A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra
By Jordan Fisher Smith
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618224166, 224pp.)
Publication Date: February 2005
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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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.
"Powerful with its intimate knowledge of place, Nature Noir achieves an even deeper mastery with its affection for the people and human histories of that place. Care and respct for a wild landscape attend to every page of this book." Rick Bass
"Park rangers have one of the tougher jobs our society has yet devised--they come up against all the varieties of human unhappiness that a city policeman encounters, and they come up against nature in all her moods. Both seem amplified in the canyon of the American River that Jordan Fisher Smith writes about with such calm power. This book will tell you things you didn't know, and in a strong and original voice." Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age.
"This is a walk in the woods like Thoreau never imagined. I can't make up my mind whether Jordan Fisher Smith is John Muir at the crime scene or Elmore Leonard with a backpack. In any event, this astonishing book, with its brilliant interweaving of murder, irony and natural history, invents a new genre." Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear.
"Jordan Fisher Smith writes of the present moment as if from some vantage pont in the future. The effect is eerie, and part of what makes Nature Noir so compelling. Smith's is a refreshingly unsentimental kind of truth-telling." Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men
"Smith writes with a novelistic sense of character, atmosphere and pacing . . . It will cause readers to both thrill and shudder." Publishers Weekly
"Nature Noir is a stunning work that will appeal on many levels. The descriptions of nature are visceral, often lyrical. The historic and geological details are fascinating. And the suspense is palpable, part murder mystery, part thriller, and part a new genre all its own." --Amy Tan
"Eloquently meditative . . . Smith relishes the physical detail . . . His voice gains authority through its cadence and understatement." --Alan Burdick The New York Times Book Review
"A taut drama . . . Smith's book follows the tradition of nature writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir and Annie Dillard." --Jennie Yabroff The San Francisco Chronicle
"NATURE NOIR is a nature book unlike any other. . .nuanced. . .infused with wonder. . .the book works in so many ways." --Arthur Salm The San Diego Union-Tribune
"A wonderful antidote to the treacly Ansel Adams image of our parks." --Mark Yost The Wall Street Journal