Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had by Rick Bass

The book cover photograph shows a black, blue-eyed, short-haired dog seated with his nose in the air, on a field of lush, bright green grass.

By Julie F.

I fall very easily for stories about humans and their pets, especially when it’s a coming-of-age story. (Think Sterling North’s Rascal or Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller, both of which author Rick Bass loved as a child, and both of which I still own in my childhood copies). Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had isn’t a coming-of-age story, as it was written when the author was in his forties, but it’s still a perceptive and moving look at how a beloved animal can open one’s eyes, create a change in perspective, and forever alter a life. Bass loved and loves every dog he has ever had – that’s clear from his touching narrative about the stray hounds he rescued, Homer and Ann, as well as his amusing recounting of how he couldn’t choose between two pointers in a subsequent litter of Colter’s full siblings (spoiler: he ends up taking both of them home).

Why is Colter “the best” of these? It’s ambiguous – Bass clearly believes that they have a mysterious but immutable bond – but it’s largely based on Colter’s growth from runt of the litter to magnificent, mature sporting dog, and the incomparable feeling Bass has when they are working in tandem to achieve their mutual goal and desire to hunt, the destiny for which he has trained Colter. I’m not a hunter, but his descriptions of what both he and Colter (presumably) felt during training and hunting are breathtaking:

“I think that in those moments, those perfect moments, when we are crossing great fields like that, an observer looking down from a mile or two above – a bird’s-eye view – would not believe that we were earthbound. I feel certain that that observer would see the two animals, man and dog, moving steadily across that prairie – one casting and weaving, the other continuing straight ahead – and would believe that they were two birds traveling in some graceful drift to some point, some location, known surely to their hearts” (95).

A beautiful ode to rural life in Montana, to the changing seasons of a dog’s life, to companionship and love and loss. If you’re a fan of Bass’s work, or just of nature writing in general, I highly recommend this book – it’s a keeper – as well as his look at the first wolf pack to attempt to settle outside of the boundaries of the national parks in Montana after reintroduction, The Ninemile Wolves. Although both are excellent, I rate this one just a little more highly because of the intense personal journey it shares with the reader. For fiction readers, Bass is also the author of several collections of short stories available at HCLS, including In the Loyal Mountains and For a Little While: New and Selected Stories, as well as an essay collection that celebrates some of his mentors, The Traveling Feast: On the Road and At the Table with My Heroes.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, and all kinds of music.

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