Taking its title from an affecting speech given by renowned author Barry Lopez, Because It Is So Beautiful is a response to desperate questions surrounding the protection and preservation of America’s wildlands. Lopez asserted that wilderness activists will never achieve the success they seek until they can testify before legislators that a certain river or mountain must be savednot because of its economic importance or its recreational, historical, or scientific value, but because it is so beautiful. The words resonated with young mountaineer-musician-mathematician Robert Leonard Reid, who was struggling to understand his relationship to the world, to find his vision as a writer. What he learned on that long-ago evening is that to save a wildernessor indeed even to live one’s lifeyou must reach deep into your heart and find what is there, then speak it plainly and without shame. This belief is knit throughout the nineteen pieces in the collection, which include essays from Reid’s previous books Arctic Circle, Mountains of the Great Blue Dream, and America, New Mexico, three essays that appear here in print for the first time, as well as revised and expanded versions of essays that appeared in Touchstone, The Progressive, and elsewhere.
Yes, every inch of the globe has been seen, mapped, photographed and measured, but is it known? Reid doesn’t think so. To draw a circle and calculate its diameter is not to know the circle. These essays cast a wide net in their exploration of the natural world; from chronicling the perilous ascents of Mount Logan, Canada’s tallest peak in “Intruders on a Lifeless Ridge”, to “Ling-Ling Has Killed Another Baby”a poem written from the perspective of the famous panda herself which leaves the reader questioning what it means to be captive, to bring life into this world, what it means to hold blame. “Journeys through Space and Time” brings forward echoes of the forced migration of the Diné (Navajo) people in his depiction of modern Gallup, New Mexico as a microcosm for the treatment of Native Peoples by the United States. A profound turn of poetic stream-of-consciousness comes in “The Fire and The Rose”, in which the essay dives suddenly into an account of a bear encounter one moonlight night in the northern vastness of Yosemite National Park. Reid recounts how this story, over time, has changed from a spectacle to be shared for astonishment into the realization that a barrier had been breached that night, a light ignited. “Rebuilding the Clouds” unearths the nuclear bones and persistent mysticism beneath the New Mexican desert, proposing the idea that perhaps the most amazing thing about modern science is not the startling new view of the world it has given us, but its failure to efface the old view.
In this collection, Reid distinguishes himself from many science-based nature writers, using the natural world as a springboard for speculations and musings on the numinous and the sacred, injustice, homelessness, the plight of the Indians, and what pushes mountaineers to climb. Ranging in their settings from eastern New Mexico to northern Alaska, Reid’s essays illustrate, often in poetic turns of prose, his belief that the American West is worth celebrating and caring for. Above all, because it is so beautiful.
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About the Author
Author of Mountains of the Great Blue Dream, Arctic Circle: Birth and Rebirth in the Land of the Caribou, and America, New Mexico, Robert Leonard Reid has received grants from the Sierra Arts Foundation and the Nevada Arts Council. He has worked as a songwriter, a cabaret pianist, and a mathematics textbook writer. He lives in Carson City, Nevada, with his wife, Carol, and his son, Jake.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xi
To Live One's Life 3
West, to the Future 9
From America, New Mexico
Rebuilding the Clouds 13
Journeys Through Space and Time 33
A Shelter in the Sky 65
The Condor's Last Flight 109
Ling-Ling Has Killed Another Baby 122
A Poem, Gathering in My Mind 125
Intruders on a Lifeless Ridge 143
From Arctic Circle (Six Excerpts)
I To Feel the Earth Turn 161
II Honeymoon Blues 189
III Very Close to Everywhere 198
IV Travels with Lucky 203
V The Porcupine in Winter 209
VI A Vow Fulfilled 216
The Fire and the Rose 226
From Mountains of the Great Blue Dream
Pilgrimage to Tsoodzil 264
Landscape of the Settled Heart 290