When Women Were Birds

by katystreet

By Terry Tempest Williams.

I bought this book on a whim at a warehouse sale. I bought it because I realized that I had only picked up books by men and I want to read more female authors. I bought it because the first page intrigued me. I bought it because the cover recommendation is from Anne Lamott.

The book read like poetry: soft, evocative, almost subconscious. Terry begins by telling you that her mother left her all her journals. After her mother died she went to read the journals, only to discover they were blank. From there the book dips and dives into various parts of Terry’s life, mostly in chronological order, but all surrounding this question of voice, specifically the voice of women, specifically the voice of her mother.

I loved the book. It was a beautiful, meditative read full of gems of wisdom and poignancy. Terry is many things I am not: raised in the Mormon faith, at home close to and in the wilderness, a women who can identify birds. Yet this did not stand me apart from her. I still thought she was talking to me.

Her treatment of religion was especially interesting. Though she never explicitly discusses a loss of faith it is clear that she is no longer tied to the Mormon teachings and that she feels part of many religions and many gods. Again, though this could easily have bothered me it did not. In fact her approach almost mimics my own: that religious stories are mythology we use to understand our lives.

The moment Eve bit into the Apple, her eyes opened and she became free. She exposed the truth of what every woman knows: to find our sovereign voice often requires a betrayal. We just have to make certain we do not betray ourselves. For a woman or man to speak from the truth of their heart is to break taboo. The mask is removed. The snake who tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit was not the devil but her own instinctive nature saying, Honor your hunger and feed yourself. -When Women Were Birds