I am enthralled by the beauty of the this book, its textured jacket cover, the letterpress on the hard cover, and my favorite- the silhouettes of little black birds silently waiting on the margins of each page for you to turn them so that their wings might flap. And then there are the words. This is a memoir of possibility and creation when a daughter, writer, and lover of the natural world finds all of her mother’s journals after her death. Every single one of them is blank. The mystery of this discovery is told in author Terry Tempest William’s ”When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.” From the moment I picked it up I heard myself through her words, the meditations she voiced about mom. In many ways, her words were speaking my voice, articulating the beauty and subtleties of my own upbringing- a close relationship with my mother and a deep love of my natural world- the sea and sand of my backyard.
“I was born on the edge of the Pacific. California was paradise. My mother took me to the beach daily near Capistrano, home to the returning swallows. It is here I must have imprinted on the rhythmic sound of waves, the cry of gulls, the calm of my own mother’s heart.”
And she continues, “It is here, on this edge of sand and surf, where I must have developed my need to see the horizon, to look outward as far and wide as possible. My hunger for vistas has never left me.”
My wings have always been stretched wide. The intrepid spirit of an only child, anxious to forge her own path, curious to discover what lie beyond. The horizons met me each and every morning we drove along Pacific Coast Highway to school. Sometimes I’d see dolphins dancing in the placid water of the early morning, pelicans deftly gliding over the crest of unbroken waves. This is where my independence was born, the flight of the bird over a vast and infinite big blue. My sea of possibilities, and blessings from a family who let my spirit run free.
“The invisible world can speak to us. In this vast, undulating ocean, we are cradled. The waves carry us like the rise and fall of the melody of mothers.”
Terry’s prose soars like the birds she has nurtured all her life, the ones she seeks, listens to, observes in silence. The birds of her dreams. I’ve taken flight with this memoir, a moving work on the beauty of our mothers, the womb of this natural world. I am grateful for my beautiful mother, whose blank journals are being filled by the silent melodies she sings to me.
Happy Mother’s Day!
-Posted by Maureen Moore