inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #26 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Sun 28 Aug 05 19:09
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #27 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sun 28 Aug 05 19:23

I won't defend myself against what you've said about "A Natural
Death," except to say that you'll notice that the lives of many of my
characters as described in Nature Noir are circumscribed, as it were,
by the canyon rim.  Part of that was Houghton Mifflin's desire for a
certain length of book; part of it is my own gut feeling about how best
to tell the story; it's complicated enough even as so circumstribed. 
So you'll find little or nothing in the book about the ranger's wives
or children; there's little about the things that made Mary Murphy the
woman she was before she set foot in the North Fork, nor that which
made her assailants, or lovers as the case may be, what they were.  The
exception might be Karen and Les Dellasandro, but this was necessary
for the story, which is a forensic psychodrama.

I do not think of myself as an anti-human sort of writer and if I've
devalued the life of this woman it was not intentional.  Everything I
hear about Barbara Schoener indicates that she was a wonderful person
and loved by her family. But that is not what "A Natural Death" is
about.  All pieces of writing are limited in their goals and
accomplishments, and this one was only an attempt, in part, to
experiment with a phenomenological viewpoint, one in which the reader
has a flash of recognition--as I did when I finished uncovering the
body--that a person at some level is an animal.  And that in walking
into a wild area one can unintentionally become part of an animal
story.  A story not told in emotions, intentions, philosophies, or
thoughts, but in simple eating and survival.  It was a shock, and one I
wanted to convey to the reader.  Like many nature writers I am
suspicious of the ideas we have that set us apart from the animals and
In general, you won't find I emote much on the page.  That's just my
way as a writer. I'm not against feeling--in fact I am as a person
quite passionate, I think.  I just think that as a writer it's much
more powerful and less intrusive for me to do an adequate job of
describing what happened and leave the feelings up to the reader. 

And Bob Akka, now that I seem to be one response behind, on to your
question in a moment.

Jordan Fisher Smith    
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #28 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sun 28 Aug 05 19:50

This from the epilogue of Nature Noir: 

"The writer John McPhee visited the Auburn Dam site in the course of
his research for his book about geology, ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA.  While
there, he learned about timber dam that had existed on the site as
early as 1854.  McPhee would remark dryly, '[at Auburn]
environmentalists have discovered to their eternal chagrin, a dam site
is a dam site forever, no matter what the state or nation may decide to
do about it in any given era.'  

That statement remains true today.  It's certainly true as long as the
Bureau of Reclamation owns the dam site and the river it would flood. 
Also, as I've said in that same chapter, we've had two historical
droughts of six years which were considered catastrophic: 1928-34 and
1986-92.  But 0tree ring studies on ancient stumps found under Mono and
Tenaya Laks show there was a 200-year drought around 900 AD and
another of about 140 years' length a couple of hundred years later.  In
a state where we have entirely failed to even discuss controls on
human population growth and building, you can see how that would go. 
Even now, desalinization plants are planned for the coast and water
supplies aren't unlimited. 

Still, what you say is true.  The local communities around the
proposed Auburn Dam celebrated it as a financial boon.  When I came to
work there in 1986 Auburn was full of cars and pickups with bumper
stickers saying "Build it, Dam it."  Yet today, increasingly, locals
take pride in the river and its canyons.  That kind of pride will be
essential if Placer County is ever to stop electing far right-wing
representatives of the building and development industry without a
trace of feeling for the natural world to Congress.  

Jordan Fisher Smith
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #29 of 69: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 28 Aug 05 20:10
Do you know about the controversy in Idaho regarding breaching four
dams to improve salmon returns? Do you have an opinion on it?
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #30 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Sun 28 Aug 05 22:53
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #31 of 69: With catlike tread (sumac) Mon 29 Aug 05 12:20
Nature Noir's a very interesting book, and I really liked the view you
give of a ranger's job.

It seems to me that one of the things we often love about wilderness is
its self-sufficiency.  It's not about us.  What a relief.

