A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra
By Jordan Fisher Smith
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618224166, 224pp.)
Publication Date: February 1, 2005
List Price: $24.00*
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Nature Noir is the intensely original story -- part Edward Abbey, part James Ellroy -- of Jordan Fisher Smith's fourteen years as a park ranger on forty-eight miles of Sierra Nevada river canyons. The gorgeous government-owned land along the American River that Fisher Smith and his band of fellow rangers have pledged to protect is (think Catch-22) condemned to be inundated by a huge dam. As Smith learns from his first day on patrol, the provisional quality of life here attracts the marginal and the pure crazy. Ranger work, in this place where wildness tends toward the human kind, includes encounters with armed miners who scour canyons for gold, drug-addled squatters, and extreme recreators who enjoy combining motorcycles, parachutes, and high bridges. Nature Noir reveals some startling truths about park rangering on America's public lands. In one heart-stopping scene, Smith comes across the corpse of a woman runner, killed and partly eaten by a mountain lion -- the first Californian to die in that way since the nineteenth century. Elsewhere, the predator on the loose may be human, and Smith goes looking for the bones of a long-missing woman in the surreal landscape around a half-constructed dam slowly reverting to wild.
Jordan Fisher Smith has been a park ranger for more than twenty years in Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and California. Nature Noir is his first book. He lives with his wife and two young children in the northern Sierra Nevada.