“It was a blow he never recovered from,” his wife said, explaining that shortly after the fire he developed cardiac ailments that contributed to his death.
Mr. Lopez described himself as driven by “a desire simply to go away,” “to find what the skyline has cordoned off.” It led him to the most remote outposts of the world, and to what many of his readers saw as a transcendent understanding of natural life, human life and their intersections.
“Even though I appear to write largely about other landscapes and animals,” he said in 1986 when he received the National Book Award for nonfiction, “what is in my gut as a writer is a concern with the fate of the country I live in and the dignity and morality of the people I live with.”
The award honored his best known work, “Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape.” That book, like many of his writings, spanned anthropology, biology, zoology, geology, philosophy and the tradition of travel writing. He was sometimes characterized as a travel writer, although the word “travel” seemed insufficient to describe many of his journeys. His time in the Arctic lasted five years.
“‘Arctic Dreams’ is a book about the Arctic North in the way that ‘Moby-Dick’ is a novel about whales,” book critic Michiko Kakutani wrote in a review for the New York Times.
Mr. Lopez recalled meeting an Inuit man who, well acquainted with the habits of the writers who came to the region to indulge their passing fancies, inquired how long he planned to stay: “One day — newspaper story,” the man remarked, counting on his fingers. “Two days — magazine story. Five days — book.’’
“The point he made was not lost on either of us,” Mr. Lopez told the Times in 1986. “Over the years, [he] had seen journalists and photographers drop into his village for a few days, pick up a little local color, and then leave with what they thought was an understanding of the way of life up there.”
Mr. Lopez took an entirely different approach, immersing himself in the Inuit world even as he recognized that he would never be a part of it. He joined hunting groups but never took part in killing an animal.
“It would be presumptuous of me because I have no long-term relationship with the walrus, seals and caribou,” he told the Times. “The act of hunting, of taking an animal’s life, is the center of a religious experience. When the animal comes toward the man, they believe, and you come to understand, the man must behave in a certain way. The animal decides to feed you and your family and you owe that animal respect.”
In a similar show of respect, he decided, at a certain point, no longer to photograph the wildlife. Training his telephoto lens on a polar bear, he was overcome by the feeling, he said, that he had misused his “advantage over the bear.” On subsequent expeditions, he honed his observational abilities and memorized the movements of the animals whose world he had entered.
Describing the “chitinous shell of an insect,” “the bones of a lemming” or the “strand of staghorn lichen next to them on the tundra,” Mr. Lopez “gripped you by the shoulder,” British nature writer Robert Macfarlane wrote in the Guardian, “and pressed his binoculars to your eyes.”
Another of Mr. Lopez’s most noted works was “Of Wolves and Men” (1978), an exploration of the majestic creatures that have been by turns admired and hated and often threatened by human civilization.
His work spanned fiction and nonfiction, short stories and essays. His travels took him to Australia, where he watched a mob of kangaroos jumping across the plains as a rainbow formed after a rainstorm, and aboard an ice-breaking vessel en route to Antarctica.
He sought the beautiful, describing the marvels of scuba diving in the Caribbean, as well as the awful, traveling under armed escort in Afghanistan to view the ruins of cultural treasures destroyed by the Taliban and to Aceh, Indonesia, in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.
There was one scene he could not bring himself to look upon: the captivity of animals in a zoo. “I just can’t bear it,” he told the Straits Times of Singapore in 2014. “It’s like walking through a mental hospital — the same brokenheartedness I feel in a situation like that.”
Barry Holstun Brennan was born in Port Chester, N.Y., on Jan. 6, 1945. He was raised by his mother, a home economics instructor, and his stepfather, a magazine publisher, who legally adopted him and gave him the surname Lopez.
Mr. Lopez spent part of his childhood in California’s San Fernando Valley, where his exploration of Western landscapes would help inspire his future ventures into the wilderness. He recalled raising a coyote as a pet and recognizing early on that nature could provide his greatest solace.
He later moved to New York City, where he attended a Jesuit preparatory school, and studied liberal arts at the University of Notre Dame, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1966 and a master’s degree in 1968. He considered entering the Roman Catholic priesthood, even spending a short period in the monastery. Ultimately, he told the Toronto Star, “my work became my prayer. … I had a different kind of illumination.”
Mr. Lopez’s works were published in magazines, including Harper’s and the Paris Review, and he taught at universities including Notre Dame.
His marriage to Sandra Landers ended in divorce. Besides Gwartney, whom he married in 2007, survivors include four stepdaughters, Amanda Woodruff and Mary Woodruff, both of Eugene, and Stephanie Woodruff and Mollie Harger, both of Portland, Ore.; a half brother; and three grandchildren. Among his last publications was “Horizon” (2019), a book-length reflection on his years of travel.
He had concluded “Arctic Dreams” with a sentiment that seemed to remain true until the end of his life. Peering at the Bering Sea, he bowed toward the north, “before the simple evidence of the moment in my life in a tangible place on the earth that was beautiful.”
“I bowed again, deeply, toward the north, and turned south to retrace my steps over the dark cobbles to the home where I was staying,” he wrote. “I was full of appreciation for all that I had seen.”
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