But we associate that self-sufficiency with toughness and resilience
and as a result (I think), you often get disrespect and violence towards
something that doesn't care what you do.  So you get that strange
phenomenon of people who hike for miles into a remote spot and then throw
their fast food wrappers on the trail.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #32 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Mon 29 Aug 05 13:41
In response to the question about how I feel about removing four dams
on the lower Snake River, I think it's a fine idea.  But I doubt such
proposals have the slightest chance in our current Congress and White
House.  Last time I checked, the Bush administration had no interest in
the survival of salmon and was instead focusing on getting U.S. Fish
and Wildlife to stop distinguishing return rates of wild and hatchery
salmon.  Once there were no more wild fish we would have no more
obligation to protect them (and no more pesky lawsuits about them from
environmentalists). Taxpayers for Common Sense has argued for the
proposal to remove the dams based on the amount we now spend to
mitigate the effects of the dams on the fish.  But I think the White
House feels it can cut those costs by doing away with the mandate to
protect fish instead of the dams--this by chipping away at the
Endangered Species Act (or, to use a bait fisherman's term, "gutting
it" altogether) and other agency rules and mandates.

On New Orleans: I do not know whether seeing New Orleans go under
would sensitize people to an American River (or for that matter an
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge about to be riddled with oil rigs),
because the dominant paradigm is still the city versus raging nature. 
Since we invented agriculture and began herding domestic animals nine
or ten thousand years ago, say environmental historians, we have lived
in a narrative of overcoming and controlling nature--in meddling with
genetics, in dealing with rivers and weather, and in managing animal
populations--baby salmon make their journey down the Snake River in
barges now, so they won't get eaten by the hydroelectric plants the
river goes through.  For a look at the over-a-century-old battle with
the Mississippi River see the essay on the subject in John McPhee's
wonderful book, THE CONTROL OF NATURE.       

When I was first a wilderness ranger, I used to fret a lot about
litter like "catlike tread" talks about, found on the trail.  But I
have become less concerned with that now than I am with the survival of
the trail itself, the soil it is made on, the trees around it, the
mountains they grow on, and the very air above them.

I will say this: there is in my experience less and less litter in the
backcountry. I've just returned from a week in the Hoover and Yosemite
wildernesses in which I saw almost none.  Wilderness users have become
much better campers than they used to be, much of this because of a
very successful campaign by the Forest Service, National Park Service,
and other land managment agencies to promote "the no trace ethic" and
"minimum impact camping."

Now if we could only get these ideas to catch on outside the
wilderness ...

Jordan Fisher Smith  
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #33 of 69: Scott Davis (scottgeoffrey) Mon 29 Aug 05 16:09
Thank you, Jordan, for your previous response. I can see now how your
style fits with and relates to your approach/intent. On another
topic...  I think your storytelling has a strong sense of pace and
suspence (much like The Perfect Storm) and you do a great job of
introducing the multitude of roles and dangers that rangers are subject
to, which most of us never imagined. Rangering undoubtedly would have
been considered by Sebastian Junger to be among the most dangerous
occupations when beginning his project. 

Do you have any thoughts about or experience with other rangers in
places like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona --
where the highly dangerous trafficking of drugs and people across an
international border in one of the most inhospitable landscapes in the
U.S. presents yet another layer? Also... how National Geographic raised
the awareness of danger in national parks when it identified it as
being the most dangerous National Park in America a few years ago.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #34 of 69: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Mon 29 Aug 05 19:52
Jordan, a couple questions...

