Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

I confessed some time ago on this blog to a now-mild but long-standing anti-Americanism in my reading practices: kind of like disliking the Maple Leafs, Disney, economists, all those things with enormously broad cultural capital that have no apparent self-awareness that other options exist. Over the years I was called out on it more than once, and I accepted the critiques but persisted because of what I took to be an acceptable mildness.

Note that this isn't an apology, or a promise to change, just a confession. Do with that what you will.

In my reading, though, there are two important effects of my failing to get to some of the good stuff that this bias pushed aside. First, I'm now having to work overtime to develop a greater sensitivity to and deeper immersion in all that American literature that's relevant to my research interests. Even though my interests are primarily Canadian, it's intellectually criminal to overlook connections and links, especially in a transnational location like British Columbia, and I've got some seriously heavy lifting ahead of me that could have been avoided. Second, though, I get to read the good stuff while I'm genuinely hungry for it, and I couldn't be happier about that!

Rick Bass' Book of Yaak was such a treat to read. Sure, sometimes he gets more than a little insistent about what he's trying to achieve, and those of us without congresspeople could do with being less frequently exhorted to write our congresspeople, but there's such range to his writing that I don't much mind it. He describes sublime landscapes with what feels like gentleness, moments of beauty with what feels like the spirit of community, and these passages mark him as a truly impressive nature writer.

On the other hand, his self-awareness as crank, activist, greenie, and writer connect him with David Gessner, whose Sick of Nature I also really enjoyed this year. (Plus his self-awareness doesn't manifest purely as self-deprecation, so that's a welcome divergence from the standard approach.) Bass's voice is more closely connected to traditional nature writing than Gessner's, however, even though both these books are products of divided spirits, and the emphasis on bodily experience probably makes it a better choice for my upper-level undergrad course in January.

In amongst statistics and news briefs about the accelerating pace of logging in Montana through the 1980s and 1990s:
I never meant to get into it this deep. I meant only to live in these quiet green woods and live a life of poetry -- to take hikes, to read books, to lie in meadows with a bit of gold straw in my mouth and watch the clouds, and my life, go by. (p.102)
And then back into the news stories and the grief and the anger. From this interlude, Bass jumps immediately into the US Forest Service's 1987 decision to cut 90 million board feet of lumber in Montana, because of biologists' concerns about grizzly habitat -- only to see it lifted to 130 million, after the biologists say they made a mistake. Which they realized after meeting with some industry reps and Republican senators. Probably a coincidence.

He never meant to get it into this deep, but he's in now, and he's never coming out. Mostly, that makes me happy, but it's a tense life that he documents, and the night sweats are something I feel for and with him, here in BC. Distinctly a treat, The Book of Yaak. Another of those books that I'm glad someone else has written, thus relieving me of the need to live quite differently than I do and write something like it myself....


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