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Rick Bass and the Montana Wild
(Photo by Nicole Blaisdell)

Author Rick Bass at his home in Montana. (Photo by Nicole Blaisdell)

Rick Bass, award-winning author and environmental activist, has lived in the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana for over 20 years.

Well known as a chronicler of the western wilderness, the Yaak Valley in particular, his newest book is something of a modern-day “Walden.” Like Thoreau, Bass records in lush detail the passage of seasons and the natural world.

But while Thoreau went into the woods alone, Bass is a family man — and he reflects on raising young children immersed in the wild.

This hour, On Point: Rick Bass and a year in the Montana wilderness.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Rick Bass joins us from Spokane, Wash.  An award-winning chronicler of the American western wilderness and an environmental activist, his new book is “The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana.” Among his many other works of fiction and nonfiction are “The Book of Yaak,” “The Ninemile Wolves,” “The Hermit’s Story,” “The Lives of Rocks,” and “Why I Came West.”

Read an excerpt from “The Wild Marsh.”

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  • JaneM

    My husband and I visited Yaak River two years ago in early summer. We took a driving tour of Northwestern Montana. It was a fabulous trip, and we were struck by how friendly everyone was. My theory is that there are so few people in Montana they are always happy to see you. Yaak River was so interesting because so many people live “off the grid” and love it. We stayed at a lodge where earlier in the spring a Grizzly bear had broken into a neighbor’s freezer to eat frozen cooky dough!

  • Leslie Wales

    Hello. I spent my junior and senior high school years (1977-1983 in the San Gabriel Valley of California (Pasadena). These were years of smog alerts when you could not play outside, you could not see Mount Wilson 10 miles away. Thankfully, I grew up camping and sailing – outdoors all the time- with my parents. I had the privilege of escaping to a dude ranch on the Blackfoot River during my high school years. This was my salvation. I felt such a deep disconnect from LA, and such a sense of place (and happy without a reason) in Montana. This awareness of the value and spirituality of nature stays with me to this day as I raise my children, however, I am not much of an independent camper or hiker…but I have made my family’s travels where we appreciate the inspiration of nature. That said, I still feel like a lone voice, with little time or money, to protect these values. What else can one soul do?

  • Charlie Mc

    I grew up in the “wilds” of the South Shore of Boston and expected my family to do the same. Sometime in the past, I encouraged my children to attend the Mountain School of Vershire, Vermont. Consequently, my oldest daughter is a very happy Missoulian teacher and musician, and my youngest son is backpacking through northern Montana and Canada as I write.
    My question is: Are we not promoting albeit beautiful but limited and diminishing wildlife refuges
    as the source of “happiness”? What about meditative focusing on a reality inaccessible to sensory capture or intellectual conceptualization. There must be something else for those among us not “lucky” enough to access those places, yet able to realize the happiness possibilities of the present moment and on the task and place at hand.

  • http://www.lilysgardenherbals.com Kim Falcone

    I want to take the comments of callers and Mr. Bass a step further by saying that not only is finding peace in the natural word a wonderful privilege, but I feel that a conscious connection with nature is wired into our DNA as mammals. Humans need this connection to nourish our endocrine system, to help us become or stay healthy.

  • CarolynP

    I wonder what Rick thinks about what may be a deep contradiction in Americans’ thinking, since Thoreau, wanting to go back to nature and valuing that nature deeply. But at the same time those values and that desire lead so many people to move to “the country”, places like where I live (Rehoboth, MA) that used to be “way out of town,” but no longer are, having led to the devastating sprawl that has contributed so vastly to the global catastrophe we face.

  • Laurel Ruma

    Just another fantastic hour. I’ve been reading Rick’s work for a long time and my trips to Montana are filled with his thoughtful words and ideas.

    Thank you for having him on.

  • http://www.Schroederville.com Sheryl Schroeder

    My father lives in Libby, MT, just down the road from the Yaak. I am from Southern California, and I’ve lived in expensive beach cities all my life where I have to work 2 jobs just to pay my high rent. It’s a rat race, not worth it, and I long to escape to a much more rural area one day.
    I visited my dad in Montana last summer, he took me up to the Yaak. In Libby, they call it a “Yaak Attack” when you go up there. It was spectacular, and we spent a whole day just bonding and talking to some of his quirky friends that were locals up in the Yaak. The people I met had that deep down contentment… a happiness at just being alive. It was so wonderful and refreshing for me. Just to breathe the air was a treat. What a beautiful and special place. May it long be off the grid! Rick, I cannot wait to read your book.

  • Mike Tomsyck

    I was really glad to hear the Yaak Valley Montana show because i have visited the Yaak area. I listened for as long as I could but I had to turn it off because of something that seems to really be getting progressively worse on Public Radio. Mr. Bass is a great author but like so many other recent guests they cannot complete a sentence without making multiple “ah” noises. He was one of the worst ever. I recently visited Spring Green and out of the blue a number of people commented on how terrible the spoken language on Public Radio has become. It tends to be worst among the featured guests. I know there isn’t much you can do about it but sometimes it causes the moderators to start doing it.
    So thank you for your time and have an enjoyable Summer.

  • Tom Cantlon

    I noticed that the callers talked slowly. Even the one that said she’d been exposed to wilderness as a youngster but had lived in Manhattan for 20 years. In some ways I’m a slow person myself, which is why I often don’t get around to listening to these things until weeks later, and by then I suppose posting is pretty pointless, but what the heck.

    To the commenter asking if we’re promoting ever fewer wildlife refuges as a source of happiness. And can people have a similar meditative experience wherever they are. I’m sure you can do some of that, and I hope some are better at it than I am. But I too need stillness. And stillness in a garden feeds me. But stillness in the wide open is a feast.

    To the commenter who worries our seeking wilderness just becomes sprawl and ruins it. Guilty as charged. Not sure what can be done about it other than a much smaller human population and simpler way of life. If you figure out a way to sell that to the average person let me know and I’ll be glad to help.

    To the commenter who longs to move to a more rural place someday, do it now. I’m in a semi-rural area surrounded by lots bought by people in California who want to move here when they retire. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly that their health fails before that happens, or finances put off the retirement, or they get here and aren’t here long before they’re in a home. Don’t wait. Make it happen or it won’t.

    I love his response to one caller, quoted below. It’s a wonderful quote, and shows the authors craft that he can throw off something like this in such a wonderful way. If that had come to him while he was writing it would be a keeper.
    “It’s not even taught. It’s not that complicated. Just when we have some space or wild country to exist in, kids get it. I’ve seen them get it, and adults get it. I’ve seen folks from big cities who come out and visit and have never been in the woods. They get it within the first couple of hours. That paradox of feeling a greater connection to the world and simultaneously understanding how infinitesimally minute one is in that relationship. Why such a realization should bring overwhelming peace or happiness, it really seems paradoxical to what we’re taught. Be big, be bold, be dramatic, and it’s almost like a relief to stand in the fabric of the wild landscape and realize, oh no, all bets are off, that’s not how it is, and hurray that it’s not. Kids get that. That’s the essence of childhood. You’re not significant, your not a world changer, you’re not dramatic or bold, you are this tiny little thing with a big imagination. Maybe that’s where that happiness comes from.”

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