Hal Royaltey (hal) Thu 25 Aug 05 02:55
Our next author, Jordan Fisher Smith, spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger on the coast and mountains of California, in Idaho, Wyoming, and the Alaskan Bush. He grew up along the boundary of a national park in Northern California, and encountered his first mountain lion kill -- a deer -- when he was still a young boy. The experience helped him recognize what he was seeing when he recovered the remains of the first Californian to be killed by a cougar in a hundred years, in the American River canyons in 1994. While on the job in 1998, he contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite. The disease forced his retirement from rangering in 2000. His debut book, "Nature Noir," is a memoir of his years as a ranger along the American River. Our interviewer is Molly Thrash. Molly is a historical archeologist for the US Forest Service, currently on the San Juan National Forest in Durango and Bayfield, CO. She has experienced the USFS life in western PA and central AL, and cut her professional teeth on the high prairie and canyons of eastern CO. While not a Wilderness Ranger, she's done time in the wilds, and looks forward to more wilderness time in Colorado.
delicious hot sugary love (izzie) Thu 25 Aug 05 18:45
Welcome to the Well, Jordan!! I only know of one other Well person with any similar experiences, and I'm hoping he'll be along to join us here. I really like your book, _Nature Noir_!! I told a friend here on the Well that I was reading it, and he asked if it was about black magic or something, based on the name.... I laughed and assured him it wasn't! I have my own pet theory for why you named it Nature Noir, but I'd love to know your real reason.
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Fri 26 Aug 05 00:55
Thanks for the warm welcome, Molly. I have heard so much about The Well over the years and I feel like I'm on hallowed electronic ground. The book's title came about like this: by the mid-Nineties I had begun writing these narrative essays about working as a park ranger. In places they sounded a lot like traditional nature writing--there's that typical sublimity, an epiphany at every other turn in the trail! But as the reader learns in Nature Noir, a patrol park ranger's work is sometimes more dangerous and edgy than some people think it is. Our work involves searching for the lost, arresting armed and unarmed criminals in remote places, and investigating death and injury--like this woman I tell about in Nature Noir who was killed and partially eaten by a mountain lion. So you'd be reading along through the sublimity and green leafiness and suddenly you'd be at a death scene. It was in these passages that I noticed the tone of my writing would change--there was an emotional flatness to it that seemed to stand in juxtaposition to the lyricism of the nature description. I think I had learned to write about those things by writing endless numbers of crime reports and accident investigations over the years. You know, you don't say: "The man was lying in a pool of blood; I was so shocked I couldn't look at him and got dizzy." Instead, you say: "The deceased was lying supine in a quantity of blood." Police writing isn't real lyrical. Anyway, when I set out on contract with Houghton Mifflin to write this book, its working title was "An Accidental Wilderness," because the place I'm writing about had become a great de-facto wilderness area as a strange consequence of its condemnation in 1965 to go underwater beneath a huge federal dam, and then sitting there waiting for the delayed dam to be finished, meanwhile healing and going wild and beautiful. But someone published a book by that name, so we had to change it. Meanwhile, for some time, when people had asked me what kind of writing I was doing I had been saying: "Well, I'm a nature writer, sort of, but I write these rather detectivish/police procedural passages too. I guess you could call my sort of writing "nature noir." So I proposed to Houghton Mifflin that we call the book that. My wonderful editor, Deanne Urmy, took this proposal to an editorial meeting and wrote me an e-mail at the end of that day saying: "There is considerable hatred for the title "Nature Noir" at the editorial offices of Houghton Mifflin." I'll never forget that. We fought over this for months. Fur flew. I generated over a hundred alternative titles. It drove me crazy. I was close to walking out of my contract about it. In the end it was published as: "Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra" (Houghton Mifflin 2005, www.naturenoir.com ).
errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Fri 26 Aug 05 06:29
great! much better than my pet theory which just had to do with the dark side of nature. While reading, I caught the shift in your voice as you describe the crime/disaster scenes, and in my head, you shift from sounding like the wilderness rangers I've known to sounding like Joe Friday from Dragnet. Nice to see that it's not just in my head! Was writing for you like badge collecting, or map collecting, or step aerobics in the locker room -something cathartic- or was it always there for you? Do you find it hard to write about that connection between people and the 'natural' environment, like what we find in the wildnerness? I loved your descriptions of that connection - blood and the rivers, or the logging truck with the bones of the forest - and it's something I've never been able to put into words. Then, I'm not a writer...
