Prolific nature writer Bass (The Black Rhinos of Namibia, 2012, etc.) offers a view of fine country and his family’s past through the scope of a rifle.
The author has long been a naturalist and novelist laureate of the Montana mountains, but here he returns home to Texas to ponder the ways of the old folks, four generations of Basses who passed glorious time in the rougher patches of the Hill Country. Life always entails death, of course. That’s the primary lesson of hunting, and of family history too; as Bass writes, “Each generation, I think, learns less and less about death, these days, rather than more—and so here I am, in this room full of old people….I wonder how often they think about it.” The author thinks often about the Hill Country’s abundant population of deer, who by his account, offer themselves up as a “gift of the land” in the old social contract of predator and prey. It’s a subject fraught with the possibility of being misread, given modern sensibilities, but there’s nothing of the yahoo or land-rapist in Bass’ approach either to hunting or to writing about it. Along the way, the author writes gracefully of the geology of the region, with its sandstones and feldspars and “nuggets and gravels that we call chat, which is a beautiful pink-rose color,” and of the spirit of the place, whose tongue “is the language of water…cutting down to the heart and soul of the earth, to a thing that lies far below and beyond our memory.” Those outraged at the thought of doing Bambi in may not be won over by the sometimes self-conscious lyricism, but anyone who has spent time in the Hill Country will recognize the author’s authenticity.
A minor but pleasing entry in Bass’ body of work.