Home > 1990, 2000, 20th Century, 21st Century, American Literature, Bass Rick, Gallmeister, Highly Recommended, Nature Writing, Non Fiction > The Book of Yaak by Rick Bass – Poetic, peaceful and militant

The Book of Yaak by Rick Bass – Poetic, peaceful and militant

The Book of Yaak by Rick Bass (1996 & epilogue: 2007) French title: Le livre de Yaak. Translated by Camille Fort-Cantoni.

It is a kind of church, back in these last cores. It may not be your church — this last one percent of the West – but it is mine, and I am asking unashamedly to be allowed to continue worshipping the miracle of the planet, and the worship of a natural system not yet touched, never touched by the machines of man. A place with the residue of God – the scent, feel, sight, taste, and sound of God – forever fresh upon it.

I continue my literary journey in Montana and through nature writing as the hope of visiting Montana and Wyoming this summer vanishes like snow in the sun. My next stop is The Book of Yaak by Rick Bass, brought to French readers by Gallmeister.

Rick Bass has lived in the Yaak valley in Montana for twenty years before moving to Missoula. He wrote The Book of Yaak in 1996 and added its epilogue in 2007. It is an ode and a plea for the protection of these 471 000 acres of wilderness threatened by the timber industry. In this valley, less than two hundred humans cohabit with black bears, grizzlies, deers, wolves and coyotes.

Rick Bass tells us how he and his wife fell in love with the place. He takes us hiking in these old woods, describing the trees, the flowers, the river and the animals. He has a different approach to nature than Thomas McGuane in An Outside Chance.

With McGuane, hiking and hunting were sports. With Rick Bass, it’s a spiritual experience, a way to find peace, to experience the invisible link between humans and nature. It feels closer to Amerindian customs, more instinctive. His writing conveys his genuine love for this valley. It has become his happy place. He writes beautiful passages about art and nature and their connection. Living in this valley grounds him and fuels his artistic endeavors. He’s in communion with the nature around him. I’ve never read his fiction but I will.

I loved The Book of Yaak and I’m puzzled. I’m still trying to pinpoint why I love nature writing so much and what I find in these books.

I’m a very urban non-outdoorsy person. I don’t long to hike in the rain to reach the right fishing spot. I hated it when my parents took us blackberry gathering when I was a kid, mostly because I was bored to death and would have rather been at home with my books. I love the theatre, museums and sitting in coffee shops with a novel or my billets notebook. I love walking in historical districts of cities and admire old buildings, traditional shops and watch passersby. I can’t seem to do anything with my hands except hold a book and cook a little. For the rest, I’m pretty useless. My lack of sense of direction is legendary among my family, friends and colleagues. How would I survive in these nature writers’ tough environment?

However, the older I get, I more I want to spend my holidays in large spaces. I need to refuel. The more work experience I get in the corporate world, the more I envy the Rick Basses of this world who were brave enough to retrieve themselves from the grind. I’m not saying their life is easier or lazy, because it certainly isn’t. I’m saying they managed to cut the ball-and-chain of middle-class expectations and what-ifs that I have at my ankles. Mostly they were not afraid. Of missing out on the little comforts of everyday life, like central-heating, electricity and hot water. Of raising kids in a remote place. Of getting sick and being far from hospitals. Of not having enough money when they are old. Of living without a security net.

The Book of Yaak is also a plea, a way to raise awareness and seek for the reader’s help. Rick Bass is an ecology activist and he’s been relentless to have the Congress pass a bill to protect his beloved valley from the timber industry. He’s a moderate and doesn’t want to stop any woodcutting in the area, he just wants it to be local based and respectful of the fragile ecosystem of the valley. Saving the Yaak valley is a way to save humanity, a way to show ourselves that we can still turn our backs to our profit-oriented ways.

We need the wilderness to protect us from ourselves.

We need wilderness to buffer this dark lost-gyroscopic tumble that democracy, top-heavy with big business and leaning precariously over rot, has entered.

We’re an adolescent country, a tough, macho, posturing Madison Avenue sleek-jawed Marlboro Man’s caricature of strength.

We need the strength of lilies, ferns, mosses and mayflies. We need the masculinity of ponds and rivers, the femininity of stone, the wisdom of quietness, if not silence.

I guess I love nature writing for that and maybe it’s always been in me. After all, I loved Jim Harrison instantly when I was a young adult and Gary advocates the same ideas in The Roots of Heaven. In the end, the way we treat nature is an indication of how we treat humans.

Highly recommended.

  1. Vishy
    May 8, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    This looks like a wonderful book, Emma! I haven’t heard of Rick Bass before. So glad to have discovered a new-to-me writer. I am loving Gallmeister books more and more – they have selected some wonderful books for translation. I loved the quote you shared “We need the strength of lilies…” – so beautiful! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

    • May 8, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      It is a wonderful book, indeed. I think you’d love it.
      And yes, Gallmeister’s catalogue seems to suit you.

      Like

  2. May 9, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    This sounds really interesting. I’m also a city-dweller who loves nature writing. I definitely couldn’t live off-grid though!

    Like

    • May 10, 2020 at 10:13 am

      The Book of Yaak is an excellent read in these strange times. (It’s novella-long, btw)

      I’ve just read an excellent interview of Richard Powers about his vision about nature, trees and interdependancy. Have you read his book The Overstory? I think I’ll get it in French.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. May 10, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Im sure there is an explanation for your love of nature books yet lack of interest in going into nature itself. Maybe it’s not nature itself that you appreciate but that feeling of being at peace…

    Like

    • May 10, 2020 at 4:55 pm

      Or maybe it’s the feeling of living at a smaller pace and not rushing around so much and being surrounded by news, noise and things to do.

      Like

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