One, many of us probably carry the idea of a ranger's career arc as
beginning as an enthusiastic teen volunteering at a local park, then
graduating with a biology or wildlife management degree, then going to
work for the park service, eventually winding up at and retiring from
one of the big-name parks -- Yosemite, Yellowstone. But my guess is
that this notion of a typical career is likely quite wrong. So what
would be a typical career arc for a ranger? It's intriguing that you,
who show all the signs of being a rather exemplary ranger, ended up at

Two, since those days long ago when our high-school peer group walked
the trails of Mt. Tam and the High Sierra for fun and freedom, what
have you changed your mind about regarding humanity's interaction with
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #35 of 69: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 30 Aug 05 05:09
I forget whether it was BLM or Forest Service, but I was recently told
that Boise is one of the most desired spots and that people rarely
move from there once they get it.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #36 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Tue 30 Aug 05 10:37
To respond to Scott's question, a ranger works on the land.  That
means a ranger's life is intimately tied to and affected by geography. 
Much of post-postmodern life defies geography; the inside of an office
in Anchorage is much like the inside of an office in Atlanta.  But a
ranger working in Alaska will have a profoundly different life from a
ranger in Georgia.  I think I tried to write this into the "men of
dust" passage in the beginning of the chapter "It Never Rains in

If the ranger's land is, as Scott says, in a wild (roadless or
partially roadless) patch of rugged land on the international border
with Mexico, that ranger will deal with an entirely different
situation, too.  The park Scott mentions, Organ Pipe NM in Arizona, is
the one where a 27-year old Ranger Kris Eggle, was shot by two
criminals escaping from police across the border in Mexico.  The
Mexican border is dangerous in part because the Mexican economy and
government is inextricably mixed up with drugs and drug money.  By the 
Nineties the drug economy in Mexico was estimated by various sources
at $30 billion dollars a year; enough to buy plenty of elections. Big
Bend National Park and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas are
two other very scary places for a ranger to work on that border. 

In the last couple of years the INS reports that the fastest growing
segment of illegal immigrants coming across border with Mexico are
non-Mexicans.  The implications for homeland security are obvious. 
This border--which Americans imagine to be a place you have to stop 
and present your credentials to cross--is entirely permeable in the
backcountry, and parks are backcountry.  That leaves a few lonely
rangers on the front lines of drug interdiction (and here it's
important to state that it doesn't matter how you a given ranger feels
about drugs--if you are a uniformed law enforcement officer and you run
into a blacked out SUV on a lonely road at night, they can shoot you
before they ask about your political leanings), homeland security, and
illegal immigration.  

To answer Steve Bjerklie's questions: first, about what a typical
career for a ranger would be.  There are a lot of other land management
agencies other than the National Park Service and the careers of their
rangers (and other employees) are as varied as their land holdings. 
California's state park system, for example, is the largest and most
complex in the nation.  It includes 277 parks and employs about 700
permanent rangers and lifeguards who are all state peace officers.  The
National Park Service has 388 parks and in 2003, employed 1659 full
time law enforcement officers.  

Then there's the Forest Service.  My original interviewer Molly
(where'd she go?) works for the Forest Service, and life in the Forest
Service is different than the national parks because the Forest Service
does resource extraction (sells timber and issues permits for  mining,
oil exploration and production facilities, grazing rights, leases ski
area lands, and so on).  The same is true for the Bureau of Land
Management.  The Army Corps of Engineers employs rangers; they work on
the Corps' reservoirs.  There are county parks, water districts, and
open space districts who employ rangers.  And cities employ people they
call rangers to patrol and provide other services (including nature
teaching) in urban parks.  I met one in Manhattan, rolling drunks at
Union Square across the street from my publisher's publicity office.  

But let's restrict ourselves to a typical park ranger--that is a
ranger in a national or major state park system.  I think the typical
career has more of an emphasis on promotion and moving around from job
to job.  I did move some, but although I could have promoted, I didn't.
 The more you promote, the more your job resembles a government
bureaucrat in any department--true, when you walk outside at lunchtime
or the end of the day there are trees, but you spend your life
shuffling paper, budgets, and staring at a computer screen while
talking on the phone.  

