I admit: I had never heard or run across writer Barry Lopez before (as far as I remember), and I only got my hands on Horizon because it was in the Little Free Library in our neighborhood. The title and cover art caught my eye. I took a chance. Once inside book of powerful, exploratory essays by Lopez, I was hooked.
Later, after listening to an NPR retrospective of Lopez, who died late last year, I realized how strong was the resonance of his writing over time for many readers and writers.
A previous book — Arctic Dreams — won many accolades and his writing for environmental and science publications is a long and admirable list. I read Horizon (at 512 dense pages of story) over many months (rare for me to take that long with any book and to stay with it, but I wanted Lopez’s journeys across the world and observations about the changing climate, to settle with me over time).
His journeys here take him from his home in Oregon to Skraeling Island to Africa, Australia and the Antarctic, and beyond. Each place is so different, even as Lopez weaves the story of humanity and discovery into each location.
I would not call Lopez a travel writer, although his writing comes from his travels. He’s more of a naturalist, an environmental writer who wonders about the world and then goes out, and finds ways to discover and share his insights. He embeds himself with scientists of all ilk, and his wanderings take him to tropical places to arctic places, and everywhere in between.
It seems to me that Lopez is most interested in our collective human footprints on the world, for good and for bad, and how we might make sense of change through what has come before, and maybe make some adjustments for what comes next. Horizon is not an collection overtly about Climate Change, but the changing planet and humans role in that change is a constant underlying echo of everything here, and the topic that worries Lopez on his journeys.
He ends Horizon on a poetic note, asking the reader to wonder “what is out there, just beyond the end of the road …?” and suggests our collective future “arrives as a cantus, tying the faraway place to the thing living deep inside us, a canticle that releases us from the painstaking assembly of the milagros, year after year, and from a faith only in miracles.” (Lopez, p. 512, in Horizon)
I’m still mulling over those lines — maybe among the last he wrote — and what they meant for Lopez, an experienced observer, and what the words might mean for me, and maybe for all of us.
Peace (looking out on horizon),
PS — Cantus is a song from African culture; Canticle is a Christian hymn; and milagros are Mexican folk charms. I had to look up each of those words, and am grateful I did, and happy to share.