By Barry Lopez Knopf, 572 pages, $30
English to its people.
They are models and touchstones for him not only because they spent their lives venturing to utterly unfamiliar places, armed with curiosity and courage, but because those lives reflect the immense difficulties of communicating across cultures – a communication he believes is an urgent necessity today.
“Horizon” is an epic journey for readers, 512 pages of text dense with natural and human history, adventure tales and miniature biographies, science of all kinds – biology, geology, anthropology and more – as well as personal memoir. It’s a book to read slowly and contemplatively despite the urgency of its mission.
Lopez begins “Horizon” with a sweet vacation sojourn, watching his young grandson play in the waves at a Hawaiian resort. When they visit Pearl Harbor, Lopez tries to explain war to the child and finds his tongue stopped. The boy “has not yet heard, I think, of Dresden or the Western Front, perhaps not even of Antietam or Hiroshima. I won’t tell him today about those other hellfire days. He’s too young. It would be inconsiderate – cruel, actually – pointedly to fill him in.”
Such knowledge is what we try to protect ourselves from as well. Even when we talk about climate change and environmental degradation, we seldom voice their most personal effects. If the planet becomes unsurvivable, it is not only polar bears and rain forests that will perish. It’s our grandchildren.
“Horizon” trembles with that message, and with its author’s boundless love for the world he travels. “It is here,” he writes, “with these attempts to separate the fate of the human world from that of the nonhuman world that we come faceto-face with a biological reality that halts us in our tracks: nature will be fine without us. …
“What cataclysm, I often wonder, or better, what act of imagination will it finally require, for us to be able to speak meaningfully with one another about our cultural fate and about our shared biological fate?”