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High Uintas Bookshelf

A High Uintas Bookshelf

In this column we’ll list 2-4 interesting articles, books or the like that have caught our attention. They aren’t necessarily recent or recently read-- sort of a random compilation. Within a year, hopefully, we’ll have an established and detailed reading list. It won’t be complete without your additions. Please send suggestions and a descriptive sentence or two.

This month’s reviews are by HUPC member Brenda Schussman of Eden, Utah, HUPC Coordinator Dick Carter, and LYNX editor Margaret Pettis.

The Book of Yaak. Rick Bass. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1996. Reviewed by Brenda Schussman.

This book, as Bass describes it, is not a book, certainly not like any of his other books. “This is instead an artifact of the woods, like a chunk of rhyolite, a shed deer antler, a bear skull, a heron feather.”
What does Rick Bass want? He wants the last few roadless areas in the still-wild Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana to remain that way.

What does he propose? He wants to have local loggers and environmentalists work together, find common ground, and protect the wilderness around them. He wants to try to develop a sustainable local economy by allowing salvage and selective logging. He thinks these efforts could save the Yaak Valley. “I believe the simplest and yet most inflammatory belief of all: that we can have wilderness and logging both in the Yaak Valley.” He wrestles with the issues— and the solutions.

“It is a place to save--. This valley still exists in the Lower Forty-eight as a chance to explain to corporate America – Big Timber, mostly – that as human beings we still have at our core an essence, a yearning for and affiliation with wilderness….”

Would it work if given a chance? Can everyone come together to agree on such a strategy?

Rick Bass says that he needs to balance his art and his anger. He writes, using his art, to draw detailed images of his Yaak Valley; and he makes the plea, in his anger, that everyone needs to find common ground and to fight for wilderness. “We need the strength of lilies, ferns, mosses and mayflies. We need the masculinity of ponds and rivers, the femininity of stone, the wisdom of quietness, if not silence.” In Bass’ world of the Yaak Valley, he tries to protect its biological diversity by protecting the last remaining roadless areas. He writes of its deep beauty and makes a case for compatible and sustainable uses of its wildness.

Rick Bass wrote The Book of Yaak in 1996. Ten years have passed, and the struggle still goes on. In July 2005, the Kootenai National Forest released an initial “starting option” for the new Forest Plan. At that time, it proposed to manage only two of the last fourteen roadless areas as wilderness. Less than 5% of the Yaak Valley would be managed as wilderness under that proposal. Since then, due to pressure from special interest groups, the Kootenai National Forest has withdrawn its proposed designation of wilderness for any of the roadless areas. The final proposal for the Forest Plan will be distributed this month, followed by a 90-day comment period.

We know the reasons that we have to continue the struggle to protect wild areas. Rick Bass, writing about the Yaak Valley, can help to give us the determination to continue to voice our need to protect wilderness areas wherever we find them.

Wilderness Forever. Howard Zahniser and the Path to the Wilderness Act. Mark Harvey. University of Washington Press. 2005. Reviewed by Dick Carter.

In this long-awaited and enlightening book, Mark Harvey, North Dakota State University history professor, focusing on western environmental/preservation issues, has put together a gem of a book. He shows how Zahniser went from a public relations/writer/editor in the Department of Interior in the ‘40s to the Executive Director of the Wilderness Society, and how, with remarkable vision, patience, tolerance and courage, he wrote the Wilderness Act and shepherded it through Congress. Never missing a hearing. Zahniser died a few months before it became law.

The book is a crisp, clear, thoroughly enjoyable read. The story is compelling in that such a simple, kind man left a secure and lucrative job to join a fledgling organization with hardly any money and little credibility. Yet Zahniser, often in the background, focused, shaped and pulled together who’s who in conservation (Leopold, Murie, Broome, MacKaye, Olson), overcame his self doubts, frustrations with board members, money, and the IRS, found a way to knit together a powerful conservation coalition, and marched the Wilderness Act to its conclusion. To say Howard Zahniser is a giant in conservation is an understatement.

Wilderness Forever presents a number of remarkable photos of these symbols of conservation; one stunning photo captures Zahniser and Olaus Murie sitting together only months before each would die. While they are relegated to photos and words on paper, the deep legacy they left, particularly Zahniser’s vision of a national wilderness system, is vital!

First Church of the Higher Elevations. Peter Anderson. Ghost Road Press, Denver. 2005. Reviewed by M. Pettis.

This book promises to pull from deep within its readers the connection we innately know about high, wild places— their power to soothe, infuse and reinvigorate us with the sense of our place in the world.

Finding metaphor in prayer and the edges of the mountain world around him, he notes, “Crossing the inward edge that leads into deeper realms of silence is like breaking out of the trees and walking into an alpine meadow. Deeper yet, it is like leaving the trees behind for the higher elevations. And at some point, the inward experience feels like a night walk on an alpine ridge. One is still grounded, but in the shadowed lands up ahead or in the starlight reflected in a lake below, it isn’t always easy to tell where the mountain leaves off and the sky begins.”

Taking us on both a physical trip through places in the West that mean much to him (including the alpine basins of the High Uintas, where he was a wilderness ranger, and the Henry Mountains, where he seeks bison) and a spiritual partnership with those like John Muir who have found inspiration in places of higher elevation in recent and distant history, Colorado author and Quaker Peter Anderson leads us humbly and with respect for the wonders he encounters.
Many authors would provide far too much chatter and conceit on this journey. Peter is a fine, gentle companion for a hike through wild country, in a realistic discussion of what modern man has done to Earth, and with a valued voice for protection of the last wild places.

Reading this book will settle your heart and center you again amongst the meaningful elements of life.

Margaret Pettis

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