Barry Lopez and a Sense of Place

Barry Lopez—A Sense of Place

Barry Lopez, the brilliant humanitarian, environmentalist, and writer who passed in 2020, wrote most often about the web of relationships found in particular environments. Lopez worked to cultivate in himself and others an openness to relationships, relationships to place, space, wilderness, and other animals. He argued that the loss of wilderness did not only threaten biodiversity, beauty, or resources. According to Lopez, “We stand to lose the focus of our ideals. We stand to lose our sense of dignity, of compassion, even our sense of what we call God” (204).

Without a sense of mystery, of functional difference, on what basis would we respect anyone else? If we can’t respect anyone else, we can’t respect ourselves, and we lose all sense of dignity as an intrinsic experience.

Without a sense of other, we lose a sense of self.

In his essay “Children in the Woods, Barry Lopez writes, “The brightest children, it has often struck me, are fascinated by metaphor—with what is shown in the set of relationships bearing on the racoon, for example, to lie quite beyond the racoon. In the end, you are trying to make clear to them that everything found at the edge of one’s senses—the high note of the winter wren, the thick perfume of propolis that drifts downwind from spring willows, the brightness of wood chips scattered by beaver—that all this fits together. The indestructibility of these associations conveys a sense of permanence that nurtures the heart, that cripples one of the most insidious of human anxieties, the one that says, you do not belong here, you are unnecessary” (149-150).

Nothing unnecessary exists, at least not in the sense that it exists through connection, through the senses and emotions, the shared boundary of touch, or comparison and contrast. Awareness springs from the fact that we are in relationship at all times. Therefore, the necessity of any one person, place, or thing grows from the relationships to, with, and within that person, place, or thing.

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