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Submitted photo Bemidji author Daniel J. Rice moves a tarp onto his solitary place in the woods prior to setting up a wilderness campsite. His novel, “This Side of a Wilderness” will have a debut event 4-9 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Bemidji Brew and Tap Room in downtown Bemidji.

Alone in the wild: Bemidji author pens ‘This Side of a Wilderness’

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BEMIDJI — Dan Rice has gone from one extreme to another in his life — by choice.

He left his job as a hydrographer with the United States Geological Service in one of the country’s most populated states (New Jersey) to move to one of the most sparsely populated states (Wyoming).

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And it is experiences as a watershed expert for the USGS in Casper, Wy., and also his time in Minnesota, that form the backbone to the Bemidji author’s new novel “This Side of a Wilderness.”

Rice also lived in Ely, Minn., before moving to Bemidji almost three years ago with his wife, Mayana. Rice has been writing poetry and short stories since he was old enough to hold pencil to paper, and in the past 10 years, he said he’s started and stopped close to a dozen other novels. But working a regular, 9 to 5 job, he said, distractions come easy, so he knew he’d have to separate himself from that routine.

“Ultimately, it comes down to being separated from the social routine, to whittle away the self that only exists in definable mediums such as a uniform or group, and discovering the truth of who you are with nothing superfluous to describe who you are,” he said. “So for me, being in the woods is being understood.”

Rice chose the woods of northern Minnesota as a backdrop for “This Side of a Wilderness”  part of which is set in a camp with no running water or electricity like he lived in near Ely. The only remnant of civilization was the solar panels he used to power up his computer. And his only real company was the constant onslaught of mosquitos and feuding badgers.

“For me, being surrounded by the silence of a forest is the only place where I can actually hear anything,” Rice said. “To be submersed in that silence, that absence of phatic noise, and to live among the ungoverned landscape, to exist by my own laws and no one else’s, even if only briefly, was, well, the best way I know how to explain it.”

Rice admits that the book is semi-autobiographical fiction and the character of Lamara is not based on any one person, nor he insists is anyone else in the book. It is an age-old story of a restless young man trying to find out where he fits in society.

There are three parts to the book:

● Part I: From the Outside Looking In: Rice’s main character Eli describes his youthful adventures of camping in the wild with his father, uncle and grandfather and how it was so peaceful and free: “He remembered how the flames illuminated their faces, and revealed wrinkles and scars and life experiences. It was many years before he understood the power of their silence.”

● Part II: From the Inside Looking In is given over to the relationship of Eli and Lamara and the preparations for his venture into the wilderness and when he starts his journal. Eli writes,”This is the arena of life. This is the place where I can smell life’s glorious aroma, taste it through my nostrils, inhale and let it fill me with calm satisfaction.”

● Part III: From the Inside Looking Out: Eli has left the forest and reenters society with his partner, Lamara. Eli thinks: “Those dreams like windblown leaves falling to the winter earth, may be lost for a season, but seasons change, and from all that is decayed spawns new life, and new dreams will be born, if only we are patient.”  

After 20 plus rewrites in the two years since he began to pen his novel, Rice turned to a local editor for a final read, and he was aghast at the number of edits she made to his novel for he thought he had caught them all, he said.

“I am always looking to make it perfect,” said Rice, who also is writing a nonfiction book based on the journal he kept during his wilderness camping that will be ready for publication in June.

Rice has started a small publishing house, Riverfeet Press since moving to Bemidji. Mayana is also a fiction writer and has a manuscript ready for publication in the near future.

There will be a book release party for “This Side of a Wilderness” from 4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Bemidji Brew and Tap Room in downtown Bemidji. Rice will have copies of his book for sale and he promises a free beer for anyone who buys a copy of the paperback for $14.

Rice’s expectation is that the book will sell well in this area because so many of the people who live here enjoy the outdoors.

Another thing Bemidjians enjoy is ice cream and socializing and Rice is about to make that happen down near Paul and Babe. He has signed a lease on a spot for a business, Big River Scoop, and he’s decided on the premium ice cream products from Chocolate Shop out of Madison, Wis., and expects to attract customers who like to read and talk about books. He will feature readings from Minnesota authors, a used book section and feature local arts and crafts.

For now, Rice is a stay-at-home dad with his infant daughter, Amelia, while he waits for spring and continues to pen his next book. He recently took over as acting editor of the Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society newsletter, which is perfect for him, he said, because of his background in water quality issues.

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