RIVER NOTES: The Dance of Herons by Barry Holstun Lopez

RIVER NOTES: The Dance of Herons

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From Desert Notes (1976), Lopez plunges into the river, and into the agitated mind of an unnamed, unidentified ""I"" in some extreme, precarious state of consciousness--exhausted, disoriented, raving about the sound of fish dreaming and the madness of birds and oceans, passionately addressing a blue heron who seems to obsess him. Readers are likely to be similarly disoriented when a conventional set of nature notes, brief narratives linking several individual human lives with the gradual accumulation of a log jam downriver, comes next, followed by a confession of years spent in ""calculation and surveying"" in order to ""wrest meaning"" from a certain spot on the river. And then a ""he""--perhaps not the same fella as ""I,"" but a victim of the same obsessive intensity--spends four years creating (on the river bottom) a gigantic fish of stones, then recognizes in despair the presumptuousness of his undertaking. (In contrast, it's a strange silent friend, likened to a salmon and given to visions and kinship with animals and ritual dispersion of his blood and skin, who shines forth as an inspiring example.) There are other, more prosaic episodes, showing up the obtuse and insensitive, playing up primitive wisdom. With time, the voice addressing us becomes calmer, the mythic past recaptured. And during a killing drought, ""I"" 's act of compassion for a fish in the drying river brings a kind of beatific visitation from Raccoon and Porcupine and Weasel, from Badger and Mole, and. . . yes, from Blue Heron, who gives the promise of redeeming rain. But with all the talk about the anguish of snails and the jubilation of aspens, about birds who speak in murmurs of Pythagoras and meditating ravens from whose anguished weeping the river flows, what Lopez intends to be mythic and elemental and visionary comes through as a particularly bombastic and hysterical form of pathetic fallacy. Overwrought, and sure to baffle and annoy any readers seeking a sequel to Lopez' Of Wolves and Men.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Andrews & McMeel