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Barry Lopez
Barry Lopez, photo by Robin Holland
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April 30, 2010

His travels have taken him to some of the most inhospitable places on the earth, outside the furthest reaches of human civilization. But Barry Lopez always returns to his home in Oregon to write about what he has seen.

And though nature is often his inspiration, it is not his subject, Lopez tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL, "I'm not writing about nature. I'm writing about humanity. And if I have a subject, it is justice. And the rediscovery of the manifold way in which our lives can be shaped by the recovery of a sense of reverence for life."

Drawing in part from philosopher Paul Woodruff's book, REVERENCE: RENEWING A FORGOTTEN VIRTUE, Lopez defines reverence as understanding "that the world will always be there, no matter how sophisticated our technologies of probing reality become. The great mystery will be there forever. And it's the sense that it's not yours to solve. And the issue of a solution to a mystery is perhaps not a sign of wisdom. I am perfectly comfortable being in a state of ignorance before something incomprehensible. And it's in that moment that you're driven to your knees and you believe — I wouldn't call it religious. It's just what happens when you open up again to the extraordinary circumstances of being alive."

>>Watch Bill Moyers and Paul Woodruff discuss reverence.

In addition to Paul Woodruff, Lopez mentions many great works that have helped shape his concept of his place in the world. From Copernicus and Darwin to J.S. Bach and Martin Buber, Lopez draws from a range of thinkers and artists as broad as his travels.

>>Find out more about some of the thinkers Lopez mentioned in the interview.

But one of his most important teachers, according to Lopez, never wrote a book or stood in a classroom, "I can remember walking on different — what a scientist would call a substrate — walking in sand or on rock or across water. Not on the water. But my body will talk to me and say, 'I was listening when you were not paying attention. And here's what your body learned through its senses about the world that you were moving in.' So, the earth has been a teacher."

>>Watch Barry Lopez read one of his stories, THE TRAIL.

Barry Lopez
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 GRANTA, THE GEORGIA REVIEW, ORION, OUTSIDE, THE PARIS REVIEW, MANOA and other publications in the United States and abroad. His work has appeared in dozens of anthologies, including BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS, BEST SPIRITUAL WRITING, and the "best" collections from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, OUTSIDE, THE GEORGIA REVIEW, THE PARIS REVIEW, and other periodicals.

His most recent book is HOME GROUND: LANGUAGE FOR AN AMERICAN LANDSCAPE, a reader's dictionary of regional landscape terms, which he edited with Debra Gwartney.

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 been the Welch professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, has taught fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and 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. 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 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 recently, including APOLOGIA and THE LETTERS OF HEAVEN, both with artist Robin Eschner, and THE MAPPIST and ANOTACIONES, with book artist Charles Hobson, 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, and other honors. In 2004 he was elected a fellow of The Explorers Club.

Guest portrait by Robin Holland.
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References and Reading:
Barry Lopez's official Web site
Collected writings and information on speaking appearances.

Martin Buber
Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a philospher and teacher, best known for his "I-thou" philosophy and his book I AND THOU. After being silenced in his native Austria, he moved to Palestine in 1938, where he taught at Hebrew University until his retirement in 1951. His 1965 NEW YORK TIMES obituary can be found here. You can read a 1934 essay by Buber, "Teaching and Deed," here.

Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suites
Barry Lopez brings up Bach's Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello as a great work to contemplate in the face of horrors in the world. He tells Bill Moyers, "There is in the interior of those six cello suites that Bach wrote an homage to a quality that is apparent to a Western imagination about beautiful proportion and rhythm, increment and spatial volume. There's something captured in them. And that is the fuel that you use to open yourself up to everything else, even those things that break your heart." Lopez is not the only admirer of the suites, and they have been interpreted by many great cellists. Yo-Yo Ma speaks about and plays the 'Serabande' from Suite No. 5 here (the playlist includes other performances of the Suites). You can hear Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich playing the 'Prelude' from Cello Suite No. 1 here. Rostropovich, who left the Soviet Union as a political dissident in 1974, played a Bach below the crumbling Berlin Wall in 1989. You can see that brief performance here.

In the interview, Barry Lopez tells a story of Zeus, who after Prometheus steals fire, gives humanity Reverence and Justice to protect them from their new tool. The story first appears in Plato's dialogue PROTAGORAS, in which Protagoras, a Sophist, uses the tale to illustrate his belief that virtue can be taught. Though Plato's dialogue was his own invention, Protagoras was a real philosopher. You can read more about him here.

Epictetus was a slave and Stoic philosopher. According to the introduction to the Harvard Classics edition of THE GOLDEN SAYINGS OF EPICTETUS, "Epictetus is a main authority on Stoic morals. The points on which he laid chief stress were the importance of cultivating complete independence of external circumstances, the realization that man must find happiness within himself, and the duty of reverencing the voice of Reason in the soul. Few teachers of morals in any age are so bracing and invigorating; and the tonic quality of his utterances has been recognized ever since his own day by Pagan and Christian alike."

Also This Week:
Acclaimed author Barry Lopez joins Bill Moyers to discuss nature, spirit and the human condition. Lopez is an essayist, author and short-story writer, whose many books include ARCTIC DREAMS, winner of the National Book Award and OF WOLVES AND MEN, a National Book Award finalist.

Bill Moyers sits down with populist Jim Hightower to look at the history and legacy of people's movements and discuss how ordinary people can reclaim political power.

Explore American history, from the long tradition of dissent to Lincoln's life in pop culture.

The Journal also travels to Iowa where one group has been helping ordinary citizens fight for change for more than three decades.

View profiles from BILL MOYERS JOURNAL of people who are making a difference in their communities.

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