In his final days, Barry received many notes from dear friends far away. We sat next to his bed and read your letters, poems, messages. John Freeman's poem, "Dusk," was one of the last he heard.
DUSK by John Freeman
for Barry Lopez
Horizon fades from blue to black
with infinite tenderness in London
tonight. Yet even at full dusk a smear
of cobalt rings the tree line. Maybe
endless love awaits us. I know you believed
so, even as forests and rivers turned to fire,
libraries to ash. Now that you're not here
to tend them, I see the lamps you lit for us.
Sometimes it's important to see the darkness,
you would say, to regard one another other,
and our trembling. Or on other nights, like
now: we must look up. How is this same
moon in my sky hanging over Eugene these
small hours? Do you feel its comforts?
As you sleep through this final stretch
how badly I want you to know we have
the torches now, my friend, we'll protect the flame,
you are free to be the wind again.
From Barry's dear and trusted friend, John Keeble
I last saw Barry on October 11th, 2020. My wife, Claire, and I had driven from our place in Eastern Washington to see our son and his wife, who lived in Springfield, Oregon, to conduct some long delayed business, and to visit Barry and Debra Gwartney. The trip had been delayed for several reasons, including the Covid pandemic, and the Holiday Farm Fire in the McKenzie River Valley, which burned over 270,000 acres, including the property where Barry and Debra made their home.
So, we went in October, having seen an opening in various schedules, and taking care along the way to maintain distance and to wear our masks. We met Barry in Eugene, where he and Debra had rented an apartment. As it happened, Debra was away, having gone up to keep an appointment with, I think, insurance representatives at their home. By then we'd been glad to learn that their house and a guest house were still standing, though heavily smoke damaged. Other buildings and the wooded property itself were destroyed.
What struck me first about Barry was his frailty and deep despair. As we all knew, he'd been ill for some time, and now he said he didn't think he could withstand another hit. But then he had a glimmering and told us of plans to donate the cut down trees from the property to a river restoration project. Also, he planned to send seeds from the place to a friend in California, where they would be planted and then sent back to start a restored habitat on their land, including for the birds. Since raising pigeons during his childhood, Barry had loved birds. Once, he'd told us about the tree on their place they'd had to cut down and the several pileated woodpeckers that flew in, and then their confusion at finding the tree gone–nothing there to land on. In another, much darker vein there is his early essay, "The Passing Wisdom of Birds," in which he excoriates Hernando Cortés for destroying the aviaries of Mexico City. While granting that he might not live to see the new habitat, he said it was absolutely necessary that it be created.
Barry's writing was always directed toward hoped-for effects on this, our fragile planet, and toward promoting understanding among people who seek to find a home for their best intentions, for sharing those intentions, and for always listening carefully to the world. There's a section in the "Skraeling Island" chapter of his last book, Horizon, which treats the Thule people, the ancestors of the modern Inuit. The Thule elders were listened to attentively by their tribe. Their advice was always heeded. Yet the most important thing about those very elders was for them to retain their own capacity for listening. If they themselves ceased listening, their entire world would be upended and they'd be lost. Barry was a profoundly generous spirit and an attentive listener. That's what we'll most miss.
John Keeble is the author of eight books, including nonfiction, short stories, and six novels, most recently The Appointment: The Tale of Adaline Carson.
Barry's family is honored by the many rememberances written for him — so extensive an outpouring we are unable to include them all here. Many thanks to Szilvia Molnar, foreign rights director at Sterling Lord Literistic, who collected the following material and who wrote this:
Having worked in publishing since I was in my early twenties, I grew up in the industry thinking that the goal of a writer was to be as read as widely a possible. It wasn't until Barry Lopez passed away on Christmas Day I came to understand that a deeper gift a writer can endue is to inspire other writers. This was the first time I witnessed so many writers grieving over having lost one of theirs. Barry Lopez was an inspiration, a teacher, friend and mentor to so many of our most admired contemporary writers: Robert Macfarlane, Margaret Atwood, Sharon Olds, John Freeman, Pico Iyer and many more...So, the loss of Barry Lopez is twofold and, in a way, his presence lives on in us. As Peter Matson, Barry's agent wrote so eloquently in Orion Magazine: "Barry is still with us, a force, like gravity, that holds our world together. It is almost impossible to think of him in the past tense."
