cover image Brown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism

Brown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism

Rick Bass. Milkweed Editions, $12 (150pp) ISBN 978-1-57131-224-2

In four essays, Bass (The Sky, The Stars, The Wilderness, etc.) ponders the relationship between literature and activism, organically fusing nature writing, environmentalism and the quest for meaning, leaping from the particular to the universal, from individual worries to planetary concerns, with breathtaking ease. As Bass discusses the difficulty of juggling the roles of writer and conservationist, his central theme emerges: art, which makes order out of chaos, and activism, which transforms the physical world, complement each other. The unifying thread in these reflections, oddly, is Colter, Bass's brown, German shorthaired pointer, a dog that helped him hunt grouse and pheasants in Montana's north woods. Bass draws some strained parallels between the dog's dexterity and the artist's forays into reality and imagination, yet anyone who has ever mourned the loss of a pet (and especially readers who have actually worked with dogs, as hunters do) will find solace in his soaring tribute to man's best friend. The collection's other major motif is the importance of preserving the Yaak, a wild valley between the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies where a handful of caribou, grizzly bears, bald eagles and other endangered species still survive. Bass believes that the area's logging industry should give way to sustainable forestry, and he calls for federal protection of his home's roadless wildlands. These eloquent essays renew the spirit and reawaken the senses. (May) FYI: Brown Dog of the Yaak launches Milkweed's new Credo series, which will address the concerns of contemporary nature writers. Scott Slovic is the series editor. Forthcoming books in the series will come from Patiann Rogers, Scott Russell Sanders and William Kittredge.