book last spring called Open Spaces, CityrnPlaces, a collection of essays developedrnfrom papers delivered at a literary conferencernin Tucson. Judy Nolte Temple,rnthe volume’s editor, refers in her introductionrnto the paradox that Southwesternrn”writers love open spaces, caressingrnthem with words, yet seek the intellectualrnand cultural stimulus of the city.rnOnly in today’s Southwest do so manyrnwrite that which they do not live.”rnWell, not just in the Southwest. I wasrnrecently taken by friends in Salt LakernCity to hear Terry Tempest Williamsrnread from her latest book. If you don’trnlive in the Rocky Mountain region yournprobably haven’t heard of Terry TempestrnWilliams—but you will. She has acquiredrna New York publisher, and thernnight I heard her she had just returnedrnfrom giving a reading in New York City.rnHaving looked through her first book,rnPieces of White Shell—a meditation onrnNavajo legend and ritual—five years agornwhen I was traveling on the reservation,rnI had wondered since what the fuss wasrnabout. It is perfectly clear to me now. Asrna writer (though not as a performer) TerryrnTempest Williams is strictly amateurrnnight, but she still sells a lot of books. Indeed,rnI suspect that is why she sellsrnbooks—mostly to women who couldrnwrite as well as Terry Tempest Williamsrndoes, and many of whom probably do.rnThe audience was overwhelmingly female,rnand the females were overwhelminglyrnurban women who looked as if theyrnwouldn’t know how to take a pee behindrna rock or pour scorpions out of arnboot. But they loved Terry TempestrnWilliams, who was so overcome withrnemotion at returning from Gotham-and-rnGommorah to “her people” in Utah thatrnshe suffered a breakdown of tears at thernstart of her reading.rnTerry Tempestuous Williams is a selfdescribedrn”eco-feminist” (it is not clearrnhow she reconciles her role with Mormonism)rnfor whom activism on behalf ofrnthe environment is conceptually andrnpractically linked with the war againstrnpatriarchy. A couple of martinis beforehandrndulled my critical intellect butrnfailed to block two literary impressions:rnone, that free verse was invented solelyrnfor the purpose of allowing nonpoets tornwrite poetry and, two, that you shouldrnnever, ever trust your wife alone with arnbear, bears having replaced men as objectsrnof womanly desire and provedrnthemselves willing to accept the challenge.rn(I felt sorry for the bears, but reflectedrnthat here was a subject for a novelrnby Kingsley Amis.) Still the piece de resistance,rnI thought, was a poem (freernverse) about the death of “Jesus coyote”rnon a rancher’s barbed-wired fence post,rnoffered as an acceptable sacrifice to redeemrnthe anthropogenic ruin of the naturalrnworld. At the conclusion of thernreading there were audible snuffles; thernemcee cried, “Oh, Terry, you’re such arntreasure!”; and the Treasure signed 300rncopies of the New Book with a PersonalrnMessage for everybody.rnSuch is the audience, I’m afraid, forrncontemporary Western writing. But littlernas most of these people seem to knowrnabout literature, they know even lessrnabout the West—the real West: thernsmall-town, rural, working West. ThernSouthwestern literary establishment doesrnnot live in the desert for the same reasonrnthat Christians do not live in churches:rnleaving the perpetual adoration of theirrnGod to cloistered monks and nuns, theyrnget on with the business of everyday lifernin a secular environment. The wildernessrncrowd—environmentalist writersrnand activists; green salonistes and courtesansrn—has succumbed to the angelistrnapproach to nature as opposed to thernbestialist one adopted by developers, industrialists,rnand the U.S. Chamber ofrnCommerce. Where their enemies canrnthink only to slash, burn, bulldoze, excavate,rnand pave over, they can only idolize.rnFor them, hands honestly blackened byrnthe soil are bloody hands.rnBut we know, having had Pascal quotedrnto us all our lives, that man is neitherrnan angel nor a beast, but something else.rn”By every conceivable measure,” EdwardrnO. Wilson has written, “humanity is ecologicallyrnabnormal.” Does the fact notrnsuggest that human nature is supernatural,rntranscending the natural world? Ifrnthe ecocatastrophe predicted by therndoomsayers actually arrives, it will comernas a lesson to mankind that human intelligencernand creativity are gifts inevitablyrntransposed into curses whenrnthey are not informed by supernaturalrnwisdom and charity. This lesson in humility,rnlike most instruction of its kind, isrnnot something imposed on us fromrnabove: rather it develops concomitantlyrnwith our pride and as a result of ourrnworks, to stand with them at the end tornjudge us. In the post-Christian world itrnis immeasurably hard to discern the thirdrnway between bestialism and angelism,rnand between the natural world as an objectrnof consumerist greed and a vast, inviolaterntemple-museum.rnWhile Turner’s frontier receives nothingrnbut scorn and obloquy these days,rnwhat he called “the first period of Americanrnhistory” stands as a better guidernthan “wilderness” for the environmentalistrnagenda, since for all its rapacity itrnseems to have offered the best synthesisrnwe have yet known between natural andrnhuman values—perhaps the best evenrnof which we are capable. For one thingrnthere were still, comparatively speaking,rnvery few of us, whites and Indiansrnalike. For another, the American frontierrnwas the closest Americans have come torncreating a civilization that combined cultivatedrnintellect with material simplicityrn—a paradigm for the coming “age ofrnlimits.” “The wilderness,” Turner wrote,rnmasters the colonist. It finds himrna European in dress, industries,rntools, modes of travel, andrnthought. It takes him from thernrailroad car and puts him in thernbirch canoe. It strips off the garmentrnof civilization and arraysrnhim in the hunting shirt and moccasin.rnIt puts him in the log cabinrnof the Cherokee and Iroquois andrnruns an Indian palisade aroundrnhim. Before long he has gone tornplanting Indian corn and plowingrnwith a sharp stick; he shouts thernwar cry and takes the scalp in orthodoxrnIndian fashion. In short,rnat the frontier the environment isrnat first too strong for the man. Hernmust accept the conditions whichrnit furnishes, or perish, and so hernfits himself into the Indian clearingsrnand follows the Indian trails.rnLittle by little he transforms thernwilderness, but the outcome isrnnot the old Europe.. .. here is arnnew product that is American.rnCould that be why Americans cannotrnforget the frontier, but continue to lookrnback toward it with awe and longing?rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn