3 Nature Writers Lost in 2020: Barry Lopez

11 September 2021 0 By Bambam

This is the first of three linked entries. First, Barry Lopez, 1945–2020. Second, Pentti Linkola. Third, Richard Nelson.

One day in the early Eighties I was browsing in the Chinook Bookshop (1959–2004) in downtown Colorado Spriings and picked up what I thought was a work of creative nonfiction, perhaps a memoir.  I read a chapter titled “Buffalo.” The last paragraph convinced me I was wrong. 

I wasn’t in the habit of buying new hardback books back then, but I took this one back to the sales counter.

The book was Barry Lopez’ Winter Count (1981). If I had looked at the back cover, I would have read Bill Kittredge’s blurb: 

Through these elegant stories, Barry Lopez gives us over to a concrete and particular landscape which is luminously inhabited by mystery, radiant with possibilities which transcend the defeats we find for ourselves.

Wikipedia: “In a career spanning over 50 years, he visited over 80 countries, and wrote extensively about distant and exotic landscapes including the Arctic wilderness, exploring the relationship between human cultures and nature.”

Of Wolves and Men (1978) made Lopez’s reputation, but Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986) was even finer.  Reading it one warm early spring day, where I could bask in a folding chair next to a melting snowbank, I thought that I would have given my hand to have written anything so intriguing and well-constructed. To quote Wikipedia again,

Arctic Dreams describes five years in the Canadian Arctic, where Lopez worked as a biologist. Robert Macfarlane, reviewing the book in The Guardian, describes him as “the most important living writer about wilderness”. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani argued that Arctic Dreams “is a book about the Arctic North in the way that Moby-Dick is a novel about whales.”

He also wrote what would be a graphic novel if it were fiction, but maybe it’s “graphic creative nonfiction” — Apologia (1997), which is about roadkill. From the dust jacket:

“It has long been a habit of writer Barry Lopez to remove dead animals from the road. At the conclusion of a journey from Oregon to Indiana in 1989, he wrote Apologia to explore the moral and emotional upheaval he experienced dealing with the dead every day.”

It’s no surprise that as a young man he considered the Catholic priesthood or even monastic life. But then we would not have his books like these.

I do that too when I can safely pull off. I keep an old Army entrenching tool behind the the driver’s seat. Even with that and gloves though, sometimes I have resumed my trip while realizing that my fingers smell like death.

The links in this post go to Amazon. I keep this blog ad-free, but I do have hosting bills, so any purchase from a blog link is a help. Thanks.