Terry’s story is a heartwrenching one. Refuge is the story of a mother and daughter, both exposed to nuclear fallout after testing in the desert near their home, juxtaposed with the story of Terry’s job as a naturalist who studies birds at a nearby refuge. She brilliantly intertwines the two, using the struggle of mother nature to describe her mother’s struggle with cancer.

What I am noticing and taking note of is her not-so-subtle frustration, or “rage” as she calls it, at people’s interference with nature and with her own life. It was people’s interference with water flow (building dams and diverting rivers) that caused the flooding at the refuge, just like it was the government testing that caused her mother’s illness.
At first she is subtle (but she is also young at the time). She is on a birding tour with her greandmother and the guide explains that the government created the marsh and refuge in 1928.

“Funny,” she says, “I thought the marsh had been created in the spirit world first and on earth second.”

Later on the same tour, the guide tells them that the ibises were probing for insects and worms.

“Good eyes,” she replies, “I could only see their decurved bills like scythes disappearing behind the grasses.”

What I like about these passages is the way she so quietly points out how arrogant humans can be. The government assumes that they should and can have control over the natural course of water flow, they assume they know what the birds are eating, they assume they created the sanctuary.
Great read so far. Williams has a wonderful ability to slow down time, really digging deep into herself and her story.

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