Open Midnight weaves two parallel stories about the great wilderness—Brooke Williams’s year alone with his dog, ground truthing backcountry maps of southern Utah, and that of his great-great-great-grandfather, William Williams, who in 1863 made his way with a group of Mormons from England across the ocean and the American wild almost to Utah, dying a week short. The story follows two levels of history—personal, as represented by his forbear, and collective, as represented by Charles Darwin, who lived in Shrewsbury, England, at about the same time as William Williams.
As Brooke Williams begins researching the story of his oldest known ancestor, he realizes he's armed with few facts. He wonders if a handful of dates can tell the story of a life, writing, “If those points were stars in the sky, we would connect them to make a constellation, which is what I’ve made with his life by creating the parts missing from his story.” Thus William Williams becomes a kind of spiritual guide, a shamanlike consciousness that accompanies the author on his wilderness and life journeys, appearing at pivotal points when the author is required to choose a certain course.
The mysterious presence of his ancestor inspires Williams to create imagined scenes in which his ancestor meets Darwin in Shrewsbury, sowing something central in the DNA that eventually passes to Williams, whose life has been devoted to nature and wilderness. Grounded in the present by his descriptions of the Utah lands he explores, Williams's vivid prose pushes boundaries and investigates new ways toward knowledge and experience, inviting readers to think unconventionally about how we experience reality, spirituality, and the wild.
Open Midnight beautifully evokes the feeling of being solitary in the wild, at home in the deepest sense, in the presence of the sublime.
Brooke Williams has spent the last thirty years advocating for wilderness. He is the author of four books, including Open Midnight, Halflives: Reconciling Work and Wildness, and The Story of My Heart, by Richard Jeffries, as rediscovered by Brooke Williams and Terry Tempest Williams. His journalistic pieces have appeared in Outside, Huffington Post, Orion, and Saltfront. He and his wife, Terry Tempest Williams, divide their time between Utah and Wyoming.