In November, countless families across Texas head out for the annual deer hunt, a ritual that spans generations, ethnicities, socioeconomics, and gender as perhaps no other cultural experience in the state. Rick Bass's family has returned to the same hardscrabble piece of land in the Hill Country--"the Deer Pasture"--for more than seventy-five years. In A Thousand Deer, Bass walks the Deer Pasture again in memory and stories, tallying up what hunting there has taught him about our need for wildness and ...
In November, countless families across Texas head out for the annual deer hunt, a ritual that spans generations, ethnicities, socioeconomics, and gender as perhaps no other cultural experience in the state. Rick Bass's family has returned to the same hardscrabble piece of land in the Hill Country--"the Deer Pasture"--for more than seventy-five years. In A Thousand Deer, Bass walks the Deer Pasture again in memory and stories, tallying up what hunting there has taught him about our need for wildness and wilderness, about cycles in nature and in the life of a family, and particularly about how important it is for children to live in the natural world.
The arc of A Thousand Deer spans from Bass's boyhood in the suburbs of Houston, where he searched for anything rank or fecund in the little oxbow swamps and pockets of woods along Buffalo Bayou, to his commitment to providing his children in Montana the same opportunity--a life afield--that his parents gave him in Texas. Inevitably this brings him back to the Deer Pasture and the passing of seasons and generations he has experienced there. Bass lyrically describes his own passage from young manhood, when the urge to hunt was something primal, to mature adulthood and the waning of the urge to take an animal, his commitment to the hunt evolving into a commitment to family and to the last wild places.
Prolific writer Bass (The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana) makes clear that no one in his extended family suffers from nature-deficit disorder. These 12 essays, all previously published elsewhere, form a seamless celebration of family, tradition, and nature as seen through the scope of deer-hunting. Bass focuses his nonfiction on the wild and is at his best when telling stories: helping his cousin dig a truck out of a gumbo sidetrack in the driving rain or taking his teenage daughter on her first hunt, where he observed the snow-quiet world and "tracks that reminded me of the trident calligraphy of shorebirds on the beach." Bass draws his portraits of family and the cedar-studded hill country of Texas with care and grace. His descriptions are matched by insights: at his family's annual hunt they spend time shaping stories, "even as we knew also it was more the tellers than the stories themselves who were being shaped." VERDICT This book is for anyone who appreciates evocative prose and close observation of nature.—Michal Strutin, Santa Clara Univ. Lib., CA
Prolific nature writer Bass (The Black Rhinos of Namibia, 2012, etc.) offers a view of fine country and his family's past through the scope of a rifle. The author has long been a naturalist and novelist laureate of the Montana mountains, but here he returns home to Texas to ponder the ways of the old folks, four generations of Basses who passed glorious time in the rougher patches of the Hill Country. Life always entails death, of course. That's the primary lesson of hunting, and of family history too; as Bass writes, "Each generation, I think, learns less and less about death, these days, rather than more--and so here I am, in this room full of old people….I wonder how often they think about it." The author thinks often about the Hill Country's abundant population of deer, who by his account, offer themselves up as a "gift of the land" in the old social contract of predator and prey. It's a subject fraught with the possibility of being misread, given modern sensibilities, but there's nothing of the yahoo or land-rapist in Bass' approach either to hunting or to writing about it. Along the way, the author writes gracefully of the geology of the region, with its sandstones and feldspars and "nuggets and gravels that we call chat, which is a beautiful pink-rose color," and of the spirit of the place, whose tongue "is the language of water…cutting down to the heart and soul of the earth, to a thing that lies far below and beyond our memory." Those outraged at the thought of doing Bambi in may not be won over by the sometimes self-conscious lyricism, but anyone who has spent time in the Hill Country will recognize the author's authenticity. A minor but pleasing entry in Bass' body of work.
Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
- Daniel Clausen
The essays in A Thousand Deer flow into one another beautifully…While most hunting stories tread familiar paths of bragging or variations on Natty Bumppo, this book goes further. Exactingly observed and powerfully written, A Thousand Deer offers the richness of hunting to outsiders curious about such barbarian rituals and offers a voice for hunters who struggle to articulate the deep motives for walking frozen hills before dawn. This is a valuable contribution to nature writing, written with the intensity of a hunt.
Rick Bass is the author of twenty-seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Wild Marsh, Why I Came West, and The Lives of Rocks. Several of his books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, as well as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. He's been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and his short stories and essays have received O. Henry and Pushcart Prizes, and have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Travel Writing, and Best Spiritual Writing.
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