The lasting legacy of Barry Lopez

By Naomi Klouda

The Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference workshop by Debra Gwartney was rapidly filling up Saturday afternoon at Land’s End Resort. Her topic was the memoir, its distinctions from other types of writings also biographical or fact-based. Apparently, a topic of importance among many of the 155 participants of the conference.

National Book Award Winner Barry Lopez

Author Barry Lopez, often called America’s conscience and its premier nature writer, is married to Gwartney. He had taken a seat in the back of the room. As more people came in, he first gave up his own seat, then he picked up chairs and set out more seats for the late comers. Finally, he was left standing throughout the nearly two-hour seminar on memoir writing. He didn’t seem to mind. He attended to the door tenderly as people came and went, to ensure the door didn’t make noise.
The conference continued, leading up to Lopez’s keynote address that evening in the Mariner Theatre. There, he would talk about what is the writer’s role in the world today? What are we supposed to be doing? What are the urgencies of our time? Lopez lent insights as he read essays and a short fiction piece of his own. It’s difficult to condense Lopez, whose lengthy discussions form whole books on his key preoccupations. Yet one simple statement resonated: How do you best take care of each other? How can people take better care of one another?
Lopez finds answers from slow walks he’s taken in the more quiet areas of the world these past four or five decades. He feels more comfortable in Arctic wilderness or with desert tribesmen in Africa and Australia than he does in the metropolitan areas of civilization. In these borderlands, he witnesses the diversity of human arrangements in order to address our survival and bring back the stories of problematic conditions created by today’s violent geopolitical environment. In bringing these stories back to us, he seems to desire we work on problems and celebrate together.
Writers keep going, even during times of doubt and darkness, he told his Homer audience, because “In some complex way, somebody loves us and we love them back. If you go back 15,000 years, a story teller had an obligation to the community. They didn’t work in a vacuum, and neither do we. We strive to help people understand who they are and how they take care of themselves.”
A seemingly simple humanitarian message from a nature writer. Yet, it’s primarily nature that binds us together, Lopez says. The breakdown of the planet through commercialism and the quest for resource profit hurts or decimates whole societies, resting at the heart of why wars are fought. Getting away from ourselves is happening in the technology race. He sticks to a typewriter for his own writings. Technology has its place, and he is considering the purchase of an iPhone. But he doesn’t feel comfortable with the hype of the new electronics advertising messages.
“They have the sound of drug dealers. It’s the language to get a junkie to need more and more,” he said.
Listening to elders, incorporating marginal peoples into public discussions – it will take this to seek unknown and unconsidered solutions for today’s bitterest problems. It is a message tribal people everywhere find true to their core of being. Lopez’ message strikes as important, beyond what he may teach writers at the conference. His message doesn’t bellow from the rooftops. It’s almost a quiet whisper – take care of one another.
When I read Lopez again, I will remember how he practices that in large and small ways, like giving out chairs so all can be involved in the discussion.

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Posted by on Jun 13th, 2012 and filed under Editorial, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses for “The lasting legacy of Barry Lopez”

  1. ET says:

    That’s our Barry!

  2. moris w. hughes says:

    Yes. Take care of one another. And wasn’t it the great master Himself, who asked us to love one another? To give of our selves. To treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. To forgive others again and again. And the big challenge – to love our enemies. Hey man, screw the dumb stuff and get along with people.

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