Tunes for a Monday Morning
Touching the source

Asking questions

Sculpture by the River Teign, Peter Randall-Page

From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

From three interviews published in A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams, edited by Michael Austin:

Scott London: You've said that your writing is a response to questions.

Terry Tempest Williams: I think about Rilke, who said that it's the questions that move us, not the answers. As a writer I believe it is our task, our responsibility, to hold the mirror up to social injustices that we see and to create a prayer of beauty. The questions serve us in that capacity. Pico Iyer describes his writing as "intimate letters to a stranger," and I think that is what the writing process is. It begins with a question, and then you follow this path of exploration.

Sculpture by the River Teign, Peter Randall-Page

Tom Lynch: I think a lot of nature writers struggle with the issue of audience. It is easy to write to the converted, to those who read environmental publications and seek out nature writing. But there is also a great need to reach people who would never seek out this sort of writing, to do the hard work of conversion, as it were. How do you see yourself negotiating this problem?

Terry Tempest Williams: I honestly don't think much about "negotiating the problem" of audience. As I said earlier, I write out of my questions. Hopefully, if we write out of our humanity, our vulnerable nature, then some chord is struck with a reader and we touch on the page. I know that is why I read, to find those parts of myself in a story that I cannot turn away from. The writers who move me are the ones who create beauty and truth out of their sufferings, their yearnings, their discoveries. It is what I call the patience of words born out of the search.

Sculpture in the Whiddon Deer Park, Peter Randall-Page

Terry Tempest Williams: Perhaps as writers we are really storytellers, finding that golden thread that connects us to the past, present, and future at once. I love language and landscape. For me, writing is the correspondence between these two passions. It is difficult to ever see yourself. I don't know how I've developed or grown as a writer. I hope I am continuing to take risks on the page. I hope I am continuing to ask the hard questions of myself. If we are attentive to the world and to those around us, I believe we will be attentive on the page. Writing is about presence. I want to be fully present wherever I am, alive to the pulse just beneath the skin. I want to dare to speak "the language women speak when there's no one around to correct them." *

The Fruit Gatheres by Peter Randall-Page

The extraordinary sculpture above is by Peter Randall-Page, who lives in the next village over from ours. The first two pieces can be found in the woodland landscape between Chagford and Drewsteignton: by the River Teign and in the Whiddon Deer Park. The final piece, "The Fruit Gatherers," is in Nottinghamshire, and was inspired by an Edward Curtis photograph depicting three Saguro Indian women carrying large baskets on their heads.

* Terry Tempest Williams is quoting the French feminist writer Hélène Cixous.