fierce as she delivers us to Utah’s magnificent Bear’s Ears. There, she lays bare the grassroots negotiations behind a looming conservation legacy that could help the National Park Service make good with Native Americans. Ultimately, Williams implores America to make our national parks “places of conscience instead of places of consumption.”

— From Book review: Book explores history, future of national parks

This powerful book is a “meditation and a manifesto” on public lands: what they mean to us, and how America has shaped and been shaped by these lands. Deeply personal, sometimes discerningly critical, twelve essays—stretching from Grand Teton National Park, to Gates of the Arctic National Park, and south to the Gulf Islands— reveal the beautifully complex natural histories of our public lands and why we must protect them.

-Recommended by Emily

— From December 2016 Staff Picks

June 2016 Indie Next List

“Terry Tempest Williams' latest book, published for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, is personal, political, and profound. Her examination of 12 national parks is much more than a guide to the history and landscape of those places. It is a guide to the heart and soul of the entire National Park system, whose depth is exceeded only by its beauty.”
— Chuck Robinson (M), Village Books, Bellingham, WA

Top Ten

“I cannot think of a better person to commemorate the National Park Service on its 100th birthday. When Terry Tempest Williams writes, the personal blends with the political, the public and private meet, and truth spreads into layers of beautiful, often troubling complexity. The same can be said for the National Park Service. By exploring 12 national parks and monuments throughout the country, Williams creates both an intimate elegy to the land and a plea to recognize it for all its history and connection.”
— Melinda Powers, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA


America's national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them.

From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.

About the Author

Terry Tempest Williams is the award-winning author of fifteen books, including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Familyand Place, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, andWhen Women Were Birds. Her work has been widelyanthologized around the world. She lives in CastleValley, Utah, with her husband, Brooke Williams.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780374280093
ISBN-10: 0374280096
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books
Publication Date: May 31st, 2016
Pages: 416
Language: English