Instead, to get the challenge I wanted--to keep learning and
growing--I tried to be a better field ranger, and later, wrote.  
To answer Steve's second question I have to say that I dropped out of
high school and left home at 16 and , and at that tender age I had
nothing like a well-articulated sense of the human relationship with
nature.  Just a strong feeling of biophilia, this very strong love of
nature that may indeed have had a lot to do with my having grown up
along the boundary of Muir Woods. 

Jordan Fisher Smith          
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #37 of 69: errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Tue 30 Aug 05 12:53

I'm here!  I've been in the field and away from computers, sorry!  I'm 
only here for a minute though to catchup, and will be back tonight.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #38 of 69: errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Tue 30 Aug 05 21:49

Jordan, I've had a question bugging me.  I talk to Wilderness Rangers 
everyday, and other FS/BLM folks who encounter deadly wildlife, save human 
lives, save natural/cultural resources from imminient destruction every 
few days.  I have my own stories and HolyShits, too, from my own work over 
the past few years, that hardly even my closest friends outside of the 
Ranger Station have heard.  I've sometimes thought I should write about 
the lives I saved/assisted in saving, the wounded cougar I stumbled on, 
the raccoon giving birth, the stranded kayakers in the flood, the lost 
midget crew member 2 days later, what it feels like to hear a mighty 
oak fall, or a rockslide begin... but where to start?  How do you 
put in down on paper in real words?  Which stories do you tell/not tell?  
How do you make in relevant and interesting and meaningful to anyone 
else?  I'm guess I'm just not a writer!

So, how did you pick the stories you told?  How did you decide which of 
what has to have been hundreds over 14 years would catch a reader's 
attention?  Are the stories you tell us the ones most closely linked to 
the land?  Most sensationalist?  Most....what?  How did you pick and 
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #39 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Tue 30 Aug 05 22:37

What a wonderful question.  

First of all, I had seen other ranger books that were collections of
anecdotes and wanted Nature Noir to be more than that.  I wanted Nature
Noir to tell a larger story, or actually, three larger stories.  

First of all, the more I learned about the American River, the more I
saw that its history was so representative of what had happened to
rivers all over the West, and I wanted to tell that typical story.  

Secondly I wanted to tell the story of rangers everywhere--what they
carry in their hearts toward the land and its creatures and the people
that wander onto it, why they put up with the sometimes bad pay and
stress and danger, and still protect things we all value.  I've told
several interviewers that this book was my little love letter to
rangering, a thing I did for 21 years and cared more about than I can
begin to say.  I wanted to show how a few rangers had done what rangers
do even when all they had to do it in was a federal damsite where the
whole landscape would, at some indeterminate time in the future, be

Third, I wanted to tell the story of that landscape, a place whose
death had been expected for decades, but which still lived and healed
and became more beautiful before out eyes.  I thought this would be a
hopeful fable for environmentalists, who carry the weight of the world
on their shoulders right now and need all the encouragement they can
get.  And I thought it would be good for the rangers.  I thought this
would be a healing story to tell.

So I knew I needed the stories I told to serve the larger narrative
arc of my book--and these major themes.  

Now I went back through piles and piles of old files.  In the chapter
"It Never Rains in California" I tell of this mound of dusty old
cardboard boxes full of case files in one of our warehouses--crime and
accident reports, citations, patrol logs, coroner's reports on deaths,
criminal evidence, photographs, case notes.  A lot of that stuff still
existed around our offices.  For example I found in my own file on the
subject, the evidence photos of the illegal shack those miners who may
or may not have raped that woman Mary Murphy had built up the North
Fork in the Chapter "Occurrence at Yankee Jims Bridge." So I was able
to describe it exactly as it was in the book.

There were certain cases that I just knew, starting out, would be in
the book.  For example, the drowning of Early Ditsavong.  For some time
love for the land and waters in America--environmentalism if you
will--has been in danger of being a white, upper middle class concern. 
I wanted immigrants to have a part in this book and I wanted those
lady beetles in the book, because there were echoes of immigration in
the gold rush and echoes of immigration in insect migration.  I felt
the book should speak to all Americans and, in particular, new

And the killing of Barbara Schoener by a mountain lion.  Because in
some tragic way, it told of land recovering its strenth and the animals
coming back.

