Two appealing short stories and an exquisite novella from Montana essayist and storyteller Bass (The Book of Yaak, 1996; In the Loyal Mountains, 1995, etc.). The title novella revels in the rugged beauty of bluffs and thickets in Texas hill country, where three generations preserve the family ranch as a haven for wild animals and the wild at heart. The narrator, a middle-aged woman living alone on the ranch with her memories, recalls her formative influences: iron-willed Grandfather, whose battle cry (``the natural history of Texas is still being sacrificed upon the altar of generalization'') was stifled by a stroke, then reemerged when the old man relearned speech using the cadences of birdsong; his Mexican right-hand, Chubb, who was afraid of the dark but a tireless worker and fiercely loyal by day; Father, the county agent, who fought in vain to end overgrazing and protect eagles from his sporting, good-old- boy neighbors; and especially Mother, who died when the narrator was still a girl, but whose limestone-bluff resting place ensured that her presence remained, even as the family dwindled one by one. These ties to the past, binding the mother to the daughter and the daughter to the land, prove more durable than any link with potential mates. In ``The Myths of Bears,'' another Texan, Judith, breaks free of the increasing lunacy of her longtime partner, Trapper, outwitting him and enduring winter in the Alaskan wilderness alone, only to be tripped up later by her concern for him; in ``Where the Sea Used to Be,'' an Alabama man breaks away from his cold-blooded rich boss to show a knack for finding oil from the air that makes him legendary, but also introduces him to a rival passion: Sara. As thoughtful and captivating as his previous work: stories that can only increase Bass's reputation as a writer remarkably able to put people in nature in a way that enhances our understanding of both.