Terry Tempest Williams remembers the exact moment she became an environmentalist: the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. She was visiting here with her family at the time. “I’ll never forget it,” she said of the oiled birds and tarry beaches, and she remembers the dismayed look on her grandmother’s face. “As a child, what translated is you could never take this for granted.”
Williams, the acclaimed author who has been called a “citizen writer” for her works on environmental justice, will discuss her recently released book, The Hour of Land, at UCSB’s Campbell Hall in a talk sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures. Published in honor of the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS), her book is “a collection of stories rooted in each” of the 12 parks covered in the book, from Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic to Gettysburg in Virginia.
Inside, she challenges Wallace Stegner’s idea that the parks are America’s best idea, writing rather they’re “an evolving idea.” “It’s a great way to open and broaden the discussion of what our national parks are.”
Her talk comes following a year when the NPS saw more visitors than ever. “When you realize this last year there were over 300 million visitations, it shows the need, the hunger that we have for these breathing spaces in a society that is increasingly holding its breath,” she said.
Her talk is very timely also because the national parks could face significant changes due to the Trump administration. There are 40 national parks and monuments at risk for oil and gas development, Williams said; 12 already have oil and gas development in them, with 30 pending. Her native Utah faces a battle of land ownership, with places like the Bears Ears National Monument facing legal challenges from the state.
Williams feels most comforted and hopeful by the younger generations, like her own students at Dartmouth or the students at UCSB. “I’m so moved by their advocacy, by their activism, by their pragmatic vision. They’re very smart; they’re very empathetic and want to hear all sides,” she said.
She quoted a friend from South Africa who said, “You Americans have mastered the art of living with the unacceptable,” saying of herself, “I want to be bolder; I want to be braver; I want not to live with the unacceptable.”
Terry Tempest Williams will speak Wednesday, April 12, at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.