Inspiration: Barry Lopez

We all need people who inspire us, whether heroes, models, mentors or friends. During the WordCount Blogathon Speed River Journal will present a special Saturday feature profiling people I admire. These are all living people whose work relates directly or indirectly to the environment. Whether by courageous action or quiet passion, they encourage me to believe in making the world a better place.

There is no one whose writings I relate to more closely than those of Barry Lopez. He is a nature writer and author of fiction. Perhaps most famous is his volume of essays, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape, which won the National Book Award in 1986. His prose tenderly illuminates both nature and the human psyche.

I first heard of Lopez when some writer friends were raving about Arctic Dreams. The first of his books I encountered was About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory, a memoir comprised of encounters with nature. To this day it influences my way of seeing things, and ideas about photography and travel. Then I discovered two collections of short stories: Light Action in the Caribbean: Stories and Field Notes: The Grace Note of the Canyon Wren. His fiction touches truth as profoundly as his essays.

Only later did I read Arctic Dreams, providing a lucid vision of the Far North for people who will never have an opportunity to visit it. More than any writer I know, Lopez has the gift to evoke sense of place. He portrays not only landscape structures, but the spirits that inhabit them. He writing is founded on a deep appreciation for the architecture of language.

He says, “The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.”

His investigation of the world convinces him we are in the midst of dire changes. We cannot protect our place in nature without a drastic change in behaviour and priorities, but he maintains we are capable of such a conscious revolution.

When he appeared on the final program of Bill Moyers Journal, he said: “But I’m not writing about nature. I’m writing about humanity. And if I have a subject, it is justice. And the rediscovery of the manifold way in which our lives can be shaped by the recovery of a sense of reverence for life.”

If you enjoyed this article, check the rest of my series on people who inspire:

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