Arctic Dreams

One of my favorite books about the Arctic is Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. Subtitled Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape, the book was first published in 1986. Every time I dip into it, I learn something new or am compelled to pause and reflect on a line or a paragraph.

Arctic Dreams has it all: muskox biology, the history of Greenland, an understanding of colonialism and the urge to “discover” unknown terrain, and a spiritual and occasionally romantic bent that is characteristic of Lopez. His cast of characters includes Captain James Cook, the Copper Inuit (so-called because of the tools they used), the anthropologist Franz Boas, and, among many others, the Lakota writer Elaine Jahner. Also making an appearance is the artist Rockwell Kent who lived, at one time, in Brigus, Bob Bartlett’s  home town and was a friend of Bartlett’s cultured mother, Mary Jemima Leamon Bartlett.

Born in upstate New York but now resident in Oregon, Barry Lopez ranks with Thoreau and Annie Dillard. Here’s a sample from Arctic Dreams:

“One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to find a dignity that might include all living things. And one of the greatest of human longings must be to bring such dignity to one’s own dreams., for each to find his or her own life exemplary in some way. The struggle to do this is a struggle because an adult sensibility must find some way to include all the dark threads of life. . .” (p. 405).

Thus in this wonderful book Lopez tries to understand some of the lessons taught by the magnificent Arctic.

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