If science seeks to demystify life, literature can restore a needed measure of wonder to it. Or, as one of the characters in Barry Lopez's collection of short stories Winter Count puts it, "If you are careful, I think there is probably nothing that cannot be retrieved."
Much indeed is retrieved in Lopez's pages, first published in 1981: lost species, lost memories, lost emotions. In one especially Borgesian story, a university professor seeks to puzzle out the facts behind 19th-century reports of a herd of white buffalo that, singing, pointed a way into heaven. In another, a young man catches a glimpse into the workings of the stars and planets in an unlikely corner of the Arizona desert. In still another, a traveler recapitulates the pain of lost love while contemplating the graceful flight of herons.
Lopez's marvelous stories are about many things. Underlying them is a shared precision of language and vision, a precision that characterizes the author's works of nonfiction (Of Wolves and Men, Arctic Dreams). Behind Lopez's stories as well is a quiet insistence on the centrality of nature--an awareness of which, he suggests, can make the busiest city livable, and the deepest wounds of the heart bearable. --Gregory McNamee