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Evocative account of Arctic strays toward soapbox

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Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 464 pp. $22.95. It's hard to disagree with any of the salient points made by Barry Lopez in ``Arctic Dreams.'' Mr. Lopez is invariably ethically correct when assessing what should and should not happen to the far northern reaches of America.

And as he has demonstrated in four other works of nonfiction, most notably the engaging ``Of Wolves and Men,'' he can report on the facts and the arcana of natural history as well as anyone else. Everything about a landscape as it penetrates consciousness and becomes a factor in mental life interests him.

His book on the Arctic tells of walruses, seals, Eskimos, oil companies, (innumerable) explorers, field biologists, the movement of ice, the lack or abundance of light (remember, this is the Arctic, land of the midnight sun), and the astonishing narwhal, a first view of which prompted this appraisal: ``It was as though something from a bestiary had taken shape.''

At his best, Lopez is a connoisseur of natural phenomena, and he conveys what he sees with precision: ``There were 250,000 lesser snow geese at Tule Lake. At dawn I would find them floating on the water, close together in a raft three-quarters of a mile long and perhaps 500 yards wide. When a flock begins to rise from the surface of the water, the sound is like a storm squall arriving, a great racket of shaken sheets of corrugated tin. (If you try to separate the individual sounds in your head, they are like dry cotton towels snapping on a wind-blown clothesline.)''


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