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

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

4.2 9
by Jordan Fisher Smith

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A nature book unlike any other, Jordan Fisher Smith's startling account of fourteen years as a park ranger thoroughly dispels our idealized visions of life in the great outdoors. Instead of scout troops and placid birdwatchers, Smith's beat -- a stretch of land that has been officially condemned to be flooded -- brings him into contact with drug users tweaked out


A nature book unlike any other, Jordan Fisher Smith's startling account of fourteen years as a park ranger thoroughly dispels our idealized visions of life in the great outdoors. Instead of scout troops and placid birdwatchers, Smith's beat -- a stretch of land that has been officially condemned to be flooded -- brings him into contact with drug users tweaked out to the point of violence, obsessed miners, and other dangerous creatures. In unflinchingly honest prose, he reveals the unexpectedly dark underbelly of patrolling and protecting public lands.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Eloquently meditative . . . [Smith writes]with a gritty candor -- think of a gun-toting Norman Maclean or Wallace Stegner." -- Alan Burdick The New York Times Book Review

"Gloriously unlike anything I've ever read before . . . gives entree into a strange, dark, and mesmerizing outdoor world that's absolutely unforgettable." -- Caroline Leavitt Boston Globe

"He writes about the natural world with more grace than anyone since Edward Abbey." Newsweek

"Extraordinary . . . Nature Noir marks the debut of a terrific new nature writer, one whose penetrating, ranger's-eye view of the Sierra Nevada recalls the plain-spoken timbre of Edward Abbey and David James Duncan." Outside

"Gracefully weaves scenes and stories with context, history and reflection, in ways recalling the best of John McPhee." Los Angeles Times

"Our editors recommend . . . In his taut drama . . . Jordan 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." The San Francisco Chronicle

"A wonderful antidote to the treacly Ansel Adams image of our parks." The Wall Street Journal

"Astonishing and fine . . . graceful, disturbing. . . [a] remarkable, hard-to-classify book." Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Smith offers a fresh perspective on our threatened environment . . . Nature Noir reflects the spirit of an era as did Desert Solitaire." Charlotte Observer

"A nature book unlike any other. . . infused with wonder, laced with heart-stopping descriptions of natural beauty and peppered with gritty, anti-romantic, all-too-real tales of cops 'n' bad guys in the great outdoors." The San Diego Union-Tribune

"By turns funny, poignant and surprising . . . an intimate memoir of the career of a state-park ranger. Not just any ranger, but one with a wicked pen, patrolling a doomed landscape." Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer

"Nature Noir is by far the best book written by or about the modern park ranger I have read." -- Tom Wylie Bloomsbury Review

"Not only an electrifying tale of bringing the law to the wild west in the 1980s and '90s but also a graphic piece of writing from someone who has learned his craft from the royalty of American naturalists: writers like Gary Snyder, Aldo Leopold and Edward Abbey." Buffalo News

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.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(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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Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nature Noir is a beautiful example of the merging environmental history and storytelling.  Jordan Fisher Smith spent fourteen years as a park ranger in an ephemeral place where the disparate elements of wild nature and wild people are swept together within the tumbling waters of the American River. This chaotic conflict intensifies as plans are laid for a large dam, one that would smother the good with the bad. Smith weaves together compelling insights, detailed histories, breathless action, and a distinct feeling of meaning to such an effect that I had to put the book down after many chapters to exhale and look out my window, letting the gravity of it seep into the deepest recesses of my mind. Sometimes he introduces tangential narratives which sort of disrupted the flow but he used them to good effect. Overall, Smith’s first book is one of the best I’ve read this year. I wish that I could’ve found it sooner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is fascinating and beautifully written. I hope to see more from this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
being that its just over 200 pages, its easy to knock it out in a day or 2, but i never found myself wanting to put it down. it does go back in forth a lot, but its by design and i think it improves the book. buy it
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was taken aback initially by the somber tone and almost angry ( at times ) writing style. But the stories of the Auburn SRA and the Auburn Dam are beyond compare for their honesty and history. I particularly liked the recount of the search for the killer of Barbara Schoner, one of the few mouintail lion deaths in Ca., and the description of the scene as it happened reads beutifully. Ranger Smith's tone is understandable and justified by the end of the book and I feel the pain in his writing....
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.