Rick Bass answers the Orion Questionnaire

In which we get to know our favorite writers better by exploring the sacred and mundane.

Author and activist Rick Bass has been contributing to and collaborating with Orion for over twenty-five years. When not humoring our questions, you might find him walking through Montana’s old-growth forests, writing to state and national representatives on behalf of those forests, cooking foraged meals, or talking to ravens. Or maybe belting out “Pump Up the Jam” if you’re lucky. Read more about his thoughts and life in his new book With Every Great Breath: New and Selected Essays, 1995-2023, out from Counterpoint this month.


You found a penny. Do you pick it up?
Always! How else will I know what year it was minted?


What is your most treasured comfort meal?
Grilled cheese and tomato bisque. As Franz Kafka said, “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”


What is a species you feel is frequently misunderstood?
The extinct ones.


Ocean, garden, desert, or forest?
Yes, please.


Nature would be better without __
Climate change.

What is something you’re looking forward to?
The solace of the crypt? Just kidding. Let’s see. . . movies I haven’t seen yet. Date night with my sweetheart. Friends I haven’t seen in a long time. The next time I see family. A Democratic majority in Congress. The nation’s first Climate Refuge in the Yaak Valley, Montana. Hunting elk next fall. Finishing books I’m working on. The musical I’m working on. Seeing the prototype of the new line of Jeff Bridges/All in This Together Black Ram guitars by Breedlove Guitars. Bird hunting. Hot yoga. Maple syrup. Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise.


If you could, regardless of the local climate, reach out of your kitchen window and pluck a fruit from a tree, bush, or plant, what would it be?
Huckleberries, though maybe a lime if gin was handy.


If you could make pancakes with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
My mom.


Can you make any convincing birdcalls?
A passable great gray owl. I can also count to three in raven.


Would you rather be lost in space or lost at sea?
In the words of True Grit’s Mattie Ross, “One would be as unpleasant as the other.”


What are some of your favorite words?


Bring home a copy of Rick’s new collection today

What is something new you’ve done recently?
Ice skated a frozen river through the woods in Canada with my partner Carter.

It’s late afternoon on a summer Saturday, you’re sitting with your feet in a cool creek and someone hands you the perfect beverage. What is it?
Water and lots of it when I’m dehydrated from humping a heavy pack to get to that creek in the sweet high country.


Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m a morning owl.

Are you optimistic about the future?
That would be irresponsible and reckless.


What is a smell that makes you stop in your tracks?
Poo, in a bad way. Gardenias and magnolias, in a good way.


Where did you grow up?
Working on it. In the Yaak, I reckon,

Are you the same person you were as a child?
See above.


What song or album reminds you of high school?
The 1970s!? C’mon. All of ‘em. But particularly Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Neil Young’s Harvest. Tres Hombres. Eat A Peach. CCR.


What did an average Friday night look like for you as a teenager?
Riding with my best friend Kirby or powerlifting.


You are in a situation where you simply must sing karaoke. What’s your song?
Pump up the Jam.”


If you could live anywhere, where would it be?


You’re in a deserted island situation for an unknown period of time. You get three items and one book. What do you bring?
A boat with oars, Carter, and a shortwave radio to check in with my daughters. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.


What would you like to be most remembered for?


What flower would you want pinned to your breast after you die?
If on a garment and not actual skin, stonecrop, lupine, beargrass, wild violet (yellow), penstemon, gardenia, magnolia, Sego lily. Trillium and Calypso orchids would be too delicate for such.


If you could come back as any organism, who or what would you be?
This one, again.

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Rick Bass is the author of over thirty books, including most recently, With Every Great Breath. He is a winner of the Story Prize, the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, a PEN/Nelson Algren Award Special Citation for fiction, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He has served as contributing editor to Sierra, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Big Sky Journal, Amicus Journal, Outside, Orion, Field & Stream, The Contemporary Wingshooter, and many other publications. He currently serves on the editorial board of Whitefish Review and teaches at the Stonecoast MFA low residency program. He was born and raised in Texas, worked as a petroleum geologist in Mississippi, and has lived in Montana’s Yaak Valley for almost thirty years.