Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because Barry Lopez’s story assumes the outward appearance of an essay, it is difficult to ascribe to it any specific setting, plot, or action. Its setting—if such must be defined—is within the writer’s mind, for the reader hears only the voice of the narrator, explaining how he ultimately understood that his stepfather’s world and his own are in fact the same. In building toward that understanding—which comes not at the end but in the middle of the story (after which it is reinforced by the rest of the story), the author uses “two very mundane observations” of surprisingly strong revelatory impact.

Those observations, beginning with a mere speeding “glance” at a “single broken branch hanging down” in a snow-covered filbert orchard, remind the narrator, as if in photographic negative detail, of an earlier memory of Ramon Castillo standing in the moonlight, “gazing at the stars.” It is at that precise moment of visionary recall that the orchards, which the narrator once viewed as “penal colonies” with “the trees as prisoners,” become for him individual trees, alive, “like sparrows frozen in flight,” and “like all life—incandescent, pervasive.” The narrator asserts that in that moment he feels “like an animal suddenly given its head.” Suddenly, he is freed of all questions and indecision.

Oddly enough, throughout the entire story the only character mentioned by name is Ramon Castillo, whom the...

(The entire section is 582 words.)