Terry Tempest Williams Talks

 "I never need water," Terry Tempest Williams said, apologizing, coughing, and reaching for the water bottle handed to her by an event organizer. The white haired author of one of my favorite books, Refuge, among many others, was getting ill just talking to the standing room crowd at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau about what she'd witnessed of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The cover up, the devastation, the sick people and animals.  She said she used the word "witness" on purpose, and urged us not to believe the news,  our own government, and especially not BP when they say all is now well. She had just returned from the region and described the man-made disaster and the attempt at cleaning it up, as "evil." She said, "it is important to trust what you see, not what you hear." She paused often,  coughing, and on the brink of tears. She also said that she was so angry at her country--the government-- for not protecting the people, wildlife and places where they (we) both live that it was terribly hard when her son, recently returned from Rwanda, kept reminding her how much he loved America. Of course, she spoke of why we use so much oil in the first place, and how we are all in some way responsible. She was conflicted, but insisted that we have to do better.  (She wrote all this up, much more eloquently, for Orion magazine, in a whopping 15,000 word essay that should be out soon.) Still, it was both inspiring and difficult, to see such a passionate bird lover and spokeswoman for the environment so heart broken. Why should Americans far from the Gulf care? Because our backyards, woodlands, coasts and meadows may be very quiet next spring, and for many to years come. One billion migratory birds will be landing along the Gulf of Mexico shores in the coming weeks, she said, her voice cracking. "70 percent of all our waterfowl are flying towards the Mississippi Delta right now." Many could be poisoned, as much, or more, by the still unspecified dispersants as by the oil. (And by eating plants, insects, and fish that have been tainted.) On the one, sort of, hopeful note, she said that she shared this with Alaskans first, because here, "the beloved community stands for the wild." I would like to believe that, but when our GOP candidate for senate says we need to mine in Denali, and when our ex-"drill baby drill"- governor is the most powerful woman in American politics,  it makes even the most optimistic of Alaskans, like me, bang our heads on the table. 

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