Terry Tempest Williams When Women Were Birds is an effort to understand a code her mother left behind. In 54 variations and 208 pages she deciphers and does not decipher her mother’s journals… journals that were blank. I have finished the book just as I begin a summer with my own mother’s diaries and photographs and dresses and spoons. It is all a code, whether there are words or no words, whether I am looking at my mother or the myth of my mother, either way.
I have my mother’s last journal here with me in Two Dot. It contains mostly blank pages. Diane Dixon Tempest left her journals to her daughter Terry Tempest Williams; they were all blank. It is not exactly the same. My mother’s empty pages mark her ending after making note of each day on nearly every day of her life since she was able to hold a pencil and form letters. I have wondered if I might dare to write on those pages… to continue her story.
My mother’s photo sits on my writing desk in Two Dot. It is a photo of her as a young girl, unknowing of what is to come but fresh and ready. It was surely a vital time for her, though she may have seen it as a time of waiting. She was the youngest of six, most of the others already off on their own.
My mother’s journals are a white blouse, not yet worn. Terry Tempest Williams
The blouse not yet worn is clearly evident in my mother’s photo… everything was to come. But isn’t there always something more for each of us, something not yet known, even for me at sixty-two. When my mother was sixty-two, she had not yet entered her best marriage… it was still an unworn white blouse ready to slip into.