Horizon – Book Review

You are going on a journey.

Horizon by Barry Lopez will make you hit the pause button on your busy life to ponder what it means to be a human being living on amazing planet Earth.

I believe this is a good thing.

When you give yourself permission to step away from your overbooked calendar and endless to-do list, you give yourself a gift. You make space in your mind to wonder at the world, contemplate what and who is really important to you, and determine what you are willing to do to protect it and them.

That is what this book is about for me. You may find something else that resonates with you. I doubt anyone reading it will walk away untouched.

Book Review

Before you settle into a comfortable chair and crack open Horizon, you should be aware that you are about to become a time traveler. Proper clothing and a spirit of adventure are essential as you will be accompanying Lopez on excursions into the past at some of the most remote places on Earth.

Horizon is a memoir, travel diary, and a treatise on humanity. Bits of history and geography reside alongside commentary about the state of the world and the people who occupy it.

Even readers with a good grasp of vocabulary will probably find themselves looking up at least a few words.

At the beginning of Horizon, Lopez gives readers a brief overview of his personal history and explains why he wrote the book.

Then you will head off to the first of six destinations spanning the globe.

Horizon Book Cover
  • Cape Foulweather, Oregon
  • Skraeling Island, Canada
  • Puerto Ayora, Galápagos Islands, Eastern Equatorial Pacific
  • Jackal Camp, Kenya, Eastern Equatorial Africa
  • Port Arthur to Botany Bay, Australia
  • Graves Nunataks, Antarctica to Port Famine Road, Chile

Lopez uses these locations as backdrops for recounting his own explorations as well as those of famous and not famous people of the past and present. His descriptions of these places are breathtaking making you feel as if you are there. Underlying the geography, flora, fauna, weather, and history of these regions is a running commentary on humanity.

You will find awe and grief and hope among the pages of Horizon.

Lopez does not shy away from making eloquent yet blunt statements about the state of the world as he observes it. Some people may not want to read these words but for me, they speak the truth.

“I read daily about the many threats to human life—chemical, political, biological, and economic. Much of this trouble, I believe, has been caused by the determination of some to define a human cultural world apart from the nonhuman world, or by people’s attempts to overrun, streamline, or dismiss that world as simply a warehouse for materials, or mere scenery.”

He also embraces all of humanity and delivers messages that I believe are universal.

“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.”

The Bottom Line

Barry Lopez is an adventurer, artist, and author. Judging by the opportunities he receives to visit far-flung places to work alongside archaeologists, biologists, and other scientists, he must know an inordinate number of people and be an adequate field researcher who possesses excellent camping skills.

He has traveled extensively around the globe sharing his observations of the non-human natural world as well as the people who inhabit it now, did in the past, or may in the future.

In the beginning, reading Horizon was kind of a chaotic experience. It seemed as if one minute Lopez was describing a patch of land on the Oregon Coast, then he would switch to talking about Captain James Cook’s attempt to land there hundreds of years ago, and the next moment he would be discussing the avariciousness of humans.

Then I realized that I liked this. It was as if I was accompanying Lopez on his travels and having a conversation (all be it one-sided) with him that went on for 512 pages.

I paused often to mark passages with sticky flags or to form my own response to something he had just said. Sometimes I would bring topics to the dinner table to discuss with my family so in a way they were on the journey, too.

All through the book, Lopez acknowledges that each person perceives places, people, and information in their own way. He throws his observations out there and then steps back allowing you to feel and think for yourself.

Horizon is worth the time it will take you to read it.

“We are the darkness, as we are, too, the light.”

Featured Image at Top: View of Cape Foulweather from the Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint on the Oregon coast – photo credit MightyFree/Wikipedia.

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Coolest and Greenest Gift for Kids this Holiday Season

Give a gift they will never forget.

This holiday season, give the kids on your list an eco-friendly gift that is appropriate for kids of all ages and that they will enjoy for years to come.

If you are expecting to read a post about toy dump trucks made of recycled plastic, organic cotton t-shirts that say “Save the Bees,” or kid-size gardening tools, you may be disappointed because you will not find them here.

Literally, the coolest and greenest gift you can give your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews is to act like global warming and climate change is real.

“Really, you have got to be kidding me. I do not want to think about global warming during the holiday season!” is a reasonable response to the above statement.

It could be that I am just a perverse person, but I believe the holiday season presents you and me with the perfect opportunity to consider our holiday traditions and habits and how we might change them to live more lightly on Earth. A habitable planet now and in the future is the best gift we can give the children we love.

My goal for this post is to interrupt your business-as-usual holiday preparations and mine before they get too far along so that we can decide what we want to do differently and then do it before the holiday season kicks into high gear.

Greening Your Holiday Season

Giving your holiday season a green makeover is one thing you can do to reduce your environmental footprint. Some of the ideas below are easy and some are hard. Feel free to come up with your own. There is no right answer.

One thing to keep in mind is that we humans excel at justifying our behavior so do not be surprised if you find yourself coming up with really good reasons why you cannot change and do things differently this year. If this happens, go grab a photo of the children in your life and try again.

