WINTER COUNT by Barry Holstun Lopez


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Nine short sketches, more or less autobiographical, with Lopez (Of Wolves and Men, River Notes) remembering bits of scholarship or personal experience that resonated for him in some quasi-mystical way. Best are the most history-related anecdotes, in which the often-overwrought Lopez prose is agreeably subdued: a North Dakota visit with a man who's restoring the extraordinary book collection of a 19th-century French landowner-visitor (the Frenchman's apparent feeling for animals as ""owners of the landscape"" is the grabber for Lopez); an affirmation of Indian legends about the mass death of two buffalo herds that went out singing a ""death song"" (when Lopez camped out in the buffalo-death area, he ""awoke in the morning to find my legs broken""); and reflections on an historian who contended that a Nebraska river disappeared. When Lopez starts getting emotionally involved, however, the narration tends to be stickier: a night with a serene loner in a windy valley where stones lift off the ground and arc across the sky; reactions to a family-owned tapestry in a Madrid museum (""I felt rid of the daunting exhortation to examine life which had hung in the air since my father's death""). And the most developed, short-story-like efforts here tangle up thin ideas with clunkily verbose strivings for eloquence: metaphorical musings on an urban romance (the northern lights are ""that Tai-chi extension of otherly grace"". . . ""he flowed again so he seemed as she always remembered him, generous and surrounded by a haunting reverence""); a story about meeting a seashell-loving soulmate and feeling ""it was possible to let go of a fundamental anguish""; a portrait of a word-loving Mexican gardener (""there was a haunting quietude both inside and outside him, and in the penumbra of this order one might have expected wild beasts to be as tractable as daffodils""); and the tale of a professor delivering a paper on Indian tribal history while brooding on his own miserable existence. Overall, then: strained and skimpy on substance-minor ruminations for Lopez devotees only.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0679781412
Publisher: Scribners