Friday, March 30, 2007

Nature Noir

The best book I’ve read about the part of the American River that is destined to be flooded when—or if—the Auburn Dam is built, is this one.


Ranger Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra, had worked in the Sierra Nevada, the Grand Tetons, and Alaska.

But he found the greatest adventure of his life when he took a job watching over forty-eight miles of the American River canyons long condemned to be inundated by the Auburn Dam.

By the time Smith arrived on the American River, former residents had been bought out or condemned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation and their homes, mining cabins, and ranches were being burned to the ground as the river's canyons were readied to go underwater. But the dam's completion was delayed and what remained was a giant vacant lot of 42,000 rugged acres, which became a dangerous free zone for armed squatters, gold prospectors, and fugitives from the law. Over the next decade three dozen people would perish on Smith's beat in accidents, murders, and suicides.

Intending to stay only a year, Smith emerged from the American River canyons fourteen years later, his body wracked by Lyme disease he'd contracted from a tick bite there. Unable to forget what he'd witnessed, he spent another four years researching the river's human and natural history.

Now Jordan Fisher Smith has published a book about his experiences to rave reviews. "He writes about the natural world with more grace than anyone since Edward Abbey," says Newsweek. The New York Times calls Nature Noir "eloquently meditative." And Outside Magazine asserts: "Nature Noir marks the debut of a terrific new nature writer."