On his website, his wife Debra wrote: "His legacy will only grow from here—thank you for helping sustain a life imbued with intention and purpose. One of his most oft statements: "I want to live a life that helped." His life helped."
We collected our favorite tributes to acknowledge what Barry Lopez achieved beyond his writing. But also to remind everyone of the incredible works he left behind for us, which we will continue to enjoy, cherish, and champion.
Szilva and Danielle
"In a half-century of travel to 80 countries that generated nearly a score of nonfiction and fiction works, including volumes of essays and short stories, Mr. Lopez embraced landscapes and literature with humanitarian, environmental and spiritual sensibilities that some critics likened to those of Thoreau and John Muir."
—The New York Times
"'Even though I appear to write largely about other landscapes and animals,' he said in 1986 when he received the National Book Award for nonfiction, 'what is in my gut as a writer is a concern with the fate of the country I live in and the dignity and morality of the people I live with.'"
—The Washington Post
"National Book Award winner Barry Lopez was famous for chronicling his travels to remote places and the landscapes he found there. But his writings weren't simply accounts of his journeys — they were reminders of how precious life on earth is, and of our responsibility to care for it."
"Barry was not just a gifted writer, he was also someone who exemplified those virtues William Faulkner described in his Nobel acceptance speech as 'eternal verities' — 'the old verities and truths of the heart ... love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.'..More than this, Lopez's was one of the most intelligent, informed and urgent voices over the past 40 years calling us to repent of our destruction and devastation of the earth, an impassioned, poetic plea for us to come to our senses."
—The Salt Lake Tribune
"One of the great environmental writers of our time, he explored how we live justly with each other and with the earth...I don't think I've ever personally known a man or woman who was so loved by so many...His mind was always locked into the gifts…He loved the wind in his face—subzero was just fine with him. He loved to watch, observe, witness, listen, report, struggle to see, struggle to understand."
—Bob Shacochis, Outside Online
Crossing the River
Barry Lopez was born on the epiphany—January 6, 1945—and died on Christmas Day, 2020. The news of his death has spread, with notes of sympathy and gratitude for who he was and what he meant arriving from all quarters. This communal celebration of his life is a comfort while I learn to mourn my husband.
On Christmas Eve morning, he woke up and said, "It's a wonderful morning. How is everyone?" Barry entered nearly every day with joyful optimism, including his last ones.
Barry's passing was gentle. The five of us were with him, the four daughters he cherished and me. We played John Adams' music (a brother to Barry), we also played Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten" at full volume while we held him. In the final hours, we filled the room with Richard Nelson's (another brother) birdsong recordings—particularly the cackling ravens. We hung a self-portrait of Rick Bartow on the wall where Barry could see it. (Those two were probably already making mischief.)
Barry's dearest Auntie, Lillian Pitt, guided us. The scent of herbs, the prayers, the fresh air through the windows. The light. We told him a thousand times, a thousand-thousand times, that we love him, that we will love him always, that he could cross his river now. At 7:21, he stepped in, with one last long breath.
We washed him with water from the McKenzie River and wrapped him in a Pendleton blanket.
Barry's wish is for, yes, another brother—Dave Fross—to lead us over these next months in a post-fire recovery of our property on the river. I am eager to honor Barry in this way. I will be sending notices as the restoration gets going, and as a larger plan, a vision that I pray is as expansive as Barry's spirit (though that will be impossible, won't it), lands in just the right way at just the right time.
His legacy will only grow from here—thank you for helping sustain a life imbued with intention and purpose. He often repeated this statement: "I want to live a life that helped."
His life helped.
"To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords that bind the earth together."
For fifty years, Barry has traveled the world to bring stories back to the rest of us. He was always eager to return to his one true home on the McKenzie River in western Oregon, where he lived with this wife Debra. For that half century, Barry has been a devoted steward to his timberland while working closely with the McKenzie River Trust on broader conservation issues and enhancement of McKenzie forest and riverlands. For this reason, we encourage your support and financial contributions to the Trust in his memory, particularly in the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire, which burned much of the river corridor. Going forward, we look to the Trust as a partner in sustaining the land and homestead he cherished. We'll be sending notifications of our plans in the near future.
