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On the edge, calling back: An interview with Barry Lopez

Arctic Iceberg

I had the recent pleasure of reading a great interview with Barry Lopez that I would like to share here on Ekostories. I’ve long admired Lopez’s writing; Arctic Dreams remains one of the most perceptive and spellbinding books I’ve read in recent years. In the interview, Patrick Pittman chats with the celebrated author on “ethics, hope, death, and the importance of good people in times that are not.”

Lopez comes across as someone who has lived life deeply and reflected upon it a great deal, especially in the last stages of his life, but what I find equally interesting are Pittman’s probing questions on nature, writing, and legacy. I’ve included a few of them below:

On the responsibility that comes with naming:

“You write about places that are relatively untouched by the human hand. Of course, nothing’s untouched, but there’s an idea of land being at least unspoiled. In capturing these places, you make them a known place. There’s a danger in that; there’s got to be some sort of care and obligation when you write about these spaces.”

On the perils of language to entice and attract:

“By finding the language to open up and elevate the landscape that you’re describing, you’re also extending an invitation to people who are attracted to it in the same way that they might be attracted to the description of a new sitcom or something like that, who say, ‘Oh this should be great, let’s go and do it’….’Let’s do the Arctic.'”

The contradiction between preservation and connection: 

“In our privileged, urban lives, we have a problematic relationship with land and wildness. We have a romanticized idea of authenticity and preservation that often means we should go nowhere near something. There is of course often an ethical obligation to not go near, to respect, to stay away. But also, it seems vital for humanity that we do know and connect with land at a profound level. How do we do both of those things simultaneously?”

What it means to write in today’s climate:

“If you take Bill McKibben at his word on climate change, and I do, we’re past the point where we can stop what’s coming. How do you write or engage with hope when there is that knowledge looming over us? We can’t fix it anymore, if we ever could.”

How to engage with a different way of seeing and being:

“When writing about indigenous communities throughout the world as the privileged western writer, even with the trust and invitation of those communities, how do you go about it so as not to be imposing or condescending or imperialist?”

To read Lopez’s responses to Pittman’s thoughtful questions, click the link below for the full interview, or check out Issue 3 of The Alpine Review.

Click Here for the Full Interview

Feature image by AWeith on Wikimedia Commons.

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