1. What does the subtitle suggest about this book’s contents? What do you make of the author’s dream, as given in the Preface?
  2. What are some dominant themes of Refuge? How are they arranged so that they seem related?
  3. Howare the assumptions of this book related to the views of deep ecology? social ecology? ecofeminism? radical ecology?
  4. What are untraditional features of the book’s arrangment and organization? Are these effective for its themes?
  5. What are some characteristics of Terry Tempest Williams’ style?

Burrowing Owls

  1. What are unusual features of the Great Salt Lake? Which of its features seem especially important to this book?
  2. What seems the tone of the opening? Which descriptions seem to convey a sense of ominousness or threat?
  3. What does the author tell us about herself and her family?
  4. What happens to the burrowing owls? How does the author express her anger?
  5. What is significant about her girlhood trip to the bird refuge?


  1. Why do you think the author reserves the topic of her mother’s cancer until the second chapter?
  2. How is the discovery of her mother’s cancer presented? How does her mother react to the news of her illness?
  3. What is memorable about her memory of mother and children at the Great Salt Lake?
  4. What details are given of the mother’s surgery? How are her problems reflected in the surrounding nature?

Snowy Egrets

  1. What happens during the chemotherapy? The flooding?
  2. What is the narrator’s response to snowy egrets?

Barn Swallows

  1. What meaning does the narrator ascribe to the death of the barn swallow? (53) How is the swallow related to her meditations on childbirth and mothering?

Peregrine Falcon

  1. What is Williams’ opinion of starlings? Why does she compare them to humans? (56)
  2. Why have their numbers grown so startlingly? What contrasting value does she see in the peregrine falcon?

Wilson’s Phalarope

  1. How does the narrator relate the difficulties of draining the lake and the tale of her mother’s cancer?
  2. What does the Parks worker think of the task of draining the lake?

California Gulls

  1. What is the narrator’s response to the gulls? With which happy past events have they been associated?
  2. What setback has happened in the cancer saga?


  1. What seems the significance of the title? Why is there no discussion of ravens? What memories are evoked by the Saltaire Pavilion?

Pink Flamingos

  1. What is important about the letter the narrator’s mother writes to a younger friend who underwent brain tumor surgery?
  2. How does she show her empathy for a threatened part of the earth? (85)
  3. What associations do pink flamingos have for the narrator?

Snow Buntings

  1. What symbolism does the lake have for the narrator in winter?
  2. What is unusual about the finding of a snow bunting at the Refuge by the narrator and her mother?
  3. What seems the reason for including the letter from Tamra to Mrs. Tempest?
  4. What is the significance of the final paragraph about gemstones and the eyes of birds?