Sometimes called the modern Thoreau, Barry Lopez had a reporter’s insights and a naturalist’s focus on the relationships between humanity and the natural world. He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but is perhaps best known for his non-fiction book on the fragile Arctic, Arctic Dreams (1986), which was awarded a National Book Award that same year.
Arctic Dreams was memorable and haunting in terms of its depiction of the land, animals, and people of the far North – a land whose fragility unfortunately has only come into public consciousness due to climate change. But he also spoke of the resiliency of the residents in that same fragile land.
I still recall his paragraph on the Inuit people who he called mechanical geniuses; he wrote they could be handed a broken mechanical device they had never seen before and fix it. In a harsh land of very little, everything encountered had to be used. One hopes they have the resiliency to survive the destruction of the climate of their lands.
Lopez went on to write other books and whether fiction or non-fiction, his voice through his writing was always that of a humanist, focusing on the relationship between human beings, their society, and the lands they both inhabit.
Barry Lopez died from cancer on Christmas Day, 2020.
In his final interview with Patagonia in 2019, he talked about his work and the challenges he believes we still face as a society. While his voice has been stilled, his words and message can, and need to, endure.
You can read the Patagonia interview here.