Review: "Fearlessly Embrace the Burning World", by Barry Lopez

The play, however, opens with a painful toll of years of sexual abuse suffered by Lopez as a child by a respected member of the community...


The play, however, opens with a painful toll of years of sexual abuse suffered by Lopez as a child by a respected member of the community. While living there, he desperately wanted to escape, but after his family moved, Lopez wrote, “I missed California to the point of heartbreak.” The sting of hares, the crashing waves, the smell of eucalyptus, the “surgical sharpness” of light – “without these things I believe I would have perished”. If you love it enough, he suggests, the earth will love you back and even heal you. No matter how much we degrade it, “it’s still there, vibrating in the shadow lines,” beneath the asphalt and concrete.

In the years that followed, Lopez traveled widely, preferring the clean, harsh lines of the desert and polar regions to the bustling tangle of cities. He strove to disentangle his wanderings from colonial myths of conquest. In an essay on Antarctica, Lopez writes of the “crudeness and brutality” of the nationalism that drove early 20th-century explorers to the continent and “the curious emptiness of their accomplishments”. Something more humble drove Lopez. “Perhaps the first rule of everything we strive for,” he writes, “is to be careful.”

Indeed, while these essays have a unifying theme and express a unique mandate, they are about the redemptive importance of caring for the planet and the other beings with whom we share it. Attention works as an antidote not only to distraction but also to the fatal lack of seriousness of modern life. “Each place is just itself and not repeated anywhere,” writes Lopez. “Miss it and go.” He describes this “intimacy” with the place in erotic terms, as something “primitive” and “ineffable”, “the appeasement of a particular type of desire” which results from an “intense and loving contact with Earth”.

Despite thrilling encounters with killer wolves and walruses, Lopez wasn’t looking for Animal Planet-worthy adventures. He wanted us to also seek out the human stories that reside in the landscape: the legacies of atrocities and exploitation that bounce around the rocks and valleys of this land as much as elk and coyotes. As a young man, Lopez made it a point to visit the scenes of battles and massacres in the centuries-old war of Euro-Americans against the native inhabitants of the continent. “The battle sites”, he writes, “were fewer than the massacre sites”. Most of these were unmarked. “What kind of governance is likely to develop,” he asks, among a people so devoted to amnesia? The question is rhetorical. We know the answer all too well.

The essays of “Fearlessly Embracing the Burning World” are not listed in chronological order, so the growing alarm of Lopez’s later years is recorded only as a kind of one-off urgency. “We can no longer afford to continue in a protracted era of polite reflection and ineffectual resistance,” he wrote in an article published last year. The implications of mindfulness, it becomes clear, are radical and profound.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: "Fearlessly Embrace the Burning World", by Barry Lopez
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