I just finished “Winter Count” a collection of short stories first published by Barry Holstun Lopez in 1976. The copy I read, was from a 1981 printing and had a single illustration at the beginning of each story. I really think the illustrations help set the tone and hint at details of the story before I even moved on to the lovely prose. I’d been wanting to read more Lopez since I read “River Notes: The Dance of the Herons” on my four-day solo kayak trip last September. I hadn’t read any reviews of “Winter Count” so I didn’t really know what to expect. Lopez does not disappoint. “Winter Count” is a collection of short stories, the first of which is titled Restoration. In Restoration, the first person narrator visits an old Victorian mansion turned tourist attraction in western North Dakota. It turns out that the most interesting thing left in the house is the library left behind by the Frenchman who lived there part-time for just a few years. A man who had been hired to repair the books before they were shipped to the man who had bought them. I found this first story slightly ironic given the current binding of the public library copy of the book on which I’d managed to borrow. This story and stories like Buffalo, The Orrery, The Tapestry, The Woman Who Had Shells and Lover of Words really transport the reader to a specific place and time. I’m not sure I understand everything that Lopez meant to convey , but it seems to me that themes of cultural truth, reverence for nature, ethical use of land and connections or missed connections between people. The story I enjoyed the least was Winter Count 1973: Geese, They Flew Over in a Storm. I feel like I should have gotten more out of this story, but it seemed disjointed and I just didn’t get it. Over all, the writing is lovely, the descriptions of people and place are specific and thoughtful and in several of the stories, I wished I could have lingered there a bit longer than the story lasted.
So far, everything I have read by Barry Lopez was written when he was younger than I am now. He has more than 20 years on me and is still writing. I want to head off in a couple of other literary directions for a while, but I’ll certainly return for more. Maybe some of his more recent writing.