Embracing parched ground

 

All the Land to Hold Us
Rick Bass
322 pages, hardcover:
$25.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Rick Bass' fourth novel, All the Land to Hold Us, focuses on human desire and – like the Montana writer's many previous books – our relationship with the natural world. Richard is a geologist who reads rock layers to find oil, fossils and water. Working West Texas oilfields in the 1960s, he falls for Clarissa, a local beauty. Together they wander the desert between Odessa and the Pecos River, reveling in the mysteries offered by the rough land.

Unearthing fossils and old human skulls, Richard finds brilliance in the present moment: "pausing in their travels … to lavish time, upon each other, in the brief years before their time ran out and they were covered over." Their courtship peaks at Juan Cordona Lake, a salt lake deposit, where three decades earlier another couple, Max and Marie Omo, mined salt and endured hardships that nearly broke them. The saga follows Richard to oilfield work in Mexico and back to Texas, where his journey intersects with Marie's later years.

Bass emphasizes the wonder and harshness of the land, in a style that borders on magical realism. Skeletons in tattered clothing dot the lake, marking where the salty quicksand has trapped unfortunate travelers. Dunes engulf a house overnight. A behemoth catfish is captured and then kept alive, out of water, for three days by spray from a garden hose.

Most of the characters pursue some kind of obsession: salt, beauty, fossils, treasure, oil, water. The earth itself draws Richard into recognizing the fullness that life offers. Beside the lake, the lovers await sunrise, noticing: "The colors swarmed within their halite trap, surging and pulsing, as the sun inched higher. Richard felt that if he tossed a crumpled piece of paper out onto the salt flat, it would ignite, pierced by a shaft of fierce white light."

With his characteristic well-crafted prose, Bass explores how the landscape becomes part of each person's story. He offers a subtle spiritual vision, reminding us that the geologic layers beneath our feet are powerful metaphors for human life.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MATADOR RANCH MANAGER
    The Matador Ranch Manager directs operations, communication, and maintenance for TNC Montana's Matador Ranch preserve with a focus on ecological management and restoration, grazing management,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - THRIVE HOOD RIVER (OREGON)
    Thrive Hood River (Oregon) is looking for a collaborative leader who cares deeply about Hood River's wild places, farmland and the quality of life in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities....
  • NORTH FORK RECREATION DISTRICT ADMINISTRATOR
    The NFPPRD District Administrator provides leadership and managerial services associated with the Recreation District. Facilities include a seasonal pool, ballfields, bike trails, tennis/pickleball and skateboarding....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BADLANDS CONSERVATION ALLIANCE
    The Executive Director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance (BCA) builds and leads a premiere North Dakota advocacy group that serves to protect the ecology of...
  • CLIMATE FELLOW
    Application deadline: Monday, March 6th, 2023, at 5 p.m. MST. Anticipated start date: May 15, 2023 About the position Are you ready to craft an...
  • RISING LEADERS MANAGER
    Application deadline: Monday, March 27, 2023, at 5 p.m. MST Anticipated start date: May 22 or May 30, 2023 About the position Do you want...
  • SENIOR SPECIALIST, LANDSCAPE CONNECTIVITY YELLOWSTONE TO YUKON CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
    About the Organization Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a joint Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization with a mission to connect and protect wildlife habitat from...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a Virginia Spencer Davis fellow. The...
  • GRANTS MANAGER
    The Grants Manager is a passionate information manager, fundraiser, and communicator versed in government and foundation grant and cooperative agreement writing and management, specifically to...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Communications Director is a passionate communications professional versed in conservation and regenerative agriculture, as well as nonprofit communications and data management across several program...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Education and Outreach Director is a people-oriented facilitator, communications wizard, and team leader who has experience designing, managing, and fundraising for land based educational...
  • ADOBE HOME FOR SALE
    Restored traditional adobe home in No. New Mexico on 1+ acre site, irrigation water, separate large shop/studio. Please email for photos/full description.
  • HIGH COUNTRY NEWS EDITORIAL INTERNS
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is looking for its next cohort of editorial interns....
  • DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM SPECIALIST
    hat We Can Achieve Together: If you are a detailed individual that takes pride in your accuracy, this position may be the perfect opportunity for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - LEMHI COUNTY HUMANE SOCIETY (SALMON, IDAHO)
    Are you ready to take the reins at Lemhi County Humane Society and make a difference in the lives of countless animals? We are seeking...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    We characterize contaminated sites, identify buried drums, tanks, debris and also locate groundwater.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...