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The Silent Nature Of Barry Lopez

2507 words - 11 pages

The Silent Nature of Barry Lopez

In southern California, below Interstate 8 and west along the Mexican border, in the middle of the desert just beyond an arroyo, rests an ancient intaglio, a horse carved out of stone ("Horse" 401). If by chance you were to come across such a natural relic, perhaps you would first take a picture. Perhaps you would initially approach to get a closer look. Perhaps you would immediately run your fingers over the coarse, intricate indentations of the nose, the ears, the hooves. However, when writer Barry Lopez first came upon the stone horse, he did nothing. He simply stood in his place. Still. Silent. And he did not just happen upon the horse; he had been ...view middle of the document...

We can learn only when we accept the role of witness. The essays of Barry Lopez instruct us in the art of bearing witness, of being speechless.

The brilliance of Barry Lopez lies in his ability to convey his reactions so convincingly and earnestly that they leave us speechless in awe of nature. Lopez witnesses the breathtaking beauty of the dry expanse of Galapagos plains, "a lay of rubble like a storm-ripped ocean frozen at midnight" (52). This portrait vividly captivates the imagination and poetically appeals to the intellect, enhancing our appreciation for the landscape Lopez lays before us. He consistently brushes his observations with tender imagery that bears the signature of his own intimacy with nature. In "Apologia," as he travels from Oregon to Indiana, Lopez stops his car again and again to remove dead animals from the highway, "each animal. . . like a solitary child's shoe in the road" (114). In one instance, "he gently relocates a doe by the petals of her ears" (115). Each episode finds Lopez mourning another part of nature which nature has lost. After experiencing the violent deaths and watching Lopez deal with them with such compassionate sensitivity, we are no longer desensitized to the crushed creatures we often encounter ourselves and disregard without a second thought. We become suddenly, silently conscious of our destructive carelessness.

Yet, being speechless is only the first step. Lopez's obsession with nature makes us aware of our connection to it. This obsession manages to transcend mere fascination because Barry Lopez does not set himself apart from the nature he regards, but harbors a passionate sense of kinship with it. In disagreement with the contemporary mentality of detachment, Lopez writes about nature with a sense of belonging. With each new location, he experiences a connection to nature because of something timeless that came before, something that can only be described as history. His essays are like travelogues of places he has been and nature he has observed, all thoroughly detailed. In fact, each location marks a historical connection of sorts.

When Lopez stops for a lifeless rabbit on Nebraska 806, or the doe, north of Pinedale in western Wyoming on US 189, below the Gros Ventre Range, he emphasizes the land's implicit history and connection to humanity. The landmarks read like gravesites in "Apologia." Each "dark blister" he removes from the road leaves a tombstone of blood and flesh, a monument to the desecration of the relationship between humans and nature (113). Lopez also witnesses the Galapagos enduring their own devastation: "The nobility that may occasionally mark a scarred human face gleams here" (52). Recalling the land's endurance against the passing of time, these scars celebrate an existence that predates the influence of man. In comparison, our legacy is insignificant; yet, sadly, it can be traced in the scars we leave behind, scars of human destruction embedded by those too...

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