Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jordan Fisher Smith: Nature Noir

This wasn't the book I was expecting to read, and I don't think it was the book Jordan Fisher Smith thought he would write when he joined the State Park services as a ranger. The cover of the book depicts some snow covered mountains, and the subtitle is "A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra." Doesn't that evoke visions of a modern "Monkey Wrench Gang" or maybe a John Muir? Yeah, no. Smith was stationed in Auburn, and it was no easy, remote, read books, sip from a canteen, isolated from modern urban life kind of career. Rather, he was law enforcement, only off of the beaten path. I found myself really identifying with Smith- he's alone out there, dealing with some serious characters. Just because he's in a pastoral park setting doesn't mean there isn't shady stuff going on. (Animal control is the same way: just because we enforce animal related ordinances doesn't mean we aren't dealing with the same people.) Smith has recreational areas to contend with, riverbeds where squatters take up residence, and rivers with day vacationers. The anecdotes he tells are real, and sometimes brutal. Behind all of this is the lurking fear of a park service that may soon be under water- the whole time Smith was a ranger, the Auburn dam was a real possibility, and his whole area was slated to be a man made lake. The futility he feels is palpable (boy, do I know that feeling!).

This is a strange, choppy book written in a way that dispels myths without necessarily intending to. The narrative is out of sequence and often lacks transitions. Near the end of the book, Smith recounts his battle with Lyme disease, a struggle directly resulting from the changes humans have caused the ecosystem and his time in the park that is a microcosm of the changes in California. The book hit home for me- his career is full of possibilities of danger, and isn't quite what he thought what he was getting into. But it's public service, and he seems fulfilled.