Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra

Overview

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 ...

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Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

Alan Burdick
Water, Smith writes, has a way of following the earth's tectonic seams, of tracing its seismic cracks and fractures with minimal energy expended. Joined end to end, his stories reveal the work of a similar gravity. Their sum is a tender exploration of faults -- human, natural, and the fluent, ceaseless meeting of the two.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Slated to be drowned by a dam, the California state park patrolled by the author of this haunting memoir is a "condemned landscape" of gorgeous river canyons hemmed in by exurban sprawl and peopled by eccentric gold miners, squatting families, drug dealers and miscellaneous drunken, gun-waving rowdies, a place where "turkey vultures floated... savoring the hot air for the inevitable attrition of heat, drought and violence." In his 14 years there, first-time author Smith encountered fights, beatings, suicides, daredevil canyon divers and the corpse of a woman jogger killed and half eaten by a cougar. His conflicted task of facilitating the communion of humans with the wilderness while keeping the humans civilized and the wild places wild becomes a mission against the "half-assed and watered-down... gray area" that is the modern world's "perpetual state of uncertainty." The clash of nature and civilization is a resonant theme, but it doesn't of itself yield compelling insights, and sometimes the author's essays add up to little more than shaggy-dog stories. But Smith writes with a novelistic sense of character, atmosphere and pacing, in a prose style that's wonderfully evocative of landscape and its effects on people. It will cause readers to both thrill and shudder at the call of the wild. Agent, Sandra Dijkstra. (Feb. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Violence and beauty in the Sierras: Fisher Smith re-creates the 14 years he spent patrolling government lands along the American river that eventually gave way to a dam. With a national author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618224166
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
1 A Day in the Park 7
2 It Never Rains in California 21
3 Career Development 43
4 Occurrence at Yankee Jims Bridge 62
5 Rocks and Bones 82
6 The Bridge over Purgatory 104
7 A Natural Death 120
8 Finch Finds His Roots 136
9 Crossing the Mekong 156
10 As Weak as Water 168
11 Eight Mile Curve 190
Epilogue 202
Acknowledgments 214
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2005

    Contemplative Stories of Man's Interaction with Nature

    This is a slight book -- just topping 200 pages -- I read it in about half a day. Divided into almost essay-like chapters, Smith reviews his time as a California park ranger on the American River. In a way it is a dead-end job -- the park itself is supposed to be flooded when the Auburn Damn is built, and there is little chance of promotion for Smith or his colleagues. And in some ways this shows up in the book -- most of the chapters involve some detective work, but the only real 'sensational' event is when a jogger becomes the first person in a century to be killed by a mountain lion. But Smith's writing is very thoughtful and evocative -- about nature, and man's place in it. He and almost all his fellow ranger's love their jobs, and this shows throughout the book, which contains some history of the ranger system as well as geographical details of Smith's park. Nature Noir doesn't knock you off your feet, but it does get under your skin. Smith is a caring and careful writer. I would agree that the book would have benefited from more details about his personal life -- for instance, we learn he is divorced, but not why. We are told he has children, but they really aren't described. Overall, however, this is a well-written book with more than enough interesting occurrences to cover it's length. Smith may not have hit the ball out of the park, but he's clearly standing on second anyway, and he's driven in a run.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2005

    Three Stars * * *

    This was a good perspective of a park rangers life and as someone trying to go into the field, it was an eye opening read. I would agree that the book does have a heavy focus on the history of the dam and it also does jump back and forth quite a bit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2005

    More a history of the region

    The author is a good writer but the disappointment lies in the endless history of the flooding and the building of the dam. There is very little personal history, which would give an understanding of the man and a warmth to his stories. Many of the events he relates are interesting. I would have been interested in more follow up on the individuals involved. Perhaps he never knew what happened to them so, the stories seem to end prematurely.

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