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Yaak Valley


Aerial view of clearcuts & fragmentation in the Kootenai National Forest. Yaak Valley, Montana.
(Copyright 2001, Randy Beacham.)

Yaak Valley

The Yaak valley lies in the northwestern corner of Montana. Its name comes from the Kootenai Indian word meaning arrow, named for the valley’s shape. The Yaak intersects with a curve of the Kootenai River, forming the landscape of a bow and arrow. For years, the Yaak has been stripped for its timber more than any other valley in Montana. What remains are 15 untouched areas that span 175,000 acres. It’s a wilderness populated by wolves, grizzlies, and a handful of locals. Now, some of the 150 residents of the valley are trying to preserve the last roadless areas of the Yaak, with a little help from some literary friends. Living on Earth spoke with Rick Bass, a resident of the Yaak for the past 15 years, about a new collection of author essays he’s edited called “The Roadless Yaak: Reflections and Observations About One of Our Last Great Wilderness Areas”.

Living on Earth Today featured readings and interviews from writers in this collection.

Janisse Ray lives in Georgia and is the author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. She reads from her essay “Up Against Openings,” and talks with Living on Earth about the relationship humans have to the land. She believes place means more to us than we understand, invading even our bones. That’s why, she says, the vast clearcutting of our forests leaves us with such a sense of loss and devastation.

Tom Franklin is from Dickinson, Alabama. When he drove to the Yaak Valley, from his job in a morgue in Alabama, it was the farthest from home he had ever been, and he called it “Surely–and sadly–the most outrageous thing I’d ever done.” He spoke to Living on Earth and read from his essay, “Pieces of the Sky.”

Jeff Ferderer is a writer and a teacher, formerly in the Yaak Valley. He talked to Living on Earth about what it was like to teach in a place with so few people that he regularly left his keys in his car for his students to borrow. He reads from his essay “Waiting for the River to Rise and the Ice to Break.”

Lynn Sainsbury, whose chapter is called “The Sylvan Lady,” works as a seasonal biologist/forester for the Forest Service. She read from her essay and spoke with Living on Earth about why the remaining big trees in the Yaak need a savior.

Scott Daily is one of the 150 residents of the Yaak Valley. He lives on a road that he calls “an insatiable devourer of mufflers.” It’s also a formidable deterrent for prospective out-of-town buyers. He reads from his essay, “Living Along the Road Less Traveled,” and spoke with Living on Earth about his life in the Yaak.

Roy Parvin lives in the woods of northern California. Before he visited the Yaak, people warned him not to bring his dogs, since bringing them into grizzly country would only be asking for trouble. But once in the Yaak, he found that everybody had it wrong. In his essay “Solstice,” he writes, “The Yaak might need many things but more people aren’t one of those.” He spoke with Living on Earth about the need to cover one’s tracks in the Yaak.

Audio Features

Listen to the story as it appeared in our Sept. 13, 2002 broadcast

Listen to our interview with Rick Bass

Listen to a reading by Janisse Ray and our interview with her

Listen to a reading by Tom Franklin and our interview with him

Listen to a reading by Jeff Ferderer and our interview with him

Listen to a reading by Lynn Sainsbury and our interview with her

Listen to a reading by Scott Daily and our interview with him

Listen to a reading by Roy Parvin and our interview with him

Listen to all of the interviews and readings


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