email a friend iconprinter friendly iconFrozen Ground
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My guess would be that someone someday will trace the roots of modern human loneliness to a loss of intimacy with place, to our many breaks with the physical Earth. We are not out there much anymore. Even when we are, we are often too quick to take things in. A member of the group who insists on lingering is "holding everyone else up." I think about this kind of detachment from the physical world frequently, because human beings, generally, seem to long for a specific place, a certain geography that gives them a sense of well-being.

When I was traveling regularly in the Arctic, I routinely asked Yupik, Inupiat, and Inuit how they characterized people from the civilization of which I was a part. "Lonely" was a response I heard with discomfiting frequency. The cure for loneliness, I have come to understand, is not more socializing. It's achieving and maintaining close friendships. The trust that characterizes that kind of friendship allows one to be vulnerable, to discuss problems that resist a solution, for example, without having to risk being judged or dismissed. I bring this up because the desire I experience most keenly, when I travel in landscapes like the ones made so evocative here, is for intimacy. I have learned that I will not experience the exhilaration intimacy brings unless I become vulnerable to the place, unless I come to a landscape without judgments, unless I trust that the place is indifferent to me. The practice I strive for when I travel is to meet the land as if it were a person. To encounter it as if it were as deep in its meaning as human personality. I wait for it to speak. And wait. And wait.

The moon is beautiful, but I do not live on the moon. The Earth everywhere, even in places where people never or seldom live, is thought to be beautiful, and throughout human history, people of very different persuasions have behaved as if the Earth everywhere were speaking to them. Until now. Now, many more people prefer to believe the Earth is mute, that it has no intrinsic worth. Its worth, they say, lies with its utility. Or with its conventional beauty, its scenery.

It's with thoughts like these that a kind of detachment begins to take hold.

When I look at these photographs, I feel a twinge of misgiving. Disintegration of this frozen habitat is now occurring around the world. A silent warning. We can enter the images here though, even if we have never had the experience of being in the Arctic. The photographs say the Earth is profound and revealing, but in these opening years of the 21st century the nature of the Earth's beauty is changing.

The photographs are asking, What do you think? Years from now, they ask, what will it mean to live in earthly beauty?
Barry Lopez is the author of Arctic Dreams, winner of the National Book Award. The work of photographer Bernhard Edmaier, a geologist and civil engineer by training, merges science and aesthetics. This is his first assignment for the magazine.
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