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Winter: Notes from Montana Paperback – January 20, 1991
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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Can Rick Bass help it if his Soul’s been on a nature walkabout for all of his life? In Winter [notes from montana], Bass’s wandering spirit is alive and well and living in the Yaak Valley in Montana without electricity, without heat, other than the wood-fired variety, and without much contact with civilization given that only 30 people lived in this remote valley at the time. To read his writing, you get the sense that Bass has explored every canyon and fissure from a hundred points of view so he could bring us city folk back all the details. Both as a geologist, formerly employed by the Oil and Gas industry (Oil Notes is a great read about Bass’s days in the field, looking for new veins of petrol), and now as a writer, advocating on behalf of nature and her wild places, it’s evident that Bass craves a tactile connection with the earth and is keyed in to her secret language, a language he then translates for us in everything he writes. Winter is a memoir of Bass’s first year spent in the Yaak Valley, living with his then artist girlfriend (now wife), Elizabeth, and their two dogs, living close to the earth -- he writes about it while she sketches -- about the daily living, and the serendipity of the path, and the sublime and exquisite stillness of the world when you can actually find such an unlikely place, and how it contributes to the growth and grounding of us all whether we know it or not.
It’s cold in the Yaak Valley. Winter, as in the season, starts about September and goes clear through to March. When Bass and Elizabeth moved in, the locals told him them they needed to cut firewood. A LOT of firewood. Bass cut cords and cords of wood throughout much of the book, as a fitness routine, as a commune with nature, as a spiritual experience, as an exercise in survival, all of which are or may be the same, and when he thought he was done, the neighbors laughed so he cut more. Cords later, he called it and it was just enough to squeak past the interminable winter’s finish line. He was sweating it a little toward the end. A couple more weeks of winter and they would have been toast. That’s the thing about ditching our modern conveniences. There’s a raw, feral power in the earth that we humans aren’t so used to anymore. While daily life in a crowded environment puts us off our game, time spent in nature forces us to be present, open our eyes, pay attention. Not only will you miss nature’s little delights if you don’t, but you could end up in a whole heap of trouble. There’s a thousand ways to die in nature, simply because you aren’t paying attention. Yet there’s a thousand more ways to live more fully, simply because you are. Winter is a profound journey into the heart of the earth’s best kept secrets. Don’t be surprised if, after reading it, you want to close up the house and head for the wild.
I read this during winter (albeit a pathetic one, 2012's), and I could truly read it again--during any season--to rekindle the lovely truths that are brought about by snowfall, freezing temperatures, forests, and the places in our nearby world that rely upon these things, these cycles.
"Anything I'm guilty of is forgiven when the snow falls." (90)
"Learn to love the cold, the winter. If you love the country, the landscape--if you *really* love the country--then you may find yourself able to love it in winter most of all." (131)
Bass does have a good writing ability, though it shines only occasionally here when he gets introspective and philosophical. There are a few moral inconsistencies, like his ravenous consumption of firewood while musing on the beauty of trees, but to Bass' credit he does attempt to resolve (or justify) it through his seeming appreciation of man's hard relationship to nature. Bass definitely writes like a city transplant to the country, but his child-like fascination with all things wild and rural is endearing. I liked this book, though I doubt I'd read it the whole way through again.
Overall, this book is adequate.
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