In other cases I had to think about which case to use.  In "Rocks and
Bones" I had decided to use a homicide, but which one?  At that point
in the book the job was to tell of the earthquake that slowed the dam
effort to a standstill--in other words, the case in the foreground had
to serve the larger narrative arc of the book.  So I asked a friend, a
homicide detective I had worked  with for years, whether we had a case
that involved geology.  One case we both remembered was one where a man
had killed his wife and dumped her body in the dam site.  He had
inadvertently gotten mud from the site where he dumped her in his car,
and the case was made by a soil scientist who matched the soil in the
car to the soil where the body was found in the canyon.  But no, I
wanted something that went deep--deep into the rocks.  And then it
struck me, of course: the case of Janet Kovacich (called Karen
Dellasandro in the book).  We had been looking for her body and had
considered all the tunnels, old mineshafts, and the trenches dug by
geologists in the dam site after this earthquake--it was perfect!  So I
wrote that one.  And of course that case, like the others, was one
that haunted me--one you never forget.   

To cite another example, the case I have in the beginning of the
chapter "Finch Finds his Roots," was selected because it shows the
rangers (me and O'Leary) protecting the resource--in this case catching
some men who have stolen a number of black oak trees--the most
highly-prized firewood tree in the Sierra.  Later in the chapter
there's a melee in the campground involving a gun.  That one was
selected because Finch--who's the star of that chapter--was the first
on the scene, and because it demonstrated the other kind of
enforcement, where rangers are protecting the safety and peace of mind
of visitors, instead of the land itself.  

I think you can see what I mean.  A  book is a whole, and its parts
must serve that whole or its just a collection of yarns without any
real power.

Jordan Fisher Smith 
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #40 of 69: errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Thu 1 Sep 05 15:36

I can totally see what you mean!  

It is interesting for me to try to get my brain around a doomed landscape 
that is healing but still slated for destruction.  My work has been in 
previously doomed landscapes that are healing and moving towards greater 
protection, and for an agency that had been working towards better 
stewardship (until this current administration - but don't get me 

It's still a BOR site then?  I'm working now on a BOR project that is 
driving me insane.  Does that agency just Not Get It, or what? Did you 
know there is no true buffer zone to a Wilderness Area?  That's what I 
learned at work today.  I thought of you, and of the American River for 
most of my day, as BOR works to dam and rechannel our Animas River in my 
neck of the woods.  anyway...

We saw some cat scat, too, which totally made me think of Nature Noir, and 
makes me wonder what secrets and stories are out there in my Forest, just 
waiting for someone to tell them.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #41 of 69: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 1 Sep 05 16:12
Scuze me for interupting, but I know BLM, USPS and USFS but what's BOR?
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #42 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Thu 1 Sep 05 16:40
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #43 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Thu 1 Sep 05 22:52
Dear Redheaded Mischief:

Yup, the canyons of the North and Middle Fork of the American are
still a United States Bureau of Reclamation project.  

In my estimation it might be too simplistic to say that the Bureau of
Reclamation doesn't get it.  It's more accurate to say that they are
pursuing their mission as laid out in the Reclamation Act, which was to
find and develop water storage and convey that water to irrigation
farmers--and more recently, to cities.  While the Park Service is
staffed by people with botany, zoology, archeology, history, and
similar backgrounds whose mission is to save things forever and provide
for public use of them, the Bureau's staffed by engineers who build
dams and canals.  This is an agency which never had a mission like the
Park Service's.  In a similar sense, it isn't that the Forest Service
doesn't get it, because it sells timber to timber companies.  Like it
or not, use of timber was in the Forest Service's original mission--and
that represents the famous rift between the utilitarian forester
Gifford Pinchot and the preservationist John Muir at the time the
Forest Reserves were set up around the turn of the Twentieth Century.  

