In southern California, below Interstate 8 and west along the Mexican border, in the middle of the desert just beyond an arroyo, rests an ancient intaglio, a horse carved out of stone ("Horse" 401). If by chance you were to come across such a natural relic, perhaps you would first take a picture. Perhaps you would initially approach to get a closer look. Perhaps you would immediately run your fingers over the coarse, intricate indentations of the nose, the ears, the hooves. However, when writer Barry Lopez first came upon the stone horse, he did nothing. He simply stood in his place. Still. Silent. And he did not just happen upon the horse; he had been looking for it. Yet, at the sight of it, Lopez recalls being "startled, and that I held my breath" (401). This is not the only instance in which nature inspires awe in the writer. It occurs again in "Orchids on the Volcanoes" as he watches sleeping Flamingos drift on a lagoon in Isla Rabida, an island of the Galapagos. It occurs again in "Learning to See" as he witnesses a vivid "fleeting pattern of light falling at dusk on a windbreak of trees in Mitchell, Oregon" (236). In every encounter, Lopez observes nature with passionate reverence and spirituality that renders him speechless. But he does not write merely to relay his reaction. Barry Lopez wants us to replenish our dwindling respect for nature by sharing in the experience that nature affords us.
Through his naturalist essays, Lopez restrains that immediate urge we have to pet the horsey, take a Polaroid, and move on. He persuades us to appreciate the urge. He strives to teach us about the inherently liberating spirit of nature, about how in just experiencing one moment with nature "ever...
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...ea lion pup, rudely shunned by the other adults, waits with resolute cheer for a mother who clearly will never return from the sea. You extend your fingers here to the damp, soft rims of orchids, blooming white on the flanks of dark volcanoes. (53)
Lopez invites us to partake in the spiritual connection we share with nature and history, which awards us both independence in our world and compelling attachment to it. He bids us to notice the "complexity of [nature's] beauty" (54), and-like the effect it continues to have on Barry Lopez time and time again-to let it render us speechless.
Grice, Gordon G. "The Black Widow." Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Robert DiYanni. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 313-317.
Lopez, Barry. "The Stone Horse." Hoy II. 399-406.
Lopez, Barry. About This Life. New York: Vintage, 1998.
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