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quotations from the book


by Barry Lopez

The author's goal, 'to create a narrative that would engage a reader intent on discovering a trajectory . . .a coherent and meaningful story, at a time in our cultural and biological history when it has become an attractive option to lose faith in the meaning of our lives.' [p26]

'. . . nature will be fine without us. Our question is no longer how to exploit the natural world for human comfort and gain, but how we can cooperate with one another to ensure we will someday have a fitting, not a dominating, place in it.' [p45]

'It has long seemed to me that what most of us are looking for is the opportunity to express, without embarrassment or judgment or retaliation, our capacity to love. That means, too, embracing the opportunity to be loved, to ferret out and nurture the reciprocated relationships that unite people, that bring people and their chosen places, both the raw and the built Earth, together into one agreement, without coercion or sentimentality.' [p48]

'In the modern era, witnessing social, economic, and physical breakdow in the traditional villages in Africa or rural Australia or in the barrios, the favelas, the ghettoes, or the townships of major cities, I’ve come to believe that the root cause of this breakdown has nothing to do with the absence of 'civilization' or the presence of 'evil' but has almost entirely to do with the unremitting presence of political repression, poverty, racism, and living lives of servitude. The problem of ensuring human survival in these places, let alone providing for a human efflorescence, is staggering large. The situation cries out to be completely reimagined, or as some traditional people say, ‘It needs to be redreamed.’' [p173]

“The urban cultural environment of major cities might soon become too electronically complicated for many older or rural people to effectively manage, and Homo sapiens might not have the ability to prevent a kind of chain reaction that will leave a significant part of the human population without the psychological resources to cope with the challenge of a physical environment suddenly hostile to human survival.

“. . . The usual dismissive reaction to this worry, to imply that there is nothing to be concerned about, one just gets a younger person to engineer the necessary exchanges, fails to recognize that the older person is potentially a reservoir of knowledge that will disappear if he or she is not one of those directly managing the nuances of an electronic exchange.” [p197-8]

“Somewhere the Australian philosopher Val Plumwood has written that humanity’s task now is to ‘resituate non-humans in the ethical and to resituate humans in the ecological.’ Having an ecological – rather than a solely political or economic – view of Homo sapiens and knowing that the physical environment exerts a selective pressure on the human genome lead to a straightforward observation: to care for the environment is to care for the self.” [p263]

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another. Traveling encourages the revision of received wisdoms and the shedding of prejudices. It turns the mind toward a consideration of context and releases it from the dictatorship of absolute truths about humanity. It helps one understand that all people do not want to be on the same road. They prefer to be on their own road.” [p282-3]

“One emerging view of Homo sapiens among evolutionary biologists is that he has built a trap for himself by clinging to certain orthodoxies in a time of environmental emergency. A belief in cultural progress, for example, or in the propriety of a social animal’s quest for individual material wealth is what has led us into the trap, or so goes the thinking. To cause the trap to implode, to disintegrate, humanity has to learn to navigate using a reckoning fundamentally different from the one it’s long placed its faith in.” [p284]

“I’ve so often been struck by the difference between a society that believe wisdom is part of the fabric of community, and that it is best represented in the words and actions of particular people (elders), and a society that believes wisdom is found in certain people. The difference for a community would be the difference between choosing to act heroically as a group or waiting for a hero to act.” [p307]

“The social and cultural development of H. Sapiens over the past 55,000 years has been relatively swift. The rate of change in the man-made environment today is so great, in contrast, that the idea that one generation is meant to teach the next generation how to manage has begun to seem quaint.” [p310]

“While ‘turbocharged’ capitalism is routinelyu singled out as the villainous cause of so much of what is socially and environmentally evil, eliminating hypercapitalism doesn’t seem to answer the central question, which is: Why do we harm one another so grievously? Or tho phrase this differently, What is the root of our fundamental disagreement, now that the size of our population and the scarcity of essential supplies like uncontaminated freshwater have come into play?

“. . . What I’ve come to feel is that a disagreement over which path leads to the more desirable future is a disagreement about the place of empathy in public and corporate life. On the one hand are the ideals, unfortunately, of capitalism': progress, profitability, ownership, control of the marketplace, consumption. On the other hand are the ideals not of a system of economics but a system of social organization best represented in modern times by a group of flawed individuals who nevertheless became the iconic representatives of tolerance, respect for beauty, a preference for reconciliation over warfare, and compassion: the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the 14th Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, archibishop emritus Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Óscar Romero.

“ The question the latter group consistently addressed was, Why is there so much suffering in the world? . . . Reflecting on the social, economic, and environmental harm that fracking engenders, or on Russia’s aggressive efforts to regain its stature as a world power, one must consider whether allowing human misery to develop further in order to gain some sort of short-term economic or political advantage isn’t an incurable, systematic problem. Perhaps the source of humanity’s trouble is genetic.” [p373]