A fan’s notes on wilderness, log-cabin life, grizzly bears and other aspects of the American outback.
Bass (Why I Came West, 2008, etc.) returns to the form of his early book Winter (1991), recording a year in the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana, an uncommonly lush and marshy tract of forest that, at 1,800 feet, is the state’s lowest elevation. This does not keep the Yaak from posing challenges aplenty in winter, in the thick of which the book opens. Bass strikes a Thoreauvian note at the outset, contrasting his contemplative life in the woods with other possibilities: “I’m not talking about out-and-out government-loathing misanthropy, not the survivalist’s manifesto kind of hunkering down, but something more peaceable and searching.” Considering that the Unabomber’s cabin and Ruby Ridge are both located not so far away, the apology isn’t misplaced, but it soon becomes apparent that there’s no misanthropy here, even if the events related aren’t entirely peaceable. (Nature is, after all, red in tooth and claw.) Bass takes a philosophical view of wilderness and the need to protect it, ascribing to the world a desire for order that admits human participation. In all this he is more conversational and less clenched of jaw than in previous essays. As the year progresses, the author takes the reader from days of endless gray sky, sideways-falling snow—indeed, at one point he recounts ten days without a break in snowfall—and winter blues (“like the effects of too many concussions”), to a superheated summer in which wildfire threatens to destroy his family’s home. In the end, the importance of family is what emerges most strongly, with Bass pondering whether his daughters’ lives will be made the better for their having grown up so far away from shopping malls, television and the other amenities of postmodern life.
A welcome installment in Bass’s ongoing place-centered autobiography.