Autumn Storhaug (autumn) Fri 26 Aug 05 10:41
Welcome to the Well, Jordan! So much of what you say in your book resonates with me. My late husband, who went into the National Park Service in the late seventies at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area with expectations of teaching people about nature, was shocked to find himself wearing a gun, speedloaders, mace, handcuffs, and a Kevlar vest, and supervising a team of gung ho law enforcement rangers who had to be restrained from writing visitors up for expired license plate tags.
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Fri 26 Aug 05 12:51
Dear Errant Thoughts: To really work, an author would like his book title to resonate with things in the book that can be discerned in more than one place. I do think that the predominant darkness in Nature Noir is that of human mischief, but I have also portrayed nature in a way that defies the sort of "pretty calendar picture" view of it. I think when I began trying to write I had been reading a little feminist ecology--in particular, Carolyn Merchant's The Death of Nature, and it still seems to me that to portray nature or woman as just prettyness (that is, harmless, unthreatening, unchallenging prettyness) is to diminish and tame it, or her. Of course for a writer to portray nature as something more challenging than just a pretty face is nothing new. One sees this in literature about the sea--in Melville (Moby Dick), in Richard Henry Dana (Two Years Before the Mast), and later Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm). On the whole, the diminishment of nature to a peripheral concern below such manly subjects as the economy--which one sees in the current administration in Washington--is one in the same with seeing nature as just a pretty face. In a time of environmental collapse nature bites back. I think there's a feeling of that bite in Nature Noir.
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Fri 26 Aug 05 13:16
Autumn: I sympathize with your late husband's experience. I think there was in the seventies a tremendous idealism about "going back to nature" and the stories that came out of that are full of surprise when people found out that they were still having to deal with human social systems. I'm guessing that the era of your husband's entrance into the park service at GGNRA was after the 1973 killing of Ranger Ken Patrick at Point Reyes. Patrick was out alone--as rangers so often are--in the predawn hours patrolling for poachers up on Mt. Vision Road. He stopped to check four men in a car and as he walked up to them they shot him. After that there was a lot of soul searching in the Park Service; there's a certain naivite in believing that your role in protecting nature can be accomplished entirely with smiles and earnest lectures. Much of it can. But we live in a civilization that has been very rough on nature--and on men and women, on each other-- and to expect that to magically transform itself into sweetness and light at a park boundary is, I think, not entirely realistic.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 26 Aug 05 14:08
<scribbled by stevebj Fri 26 Aug 05 14:12>
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 26 Aug 05 14:12
Jordan, my old, old friend... "Nature Noir" accompanied me last spring to a business conference down in Arizona, which I remember very little of now, the book so captured me there in the hotel room. There's much in it I'll have to discuss with you in backchannels, but for the moment, allow me to ask a question buried within a bit of context: When you and I were in high school (not saying here how long ago!), hiking on Mt. Tam in Marin County and exploring the High Sierra in summers were pretty much givens among a certain social clique -- we engaged these activities as regularly as some kids now play video games. I don't believe it would've occurred to any of us back then to ever behave in the wilderness in the manner you describe the behavior of some of the visitors you encountered as a ranger, so one of the many questions that arose for me when reading "Nature Noir" is, Have attitudes about wilderness changed appreciably for the worse in the intervening years? Or did we grow up in a kind of bubble both in terms of place and time? You speak of the environmental idealism of the 1970s, but perhaps that idealism could be narrowed by class and residence as well? Or is/was something else at work? While reading the book, over and over I was struck by your frank, sometimes brutal, yet quite honest descriptions of peoples' relationships with the wild. So many of these seemed so alien to the values we grew up with and, I don't doubt, still hold.
