“Wisdom doesn’t belong to a person, it belongs to a community.”
Barry Lopez didn’t discuss wolves but he did talk about the need for people to grow up, to consider the health, spiritual, and psychological welfare of others and not just their own selfish desires. If they can’t grow up, they should get out of public office, he said. My personal extrapolation on this topic is that if more would heed this teaching and truly strive to become mature individuals, we would no longer have problems with wolves, because the issues with wolves aren’t about them, it’s about us, our fears, prejudices, and inability to behave altruistically.
Lopez read to us, always an enjoyable experience. His propensity for description is incredible. He talked about how he enjoyed living on the “periphery,” distant, little traveled places where he can view from the edge both humans and the environment. And he shared his wisdom with writers, suggested we think of the reader as a companion, not as a subject we are instructing. Authentic story is not about “you,” it’s about “us,” he said.
One of my favorite parts was his idea of inviting elders to the table when political, environmental and social issues arise, rather than “officials” who are given the freedom to make decisions simply because of their status, education, or wealth. An elder, according to Lopez, is not just someone who is older, but a fully grown up human being, “…one who takes life seriously.” Too often, these are the very people who have no say. In his words, “The best of us have become marginalized.”
Certain folks came to my mind when he said this, those I know who are open-minded, knowledgeable, who engage in conversation about many facets of existence, not just money and prestige. I recalled reading, probably in Peter Matthiesson’s work, of an incident between Crazy Horse and his people and the European-American’s. The settlers demanded that the tribe send forth their spokesman and were appalled when a leader did not instantly appear. The Sioux took pause at this request because there was equality among them, individuals were not normally singled out to rule or to speak for others.
My years on the Navajo reservation showed this as well. There was a sense of equilibrium among the Dine, or Navajo, rather than an impetus to compete, achieve and become a leader. This worked well for them on many levels. One Navajo teacher told me that the only problem with the Dine children was that they were just too happy.
Perhaps a true leader is one who does not feel compelled to lead, but is respectful of other’s point of view, listens to them, and to the needs of the environment as well. Lopez fits this bill. His writings show the influence of many cultures, individuals, animals, as well as nature. He does not dictate, he learns and then shares his impressions.
Lopez stood behind a podium in front of a packed auditorium that evening. Yet, as has been the case each time I’ve heard him speak, he did not feel separate from those seated before him. He engaged his audience, he actually seemed to absorb feelings and thoughts from them. Speaking is not a passive act for Barry Lopez. By the end of the evening, he looked worn out. He wiped his forehead, put his hands together in prayer fashion and leaned forward in a slight bow. The rest of us stood and applauded.
Praise for Barry Lopez:
“Arguably the nation’s premier nature writer.”
– San Francisco Chronicle