I kept reading reviews of this book as being stunningly beautiful nature writing, and with a name like Arctic Dreams this makes perfect sense. It also made me not really want to read it at first. And I actually just picked it up and jumped into the other day and devoured it. It IS beautiful, but unlike my worries, there’s a lot of meat here. Barry Lopez is probably most well-known for this book, but he’s also a travel writer, a nature writer, a journalist, and a fiction writer. This book tackles a lot of different nature, biology, ecological, zoological, and historical questions related to the Artic (Land of Bears) and addresses them from a kind of space of: all of this will be gone someday, so this is how it once was.
That’s not to say that it either is or either a book about climate change. In 1984 when the book came out, climate change was an emerging field, but more so it was an emerging topic. So this book cover the idea of change, but as a technological and epistemological question. One history topic he takes up is how the maps of the artic were constantly shifting. Early European maps were based in rumors and legends as well as specific misconceptions. Lopez mentions that ways in which certain kinds of mirages might cause a mapmaker to mistake a somewhat up-close feature for something farther away and therefore larger. Or how something that looks like a ridge on a far horizon, might simply be a much closer walrus. So this idea of the constantly changing map is not just a matter of information shifting, but of gaps being filled in. And those gaps are where a lot of history and legend lies. It’s truly fascinating to know about which Nordic groups made it across the ocean to which parts of the North America, but it also perhaps kills some of the magic. The use of snow machines instead of dog teams is not only less magical, but faster and dirtier. So even without getting too much into the ways in which climate change has reshaped the Arctic, this book has 500 pages worth of material for how the forces of history has reshaped the Arctic.
Oh, he also talks a LOT about animals, which is nice.