Bob Akka (akka) Fri 26 Aug 05 14:50
<scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Fri 26 Aug 05 20:24
Steve: Great to hear from you! I'm not surprised to see you frequent this literary neighborhood of The Well. I think you've hit the nail on the head. There was indeed a historical bubble of good feelings toward the environment in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was the source of a good portion of our national park and wilderness acreage (notably in Alaska) and much of our environmental legislation. That time and its geo-cultural strongholds--the San Francisco Bay Area and its relationship to the Sierra goes all the way back to the time of John Muir and the founding of the Sierra Club--can be distinguished as a cultural moment not unlike the period of progressivism at the turn of the Twentieth Century (which of course is when the Sierra Club gets founded by people in the Bay Area). Now, in 2005 we're in retrograde in relation to such times of unabashed romanticism and nature-love, and we have a president and congress fitting of such a retrograde time. I think what interested me in Nature Noir was not to rant about or celebrate my own ethic about the backcountry, but instead to describe a group of people who had been untouched by that way of thinking. Those miners and drug addicts in Nature Noir never went to UC Berkeley, don't own a high-tech backpack, and have not read The Sand County Almanac. They are much more representative of the prevailing ethic toward nature in our present time and throughout modern history. Nor did I want to describe the happy circumstances of an (apparently, but not actually) perennially saved Yosemite. In coming to the American River I found a landscape that was much more representative of the rest of the world than Yosemite is, during what we now know to be the largest extinction of other species in 65 million years. And that world--like its microcosm, a federal damsite--lives provisionally, like a long-term convict on death row. So, Bob Akka, this world I inhabit as a ranger and writer in Nature Noir is thirty to forty years later than that of Edward Abbey in Desert Solitaire. Ed took his job at Arches, if I remember right, in about 1957. I took mine on the American in 1986, and I write about the period between that year and 2003 in Nature Noir. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey writes what he confesses is an elegy. I cannot, for the situation is far later and grimmer than Abbey's world now. Five years after Abbey's 1957-58 Arches seasons Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring in, if I remember right, 1962. That book unveils for Americans the idea of insidious changes in the environment from human activities. But Carson could not have imagined a world where our glaciers here in the Sierra are melting away fast from human activities and we've already accepted it. What is a writer or artist to do in such a world? Take a hopeless landscape where the bad news is already resident and find some hope in it. Not to have hope is the most crippling thing I can imagine. In coming to the American River, although I considered it bad luck for years, I was incredibly lucky. As a writer I came to live in a place that truly represtented the state of the world and its peoples' predominant relationship to nature at this time in history, outside of a few favored moments and places like the Bay Area in the 1970s. And, Bob, the lack of quality signage and neat trailhead parking to invite the foot traveller in the American River canyons is no accident. As a ranger I've found that every landscape has a semiotic--a message it conveys to you about what it is and whether it is cherished and valued--and although the American River canyons are administered by the California State Parks as a State Recreation Area, their actual identity is a federal dam site owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. Therefor, since the Bureau pays the bills for State Parks operations and does not want to invest major money beneath the waterline of the dam, you'll find facilities in the canyons temporary-looking and minimal, and of course the Bureau has leased land for the expansion of that open-pit mine (the Teichert Industries limestone mine) on the south side of the Middle Fork, because the canyon is a water tank to the Bureau. It will all be underwater someday, in their estimation. To be fair to them that's their mission. The Bureau is not a park or wilderness agency. They develop water storage and distribute water. The obvious answer to this is to move management of the American River from the Bureau to a fellow Interior Department Agency, The National Park Service.
Autumn Storhaug (autumn) Fri 26 Aug 05 21:13
I hope that management change happens. Most of my NPS friends have retired, so I'm out of touch with what's going on these days. I'm sure things are worse for the NPS under this administration, but I was heartened by a story I read today in the New York Times about NPS management. Not surprisingly, a Bush appointee wants a change in policy "fundamentally changing the way national parks are managed, putting more emphasis on recreational use and loosening protections against overuse, noise and damage to the air, water, wildlife or scenery." What surprised me was that the change was rejected by 16 senior NPS employees after they met to discuss the proposal. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/politics/26park.html
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Fri 26 Aug 05 22:03
Yes, I saw that too. This administration and the congressional majority are profoundly anthropocentric, following a line of thinking that nothing is doing any good unless it is producing a commodity for human beings. Human beings are, according to the fundamentalist theology of this administration, God's chosen species. We have have therefor been authorized to despoil as necessary in order to accumulate rich trusts, houses on steroids in gated communities, Cadillac SUVs, and golf memberships on exclusive links. Commodity outdoor recreation is the closest thing to a commodity that a national park can produce; it's quantifiable in user-days and park admission dollars and is focused on what is fun for the people involved, not what is good for America's crown jewels of nature. If off-road vehicles, jet skis, and low-altitude helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon are considered more fun, that's what you'll get. It doesn't surprise me to see the career people in the Park Service stand up to this mindset and insist on what is right for their parks. The National Park Service is an organization remarkable for its hopeful and idealistic mission, now some 89 years old. To subvert that mission is an insult to anyone who could have made a better living if they'd gone into industry, but instead labored under the conception that what they were doing would last because Americans valued it and would protect it. Good for those career park people and superintendents! Long live any park service, forest service, or BLM bureaucrat or ranger brave enough to stand for what they went to school for, and what they've worked for all their lives. I support them.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 27 Aug 05 05:37
I took a class a couple of years ago and learned that there might be some mergers coming up, like between BLM and the Forest Service, or with Fish & Game. What do you think about this?
