Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez
Book Report by Kelly Greenwood
Themes: Far North, Wildlife, Native Eskimos, Natural History
I know I’m late to the game on this one, but that is the wonderful thing about books—they are reborn every time a new mind opens their cover. And my mind is blown away by Arctic Dreams. Lopez is well known for invoking a deep sense of place in his work, and since I began reading this book my mind has not strayed far from the wild white world of the north..
This book is filled with light, from sweeping descriptions of the aura borealis that catch your breath to the beautiful moment when the sun returns to the arctic in spring. This book can both help you chase away the cold and embrace it. In a chapter entitled “Ice and Light,” he writes,
“Arresting color in the Arctic is found more often in the sky, with its vivid twilights and the aurora borealis. (The predominant colors of the aurora are a pale green and a soft rose. I turned over a weathered caribou antler once on the tundra and found these same colors staining its white surface. Such correspondence, like that between a surfacing guillemot and an Eskimo man rolling upright in his kayak, hold a landscape together.)”
For those of us who have not yet had the pleasure to see the Arctic, Lopez’s words are what hold this landscape together.
Lopez is an observer of the highest quality, humble and generous while staying critical and curious. He stands up for a place he believes in simply by telling it’s story, and when you know the arctic as Lopez does, I dare you to not fall in love. This book is also extremely relevant today, as the current administration eyes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. If the Arctic of Lopez’s dreams is going to survive, it’s going to need people everywhere to love it.
“For some people, what they are is not finished at the skin, but continues with the reach of the sense out into the land. If the land is summarily disfigured or reorganized, it causes them psychological pain. Again, such people are attached to the land as if by luminous fibers; and they live in a kind of time that is not of the moment but, in concert with memory, extensive, measured by a lifetime. To cut these fibers causes not only pain but a sense of dislocation.”
This is a book for history buffs, anthropologists, explorers, observers, naturalists, politicians, hunters, and philosophers. As we are all at some time or another at least one of those people, this book is for you.
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