What might it be like to explore the woods or parks nearby with someone like author Barry Lopez?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Barry Lopez is the author of many essays as well as works of both fiction and non-fiction, and his primary concern in most of those writings is the relationship between man and his environment, including animals. His view of these things has been shaped over the course of his lifetime, perhaps beginning with his growing-up years when he lived on his stepfather's orchard. A walk to a local park or woods with Barry Lopez would be fascinating, as he would undoubtedly see things I would miss and find beauty in things which I might find ugly or, maybe worse, things which I would not notice at all.

In his National Book Award winning book Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape, Lopez makes this point:

Because you have seen something doesn't mean you can explain it. Differing interpretations will always abound, even when good minds come to bear.

While he believes an indisputable piece of information about many subjects is knowable, he asserts that people always interpret those tiny dots of truth to suit their political, social, cultural, or environmental views. Knowing this would make Lopez an interesting walking partner, as he would be less likely to try to explain the things he sees and more likely just to see what is without trying to explain it. 

Lopez also believes nature has something to teach people. In About This Life, he says this:

Over the years, one comes to measure a place, too, not just for the beauty it may give, the balminess of its breezes, the insouciance and relaxation it encourages, the sublime pleasures it offers, but for what it teaches. The way in which it alters our perception of the human. It is not so much that you want to return to indifferent or difficult places, but that you want to not forget.

If this is true, then what is most important about the world around us is not how beautiful it is but what we can learn from it. His point, of course, is that every place we visit, especially in nature, provides us with an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. In the peaceful silence of a quiet place or even in the middle of a raucous and ugly place, we can think and contemplate and, ideally, learn something more about ourselves while doing so. 

Finally, observing nature with Lopez would be an intriguing thing to do because of his unique perspective. He was once a landscape photographer, and this literally caused him to look at nature through a certain lens. In an interview, linked below, Lopez talks about modern environmental groups who put out calendars and who

were consciously trying to create gorgeous, overwhelming images.

In fact, in their efforts to create some kind of visual ideal, Lopez compares them to Playboy photographers who make their living arranging certain kinds of figures into certain kinds of poses that will please their audience. Instead, he argues, these groups should be looking for beauty in "ordinary landscapes." 

I would appreciate having someone who finds beauty in the commonplace walk with me through the parks and woods near my home because I would undoubtedly see beauty in them which I have overlooked. While I might have noticed a grand old gnarled tree, for example, he might point out the root system or some other aspect of it that I had failed to see because I was caught up in the obvious. 

Anyone who sees things in a unique way would be interesting to spend time with, and I would hope to learn something about looking for beauty in the ordinary things. 

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