A nuanced blend of autobiography and environmental advocacy by the well-known novelist and short-story writer.
Bass (The Lives of Rocks, 2006, etc.) laments that the hard work of saving his home turf, the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana, has kept him from novel and short-story writing. “I used to be a fiction writer,” he says. “I loved that craft, that calling. I’ve had to all but abandon it, to speak out instead for another thing I love now just as much as language—the woods. These woods.” But that’s getting ahead of the story a touch, which opens with his discovery of that remarkable landscape, at 1,300 feet a comparative lowland against the nearby Rocky Mountains, its geological history accounting for its extraordinarily dense and diverse carpet of all-devouring greenery. That quality, Bass writes, reminded him and his wife instantly of their native South, where he had been working as a geologist for years while plotting an escape to some undiscovered paradise. Topping a mountain pass and looking down at the Yaak was love at first sight, and much of Bass’s nonfiction work of late has constituted a song of love for that land. He will turn away some environmentalist allies by his defense of hunting, which is modest and well reasoned: “In the Yaak, everything eats meat and everything is in motion, either seeking its quarry or seeking to keep from becoming quarry.” Against a local economy that is extractive and colonial—nearby Libby being ground zero for a particularly deadly form of environmental destruction—Bass’s willingness to live on renewable resources he has to work for is refreshing, even as he acknowledges the “impurity” attendant in being a human in a time of ecological crisis.
“I never wanted to go to war,” he concludes. “And the war, I realize, will never end.” A welcome summation of Bass’s work to date, and a call for action.