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Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a…

Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986)

by Barry Lopez

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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"There is something of the original creation here."

Written with brilliant foresight in 1986 as a testimonial to beauty, solitude, wisdom, science, and truth, not as the eulogy which it has become, Barry Lopez asked the world for the intelligence to preserve The Arctic.

Instead, we refused or ignored his warnings. Scientists, conservation organizations, concerned citizens and government leaders did not unite, thus the world now has THE WEEK's May 2017 headline:

"Arctic warming far faster than thought..."

....well, no, only for those who refused to think, to care, to pay attention, and to have compassion for the land, its animals, birds, plants, and people...

From respectful chapters on animals, treating them with the dignity that most European, Canadian, and American explorers still dispatch with willful cruelty and ignorance,
he leads readers through the formation of sea ice, the plants of a tussock, oceans and tundra, contrasts of temperate, tropical, and Arctic seasons and ecosystems and on into
deep spiritual connections with the earth and universe. Introducing animal chapters with both factual information and personal experiences, he gives each animal > the muskoxen,
the polar bears, and the narwhal ( )
  m.belljackson | Jun 14, 2017 |
Many reviewers have opined about how lyrical “Arctic Dreams” is and I have to agree; Lopez has the soul of a poet as he describes the Arctic’s beauty and terror and his own feelings about the points north of 66° 33'N. However I also found “Arctic Dreams” an easy book to put down; it took me about a year to read and as I finished other books, I would take “Arctic Dreams” down from my bookcase and read a few pages before laying it aside to read another. Perhaps I have the soul of an auditor.

Still, there were good passages in “Arctic Dreams”, mainly on the history of Arctic exploration and one can only shiver in appreciation of the ordeal those who wintered in the Arctic faced. The maps at the rear of my copy also came into regular usage as I tried to work out which Godforsaken piece of land some unfortunate explorer got stuck on. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jul 18, 2016 |
This is a fascinating look at the Arctic, with each chapter thematically taking on one topic: polar bears, narwhals, ice and light, the history of polar exploration, and much more. Throughout, Lopez riffs on the theme of landscape, and our relationship with the land itself shaping us and shaping how we view it.

I haven't read many books that would fit into this category, if I can call it a category, of philosophical nature writing. The closest authors I can think of - and it's a stretch thematically on the one hand and stylistically on the other - are Henry David Thoreau and E.B. White. But if you like thoughtful writing, history, travel and nature, it's definitely worth a try. Just don't expect to read it very fast, as his dense style will take some getting used to. ( )
1 vote bell7 | Mar 25, 2015 |
A classic, published in 1986, although I've managed to not read it until now. That's my loss, since Lopez's prose is astonishing, both in its scientific & journalistic precision & in its philosophical, ethical lyricism. In fact, his musings constitute a profoundly useful ethics of respect toward & value-recognition of both land & life in the Arctic (& by extrapolation, all places, species & cultures on Earth). One that assumes the dignity of each being within an ultimately unpossessable landscape. I found Lopez's account of the history of European exploration, mapping & "discovery" less compelling than his accounts of signature species & cultures in the Arctic, all the while recognizing its utility. For it was these explorers who for the most part aimed to control, to possess & profit from rather than to live with or in the Far North. Almost 30 years after the publication of Arctic Dreams, we know the situation to be even more dire than Lopez could envisage in the 1980s: Climate Change is rapidly warming & melting while radically changing habitats of the North, to the point that CC rather than overhunting might spell doom for species like the Polar Bear or transform them into archaic zoo species; and drilling for oil continues(already in the 80s the Alaskan Oil Pipeline was in place)with proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at high risk of becoming reality. ( )
2 vote Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barry Lopezprimary authorall editionscalculated
Rambelli, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The landscape conveys an impression of absolute permanence. It is not hostile. It is simply there - untouched, silent and complete. It is very lonely, yet the absence of all human traces gives you the feeling that you understand this land and can take your place in it.
Edmund Carpenter
Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it.
He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.
He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk.
N. Scott Momaday
For Sandra
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On a warm summer day in 1823, the Cumbrian, a 360-ton British whaler, sailed into the waters off Pond's Bay (now Pond Inlet), northern Baffin Island, after a short excursion to the north.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375727485, Paperback)

Based on 15 extended trips to the Canadian far north over a five-year period, Arctic Dreams celebrates the mysteries of what documentarians fondly call "last frontiers." Such places are everywhere in danger of destruction in the interest of ever-elusive economic progress, but Lopez writes no jeremiads. Instead, he aims to foster a kind of learned understanding of wild places, in this case the vast, scarcely knowable northern landscape. Writing of the natural history of the Arctic and its inhabitants--narwhals, polar bears, beluga whales, musk oxen, and caribou among them--Lopez draws powerful lessons from the land and imparts them assuredly and gracefully. Arctic Dreams deservedly won a National Book Award in 1986 when it was first published.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:50 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This book is an account of the history, ecology, and mystique of the arctic region. The author offers a thorough examination of this obscure world, its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams. Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, and is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature.… (more)

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