“'The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sing best.' The remark seems not only to underscore the ephemeral nature of human evolution but the necessity in evaluating any phenomenon—a canyon, a life, a song—of providing for change." - Barry Lopez
If a teenage me had read Crossing Open Ground, I would have quotes tattooed on my clavicle and hip bone. That's the kind of experience Lopez gives in all his books: This feeling of oh, that touches me too. I've been devouring his work since I first discovered him, and each of his books offers a new spark of wonder and familiarity.
Lopez is known for his travel literature, but he made a name for himself by expanding that narrow genre as wide as the plains he so beautifully describes. Nothing is off limits; I wasn't expecting insights into society or historical asides, but that's what I got.
Crossing Open Ground is more of a collection of essays than his other, more unified pieces of work, and therefor has a little less focus than some of his more successful books. But several passages will stick with me: the destruction of a beached whale, the exploration of inner and outer landscapes, the snow-laced canyons that pocket the earth. If you haven't read his work before, I would recommend starting with Arctic Dreams or Of Wolves and Men, but this book is worth the time too.
Lopez passed away recently, but he left behind a portfolio of inspiration and reflection. As I write this at home, yearning to travel but rooted in this quarantined world, I appreciate his words even more.
Rating: Three Stars
Similar Books: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, Underland by Robert Macfarlane