Of course, I am not immune to justifying my actions either and as you will see, I do not always go for the eco-friendly option. I am constantly striving to live more lightly on Earth, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

Travel

This time of year, the USS Enterprise would come in handy (hopefully it is a zero-emissions spaceship). Imagine saying, “Beam me up Scotty,” and being magically transported across the country without the hassle of flying or its enormous carbon footprint.

Amtrak California Zephyr Traveling Along the Colorado River
Amtrak California Zephyr train traveling along the Colorado River – photo credit Amtrak.

Before you go online to book your flight, please seriously consider taking the train, riding on a bus, or carpooling. It could be a wonderful adventure and the start of a new holiday travel tradition. While not carbon-free methods of travel (unless the vehicle is electric), trains, buses, and carpools have significantly smaller carbon footprints than flying.

Even if you have already made a reservation to fly you could change your mind and choose a greener travel alternative.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are the quintessential symbol of the holiday season for me and about a hundred million other people. This year ask yourself if you can and want to green your Christmas tree tradition if you have one.

I have been a real Christmas tree enthusiast ever since I was a small child. But about five years ago, I began worrying about the environmental impact of real trees and wondering if an artificial tree would be better. After researching the issue, I concluded that the best choice as far as the environment is concerned is not having a Christmas tree at all.

My love for real Christmas trees overcame my inner environmentalist and I bought a real tree, but I also began a new holiday tradition, “A Tree for a Tree.” I asked readers to join me in planting a tree each year that we buy a real or artificial tree or put up an existing artificial tree. That year my spouse and I rescued a tiny cypress seedling from certain death on a street median and planted it in our yard (now it is about twelve feet tall).

Two years later, I upped the ante to “Buy One, Plant Two.” That year we planted two Big Sur coast redwood seedlings in our yard and last year we planted two small toyons.

Property developers and readers who follow climate change will recognize this tree planting as a mitigating action, which is when you do something to make up for doing something else.

Food and Drink

During the 6-week holiday season, you and I will have 126 meals (not including snacks) to try out environmentally friendly menu ideas and dining practices. No, I am not suggesting that you serve tofurky for Christmas dinner unless you want to try it.

Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish
Stir-fry vegetable dish – photo credit iStock/Mizina.

Feeding the people you love with healthful, nutritious food is an act of love. What better time than the holiday season to try out some new meatless or low meat recipes and include more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and seeds into your menu planning? Eating a healthy diet does not preclude you from making Christmas cookies with your grandchildren.

This holiday season set your table with reusable dishes, glasses, cups, flatware, and serving pieces that you already own. Give yourself extra credit for using cloth tablecloths and napkins. Ask guests to bring extra tableware and reusable containers for leftovers. Use the time you spend washing dishes to catch up with family members and friends.

You can accomplish another green holiday action while shopping at the grocery market. Leave plastic bottles of water and anything that comes in an aluminum can on the store shelf or in the cooler. No amount of recycling can ever alleviate the environmental damage caused by single-use beverage containers.

Gifts

Living more lightly on Earth requires amassing less stuff. Yes, that includes gifts.

In 2013, my spouse and I made the decision to stop exchanging Christmas gifts with our family and friends. We have never regretted it. Now, each year, we look forward to a stress-free holiday season with time to enjoy it.

If you have ever contemplated opting out of Christmas consumerism, now is the time to do it. You might be surprised how readily your family members and friends accept your suggestion to stop exchanging gifts during the holidays (at least between adults).

For those of you not willing to give up exchanging gifts, please ship your gifts via ground transport. You may not realize it, but when you select 2-day shipping or overnight delivery, your package is probably hopping on an airplane significantly increasing the carbon footprint of your gift

Decorations

Decorating for the holidays is fun and brightens up the cold and dark winter months.

The challenge, at least for me, is to avoid obtaining new items because everything looks so festive and enticing in stores and online marketplaces.

Quilly's Antiques Shop - Dickens Village
Dickens Village Quilly’s Antiques Shop – photo credit Department 56.

Giving decorations to other people or donating them so you can acquire new items is decoration churning and does nothing to curtail the environmental footprint of making, transporting, and distributing new decorations like Christmas tree ornaments, inflatable snowmen, and Santa figurines.

Over the past couple of years, as part of my mission to live happily with less stuff, I have pared down my Christmas decoration collection to the items that I really, really like and can see myself enjoying indefinitely, but there is a hitch.

One of my favorite things is my Dickens Village collection of tiny Victorian-style buildings, trees, and figurines inspired by the books of Charles Dickens, like A Christmas Carol featuring Ebenezer Scrooge.

Recently, after I had donated my London’s Chocolatier Shop and chocolate street vendor figurine to make room for my friend’s Quilly’s Antique Shop, I finally had to acknowledge that I have been engaging in decoration churning for several years. Oops.

My green holiday change this year is to focus on healthy eating, which is also good for the planet, by eating more plants, less meat, and enjoying sweet treats in moderation.

Okay, now it is your turn to evaluate your own holiday traditions and habits and decide what, if anything, you want to change to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly.

Your children, my children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to keep Earth habitable now and in the future, so everyone can enjoy life and thrive.

Happy Holidays!

Featured Image at Top: Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth – Photo Credit Shutterstock/Holmes Su

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