• • •
Barry's Statement on the Holiday Farm Fire
Early in September, my wife and I had to evacuate our home near Finn Rock, Oregon, ahead of a wind-driven wildfire advancing westward toward us down the McKenzie River Valley. We have been living in an apartment in Eugene, Oregon, ever since, and will soon move into a house we've rented in this town.
The fire did great damage to us and most all of our neighbors for some 20 miles along the north bank of the river, between the town of Vida and the hamlet of Rainbow, where the fire started at about 8:30 p.m. on September 7th, after a wind-whipped, high tension line snapped and ignited ground cover, tinder dry after many weeks of draught. More than 700 homes and outbuildings burned to the ground.
Our home and guest house are damaged but still standing. All of our outbuildings are gone, including a large archive building, along with 25 acres of mature, temperate-zone rain forest. The land around us as far as we can see looks flayed. For 10 miles in both directions along the river from us, all that stands where a whole community once lived are bare chimneys. The devastation for some is catastropic and irrepairable.
This part of the western Cascade Mountains was declared a National Disaster Area in September. The severity of the fire is widely thought to be the direct result of a climate change event.
We're deeply grateful to everyone who has connected us with offers of help. It is your love and support that sustains us as we deal with the aftermath of the fire, and endeavor, with many of our neighbors, to get back on our feet.
We are sorry not to be able to respond to all the inquires we have received.
- Public appearances scheduled through the spring of 2021 have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.
- In February 2020, Barry Lopez was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- Horizon is now available in paperback. Excerpts from the book appeared in Harper's, Orion, and Lapham's Journal. Review articles appeared in The New York Review of Books, by Verlyn Klinkenborg, The Guardian, by Robert Macfarlane, Outside, by Kate Harris, and in The Georgia Review, by Patrick Pittman. Long interviews appeared in The Sun and The Believer. Starred reviews ran in Kirkus, Library Journal, and Booklist. Horizon was listed among the Best Books of the Year by both The New York Times and NPR.
- The 2020 recipient of the Barry Lopez Visiting Writer Fellowship in Ethics and Community is Ilya Kaminsky. He will take up his residency in Hawai'i in the spring of 2021 and will make a presentation of his work in Kahului, Maui, at the same time, at a date to be determined.
- The Barry Lopez Foundation for Art & Environment, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will be presenting its first exhibitions, by video artist Janet Biggs and photgrahper Ron Jude, in the fall of 2021.
- This web site is currently undergoing redesign and updates. The information published here is correct but not complete.
From the National Book Award-winning author of the now-classic Arctic Dreams, a vivid, poetic, capacious work that recollects the travels around the world and the encounters–human, animal, and natural–that have shaped an extraordinary life.
Taking us nearly from pole to pole–from modern megacities to some of the most remote regions on the earth–and across decades of lived experience, Barry Lopez, hailed by the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "one of our finest writers," gives us his most far-ranging yet personal work to date, in a book that moves indelibly, immersively, through his travels to six regions of the world: from Western Oregon to the High Arctic; from the Galápagos to the Kenyan desert; from Botany Bay in Australia to finally, unforgettably, the ice shelves of Antarctica.
As he takes us on these myriad travels, Lopez also probes the long history of humanity's quests and explorations, including the prehistoric peoples who trekked across Skraeling Island in northern Canada, the colonialists who plundered Central Africa, an enlightenment-era Englishman who sailed the Pacific, a Native American emissary who found his way into isolationist Japan, and today's ecotourists in the tropics.
Throughout his journeys–to some of the hottest, coldest, and most desolate places on the globe–and via friendships he forges along the way with scientists, archaeologists, artists and local residents, Lopez searches for meaning and purpose in a broken world.
Horizon is a revelatory, epic work that voices concern and frustration along with humanity and hope–a book that makes you see the world differently, and that is the crowning achievement by one of America's great thinkers and most humane voices.
At a Glance
Barry Lopez was born in 1945 in Port Chester, New York. He grew up in Southern California and New York City and attended college in the Midwest before moving to Oregon, where he has lived since 1968. He is an essayist, author, and short-story writer, and has traveled extensively in remote and populated parts of the world.
