Monday, June 20, 2011

Quote: Barry Lopez

This is taken from an interview the writer Barry Lopez did with Bill Moyers on April 30, 2010 (transcript here). Lopez described the unique blue color of the New York City sky. Moyers responded that it was hard for him to separate the beauty of the sky with what he saw on September 11. He asked Lopez how to reconcile the beauty with the horror, and Lopez responded:
It's a caution. That, you know, we have a way of talking about beauty as though beauty were only skin deep. But real beauty is so deep you have to move into darkness in order to understand what beauty is....And that's what you-- well, it's just what you said. You're talking to your wife [and] this blue sky goes gray. And a horror, a horror visits us. If you- try to separate these two things, you're in trouble. What you must do is build a system of civilization that is as aware of darkness as it is of beauty. I would feel on thin ice if the world were nothing but beauty.  
I got to see Lopez give a talk at Seattle Town Hall about a year ago. I can't think of any other living writer who thinks so deeply about the relationship between humans and nature, and can express abstract and complex ideas with such precision and command over the English language. You could open any of his books to any page and find something worth quoting, but I'm going to add one more here, from "Of Wolves and Men." This quote has stuck with me, because of my interest in human-predator relationships. My adviser asked me once (related to my research) why humans treat bears worse than any other wild animal. And my first thought was, no, actually humans treat wolves worse than any other wild animal.
The history of killing wolves shows far less restraint and far more perversity. A lot of people didn't just kill wolves; they tortured them. They set wolves on fire and tore their jaws out and cut their Achilles tendons and turned dogs loose on them. They poisoned them with strychnine, arsenic, and cyanide, on such a scale that millions of other animals--raccoons, black-footed ferrets, red foxes, ravens, red-tailed hawks, eagles, ground squirrels, wolverines--were killed incidentally in the process....In the twentieth century people pulled up alongside wolves in airplanes and snowmobiles and blew them apart with shotguns for sport. In Minnesota in the 1970s people choked Eastern timber wolves to death in snares to show their contempt for the animal's designation as an endangered species.
This is not predator control, and it goes beyond the casual cruelty sociologists say manifests itself among people under stress, or where there is no perception of responsibility. It is the violent expression of a terrible assumption: that men have the right to kill other creatures not for what they do but for what we fear they may do.