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Crowing about the presence of great gray owls, lynx, sturgeon, wolves, bull trout, and grizzlies, he marvels at “the wildest and most diverse valley I’ve ever seen in the Lower Forty-Eighe He asks: “What heaven is this into which we’ve fallen?” He also acknowledges that his idea of heaven might not be widely shared, conceding that, “It’s not a beautiful valley, really, to many visitors: it’s dark and rainy and snowy and spooky. \(This fall, we’ve had only four days of sunshine be unfriendly and there are many biting insects, and much fog and rain and snow.” Yet he loves it dearly and is anxious to defend it from the depredations of encroaching commerce. He notes that the Yaak is unique among valleys for the fact that no species has gone extinct there since the Ice Age, while he agonizes over continuing threats to his sylvan paradise. Not one of its million acres has yet been designated as protected wilderness, and clear-cut logging and other intrusions have already wrought significant damage. Much of Why I Came West is a detailed analysis of what has often been a quixotic campaignagainst developers, logging companies, cynical officials, and benighted localsto save the Yaak Valley. Bass’ stubborn, sometimes lonely efforts have made him a pariah, “the most hated man in the largest county in the United States” Though he acknowledges the work of other local activists, he paints himself as a kind of Shane, the solitary hero who rides into the West to defeat the villains. At the same time, Bass presents himself as a reluctant activist, drawn into conservationist battles when he would rather be communing with the wild, spending time with his wife and two daughters, and writing. He voices doubts about what he has actually accomplished, and whether his efforts might even have been counterproductive, hardening and heartening his adversaries. He frets over advocacy fatigue, the ebbing of ardor experienced as well by anti-war and civilrights activists when victory remains too long beyond their grasp. After years of futile struggle, willing at last to compromise on a program of sustainable logging, Bass is optimistic that pending legislation will keep the most fecund parts of the valley roadless and wild. Why I Came West makes a convincing case that saving the Yaak would affect even those who will never visit it. In the ecology of environmental struggle, the death of nature anywhere is cause for bereavement everywhere. And Bass’ wonkish account of policies that might save the wilderness, as well as local jobs, has echoes elsewhere, including the disputed and undeveloped Christmas Mountains in the state he left behind. His book might deserve a place beside works by Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold in the canon of wilderness literature, except that the writing lacks grace. It is repetitious, padded not only by reiterations of phrase and fact, but also by extraneous matter such as a recipe for lobster soup that demands lobster, oranges, and vermouthingredients hardly indigenous to northwest Montana. Bass, who confuses “jive” with “jibe” and “meter” with “mtier:’ is fond of using the word “incredible” to modify nouns he does not in fact doubt. When, describing his role as local scold, he pictures himself as “a lightning-rod nightshade dividing-line bogeyman unseen symbol,” Bass is not content with mixing metaphors; he scatters them about in hopes that one will stick. Putting such prose on the page is like tossing a Coors can onto the floor of a pristine forest. “Suppose you are given a bucket of water;’ Bass once wrote. “You’re standing there holding it. Your home’s on fire. Will you pour the cool water over the flames or will you sit there and write a poem about it?” Why I Came West is not quite bucket or poem. At home in the vulnerable wild Yaak, Bass is inspired, but his writing here is not. Contributing writer Steven G. Kellman teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio. JULY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15