Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Book Review: Nature Noir

This is a very interesting review of the acclaimed book about the American River in the area once destined (and perhaps again) to become the Auburn Dam, which reminds us, unfortunately, of the Lower Reach of the Parkway we reported on this year.

It also reminds us of the importance of having an active stewardship to ensure our natural resources remain the priceless and safe sanctuaries we wish them to be.

Ranger exposes underside of natural, human-made dramas
Reviewed by Jennie Yabroff San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, February 13, 2005

Nature Noir
A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra
By Jordan Fisher Smith

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN; 220 Pages; $24

"Follow the water." No Deep-Throated environmental informant actually whispers this advice to writer Jordan Fisher Smith late one night in a deserted campground, but the sentiment infuses "Nature Noir," his taut drama of life as a ranger in the Sierra.

Fisher Smith's book follows the tradition of nature writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir and Annie Dillard. But "Nature Noir" is no Emersonian ode to pastoral transcendentalism, nor is it a Muirian celebration of the sacred in the wilderness.

The writer who most closely anticipates Fisher Smith's themes is Joan Didion, who wrote, in 1977, "some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive."

Fisher Smith would probably find nothing unusual about this obsession. Because for the 14 years he worked the canyons of the American River, he lived under the daily specter of the ravine being flooded for a dam.

Fisher Smith does much to dispel the notion of park users as docile birdwatchers in hiking shorts or rangers as kindly wildflower guides in khaki hats.

His job implies protecting the people from nature, but the reality is more often vice versa.

The hunters, fishermen and miners he encounters are drawn to the recreation area not because of an inherent love of clean air and open sky, but because camping is a cheap way to live with little outside interference.

When he begins the job, another ranger explains he shouldn't try to collect campsite fees the first Thursday of the month, because it's "Cheese Day": the day the government doles out surplus food.

Miners supplement these handouts with the flakes of gold they manage to dredge from the river bottom. Squatters manufacture illegal drugs in shacks hidden deep in the woods. Extreme recreators view the park as a giant obstacle course for their cars, off-road vehicles and parachutes.

For the rest of the review: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/02/13/RVGVLB5LJI1.DTL