Local author examines connection between outer wilderness, inner self

In his new book, “Open Midnight: Where Ancestors and Wilderness Meet,” author Brooke Williams weaves together personal and collective history to show how the outer, physical wilderness grants access to one’s own inner wilderness. The Castle Valley resident and author will kick off a book tour March 1 with a “free flowing, interactive” reading exploring these themes at Moab’s Back of Beyond Books.

Williams structures his latest book around his own personal adventures in the wilderness working as a field advocate for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Speaking with The Times-Independent, Williams says he has spent a good deal of time plotting “new creative ways” to save the wilderness in which he worked.

“Then I realized that we save these places because they save us,” he said.

“Open Midnight” chronicles that realization as the wilderness exposes Williams to what he calls the “archaic whisper” of personal and collective history.

“The outer wilderness is the access to the inner wilderness … There’s information that goes back to our earliest evolutionary beginnings,” Williams said. “Someone recently described it to me as the ‘archaic whisper.’ How do we quiet everything down enough so that we can hear that?”

Williams says he first felt that primal connection in the wilderness of southern Utah during his college years.

“Something happened … it was almost chemical,” he said.

Although he had no personal genetic connection to the land, Williams felt connected to this region of the world.

“I’m not sure why people feel the way that they do about a particular landscape, I don’t know what taps people differently,” Williams said. “ … But the thing we all have in common, is this wild essence where the natural system is still intact and when we’re there we feel it and we’re a part of it. When we’re in the city, we don’t feel connected in the way that we do in the wilderness.”

Williams says that feeling led him to study his own family tree, in hopes he could come to understand the ideas of “place” and “homeland.”

As he pieced through his ancestral lineage, one ancestor in particular “jumped out” at him — William Williams, his great-great-great-grandfather, who traveled from England to Utah in the 19th century.

Since “discovering” his ancestor, Williams says the man has functioned as a primordial guide to the key decisions in his life.

“ … I felt what I now believe was William’s hand on my shoulder as he guided me inward toward a dimension of knowledge which I was beginning to trust,” Williams writes in “Open Midnight.” “I realize now that I was being signaled to respond from my deepest, truest self, rather than from the modern surface of my life that seeks approval and acceptance. I benefited when I paid attention to those signals and suffered when I didn’t.”

Key to the discovery of his great-great-great-grandfather was the knowledge that he was born in the same town and within 10 months of Charles Darwin, a man who Williams describes as his “hero.”

“That was so powerful,” he said.

To explore these ideas of personal and collective history, Williams spends part of “Open Midnight” expanding upon a fictionalized relationship between his ancestor and Darwin.

“Darwin represents this family tree that goes back to the beginning of the organism that climbed out of that steamy swamp. My family tree is a tiny branch on that collective history,” Williams said. “So those two things are connected. Until we understand that and embrace that, we’re not going to be able to fully confront all the issues before us.”

And it is wilderness, Williams maintains, that creates the space for individuals to understand and explore their ancient selves.

“Our entire creative, imaginative force is exposed [in wilderness],” Williams said. “That’s what we need now. We have questions that we don’t have the answers to.”

Back of Beyond Books, located at 83 N. Main St., will host the “Open Midnight” book reading at 7 p.m. on March 1. For more information call 435-259-5154.

ByBy Molly Marcello

The Times-Independent