cover image About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory

About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory

Barry Holstun Lopez / Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (304p) ISBN 9

Contemplating forces physical and metaphysical within the natural landscape, veteran author and National Book Award-winner Lopez (Arctic Dreams, etc.) here taps personal and collective memory to create an intimate history of man and place. In these 13 essays, most of which have appeared in periodicals like Harper's (where Lopez is a contributing editor) and the Geogia Review, he reveals a mind that is energetically curious, repeatedly making a 10-hour round-trip to kiln-fire pottery in a tradition that catches his interest, or taking a marathon trip involving 40 consecutive air-freight flights in order to explore worldwide exporting and importing. But, on the latter trip, he stops for a sunrise walk in Seoul to see ""things that could not be purchased,"" and, in another essay, quietly meditates on the power of hands. This dichotomy reflects the world traveler who is nevertheless rooted to a particular piece of land in western Oregon, someone whose mind encompasses the grand and the truly particular. To really understand a specific geography, he notes, takes time. Lopez has the kind of intimacy, of immersion, that makes the most ordinary encounter extraordinary. He deciphers nature's enigmatic intimations, as when he compares two proximate but distinct environments, saying: ""The shock to the senses comes from a different shape to the silence, a difference in the very quality of light, in the weight of the air."" For Lopez, the world's topography is memory made manifest; it stimulates Lopez's own recall and that, in turn, forces us to really think. (June)