“Why I Came West” is easily relatable to an individual’s beginnings in conservation. However, the book may be a poor choice to use for recruiting people into the world of conservation because Rick Bass, the author, was only concerned with the area surrounding his home, despised the years he spent trying to convince his neighbors to speak up, and so desperately wanted to return to a life of peace and quiet. Initially, I was intrigued as began to read the book “Why I Came West”. In the first chapter I could feel a connection to the author, Rick Bass as he outlines the setting in the Yaak Valley in northwestern Montana. Being from the northwest just a few hundred miles from the wilderness he calls home, I know of the wonders and mystique that draws people to call it home. I was hooked and as the pages continued to turn, I felt a spark that was driving me to get even more involved in the preservation of the untouched. And suddenly it was lost as the chapters continued to progress and the more I read about his past lives as an oil geologist and a fiction writer, the more distant I felt. His desire to return to a life of pen and paper and leave the world of the conservative struggle behind dowsed any spark that was left. When I decided to take a break for a day or two from reading this book I had a realization. Instead of trying to analyze the book as events or outcomes, my thoughts drifted to the knowledge that was being shared. Although “Why I Came West” is focused on the preservation of one man’s “Utopia”, the book is a reminder or a prelude to all present and future environmental activists about the struggles that one may face because Rick Bass, the author discusses the desire to return to a past life, the feeling of a never-ending battle, the challenge of walking the double-edged sword trying to keep everyone satisfied, and a confused conscious over the next step or unforeseen effects.
Early on in the book, , as he tip-toed around his neighbors trying to avoid upsetting them with his use of the word “wilderness” and anti-logging rhetoric, Rick seemed to be more concerned with what people thought versus meeting his goal of saving the forest. After saw mills in the area began to close he felt somewhat responsible for causing some of his neighbors their job. Through his account of being against clear-cut logging but a promoter of selective logging, he generates a visual of walking along a tight rope trying to dodge the questions about what he believes. No matter what he was being asked Rick stuck to his beliefs, which leaves a powerful message to all that read his book. It may not always be possible to be the outspoken overzealous activist when you are trying to bring awareness to the cause, so tread lightly around those that may have an impressionable mind so you don’t push them away.
In his struggle to stay in touch with his past life, he made a connection that we all can benefit from as we read his writings. Rick has put his abilities as a fiction writer to use in order to spread the word on his beloved land in the northwest part of Montana. Writing of this land of two’s he creates an image that is easily generated by the brain as he takes you on his fall hunts for elk or deer. While some activist may be disappointed in his writings of living off the land, he may connect with more people like himself that never thought of themselves as a conservationist, which may bring stronger numbers to the cause. Being a conservationist as well as a hunter or living a subsistent life may not go hand in hand for most activists, but it is the only true way to reduce the impact that you leave on this land.
He also shares with us a breakdown of a language barrier that has begun to hinder the efforts of conservationists. The use of interchangeable terms in our everyday lives is one of the reasons why conservationists have to choose their words extremely carefully while speaking of nature. Common words seem to fall on deaf ears, but by using very descriptive words it is possible to grasp the attention of members in the audience when speaking of nature. By substituting boulder for rock or adding to the description of an object, it becomes more personnel and easily relatable, but businesses use terms that seem to strip life away from the very object that needs protection, terms like lumber, harvest, and material. If activists begin or continue to slip into the trend of using these lifeless words they will lose their ability to captivate the by-stander’s attention, leaving yet another contributor to the destruction of this planet.
Rick feels he is making no progress in his efforts as he takes two steps forward and one step back or at time one step forward and two steps back. Engaging in a dance, were the only progress is in a circle until the couple gets in rhythm and they can slowly move across the floor as a team. There is no way to make progress in preserving nature as an individual. An individual’s voice is easily drowned out by the sound of one machine but the voice of many can quiet the sound of one machine.
While “Why I Came West” may not be the ideal book for every conservationist, it could serve as a guide of what to expect during the long arduous fight to save the planet. Rick shares his experiences from his years an environmental activist to his readers in hopes that it may make it easier for younger environmentalist to deal with the frustrations that they may experience. This book has allowed me to realized that the challenges that some conservationist may face are unavoidable, the only way to change the outcome is to keep pushing forward and not get discouraged.