Yaak Valley writer Rick Bass travels far afield, to the landscape of his youth, in his latest book – an eloquent paean to the life cycles of family and nature.
A Thousand Deer takes readers to the Hill Country of west Texas, where the menfolk of the Bass family – Granddaddy, Uncle Jimmy, his father and cousins – gather each November to hunt. “Our legacy, our blessing, has been to grow up on the land and to take from it while giving back to it, too.
“We learned to give the land our memories and love, to give it back respect, to give it back everything – including, in time, our bodies.”
And indeed, in addition to paying homage to his family’s hunting ethos, Bass also allows his kinship with this patch of aging earth – “billion-year-old land we love and that harbors us” – educate him about loss and death.
“I’ve lived long enough to see men in my family live long enough to cross that intersection where they finally learn and embrace the real language of the earth … leaving us behind, the survivors.”
Although A Thousand Deer appears to be about hunting, Bass begins the book with a tribute to “my naturalist mother” : “Like the best of guides, she led me to places where those pathways lit up, and then stepped aside, allowing me my own discoveries …” He leans into the natural world for solace after her death. “Grief moves like a glacier, and sorrow like a slow river,” he writes.
It’s also a reminder – as is so much of Bass’s writing – of the grace and magic that wilderness imparts, and the paucity its destruction brings to our spirits and imaginations.
How does he pass this legacy – a deep sense of place, and family – on to his own children?
A Thousand Deer ends with a vivid accounting of his oldest daughter’s first hunt, and “the extra fire and joy in my heart, the pride and strange peace,” he feels when she shoots her first deer.
It’s a book that makes, in the author’s own words, “full-circle sense.”
A Thousand Deer was published by the University of Texas Press in Austin and sells for $24.95.
– Kristi Niemeyer