August 6, 2021
Read This Moving Story of Nature Writer Barry Lopez’s Final Days
Barry Lopez passed away last Christmas. He was a gifted author, penning terrific non-fiction and fiction works ruminating on nature, wilderness, humanity. Lopez was one of our favorite authors at AJ. His wife, Debra Gwartney, is no less talented a writer, and teaches writing to graduate students in Oregon.
After Lopez died, Gwartney wrote an incredibly moving piece about his final days, as the two of them were living in a rented Oregon home near Eugene, after their forever home burned in a wildfire. This story is poignant and sad at times, but so beautifully written, it still manages to make the human spirit seem indomitable and, at the end, provides inspiration for a life worth living.
Here’s a small chunk:
Three days before he died, my husband got out of bed. Somehow he propelled himself down the hall and into the living room, where I found him bent over a volume of Esther Horvath photographs called Into the Arctic Ice: The Largest Polar Expedition of All Time. Barry’s white hair was sprung wild and his feet were bare though it was late at night in December, sleety rain driving against the windows. How had he pulled sweatpants over his bony hips? He’d hardly stirred all day, lifting his head only to sip on bone broth made by one of our daughters, leaning against me to get to the bathroom because he was bleary from pain drugs. Yet he’d managed to transport himself to the center of this rental house to dig out a book that now held his rapt attention.
The book had arrived by mail a few days earlier, when Barry was still able to sit on the sofa for an hour or so, and he’d turned its pages with the slightest pressure of thumb and finger so as not to mar the saturated colors of the photos. Our son-in-law was over with the rest of the family for a subdued holiday visit. The two men spoke in calm, low voices about a region of the planet once intimately familiar to my husband, second only to his knowledge of the thirty-six acres of western Oregon rainforest where he’d lived for fifty years and where I’d lived with him for nearly two decades until a wildfire booted us out one late-summer night. Barry moved closer to Pete and pointed to streaks of blue in Horvath’s images of a vast icescape, the humps of polar bears, the eerie glow of human light piercing the darkness. The peeling noses and cheeks of scientists too long in the cold. I remember how he laughed with a whistle of nostalgia, missing days when he must have felt fully alive.
Read the rest in its entirety at the wonderful Granta.