Embrace fearlessly the burning world
Normally I would have something negative to say about the inherent weakness of collections of work not written to be collected together, but I can’t muster that. Here’s the closest thing to a negative I’ll say about one of my heroes, Barry Lopez: judging by these texts, the man really loved to make sure you know he’s enjoying an austral season. He’s always stepping out into an austral winter or enjoying an austral summer, or listening to austral birdsong in an austral alpine shoulder season. We get it, Barry. You’re in the Tanami Desert or Bali or Chile or standing literally in Amundesn’s bootprints on an Antarctic ridge, and we’re probably not.
If that joke is at all funny (and I don’t think it is), that’s because of its irony. Because, although he wrote about the natural world, Lopez was not a thrill-seeker or peak bagger of a writer. He was humble, wise, knowledgeable, observant. “Witness, not achievement, is what I was after,” he writes here. And witness he did. Here is testament in essay form to the kind of person you could become if you saw as much as possible of this planet while paying incredible attention. “The central project of my adult life as a writer,” he writes in another piece here, “is to know and love what we have been given, and to urge others to do the same.”
Barry Lopez was one of our most essential writers, and his death a year ago hit me like a gut punch. We needed his voice, and this collection is shot through with his klaxons at the urgency of our times, and heartbreaking in his his forthright exploration of his own traumas. I would by no means start an exploration of Lopez’s work with this volume, but there is something here for everyone, and for those who, like me, felt his death (a year ago to the day as I write this) like a gut punch, this is a must-read.
- Random House (2022), 353 pages
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- Publisher Description
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • A “lyrical” (Chicago Tribune) final work of nonfiction from the National Book Award–winning author of Arctic Dreams and Horizon, a literary icon whose writing, fieldwork, and mentorship inspired generations of writers and activists. “Mesmerizing . . . a master observer . . . whose insight and moral clarity have earned comparisons to Henry David Thoreau.”—The Wall Street Journal ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Lit Hub, BookPage An ardent steward of the land, fearless traveler, and unrivaled observer of nature and culture, Barry Lopez died after a long illness on Christmas Day 2020. The previous summer, a wildfire had consumed much of what was dear to him in his home place and the community around it—a tragic reminder of the climate change of which he’d long warned. At once a cri de coeur and a memoir of both pain and wonder, this remarkable collection of essays adds indelibly to Lopez’s legacy, and includes previously unpublished works, some written in the months before his death. They unspool memories both personal and political, among them tender, sometimes painful stories of his childhood in New York City and California, reports from expeditions to study animals and sea life, recollections of travels to Antarctica and other extraordinary places on earth, and meditations on finding oneself amid vast, dramatic landscapes. He reflects on those who taught him, including Indigenous elders and scientific mentors who sharpened his eye for the natural world. We witness poignant returns from his travels to the sanctuary of his Oregon backyard, adjacent to the McKenzie River. And in prose of searing candor, he reckons with the cycle of life, including his own, and—as he has done throughout his career—with the dangers the earth and its people are facing. With an introduction by Rebecca Solnit that speaks to Lopez’s keen attention to the world, including its spiritual dimensions, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World opens our minds and souls to the importance of being wholly present for the beauty and complexity of life. “This posthumously published collection of essays by nature writer Barry Lopez reveals an exceptional life and mind . . . While certainly a testament to his legacy and an ephemeral reprieve from his death in 2020, this book is more than a memorial: it offers a clear-eyed praxis of hope in what Lopez calls this ‘Era of Emergencies.’”—Scientific American (Publisher’s Description)
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