I have been a fan of Barry Lopez’s writing ever since I read his collection of American Indian myths on a twenty-one-day river trip through the Grand Canyon. Michael Shapiro’s interview with him [“Against the Current,” June 2006] helped me appreciate Lopez’s work all the more. The stories he told about living on the banks of the McKenzie River in Oregon reminded me of my time as a Student Conservation Association volunteer, when I flew over the Oregon wilderness and saw the patchwork quilt of clear-cuts on the landscape below.
By writing about remote places, Lopez says, he has indirectly caused damage to some of them, because his readers have tried to follow in his footsteps. I know how he feels. I lead kayaking tours throughout Central and South America, and I often find myself in remote places that even few natives know about. These locations make a powerful impression on visitors, but I also fear that I am contributing to their destruction. Along the banks of the Pacuare River in Costa Rica, for example, “eco-lodges” are being built to house tourists. But the river is also threatened by a hydroelectric project, and the eco-tourism business is the only thing keeping the dam at bay. It is a Catch-22: I am helping to change the very thing I want to preserve.
The pride Barry Lopez takes in having had anything to do with introducing a nonnative species of wolf into my backyard makes me furious. Anyone who views a wolf as a noble and fine animal and not a murderous predator is simply uninformed.
Has Lopez ever seen the carnage of a dead cow, colt, sheep, or dog after it’s been killed by wolves? I have. My friends have observed wolves eating an elk cow alive while she screamed in agony. Cougar kills pale in comparison to the violence of a wolf attack. These animals are vicious killers, and our forefathers were wise to eradicate them.
Incidents of wolves stalking and behaving aggressively toward humans are becoming common. My husband and I have to consider whether our grandchildren can safely play outside on our property, and we have chosen not to have a dog. Six years ago this was not a problem, but wolves breed like rabbits.
I see that Lopez enjoys watching fish. How would he like it if someone introduced sharks into his river?
I wept as my husband read me the lines in which Barry Lopez describes his practice of removing dead animals from the road. I’d thought I was the only one. I drive an hour to work each day in a car I have come to call a “killing machine.” I have run over a snake and a vole, and a ruffed grouse once flew into my front end and died. I have lost count of the dead animals I have moved to the side of the road, not only to respect their lives but to aid other animals in their struggle for survival. We should all slow down and be aware that we share our roads with other living creatures who are just trying to survive another day.
I respect Barry Lopez’s desire to be present with and aware of his surroundings, yet I question his habit of moving dead animals off the road, because it denies other drivers a chance to see the reality of this “car-nage.” By removing the carcasses from view, Lopez seems to support the cultural delusion that we have no impact on our surroundings. He is also not allowing other animals to witness the locations of the deaths and thereby learn the dangers of roads.
We must exercise caution in how much we repress awareness of death — and nature’s accompanying disposal system for bodies. Such subtle environmental control is the root cause of the social illusions that Lopez seeks to dispel.
I got a thrill reading Sparrow’s “Stupid Design” [May 2006], especially the paragraph about back problems. I suffer with my own constant back issues and would personally like to take it up with our “intelligent” designer.
Though I would never describe myself as a fundamentalist Christian, I would like to offer a rebuttal to “Stupid Design.”
Rain-forest butterflies are perfectly content with their short life span. After all, can we humans procreate at one day of age? Who has proved that something is “amiss” in the brains of lemmings because they “panic and jump off of cliffs”? Are there lemming psychologists out there? Goatsuckers’ small feet may be “weak” by human standards, but the birds would be insulted at the insinuation. They have existed for millennia with them. Since rails live in marshes, which are by nature limited in size, they have never needed to fly any significant distances. And to another Henslow’s sparrow, a tsi-lick and a wink are a hot proposition.
How much less rational would it be to postulate that an intelligent Designer, with an equally advanced sense of humor, just put these anomalies before us as a lark, to give those of us who can’t see the forest for the trees something to write about?
In “Stupid Design,” Sparrow asserts, “We need look no further than our own bodies to find evidence of poor biological engineering.” As a healthcare professional, I feel compelled to respond to his examples.
First, the prostate gland. When the prostate was invented, men lived only about thirty years. Because of tremendous advances in healthcare, the average life expectancy of the American white male leapt from 48.3 years in 1900 to 77.2 years in 2000. The prostate was never meant to function that long. Your prostate was not designed by a moron; it’s just really, really tired.
Second, our backs. The human spine, with its uniquely shaped bones and perfectly designed curves, is actually a miracle of evolution. But human beings (especially Americans) insist on lifting heavy objects with such poor technique, and on packing on so many extra pounds themselves, that even this miracle can’t withstand the abuse to which it is subjected.
Third, wisdom teeth. They served a purpose earlier in human evolution, but modern humans no longer need them. And if Sparrow’s teeth came out in “shards dripping with pus,” he waited too long to see the dentist. (By the way, all four of mine came in straight and are still in my mouth. I guess I have an intelligently designed mouth!)
I thoroughly apologize to any goatsuckers, lemmings, butterflies, or Sun readers I offended with my essay. Perhaps my problem is that I myself was poorly designed — thus proving my thesis.
In the May Correspondence, Jesús Galaviz states, “There is no room in The Sun for intolerance, religious or otherwise. Free speech should include a wide latitude of thought, but intolerant viewpoints do not deserve a voice.”
To say that any viewpoint “does not deserve a voice” seems rather intolerant to me. Galaviz’s letter reminds me that sensitive and caring groups and individuals can also be intolerant.
I, for one, am glad The Sun doesn’t snip out every last shred of potentially offensive content; there’d be no humanity left. The magazine promotes tolerance in its own way, by including innocently insensitive humor, as well as criticism about political incorrectness.
When The Sun arrives, I turn first to the Readers Write section and, without checking the theme, begin reading from the end. I like to see how long it takes me to guess the theme each month. The May 2006 Readers Write was tricky. Although the stories seemed to be about winning, a few were about the opposite. It all made sense when I saw the theme: “Winners and Losers.”
I recalled my days as a pastor, when I was required to preach on the theme set by the Liturgy Committee. No matter how ardently I tried, at the next committee meeting someone would declare that I’d not preached on the theme.
Virginia Eliot’s “Ways to Show Affection” [May 2006] is a beautiful essay on a subject the media almost completely ignore. We all know women — mothers, sisters, friends, aunts, cousins, wives, lovers — who have had abortions. Yet think of the last time a movie, TV show, book, or magazine portrayed a woman who has an abortion. In the recent movie North Country, the main character is raped — in high school — and abortion isn’t even considered as an option.
Almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and more than 1 million of those each year end in abortion. Why is something that so many women and families face still so stigmatized? Eliot’s essay reminds us that no woman who chooses abortion is alone.
A longtime proofreader, I reflexively scan whatever I am reading for errors. I almost always discover one, but never in The Sun. When I found a typo in the May 2006 issue (“brweakfast,” p. 46), I was happy: not because I’d found an error, but because it confirmed my belief that The Sun is real, and therefore imperfect like the rest of us.
Erica Berkeley responds:
That’s exactly why I left it in there. (Erica Berkeley is a Sun proofreader.)
Bruce Holland Rogers’s “Hello, Gorgeous!” [April 2006] is a beautiful story of how youth’s exuberance turns to adulthood’s dull monotony, then back to long-forgotten exuberance. For days I smiled whenever I thought of it.