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AN INTERVIEW WITH BARRY LOPEZ Barry Lopez The following is an interview with Barry Lopez, conducted by Kay Bonetti for the American Audio Prose Library, March 1985, at the author's home on the McKenzie River in Oregon, where he lives in a farmhouse in a rain forest at the base of the Cascade Mountains with his wife Sandra, a bookwright, and his dog, Desert, who is featured in the epilogue to Of Wolves and Men, which won the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing. His most recent book is a collection of essays, Crossing Open Ground (Charles Scribners). An Interview with Barry Lopez / Kay Bonetti Interviewer: You Uved in southern California, in the country, until you were eleven and then moved to New York City. You were educated in Jesuit schools and went to Notre Dame. How has this particular combination of influences affected your work? Lopez: At least to me it's ver)' clear that my life is divided. I deeply enjoy the time that I spend with animals and being on rivers and just being at a great distance from the overpowering influence of human creations. And at the same time, I have a deep and abiding love for libraries and for books and for scholarship. The sorts of stories that I'm attracted to in a nonfiction way are those that try to bring some of those remote areas closer for a reader by establishing some kind of personal intimacy with the place, but also by drawing on the work of archaeologists and historians and biologists. I have a great deal of regard for that formal, educated way of learning about the world. At the same time, I have been privileged to travel myself over much of North America, and have come to live it deeply. The forests in New England or the colors of the Colorado plateau or the way the sky behaves in Nebraska, the colors of the forest here, the behavior of water in the Pacific Northwest. When I go to a place I've never been before, I always try to pick a good companion. There are two sorts of companions. One is the record of what has been written. There's that line in Trying the Land about how as a boy I was seduced by first-hand documents. And I was. I devoured the first-hand documents of exploration, it just took my breath away—the immediacy of that vision. And the other companion that I would choose next to a book is someone who is intimate with the place, a guide, somebody who could help you understand where the subtleties lay and without whom, as is inevitable, you would be missing so much. There is an Eskimo man in a village in the Arctic whom I once asked, "What do you do when you go somewhere you've never been before?" He told me, "I listen." What he meant was that when I go someplace that is not my own place, I pay attention. And the two ways that I have learned to pay The Missouri Review · 59 attention are to read and then to go to the place myself, to walk around in it, to see what its ground feels like under my feet, to listen to the sounds of the birds, to see how animals you are famUiar with in your own part of the country might behave a little differently because the quality of light here, for example, is different, or the height of the trees is different, or the color of the sky is different; and all those subtle differences make life behave in different ways. Interviewer: How did you come to settle in this place? Oregon? Lopez: WeU, we were here in school together, my wife and I. We moved here in 1968. It's just been a base of operations. It's an utterly beautiful place and very peaceful. The river is right there in front of the.house. You can go down on a winter or fall afternoon and see a few birds, and there seems to always be that activity on the river. Living in the forest is like...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 57-77
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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