The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Refuge, pp. 96ff.

White Pelicans

In this section, what is happening to the level of the lake? What reflections on Mormon history are inspired by the sight of the submerged islands and the pelicans? Why did the 19th century economic cooperative cease to be successful? What does Williams see as the contrasting virtues of the social white pelicans? (103) How do these birds cooperate? How do they adapt their schedules to the proximity of other colonies? What message does Williams take from this remarkable fact? (105-107)

Yellow-Headed Blackbirds

What is the mood of her trip to the Wildlife Refuge? How have matters (temporarily) improved? In what condition does she find the birds? Why do you think she interprets the dunes as female? How does the author respond physically to what she sees?


Why are the redheads chosen as the title birds for this chapter? Who has benefited from the flooding? What seems to be happening to some other species? (111) What recent surveys does the narrator cite? Why does a flood prompt her to consider the loss of wetlands? Can the lake be regenerated after it recedes? (113)


What are some themes of the picnic by the lake taken by grandmother, mother and daughter? What does the mother claim to have learned from her last experience with cancer? What can you tell about the different characters of the women? What seem to have been some of the problems they have faced? Is the author wise in adumbrating their difficulties only briefly? What seems the distinctive feature of the killdeer? What parallel with human behavior does Mimi see? What point about the plot does the narrator make with titling her chapter after this bird?

Whistling Swan

What fears preoccupy the narrator in this chapter? What ritual does she perform over the dead swan? What is your reaction to this eerie scene? How does she relate to the swan, and what seems the purpose of her attempted mimicry of the swan’s consciousness?

Great Horned Owl

Why is this account of Thanksgiving associated with a great horned owl feather? What seem to be some shared traits of this family? What is the point of the story about the wishbone?


What connection do you make between the account of the casino, Mimi’s letter, the narrator’s viewing of Halley’s Comet, and the plans for the Desert Pumping project? What advice does the grandmother seek to give the narrator? (133) What nuclear event evokes a protest? How does the family respond? How are these events related to the roadrunner with its red, white and blue coloration? (134)


What is the narrator’s state of mind? What are some of the mother’s activities and interests as she attempts to face death? (136) Why does Williams recount the views of her Kenyan friend? (137) How does she contrast her society with that of Americans? What brings Williams’ father to the salt flats? Does he think the pipe should be built? What political interpretations of the plan for building a diversion is offered? Who will benefit from its vast expense? (139)

Long-Billed Curlews, lake level 4211.65’

What is odd about the season? What seems interesting about the courtship habits of the grebe? The swallows’ nest-building? What are some reasons the narrator finds this landscape threatening? (144, 147) What myths are associated with the curlew? How has it been faring lately? (145) What are some of the author’s reflections on this landscape? What reason does she give for praying to the birds? (149) How does she respond to the body of a dead curlew? Are any features of her reaction unusual? (152)

Western Tanagers

Why is the chapter named after this bird? What incident reveals the changes in Williams’ mother? What does she fear for the future? In what ways does Williams try to comfort her mother?

Gray Jays What are some small touches which indicate the narrator’s mental state? The changes in her mother’s condition? How does Williams indicate the responses of other family members? What is shown by the incident in which all laugh at the photographer’s statement?


How is the buried Anasazi woman described? What connection does Williams see with herself? What purpose is served by the account of her ride from the excavation to the hospital? Are there elements of parody? How do you think the ride affects her mood?

Storm Petrel

What traits of whale social life seem most impressive to the narrator? What do the narrator and her husband find as they boat toward a remote island? What is the symbolic significance of these archeological finds? What unexpected event has happened to Williams’ grandmother? Prompted by so much pain and threats of death, what does the narrator decide should be her attitude toward death? (178) What can she mean by “loving” death?

Greater Yellowlegs

What were some aspects of the life of the Fremont peoples? What do the excavators believe is significant about their lives? (185) What is the point of the episode of finding military tanks? (186) Of creating necklaces from plastic forks? What is the effect of several chapters which recount archeological excavations? What does the author means by the assertion, “But sometimes the objects run away with you”? What are allegorical features of the landscape description at the chapter’s end? (189)

Canada Geese

What is the association between her visit to the Abbey with her mother and the description of migrating geese? What mood is conveyed by the final paragraph?

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