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sat 27 Aug 05 11:20
Sharon: I'd have to know more about the source of that information. It's not something I've ever heard. I doubt that such tinkering would do any good. What we primarily need in the agencies that manage land and protect the environment in the United States is an attitude of respect from the executive branch for their experts on the ground. Although their funding flows from Congress, administrative policy flows from the Cabinet--the Forest Service's from the Secretary of Agriculture and Chief of the Forest Service; the National Parks', US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), from the Secretary of the Interior and her respective chiefs. But in this administration, science and resource protection are subordinated to the will of big business and a kind of posturing toward freedom--freedom to drive a snowmobile in a national park. Meanwhile real personal freedoms--freedom from unreasonable search and siezure under the Fourth Ammendment, for example, are curtailed in the name of national security. We've been seeing multiple cases where environmental scientists report findings and the president's people change those findings before they're released. Jordan Fisher Smith
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 27 Aug 05 13:27
Well, the instructor was Dr. John Freemuth, at BSU. He indicated that it's the sort of thing that comes up from time to time.
errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Sat 27 Aug 05 14:54
hi Sharon! I'll be back this evening with few more questions for Jordan, but I wanted to jump in on your question first. I am a Forest Service, USDA employee, and my boss is a Bureau of Land Management, DOI employee. In Colorado, there are a few FS/BLM combined units, like mine. We are officially the San Juan Public Lands, and my office is the Columbine Ranger District (our FS name)/Field Office (our BLM name). This isn't th forum to discuss how this is working or not, but there you have it: combined public land management agency.
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sat 27 Aug 05 15:33
That sounds really interesting, Molly, and I'd like to know more about how it works and what the benefits and problems are. What Molly's talking about is a local combination. I suspect there are times when this serves the local resource and population pretty well. Perhaps I misunderstood what you were talking about as a much larger official combination of agencies like what was done recently to put several Justice Department agencies inside a superagency called Homeland Security. I have doubts about that in the resource agencies, although some people have said for generations that the Forest Service might have been better off in the Department of the Interior. Another place where local interagency cooperation works really well is combined, one-stop visitor centers--there are two of these I know of along the eastern front of the Sierra. One is at Mono Lake and includes the Forest Service and State Parks, who both have lands in the Mono Basin. Another is further south at Big Pine, and it's a wonderful place to get overall visitor information, natural history and history books, informatoin on Park Service and BLM lands in Death Valley and the surrounding deserts to the east and south, as well as information on the Sierra lands of the Forest Service and Park Service. So I think that on a local level, where it makes sense, this sort of combination has something going for it. I'm sort of surprised how technical and nuts and bolts this conversation has been, so far! Jordan Fisher Smith
Scott Davis (scottgeoffrey) Sat 27 Aug 05 16:59
Hello Jordan, Your book is quite wonderful. The weaving of histories (urban, political, geological, human, etc.) is very successful and really seems to lend itself to better understanding (or at least contemplating) some of the extreme complexity surrounding the American River and its people. And from that, we realize that complexity is not unique to your place, but ours as well. You write about the feeling among your colleagues of being overwhelmed by it all to a point where one sometimes wants to give in (or give up) a sense of hopelessness and of not easily seeing future value in what they are doing. Regarding hope and hopelessness: 1) It seems that while you (and most others) dreamed of better assignments to one of our unanimously cherished jewels, you in the end seem thankful and fortunate for having been subject to such a marginalized place. It was from this marginalization that you were able (even forced) to take in so much and ultimately find beauty and joy in it in spite, or perhaps even because, of its hopelessness. Can you talk a little more about that? and 2) On writing and its motivations can you also talk a little about your last ten years trying to write and the role of nudging and support and encouragement a difficult relationship with hope not uncommon among writers.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 28 Aug 05 08:23
Jordan, not to stack up the questions, but... Your descriptions of, and in many cases empathy for, the visitors to the Auburn State Recreation Area are very much part of "Nature Noir"'s memorable quality. Many, and perhaps most, of these visitors are not the eco-heads you and I grew up with, admired, and often believed ourselves to be -- yet unwed mothers who are underpaid check-out clerks at FoodMaxx stores, who have biker boyfriends and show off butterfly tattoos on their ankles and asses, need outdoor recreation just as much as the rest of us, perhaps even more so. Yet you do not romanticize or sentimentalize these members of the working class who visit wilderness on weekends with their pickups full of bad beer and over-powered toys. (That's what makes your opening throw-the-baby-at-the-car episode so effective.) As both a ranger and a writer, how did you create in yourself an unsentimental empathy for these kinds of visitors to an area you yourself were reluctantly falling in love with and must've felt protective toward?
errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Sun 28 Aug 05 10:23
these are great questions, Jordan! I'll hold off on adding to the pile right now. I typed out the last portion of page 103...from "everyone in these hill.." and it is posted over my desk in my office now. That's the passage that jumped out at me in the book, telling me why I do what I do, and why I care. so thanks!
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sun 28 Aug 05 12:15
I am so impressed with the level of discourse here on the Well. These are great questions. To try to respond to Scott's query: I think what I set out to do at the time I began to write seriously for publication about 15 years ago is to form a style of writing (and ultimately, of reading--because what you read influences your writing) that would be comprehensive in its approach to seeing the current environmental situation. I had been someone who was primarily interested in going to the outdoors, but suddenly it interested me to see the ruins underneath the ground on which Notre Dame sits on in Paris, and the Aztec ruins underneath the colonial Christian Zoccolo in Mexico city, to read history and try to imagine prehistory. Certainly this must be Molly's view too, as a National Forest archeologist. Arne Naess talks about a philosophy built on what he calls a "Total View." To me, that meant trying to evade the visual limitations of a human being's short lifespan by understanding the whole as much as possible whenever you begin to write. So when you write a given scene it has a sort of compassion for the benighted quality of being human built into it. You write into it the "great chain of being" on which your characters exist. They walk, and you need to visualize them walking over the buried bones of Pleistocene mammals and bits of glassware from the Nineteenth Century. I think that is what Molly notices in that passage she's mentioned at the end of the chapter "Rocks and Bones." As an aside, you have to remember that writing nonfiction does not relieve you of responsibility for having imagination. In Nature Noir I never make a scene up--it all happened. The question is how to describe what happened in some larger terms. Another early influence for me --and I'm going back to my late teens and early twenties here--was the poetry of Gary Snyder circa "The Back Country," "Turtle Island," and "Axe Handles" which had an awareness of geologic time in it. So, to answer Scott's question about hope or the role of hope in my writing, I think I created my writing to make hope for myself; to understand why I had been born into the largest extinction of other life in 65 million years, and to figure out what to do about it. The essay, in particular, which is the form I was attracted to, is a way to figure out how you feel about something as you write. But as time went on I realized I was a storyteller more than a didactic essayist. And the way I told my stories--true stories--anchored them in human history and geologic time. To further answer Scott's question, I never had to be prodded or encouraged to write, because writing was an act of desperation for me. I had to write! Kenneth Rexroth said somewhere that the only adequate response to the ruin of the world is the creative act. That was it, for me. And I continue to work in that vein. I'm going to get to the component of Scott's queston about the longing for a better place to work than the American River, and why I was so lucky to find those canyons, and Steve Bjerklie's question about the people I portray there in a few minutes. Jordan Fisher Smith
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sun 28 Aug 05 14:24
To continue in response to Scott, Steve, and Molly: The reason I was so lucky to go to work in the landscape in which Nature Noir is set--this federal dam site on the North and Middle forks of the American River--is that schematically, the larger world's situation is far more like the damsite right now--a place with a huge shadow over it, which is nevertheless still blooming and resurgent with life and will heal if you let it--than it is like some beautiful and theoretically saved national park. Literature works best when it touches on universality, the feelings we all have about what is going on in our lives. And had I written Nature Noir from some wilderness stronghold or some other utopian situation, I think it would have been a fearful book--a book that peered into the distance and saw the most scary thing imaginable coming at it: environmental and the social collapse that would inevitably follow it or coincide with it. Instead, it is written from a place where the bad news has already landed and we're grappling with it. And as far as my characters, they were good luck too. A nonfiction book can't invent its characters' way of speaking (or shouldn't, anyway). The ranger whose name in the book is "Bell" really did unload his shotgun that way, and really did say "Fuck this place!" Had my characters all read the same books I had and been speechifying all the time about them, they wouldn't have been very interesting, to me anyway. Instead I got gold miners, drug addicts, drunks, criminals and rangers who acted instead of speaking, and when they spoke, spoke in very direct, not in abstract ways. Again the real world. The overwhelming majority of the world's citizens are poor and intellectually unsophisticated. And they live in a threatened landscape. Jordan Fisher Smith
errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Sun 28 Aug 05 14:48
Jordan, not so much about the book, but about a situation you briefly touch on (pg 158 for our readers at home!).... the burning down of the old structures by BOR folks. Do/did CA state parks have archeologists? Did you ever have to work within the parameters of NHPA? I know the Forests systematically destroyed most structures at acquisition, a fact that has driven me half crazy sometimes, but I thought that as a quirk of my agency. I managed a database of arch sites for BOR one summer a while back. Lots of archeologists, but what a strange mission!
