Review

The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana

by Rick Bass

Rick Bass is a writer who understands the English language in
all its complexity. Like his compadre-in-spirit, Annie Dillard, his
focus on the natural world allows him to use it in exciting and
very poetic ways to describe the most miniscule events, as if they
are completely altering the world as we know it. And sometimes they
are. In his new memoir, THE WILD MARSH, Bass discusses his life in
Montana. A home on the range has never seemed more contemplative,
inviting or debilitating, in equal measure.

Like an adventure story, THE WILD MARSH begins in one place and
ends up in a very different place, although the actual location of
the story doesn't change at all. What do I mean by that? Simply
put, the natural year's journey that Bass and his family make from
January through December over the course of one year --- a family
consisting of two young daughters, a devoted wife and mother, and
Bass --- becomes as enthralling and fascinating as any Robert Louis
Stevenson tome you've ever put your hands on. It is not merely the
way the marsh changes throughout the seasons, the amazing natural
panorama, a moving science museum diorama of exciting creatures and
everchanging flora passing by his writing cabin's window that make
this story so compelling. Instead, it is simply the idea of
survival in such a climate and place that grabs the readers, taking
them by the jugular and pulling them through the year, always
asking, "How did you survive that one?"

The severe cold, the treacherous trails that have to be braved
on a daily basis to take the children to their one-room
schoolhouse, the scary wild animals (black bear, anybody?) that
inhabit this beautiful place give us glimpses into what it really
means, in this technologically-savvy world in which we live, to "go
back to the land." Although Bass and his family do not live
primarily off the land, it is this land that sustains them in both
spiritual and intellectual ways, giving Bass a platform for his
most persuasive and pervasively poetic meanderings. Without the
marsh and its constant challenges, one senses that Bass would be
half the man he purports to be --- it is the lifeline he has fit so
intently into his jugular that the very rhythms of its pumping keep
him connected to the Earth in a way that is daily bread for him and
his writing.

THE WILD MARSH wears in some places, the way that someone's
YouTube video of their vacation can. Yes, it was great for you but
it's not right for me. Still, with his very heartfelt words pouring
out straight from his heart, Bass's book cannot fail to make you,
if only for a moment, envy his contemplative and very athletic
life.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 24, 2011

The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana
by Rick Bass

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2009
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0547055161
  • ISBN-13: 9780547055169