Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter Count by Barry Lopez

Why I read it: Still fascinated by the world's extremes, and Lopez has always come highly recommended.

Summary: Ten short tales of fiction, interweaving nature, mysticism and history.

My Thoughts: The concept itself recalls a time and life we will never understand, when years (summer to summer) were marked by the depiction of significant events on ceremonial robes of Northern Plains tribes. When recounted together, they formed a "winter count," a remembrance of the life of the tribe.

Lopez's stories wander from the Plains to other remote and distant places - seashores, lonely mountains, from Spain to California. Their overall tone reminds me of Peter Mathiessen's The Snow Leopard, with a deep layering of mysticism and spirituality, of connectedness with the natural world.

But the theme I felt strongest was loss. Every protagonist deals with it in some way, whether it be something tangible, like the great buffalo herds, or something abstract and personal - a relationship, a pleasant memory, pride. Lopez uses perspective to draw us into these tales. A lecture-goer, as genuinely interested in the lives of the Native Americans, can never grasp the emotions of one of them sitting in an auditorium listening to a recital of facts about long lost tribes as interpreted by non-indigneous people. How much can we really know?

Be prepared to think a little harder than usual for this book.

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