Author: Rick Bass
Published in 1998 by The University of Georgia Press.
Yes, I read another book by Rick Bass. Sorry, not sorry. I found Fiber at a bookstore down south, and being that it was the only of Bass's books they had, and that it was also a dollar (which kinda made me sad, actually), I bought it. And it was only 52 pages, plus acknowledgements. That's the kind of book you get excited about, as a tired person. As me.
The truth is that I read the inside book flap, and what it said about Fiber struck me as exactly what Bass spoke about at a workshop I attended out west. "The author asks how a writer survives amidst the destruction of the natural world around him." A current resident of the Yaak Valley in the northwest corner of Montana, Bass writes with a clear intention: to stand in defense of preserving the pristine landscape of the Yaak.
The story, written as a piece of short fiction, speaks to the progression of a man who first lives in the South, Louisiana, where the landscape is slow-moving, yellow and green and where his livelihood focuses on taking things--oil, and even people's property and possessions--to his merge to living in the west, where the seasons move rapidly, and are each of them distinct.
What stands out most about Fiber is the level of connection the protagonist has with the landscape. What does he do? He cuts and hauls logs to give to random strangers, to loggers, to people. The main character is a man who learns the beauty of physicality and learning the lay of the land with his fingertips, muscles, and all of his senses. It's a romantic ideal, perhaps--being utterly connected to the earth and its movements. But it's an ideal that I myself (as a reader, a person, a human being), would like to get closer to, myself.
This book makes me question the place our country is in now. Obviously I've questioned this before: our new president is making decisions that are shocking, unkind and inconsiderate to the earth. Fixing everything is impossible, and getting a different president isn't the solution (though no doubt it could make a literal world of difference).
It is one thing to bitch and complain about people making poor decisions, and it's another to be an activist, which simply means I'd be actively working to resist the destruction of wilderness. The protagonist of Fiber is adamant: we must speak up and tell impassioned stories about doing good for our environment, for the land and its inhabitants. (This is to say that doing good to the earth will always benefit the humans who live on it and off of it, and that taking too much for our own gain will only destroy us, as well). How do we tell good stories? We must first live them. And we must learn to live within the patterns of the earth. Really, it seems like taking two steps backward to take a single step forward. But that's okay. Slow is okay.
I believe in power. What I mean to say is I ascribe great value to it, and like to observe power in action. [...] I like all that goes on in the hundred years of a tree's life, or the two hundred or five hundred years of its span--all the ice and snow, the windstorms, the fires that creep around the edges of some forests and sweep through and across others, starting the process all over, and leaving behind a holy kind of pause, a momentary break in power, before things begin to stretch and grow again, as vigorously as ever. (15)
Maybe in trying to live so we notice things like that, look for that kind of power, we'll learn what living really is. I hope I grow so connected and in tune with the patterns of the earth that I feel no choice but to actively work to protect it. (40).
"Paint me a picture or tell me a story as beautiful as other things in the world today are terrible" (41).
I'm not impassioned yet, but I have confidence I'll get there. That seems strange to say, but: it's true. I'm not there yet. I'm working on it. I'm too much of a people person to devote myself to living off of the land. The culture of this world has affected me enough that I like the amenities like coffee grinders and toilets and who knows what else I use that helps destroy the earth.
I'm starting to ramble. The point is: when you believe in something, you have no choice but to speak up. Maybe that's the litmus test. Maybe if silence feels comfortable to you, you're doing something wrong. We've each got to figure out our own way to speak up.