When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

24 Jun

I look to books for answers a lot. Maybe I should be looking to the Bible you might say or, maybe I should be looking to God for answers. When I say that I look to books for answers I mean that I’m looking to God for answers. God works through people so why can’t he work through people’s writings in books? 

While I was working on my MA I wrote my thesis on the dead and on birds. So it only made sense that when I was walking through the new bookstore in town before Mother’s Day (a terrible day when you’ve lost your Mother) and saw the book “When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice” by Terry Tempest Williams, I stopped and browsed. When I discovered that this book was also about her own Mother’s death, I bought it.

I loved this book. Williams writes about birds, her Mother, her Grandmother, conservationism, how she met her husband, and her grief when her Mother died. It’s a lot to write about and sometimes I felt like maybe this could have been split into two books (her family and her conservationism) but, I understand that when you talk about your Mother and your experience of her dying, your entire identity is brought to the forefront. 

What I also appreciated about this book is Williams working through the mystery of why her Mother bought notebooks but never filled them. Williams muses on all the reasons why her mother didn’t fill them and what those notebooks represented to her Mother but you get the feeling that these things are more what the notebooks represent to Williams’ perception of her Mother and that’s okay. 

I was expecting to read something to help me on my journey through grieving and mourning and this book delivered. To go further I would also recommend this book to bird lovers, feminists, and conservationists. Williams gets to your heart in a poetic and honest way and you can’t help but want to roam out in the forest somewhere looking for a bird and looking for yourself.


Quotes I loved:

“What is voice? I will say it is so: The first voice I heard belonged to my mother. It was her voice I listened to from the womb….I will say it is so: My mother’s voice is a lullaby in my cells. When I am still, my body feels her breathing.” pg. 17

“To be read. To be heard. To be seen. I want to be read, I want to be heard. I don’t need to be seen. To write requires an ego, a belief that what you say matters. Writing also requires an aching curiosity leading you to discover, uncover, what is gnawing at your bones. Words have a weight to them. ” pg 47/48

“Facing the death of one’s mother puts things in acute perspective. I did not have the luxury of fighting with my mom as other friends did with theirs…A rupture was occurring in me.What mattered most was time with family, time in nature, and time with myself.” pg. 55

“Good friends were traded for good reads. Books became my moral grounding, my way of finding a philosophy that comforted me when church did not.” pg. 55

“Reading has not only changed my life but saved it. The right books picked at the right times–especially the one that scares us, threatens to undermine all we have been told, the one that contains forbidden thoughts–these are the books that become Eve’s apples.” pg 97



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: