Mary Jane Wild
Brooke Williams walked twice into southern Utah’s Mary Jane Wilderness: at the beginning of the Trump presidency, perhaps the most tumultuous and destructive in American History, and four-years later at its end. In Mary Jane Wild we follow Brooke as he crosses into this magical place looking for answers to the question, “What has happened to America?” He reminds us how wilderness heals and helps us adapt to a world of uncertainty, that evolution continues, and wildness is the force behind it.
The Story of My Heart
“Terry and Brooke’s quest to understand Jefferies’ ideas of a ‘soul–life’ has brought the British writer’s ideas alive.”
—THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
“A first–rate tribute to an author who now has been rescued from obscurity.”
—THE UTAH REVIEW
“A small volume that packs a punch.”
—THE DURANGO HERALD
“The couple converses with Jefferies in the book as if with a new friend…Jefferies’ prescient call for solitude in nature has proven itself worth fresh consideration.”
—ALBUQUERQUE WEEKLY ALIBI
“What makes The Story of My Heart such an enjoyable find is the context that Terry and Brooke provide with their own commentary.”
—JACKSON HOLE NEWS & GUIDE
“The Williamses anchor Jefferies’ profound inquiry to our churning world and illuminate their own passionate quests for truth and understanding.”
—BOOKLIST, starred review
“Brooke and Terry give a sense of cohesion to Jefferies’s writing, and leave readers with much to ponder about our own chaotic, fast–paced, work–obsessed world.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY –This text refers to the hardcover edition.
Open Midnight weaves two parallel stories about the great wilderness—Brooke Williams’s year alone with his dog ground truthing wilderness maps of southern Utah, and that of his great-great-great-grandfather, who in 1863 made his way with a group of Mormons from England across the wilderness almost to Utah, dying a week short. The book is also about two levels of history—personal, as represented by William Williams, and collective, as represented by Charles Darwin, who lived in Shrewsbury, England, at about the same time as Williams.
As Brooke Williams begins researching the story of his oldest known ancestor, he realizes that he has few facts. He wonders if a handful of dates can tell the story of a life, writing, “If those points were stars in the sky, we would connect them to make a constellation, which is what I’ve made with his life by creating the parts missing from his story.” Thus William Williams becomes a kind of spiritual guide, a shamanlike consciousness that accompanies the author on his wilderness and life journeys, and that appears at pivotal points when the author is required to choose a certain course.
The mysterious presence of his ancestor inspires the author to create imagined scenes in which Williams meets Darwin in Shrewsbury, sowing something central in the DNA that eventually passes to Brooke Williams, whose life has been devoted to nature and wilderness.
Brooke Williams’s inventive and vivid prose pushes boundaries and investigates new ways toward knowledge and experience, inviting readers to think unconventionally about how we experience reality, spirituality, and the wild. The author draws on Jungian psychology to relate how our consciousness of the wild is culturally embedded in our psyche, and how a deep connection to the wild can promote emotional and psychological well-being.
Williams’s narrative goes beyond a call for conservation, but in the vein of writers like Joanna Macy, Bill Plotkin, David Abram, the author argues passionately for the importance of wildness is to the human soul. Reading Williams’s inspired prose provides a measure of hope for protecting the beautiful places that we all need to thrive.
Open Midnight is grounded in the present by Williams’s descriptions of the Utah lands he explores. He beautifully evokes the feeling of being solitary in the wild, at home in the deepest sense, in the presence of the sublime. In doing so, he conveys what Gary Snyder calls “a practice of the wild” more completely than any other work.
Williams also relates an insider’s view of negotiations about wilderness protection. As an advocate working for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, he represents a minority in meetings designed to open wilderness lands to roads and hunting. He portrays the mindset of the majority of Utah’s citizens, who argue passionately for their rights to use their lands however they wish.
The phrase “open midnight,” as Williams sees it, evokes the time between dusk and dawn, between where we’ve been and where we’re going, and the unconscious where all possibilities are hidden.
“There is nothing out there.” Such is the claim, at least, of politicians and oil company executives, amazed that anyone would fight to protect the miles of plateaus and canyon bottoms that stretch across southern Utah. Even tourists see this region as an empty spot on the map—an excuse to drive directly from Capitol Reef to Arches National Park. But it is precisely this—nothing—that writer Brooke Williams and photographer Chris Noble find captivating about Escalante. In this thoughtful and exquisitely illustrated rumination, the authors tour the network of chasms and gorges that began forming millions of years ago on the Colorado Plateau and today constitute a desert paradise of mesas, buttes, and boundless solitude. At the center of this landscape is the region known as Escalante, 1.7 million mostly roadless acres, where silence, darkness, and emptiness have no intrusions. With refreshing originality and a haunting rhythm to his prose, Williams reflects on the notion of space and seclusion both internally and externally. Williams also celebrates the landscape: its geology, flora and fauna, its people from the ancient Fremont to its Mormon pioneers, hiking aficionados and recluses such as Everett Ruess, and the controversial politics involved with the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Chris Noble’s photographs break down the distinction often felt even in very fine photos, that between the observer and the place. These images pull the reader into the landscape, seamlessly merging the experience and the setting. Part narrative, part poetry, and part meditation, this book charts the quiet places where the human spirit delights in solitude. It reminds us of our intimate connection with the wild and of the landscape’s powerful pulse especially when there is nothing to be found.
As a member of a prominent Salt Lake City family and a direct descendant of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young, Brooke Williams was born into a carefully scripted life. He would study hard, be involved with his church and community, and follow in the footsteps of three previous generations to work in the family plumbing-supply business. And that is what he did.Yet despite his business success, Williams was not satisfied. His deep and abiding love of the outdoors and insatiable desire to experience wild nature made living the life that was expected of him an ongoing struggle. He found himself escaping at every opportunity into wildness, deliberately seeking risky ski routes and long, lonely runs. He realized he was drowning emotionally, unable to bring his “halflives” together, and growing increasingly miserable as the gap between his two worlds expanded. In “Halflives,” Brooke Williams presents the engrossing story of his personal journey in balancing the expectations of family and society, and the needs and desires of his heart. In witty, poignant prose, he tells how he came to free himself from the life he was expected to live. Williams comes to realize he is not alone in this struggle, and he identifies a balance we all must strike between our cultural obligations and the strong pull toward wildness that our evolutionary heritage exerts on the human psyche. As he says, “If we survive as a species, it will have nothing to do with what we’ve invented, developed or manufactured, but everything to do with what we know in our deep cores about being good mammals. Like grizzly bears, slime molds, mosquitoes, and hawks, we have not been genetically manipulated, and we are still wild creatures. Weneed to act more that way.