The Meaning Of Refuge with Terry Tempest Williams

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This is one woman's story of growing up downwind of an atomic testing site in a wild, beautiful, and “virtually uninhabited” area near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. “My family were some of the virtual uninhabitants,” Williams says. In 1983, as her mother was dying of cancer, there was a catastrophic flood of the Great Salt Lake which threatened the wildlife on its flood plain. The flooding was a natural event and the nuclear testing was a by-product of technology. Both were devastating. Nine women in her family developed cancer, and seven of them are now dead. Williams has emerged from this background as a poetically and politically aware naturalist and author, with powerful personal perspectives on grief, love, and the spirituality of nature, lake and desert. She speaks with rich insight on cancer and creativity, living boldly in the moment, and the meaning of refuge. “We no longer can be complacent to the dark side,” says Williams. “It’s where the source of our power lies. . . The only risk to ourselves is if we choose to remain silent.” (hosted by Justine Toms)


Terry Tempest Williams is a naturalist, environmentalist, and award-winning author. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and her work is widely taught and anthologized around the world. In 2014, on the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Ms. Williams received the Sierra Club’s John Muir Award honoring a distinguished record of leadership in American conservation. She currently is the writer in residence at Harvard Divinity School and divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Castle Valley, Utah.

Terry Tempest Williams is the author of many books including:

    To learn more about the work of Terry Tempest Williams go to

    Topics Explored in This Dialogue

    • Why refuge is important
    • How poetry can feed your soul
    • Why you need to express your truth
    • How nature speaks to us
    • What is the importance of making peace with your ancestors
    • What is the healing quality of risk-taking

    Host: Justine Willis Toms       Interview Date: 11/4/1991        Program Number: 2294

    Music included

    From Album: Desert Vision
    Artists: David Lanz and Paul Speer
    1987 Narada Equinoxe #ND-63003

    From Album: Return of the Condor
    Artist: Inti Illimani
    1989 BBC Records #REH 515

    From Album: Sunlit Reverie
    Artist: Radhika Miller
    1985 Radhika Miller Music #RMM-1101

    From Album: Songbirds - The beauty of birdsong
    Auvidis #A6117

    From Album: Chaco Canyon
    Artist: Rusty Crutcher
    1990 Emerald Green Sound #ED 8404
    Track - Soft Eyes (Owl cry)