The death has been announced of Barry Lopez. He died on December 25th 2020, aged 75. Barry tried to get everyone involved in a different way of looking at, and understanding, landscape and nature. He was a man who bowed to nature, to the grasses and the trees, to the birds and the eggs and all the creatures of the earth. It was, as he explained, a gesture of respect for fecundity and beauty and for the utter mystery of life. The arctic in particular fascinated him and drew him to it. Analysis, he felt, could not get to the heart of life and nature and indeed adequately explain how our lives can be moulded and formed by landscape. For two years he lived in Alaska, bringing himself as close as he could to the lives of its wolves. They too belonged to the landscape that shaped its human inhabitants. He saw with a clear eye that we modern people no longer live in harmony with the world that bears us and nurtures us. He was a man who walked on the edges of two worlds, trying to understand both, and trying to explain both to the other.
His Wikepedia entry reads as follows:
Barry Holstun Lopez (January 6, 1945 – December 25, 2020) was an American author, essayist, nature writer, and fiction writer whose work is known for its humanitarian and environmental concerns. 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. He won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for Arctic Dreams (1986) and his Of Wolves and Men (1978) was a National Book Award finalist. He was a contributor to magazines including Harper's Magazine, National Geographic, and The Paris Review.
Lopez was born Barry Holstun Brennan on January 6, 1945, in Port Chester, New York, to Mary Frances (née Holstun) and John Brennan. His family moved to Reseda, California after the birth of his brother, Dennis, in 1948. He attended grade school at Our Lady of Grace during this time. His parents divorced in 1950, after which his mother married Adrian Bernard Lopez, a businessman, in 1955. Adrian Lopez adopted Barry and his brother, and they both took his surname.
When Lopez was 11, his family relocated to Manhattan, where he attended the Loyola School, graduating in 1962. As a young man, Lopez considered becoming a Catholic priest or a Trappist monk before attending the University of Notre Dame, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees there in 1966 and 1968. He also attended New York University and the University of Oregon.
Career and works
Lopez's essays, short stories, reviews and opinion pieces began to appear in 1966. In his career of over 50 years, he traveled to over 80 countries, writing extensively about distant and exotic landscapes including the Arctic wilderness, exploring the relationships between human cultures and wild nature. Through his works, he also highlighted the harm caused by human actions on nature. He was a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine and a contributor to many magazines including National Geographic, The Paris Review, and Outside. Until 1981, he was also a landscape photographer. In 2002, he was elected a fellow of The Explorers Club.
Arctic Dreams (1986) 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".
A number of Lopez's works for children, including Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter (1978), make use of Native American legends, including characters such as Coyote. Crow and Weasel (1990) thematizes the importance of metaphor, which Lopez described in an interview as one of the definitive "passion[s]" of humanity.
James I. McClintock describes Lopez as an admirer of Wendell Berry. McClintock further observes, referring to Arctic Dreams, that Lopez "conjoin[s] ecological science and romantic insight". Slovic identifies "careful structure, euphony, and an abundance of particular details" as central characteristics of Lopez's work.
His final work published during his lifetime was Horizon (2019), an autobiographical telling of his travels over his lifetime.The Guardian describes the book as "a contemporary epic, at once pained and urgent, personal and oracular".
An archive of Lopez's manuscripts and other work has been established at Texas Tech University, where he was the university's Visiting Distinguished Scholar. He also taught at universities including Columbia University, Eastern Washington University, University of Iowa, and Carleton College, Minnesota.
His work, his life and his writings were integral to, and indeed prophetic regarding, the need for an understanding of the power and necessity for ONENESS that he instinctively saw in nature, and which we all must learn from in order to try to make our own lives, personal and social, more linked and centred.
Wikipedia cites the following quotes:
- I imagined in everybody I passed there was some story that they carried with them that would break your heart. So how could you have the temerity to approach that person and say, here's what's wrong with you?
- On learning empathy after a cancer diagnosis in “Writer Barry Lopez Reflects On A Life Traveling Beyond The 'Horizon'” in NPR (2019 Mar 27)
- The peculiar thing that he said was, all of our chiefs die on the road. And what he was talking about was, we must all bear up and know that we will all pass away, but it's important to keep these things alive and to give your life to the protection of these ideals.
- On the advice given to him by a Onondaga elder in “Writer Barry Lopez Reflects On A Life Traveling Beyond The 'Horizon'” in NPR (2019 Mar 27)
- In the west, we believe we are the most progressive and socially just, but a lot of that is just a hopeful illusion.
- On the West’s environmental thinking in “'We're living in emergency times': nature writer Barry Lopez's dire warning” in The Guardian (2019 May 7)
- People understand that elders listen respectfully to everyone. There’s a place at their table for every person. But they know, too, that the elders have consistently been the best people to make important decisions. People are, therefore, comfortable deferring. Their dignity is not compromised, nor do they feel powerless or demeaned, because they are carrying out the decisions of the elders. They know the elders embody the wisdom of their ancestors, that without them they would never have gotten this far…
- On the role of elders in certain societies in “The Goal Now Has to Be to Listen: An Interview with Barry Lopez” in The Georgia Review (2019 Feb 15)