We should all love a place as deeply as nature writer Rick Bass loves the Yaak Valley - sink to our knees awed by the splendor, find ourselves seduced as Bass tells us he was in his award-winning essay "The Larch: A Love Story" (published in Orion Magazine and winner of a 2013 John Burroughs Award). I have never written as eloquently about the places I love as Bass, but I understand that loving takes root in knowing. Yesterday I was on my knees in the mountain meadow my horse calls home, gathering samples of different grasses. I brought them home and spread them on the deck and with hummingbirds zinging overhead (scolding the sapsucker who was stealing their nectar), I carefully opened my Bear Lodge Mountains plant field guide. Pressed between the pages were leaves and blossoms and stalks from plants that lived with my children in those same mountains - wild geraniums, cinquefoils, coneflowers, mountain brome, thimbleberries, bur oaks. I love those furrowed bur oaks like Bass loves his larch, yet there are no bur oaks or thimbleberries here in the Colorado foothills. But finding a coneflower in full bloom tugs the heartstring that links me to both landscapes.
While Bass writes of what is not yet lost in order to save it, in The Dog Stars, a breathtaking end-of-the-world novel, Peter Heller writes of the yearning we have for what has already been lost.
"If I ever woke up crying in the middle of a dream, and I'm not saying I did, it's because the trout are gone every one. Brookies, rainbows, browns, cutthroats, cutbows, every one."
The Dog Stars was a New York Times best-seller and rated one of the Best Books of 2012 by NPR, The Atlantic Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Hudson Books, and others. Why? Powerful and original writing, of course, and a main character, Hig, whose intense sorrow for all that has been lost stirs our own deep hungers. But what shakes us to the core is Hig's deeply rooted need to love again - to find and nurture what still lives - his dog Jasper, a grove of cottonwoods, a thicket of willows.
This is what I ask of myself today: to stand quietly in a place I love, like John Burroughs' nature essays stand as a quiet testament to the places he loved, like my father taught me to wade with clear and quiet intention the river channels we both loved, like my horse grazes the mountain brome with a stillness that even Herman Hesse's Siddhartha would envy. For today, this will be enough.