Book Review
Crossing Open Ground by Barry Lopez


            Barry Lopez is a keen observer and a passionate writer of natural history. Crossing Open Ground is a collection of fourteen thought- provoking essays.  First copyrighted in 1978, his views are still appropriate and relevant today.  I will highlight just a few of the essays.

            I have read “The Stone Horse” many times.  Because of Lopez’s careful descriptions, I felt as though I was there in the heat of the SonoranDesertin southern California , and viewed with my own eyes the intaglio of the stone horse on the desert floor.  The intaglio was created by an artist among the Quechan people over three hundred years ago.  While observing the changing shadows on the horse as the sun rose  higher and higher in the sky, Lopez contemplated what the  life of the unknown artist may have been like and his unknown purpose for creating the stone horse.. He wonders how many of the archaeological records in the desert have been destroyed. What will we never know about the ancient cultures that existed there because of the careless destruction of artifacts?

            “A Reflection on White Geese” was written after Lopez spent time at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northern California observing the snow geese that winter there. Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge lies in the Klamath Basin which is the greatest concentration point for migratory waterfowl in North America . See:  


Providing safety for wildlife by establishing and maintaining wildlife refuges is a complex solution to balancing the needs of humans and the needs of wildlife. As Lopez did at Lake Tule , most of us have at some time or other stared out at a lake whose surface was filled with noisy geese and other water birds and wondered how they take off and land without colliding or even disturbing each other.  Most of us have seen a ribbon of wild geese flying against the blue sky and felt a sense of wonder at the distance they instinctively travel.  We share the planet with many fascinating creatures. Unlimited hunting, the draining of too many marshlands to sustain economic growth and constantly putting the needs of humans first has a devastating effect on wildlife that ultimately reaches back to us.

            “A Presentation of Whales” details the behavior of people when 41 sperm whales strand themselves on a beach in Oregon . More than two thousand people came to view the whales. The behavior of people ranged from as base as viewing the incident of the whales as mere entertainment to those who broke down and cried in sorrow for these magnificent animals. No one knows why whales strand themselves.  When they do the community nearby must deal with the crowd of people it attracts; the tourists, media personnel and scientists.  They must make sure that the whales are dealt with respectfully and decently.  Ultimately, there is a monetary cost that must be paid.


            The Aztec culture that existed in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) in the days of Montezuma was elegant and beautiful.  In “The Passing Wisdom of Birds” Lopez notes that Cortes and his men were astonished and marveled at the arboretums, gardens and aviaries in this city.  Montezuma, however, grew tired of the arrogance and greed of the Spanish military force and drove them out.  Cortes and his men returned later and destroyed the city in a destructive madness, even setting fire to the aviaries. This image of human behavior is shameful and disconcerting. With this destruction of Tenochtitlan we lost more than a city.  The insights of early cultures are of inestimable value in forming and keeping our own relationships with the natural world.

            Read “Children in the Woods” if you love children, have children, and or teach children.  Just learning the names of things conveys very little.  Children are open and respond to the majesty of nature in its wild variety and are nurtured by the fact that it all fits together and conveys a sense of permanence.

            Crossing Open Ground is an excellent book to read and contemplate our stewardship of the planet Earth.

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