Rick Bass, a native southerner, made his home in the Yaak Valley region of northern Montana with his wife and two children. He was one of three children born to C. R. Bass, a geologist, and Lucy Bass, an English teacher. Educated at Utah State University, he received a B.S. in petroleum geology in 1979. He worked for several years in Mississippi as a petroleum geologist before developing his career as a writer. Though his southern roots gave him a strong foundation as a storyteller, it was by coming to the American West that Bass seems to have found his strongest voice, his reason for being a writer.
Bass’s first book, The Deer Pasture, is a collection of essays which tells the story of a time-honored family tradition, deer hunting in the Texas Hill country. The themes are ones that will stay central to much of Bass’s later work: the importance of family, the real (nonmonetary) value of land, and the role that nature can play in enriching human life. It concerns a question vital to his heart: how one can keep alive a sense of home in a world where, everywhere, the sense of home is being threatened or destroyed, both spiritually and physically. The essays are told in a loose, personal, almost folksy style. They brim with colorful local characters and vivid storytelling and describe the essential bonds that humans should share with the land, nature, and one another. The clear prose is etched with details about nature and the sport of hunting.
The Deer Pasture was followed by two other books of essays: Wild to the Heart and Oil Notes. Bass’s first book of fiction, The Watch, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award. The stories chronicle the lives of people living in southern, southwestern, and western landscapes and seem to reflect Bass’s own searching movements across the country. By age thirty, he had already established himself as an interesting and important young writer.
In 1987 Bass seemed to find his true home in the world, in the Kootenai National Forest region of Montana. His nonfiction book Winter describes the move he and his wife made from Mississippi up to the lonely, rural Montana environment, where they would stay. This move was a crucial stage in his career and life.
In 1992 Bass published an essay called The Ninemile Wolves. Like in The Deer Pasture, this book uses personal anecdotes, local characters, and poetic descriptions about the land. It tells the story of a wolf reintroduction program in northern Montana. Bass seems to write the essay, in part, to make sense of his own wanderlust, of his need for traveling across the land and pushing across frontiers. The essay turns on its head the notion that humans are the ones who are trying to save the environment. Instead, it is the environment—the wolvesthat is trying to save humans.
In 1998 Bass branched out from writing essays and short stories to write his first novel, Where the Sea Used to Be. He continues to publish short stories and essays, such as “Eating Montana: Last Stand of the Wilderness” (1998), in which he defends his principled stand on how wilderness should be preserved.
A defender of the wilderness, Bass’s writings show a passionate commitment to environmental issues and other causes, especially those affecting the western states. His work conveys the importance of developing and maintaining roots to family and the land—of having a sense of place in the world. In fighting for this sense of place, Bass often takes on big business, national politicians, and local government officials. He seems to champion the underdog, the proud fighter, such as in his editorial “The War of the West” (1995) or in an essay like “An Untouched Country,” published in Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of the Utah Wilderness (1996), in which he tries to revitalize the meaning of what a true American patriot really stands for. Additionally, he argues in The Ninemile Wolves that the myth of the lone wolf is just that—a myth. Like the wolf, a most social creature,...
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