He is the author of Arctic Dreams, for which he received the National Book Award; Of Wolves and Men, a National Book Award finalist, for which he received the John Burroughs and Christopher medals; and eight works of fiction, including Light Action in the Caribbean, Field Notes, and Resistance. His essays are collected in two books, Crossing Open Ground and About This Life. He contributes regularly to Harper's, Granta, The Georgia Review, Orion, Outside, The Paris Review, Manoa and other publications in the United States and abroad. His work is widely translated and appears in dozens of anthologies, including Best American Essays, Best Spiritual Writing, Best American Magazine Writing, and Best American Non-Required Reading, as well as the “best” collections from National Geographic, Outside, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review, and other periodicals.
His most recent books are Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (2006), a reader's dictionary of regional landscape terms, which he edited with Debra Gwartney, and Outside (2015), a collection of six stories with engravings by Barry Moser.
In his nonfiction, Mr. Lopez writes often about the relationship between the physical landscape and human culture. In his fiction, he frequently addresses issues of intimacy, ethics, and identity. His first stories were published in 1966. He has been a full-time writer since leaving graduate school in 1970 but occasionally accepts invitations to teach and lecture. He has served as the Welch Professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame and the Glenn Distinguished Professor at Washington & Lee University. He has also taught at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and other venues, and read or spoken at nearly a hundred universities. He travels regularly to Texas Tech University where he is the university's Visiting Distinguished Scholar.
Mr. Lopez, who was active as a landscape photographer prior to 1981, maintains close ties with a diverse community of artists. (See Jim Warren's Other Country: Barry Lopez and the Community of Artists.) He has collaborated with the composer John Luther Adams on several theater and concert productions, has spoken at exhibitions of the work of sculptor Michael Singer and photographer Robert Adams, and has written about painter Alan Magee, artists Lillian Pitt and Rick Bartow, and potter Richard Rowland. He has also collaborated with playwright Jim Leonard, Jr., on a production of his illustrated fable Crow and Weasel, which opened at The Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis, and worked on a production of Coyote at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., a play based on his book Giving Birth to Thunder. The fine press limited editions he's collaborated on most recently, include Apologia and The Letters of Heaven, both with artist Robin Eschner; The Mappist and Anotaciones, with book artist Charles Hobson, and Six Thousand Lessons with designer Sandy Tilcock. These and other of his fine press limited editions are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the National Gallery, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the New York Public Library, Stanford, Yale, and other universities and institutions.
Mr. Lopez is a recipient of the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the John Hay Medal, Guggenheim, Lannan, and National Science Foundation fellowships, Pushcart Prizes in fiction and nonfiction, the St. Francis of Assisi Award from DePaul University, the Denise Levertov Award from Image magazine, and honors from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Association of American Geographers, the New York Public Library, the Nature Conservancy, and the American Society of Magazine Editors. In 2002 he was elected a Fellow of The Explorers Club.
Mr. Lopez lives on the upper McKenzie River on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, with his wife, the writer Debra Gwartney.
In 2001, Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, acquired Barry Lopez's manuscripts, notebooks, field journals, professional correspondence, and other archival materials and with them founded the James E. Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community, and the Natural World. At the same time, to inaugurate the collection, the University also acquired the papers of William Kittredge, David Quammen, Pattiann Rogers, and Annick Smith. Since then, the Sowell Collection has purchased the papers and correspondence of Bill McKibben, Gretel Ehrlich, Gary Nabhan, Rick Bass, David James Duncan, Robert Michael Pyle, John Lane, Marc Reisner, and others. It has also acquired the archives of the The Orion Society and developed supporting collections of work by Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland, and Howard Norman.
In 2003 Lopez was appointed the University's first Visiting Distinguished Scholar, a position that formally recognized a variety of projects he had been working on since the university acquired his papers. In 2001, he and E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, designed a new undergraduate major for TTU's Honors College, the BA in Environment and the Humanities. It combined study in the sciences and humanities into a single degree program. In 2004, with then associate dean of libraries William E. Tydeman, he established the endowed Formby Lectures in Social Justice. Since 2001 he has brought exhibits to the University's art gallery, taught workshops, let field trips, and met with students in a wide range of disciplines, including Land Arts, Biology, History, Geography, and American Literature.
Lopez visits the Lubbock campus twice annually in the spring and fall.
Updated 30 October 2020
Contents © 1966 to current, by
Barry Holstun Lopez. All Rights Reserved.