Scott Davis (scottgeoffrey) Sun 28 Aug 05 18:29
Thanks so much, Jordan, for your thoughtful responses. Being able to hear you elaborate on your process, context, intent, etc. has really helped me better understand (and appreciate) what you are doing. Your book has done a good job of getting me thinking, so congratulations, and thanks for that. However, so that this discussion isnt all Jordan, I love everything about your book and Jordan, I agree about everything you say, Id like to risk putting a few things out there that got me thinking (even though I, too, feel much of these sentiments). One thing is the emotional flatness when talking about victims and park visitors, which stands in juxtaposition to the lyricism and appreciation in the nature description (you very helpfully describe what is behind this in your first comment here). I now understand and appreciate how this comes about but one thing I found myself yearning for is a greater empathy with people, their complex histories and struggles. This came about most for me in the essay of Barbara Schoeners death. I appreciate the theme of the essay -- of natural systems returning to wildness (their natural tendency) and how nature hurts nature, nature hurts people, people hurt nature and people hurt people -- all quite natural tendencies. What I kept thinking, though, was that even though this womans death was natural and could be understood, it was still tragic. As a reader having thus far already recognized your capacity for empathy, I wanted you to grant this to her, to give her tragic death its due sentiment. But all I found was the cool investigators description of re-creating the scene. What little history we know of her is tied to your making her a symbol of threatening sprawl and gated communities via her address (leaving us to feel that she may somehow?... deserved this or asked for it not being poor and uneducated but rich and intellectually unsophisticated). Would her death be considered differently if she was a naturalist and didnt live there? I imagined a more complex life, perhaps (we dont know under what conditions she came to live there), and saw a woman who loves the outdoors (maybe even that canyon), jogging routinely on nature trails, whom left behind a loving husband and two children. I imagined her children reading the book and wanted you to treat her with the same care and sentiment that you did the weather and the landscape. Please dont take this the wrong way as I said, you have me and Im a fan but can you talk a little more about this dichotomy in your writing style or approach? Also regarding Noir -- Im also a fan of the movie Double Indemnity and keep thinking how Fred McMurrays character (Walter Neff) recounted complex human struggle and compromising circumstance (his own and others) with great gumshoe description and commentary.
Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sun 28 Aug 05 18:48
Molly--and Scott, since I've written my response to Molly already I'll respond separately to you: The State Parks does of course have archeologists, and in the course of my research for Nature Noir I found impassioned letters from one of them, Norman Wilson, asking the Bureau of Reclamation (the Dept. of the Interior agency that aquired the land and was building the dam) to save some of the most historic structures it was aquiring. But again, State Parks and its rangers were only there on contract to run what was going to be a huge waterskiing lake. Their de-facto role as managers of a huge wild area above and below the dam's water line was a historical accident, born of the decades of delays in the dam's completion. State Parks doesn't own Auburn State Recreation Area and never did; the Bureau does. And so the Bureau, for example, authorized expansion of the open pit mine on the south rim of the Middle Fork canyon (now operated by Teichert Industries) and as far as I know, State Parks never said boo about it. State Parks itself expanded an off-road vehicle use area on the other side of the canyon, and for years, suction dredge mining in the State Recreation area has been tolerated under the unwritten but strong rationale that there's not the polical will in State Parks or the Bureau to stop it, when the whole thing's a dam site (although in the last couple of decades the size of such machinery has been limited). In a biologically and historically equivalent river landscape a few miles north, the South Yuba River State Park, the state doesn't even allow gold panning. The critical concept is: the map says "Auburn State Recreation Area" but when it comes down to critical management decisions where you'd expect the kind of protection state parks and recreation areas get, it's a dam site owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. That, and the dark history of the Gold Rush itself, is the nature of the shadow over the land and characters in Nature Noir. Jordan Fisher Smith
Members: Enter the conference to participate