Barry Lopez, 1945-2020
It was the very last Sunday of a dry
Southern California December, La Niña winter
like your childhood and mine.
The last hour of sundown held me in the cold garden.
Two voices rang out—amphibian poets
silent since March—and I understood:
all year they listen for the hum
of leaves that says rain, near future tense,
the curtain already falling long before we know it.
And listening, I’m released to head home
with the crows, to catch the dark news.
Barry Lopez died Christmas Day..
He was seventy-five.
Morning. Leaves shiver under drops—
rain, present tense, whole notes, slow as grieving.
I’ll remember this, I’ll compare
the rhythm of this late December rain
to patience. Your words held now
between the lips of silence.
All things are made by the wind. By water.
The boy you were and the man,
eye of water bird, dry branch, desert crystal—
light-music, masterpiece of polar ice—
numinous interiors real
as texture and color, as rock wolf cloud fire…
The anthropologist, Alan Walker, once said to you
with his hands on the smooth skull
of an australopithecine, Barry, I can’t prove this
but I believe we sang before we spoke.
30 years to write Horizon, your last book.
Afterward, you longed to travel
down enough to touch the gouged Pacific basin,
birth-scar where Moon broke out of Earth.
You quit that manuscript so many times,
came begging to the Mackenzie where beavers built
and re-built after storms and wildfire…
where a wand of alder, an ash stick,
nudged your hand—you got the message,
and kept on writing.
You always took the long way around.
Of time and human existence, you said
it needs to be redreamed.
At hospice, McKenzie twigs arrived on a current
of human hands—those who knew you, knew
alder, willow, ash, the beavers’ labor,
riverine refuge—your bed, surrounded
by friends, by trees who remember
rain and time before words,
time and rain, after.
Sources: Horizon, Arctic Dreams, Of Wolves and Men, and About This Life, Barry Lopez
Steve Trimble’s tribute and many others, posted on social media, December through January, 2020.
“Remembering Nature Writer, Barry Lopez” : from Terry Gross, Fresh Air, 1/8/21