The Hour of Land
nolead begins A Personal Topography
of America's National Parks nolead ends
nolead begins By Terry Tempest Williams
Sarah Crichton Books.
416 pp. $27 nolead ends
nolead ends This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I have hiked in 11 of America's 58 parks and will head to two others this summer. If you are a national park enthusiast, a hiker, or simply love wilderness, add Terry Tempest Williams' new book, The Hour of the Land, to your summer reading list. This is not a guidebook to the best parks, hiking trails, and campsites, and best, most affordable lodging. It is much more.
Williams calls our national parks "portals and thresholds of wonders." She writes about not only what the parks mean to her, but also how oil and gas development has managed to destroy whole areas of them. To bring this alarming message home, she engages the reader with storytelling through memoir, diaries, letters, poetry, and reporting.
Each of the 12 chapters is devoted to a particular park, monument, or seashore Williams has visited, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Alcatraz Island. She provides historical and political accounts of all of them.
The chapter on Theodore Roosevelt National Park is quite moving. The future president sought solitude in the badlands of North Dakota after the death of his wife and mother on the same day. His sojourn made him aware of the manifold threats to the delicate ecology and wildlife there. He wrote, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country." He went on to preserve 230 million acres of national parks, forests, and monuments. Today, Valerie Naylor, the passionate superintendent of the park - "an island within a sea of oil developers" - spends her days fighting for its preservation and struggling with encroaching oil drillers.
Williams reports on the catastrophic impact of the BP oil spill on Gulf Island National Seashore and meets with survivors. She visits Alcatraz Island with two friends (a parolee and a graduate student), recounting the transformation of Alcatraz from prison to national recreational area. Her visits to Gettysburg acquaint her with Civil War history and the evolution of the park. Especially intriguing are the stories of park volunteers, rangers, superintendents, and the effect of the parks on them.
The Hour of the Land might be a lot to absorb. But if you have never set foot in a national park, love the wilderness, like history, or enjoy great storytelling, The Hour of the Land is calling you.