By Chet Yarbrough
By: Barry Lopez
Narrated by James Naughton
Barry Holstun Lopez (American author, essayist, fiction writer. News this Friday, 12/25/20 Barry Lopez died at age 75.)
As a first exposure to Barry Lopez’s writing, “Horizon” is a disturbing review of the state of nature.
There is a “Let It Be” determinism about the environment in Lopez’s memoir of travels around the world.
There seems little rage in “Horizon” about the decline of earth’s environment. Particularly in comparison to Greta Thunberg’s accusations against spoilers of the world.
Of course, Lopez is in his 70 s. Thunberg is 16. Her generation is more likely to feel the consequence of world’ ecological change. One doubts pessimism is the intent of Lopez’s recollections. But pessimism is a sense some may get from a 23-hour narration of “Horizon”.
From Lopez’s varied experience as a writer, historian, amateur archaeologist, and world traveler, he concludes humankind may be destined for a sixth extinction.
Lopez lives a peripatetic life that exposes him to the remains of animal species lost; the evolutionary fragments of human remains, and the disparate changes of weather around the world.
Lopez visits parts of the world discovered by explorers. Particularly men like John Cabot, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and others. Lopez writes many vignettes about James Cook and his obsession–to map the world.
Man’s inhumanity to man has been recorded many times by many writers. Lopez regrets the passing of native populations, and suggests their passing is because early explorers paved the way for new civilizations. In recalling various expeditions, Lopez makes one aware of the nature of human beings.
The American Indian’s “Trail of Tears” are repeated in many civilizations.
Lopez notes the lows of human beings with a story of two older men who want him to ghost write an essay about their experience with underage girls in Thailand. In a bigger historical picture, Lopez explains the nature of explorers who destroy as well as initiate new civilizations.
Lopez infers human civilization is trapped in a cycle of self-destruction. Every society desires stability and longevity. Lopez infers human nature gets in the way of those desires.
Lopez writes about Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the arbitrariness of genetic selection that sustains human life. Lopez holds the view that Darwin’s theory may be key to human’s future survival.
Lopez infers a chance genetic modification will seed human survival as the world ecological system changes. Lopez notes many civilizations are gone; others are headed for extinction. Today, human advancement is a product of greed and self-interest. Tomorrow, human advancement may be dependent on love and care for others.
Just as greed and self-interest are genetic markers for today’s world cultures, a new genetic marker might offer love and care for others for tomorrow’s world cultures.
Lopez illustrates slavery still plagues the conscience of 21st century civilization. Discrimination because of race, color, or creed are evident in every nation of the world.
Jews, Palestinians, Houthi, Saudi Arabians, Taliban, Afghani, Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Inuit, Canadians, Americans, Chinese, Asians, Russians and others feed into humanities self-destruction. There is blame to go around with a mentality of “my way is the only way”.
Though Lopez’s book is published prior to the Covid19 pandemic, there seems application for his pessimism about what is happening today.
Is the world economy opening too soon? Greed and self-interest unduly influence American public policy.
From Oregon to Antarctica; from Africa to California, to New York to Australia, to the Galapagos Islands, and back to Oregon, Lopez reflects on the state of the world.
Cortes Conquest of the Aztec Empire.
What can break humanity’s cycle of self-destruction?
Lopez suggests the world will go on, but humans may be the sixth extinction. The question is—is it up to us, fate, nature, or a Supreme Being?
Lopez leaves a slender hope that the evolution of human beings will rescue humanity. He is neither optimistic nor pessimistic.