- Horizon by Barry Lopez (The Bodley Head, London, 2020).
- 592 pages, black-and-white maps.
- ISBN 9781529111248. Pbk, £10.99.
- Bookshop from £9.99
Once a decade or so, American fiction writer Barry Lopez emerges with a weighty non-fiction slab of insights into our relationships with nature. The best of these are probably 1978's Of Wolves and Men and 1986's monolithic and life-changing Arctic Dreams; Horizon can be seen as an expansive, worthy follow-up to the latter in many respects.
Lopez's prose is sparingly poetic, shot through with a love of being in the wild and peppered with the novel insights of a truly reflective observer. These details are woven into a cohesive and global narrative as the author assembles the autobiographical encounters he has amassed during a life of research, travelling and exploration.
Whichever landscape Lopez visits, he places it in the context of human history and his own age and mortality, eking out the journeys of ancient peoples and colonial discovery in tandem with his own observations, and commenting on more recent wars and modern ecotourism.
Despite its empathy and compassion – Lopez says he wants "everyone here to survive what is coming" – the text sustains a state of grief for both the past and what is likely to come. The passage of time is the main character in this era-spanning story right from its beginning by a Honolulu swimming pool, and the destruction we are wreaking on the earth stains the prose all the way to the book's final section in Antarctica.
Lopez's gaze stretches along the never-attainable horizon into the past and, bleakly, into the future. The latter provides the real tension in the book: we must pause to objectively examine and emotionally feel nature, but we must act swiftly to save it, even as our own lives cumulatively destroy it.
Fans of Lopez's work have waited a long time for a robust sequel to Arctic Dreams and, now it has arrived, it is no let down. This is a book to be read slowly, savouring the descriptive language and side-tracking to research the human and natural history touched on by its long reach. Its subjects are never covered superficially, but with understanding and wonder gleaned from each of the six main landscapes the author uses to illustrate the geographical mapping of his life.
If you have nature in your soul, you won't regret spending time reading this book when you're not outside – it will inspire, enthral and encourage your own reflections and observations. In this sense, it is both practical and escapist, and there is no greater praise for such a work of expansive non-fiction, a late enrichment to an already deep and wide life's work.