The spirit of the place

 

The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana
Rick Bass
384 pages, softcover: $26.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

The Yaak Valley in the northwestern corner of Montana is one of the wildest places in the continental United States, home to grizzly bears and mountain lions, wolverine and elk. Nature writer Rick Bass, who lives there, has devoted much of his career to pleading for the valley's preservation. But in The Wild Marsh, Bass' newest book, he's tasked himself with simply celebrating "this one sweet and specific place on earth."

The result is a loving, dreamy account of a year of life in the Yaak, with a chapter for each month. In January, from his writing cabin perched on the edge of a marsh, Bass watches the snow fall from "some dense and infinite reservoir." April, when the birds begin to sing, is "like walking into a crowded, noisy party." And in August, he keeps watch as fires roam the forest like "some vast herd of migratory animals."    

Bass seamlessly weaves metaphysical musings on God, fatherhood and nature with tales of his life in the rugged North, which involves a good deal of shoveling snow from the roof and rescuing stranded vehicles that have careened off the road.

Yet even in describing such practical matters, Bass' writing has a nearly surreal clarity. His long acquaintance with the valley -- over two decades -- gives his words weight, and his eye for detail makes them luminous. In April, he writes, the bears "which have been sleeping … suspended like astronauts in the frozen earth," come out to graze on glacier lilies, and the pollen gets caught "in the fur and on the snouts of the great golden bears as they go grubbing and pushing through the lily fields, pollinating other lilies in that manner." Many a nature writer has described the end of hibernation, but Bass does it in Technicolor.

 And if he falls too easily into abstraction -- musing for pages on the "mathematical-torque" of the Yaak, or speculating once too often about the meaning of it all -- it's easy to forgive him. Because the admirable capacity for wonder that leads him to philosophize so is the very quality that makes his observations of nature so striking. The Wild Marsh is a joy to read, and not only because it is a celebration of the Yaak. It is also a powerful argument for becoming intimate with the places we've chosen to call home.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) is seeking a dynamic community engagement assistant. The individual will work to identify and empower members, supporters, volunteers, and others...
  • VOICES OF WISDOM 2019 SOUTHWEST
    May 25 & 26 At the bank of the Colorado River, at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Colorado, the Sacred Fire Community in the Grand Valley...
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney