"This collection represents part of the enduring legacy of Barry Lopez, hailed as a 'national treasure' (Outside) and "one of our finest writers" (Los Angeles Times Book Review) when he died in December 2020. An ardent steward of the land, fearless traveler, and unrivaled observer of nature and culture in all its forms, Lopez lost much of the Oregon property where he had lived for over fifty years when it was consumed by wildfire, likely caused by climate change. Fortunately, some of his papers survived, including four never-before published pieces that are gathered here, along with essays written in the final years of his life; these essays appear now for the first time in book form. Written in his signature observant and vivid prose, these essays offer an autobiography in pieces that a reader can assemble while journeying with Lopez along his many roads. They unspool memories at once personal and political, including tender, sometimes painful stories from Lopez's childhood in New York City and California; reports from the field as he accompanies scientists on expeditions to study animals; travels to Antarctica and some of the most remote places on earth; and to life in his own backyard, adjacent to a wild, racing river. He reflects on those who taught him: the Indigenous elders and scientific mentors who sharpened his eye for the natural world--an eye that, as the reader comes to see, missed nothing. And with striking poignancy and searing candor, he confronts the challenges of his last years as he contends with the knowledge of his mortality, as well as with the dangers the Earth-and all of its people--are facing"--
The oldest essay was first published in 1996, the most recent in 2020; some of the older ones were incredibly prescient and current. Lopez has a deep appreciation for the land and the wisdom of Indigenous peoples. He knows his science, but he's a writer, and brings things to life and immediacy for those of us who have not had the same experiences he does. And he also addresses the personal - in one essay, discussing the man who sexually abused him and excoriating a society in which that kind of abuse is generally accepted on a certain level. It took me over a month to read, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I needed to read only an essay or two at a time and ponder. I also really enjoyed spotting connections: one essay was about Wallace Stegner, for example, and I loved learning that two authors I have admired overlap in some way. Whether you're a long-time fan of Lopez's work or want a sense of what his writing is like, this is a great place to go.
Prepared by Lopez before his death, these essays include
You can never have the childhood again though the desire for the innocence of those days overwhelms you from time to time to time. And then you learn to love what you have more than what you had. Or thought you had.
from Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World by Barry Lopez
Remarkably, he had considered entering the priesthood, inspired by Teilhard de Chardin, “leading a life of inquiry into secular and sacred mystery.” Then, he considered aeronautical engineering before turning to the arts as his major. For which I am thankful, for his writing combines a reverence and deep insight into our connection to the world and each other. His keen observation and scientific and historic and literary knowledge is married to spiritual depth and mysticism.
Lopez asks us to pay attention. “Each place it itself only, and nowhere repeated. Miss it and it’s gone,” he wrote. He traveled to eighty countries and in the essays he writes about how he went into the land to experience it wholly, becoming ‘intimate’ with the Earth. He warns that understanding should not be our goal as much as experiencing, being present. When I was young, when outdoors I would just stop and listen and watch, like an animal does. After paying attention, and being patient, he asks us to be attentive.
Lopez writes about ‘the failure to love’ evidenced all around us, the way we use and destroy the world and each other. In light of warfare and all the social and political ills of our world, in light of the degradation of the environment, Lopez queries, “is it still possible to face the gathering darkness and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?”
I was reminded again of the remarkable vision and gift of Barry Lopez.
I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
Barry Lopez's last words, a collection.
I have been looking for this since the first of the year, when I read Debra Gwartney, his wife, describing his last days in an issue of Granta.
His beloved cabin & writing home burnt to the ground during
I can only imagine the essay that would have resulted from the Arctic explorer and climate activist losing his home to this new earth, but he was silenced too soon.