The question for the Forest Service is: when, where, how, and how much
to cut?  For the Bureau, it's similar: when is enough enough?  Might
the Bureau become a leader in water conservation solutions to extend
supply from its existing dams?  Might the Bureau's huge engineering
expertise be used to provide solutions for retiring some dams that have
become redundant, like the Engelbright Reservoir on the Yuba River in
Northern California (which although it's not a Bureau dam, will take
careful thought in order to be breached successfully)?  Can the Bureau
continue to provide better fish survival solutions for existing dams?  

I loved your comment about stories waiting to be told in your forest. 
Of course the world has always had more good stories than really good
story tellers.  The raw material of writing is always there.  But boy,
does it take work to get the story told right.

I guess one of my hopes for Nature Noir was that, in a way, it would
tell the stories of other places.  There is an architypal element to a
well-told story, an ancient pattern.  If you identify the pattern in
the story it can illuminates the pattern for the reader in their own
place, in their own life.

Or so I hoped.

Jordan Fisher Smith
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #44 of 69: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 2 Sep 05 17:22
I don't have a copy of your book, though I must say that this conversation
has me wanting to read one!

I was struck by your thoughts about the flood of New Orleans on Monday as
a warning to other cities, which it better be.  Lots of analogies will be
drawn.  Nature hit our southern coast with the force of a nuclear bomb,
and there's a distinct possiblity that the response from our War on
Terror president could include a new War on Nature.  (Stop restricting oil
drilling in AK or off of CA, build a lot of nukes, get rid of the petty
red tape about habitat and wetlands that could get in the way of major
and profitable redevelopment of NOLA over time, etc...)  Perhaps this
observation doesn't belong here, but hey, you're a crime writer after

I have been wondering about wilderness areas known to be strongholds or
"outlaws."  The lower (southwestern) portion of the Trinity Alps is or
was full of old cabins rebuilt as hideouts and reinhabitted after the
wilderness designation.  Tales of armed squatters bring up a lot of
questions for hikers and wildlife fanciers.  Are there other areas with 
this kind of ongoing dynamic?
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #45 of 69: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 2 Sep 05 18:26
>with the force of a nuclear bomb

More like ten thousand nuclear bombs, actually.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #46 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Fri 2 Sep 05 19:26
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #47 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Fri 2 Sep 05 19:28
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #48 of 69: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 3 Sep 05 11:17
Why does the vision of a flood shift opinion in favor of a damn?  I'd think
the opposite!
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #49 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Sat 3 Sep 05 13:07
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #50 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sat 3 Sep 05 15:02

I found all of your comments insightful and interesting.  

In my estimation the real conversation about New Orleans--and it's one
that seems entirely absent from the media coverage I've seen--is about
the increases in storm severity that most climatologists have
predicted for a decade and a half in response to global climate change.

For those that haven't been exposed to the this idea, let me explain
as best I can.  At the risk of oversimplification, weather and ocean
currents, whether you're talking about them on a global  scale or a
synoptic scale, are driven by the heat input of the sun, the
differences in the ammount of that input from one region of the world
to another, and the rotation of the planet (which causes the cyclonic
shape of high and low air cells, and therefor, storms.  

Since the energy in storms is heat, warm storms have far greater
capacity for violence than cold ones.  Warm air holds more moisture and
the wind  generated by a storm is fundamentally driven by heat energy.
That heat can be stored in a storm as the heat of evaporation--the
heat it takes to turn water from an ocean to a cloud.  Anyway, the fact
that storm energy is heat energy is why storms born in the tropical
lattitudes, such as hurricanes, have greater violence.  Increase the
heat input and, say climatologists, you increase the energy in a storm
and its violence. 

So what most climatologists have said for years is in store for us is
greater storm damage.  

Now, since a warming planet results in the melting of polar and
glacial ice and the expansion of the water in the oceans, rising sea
levels driven by more severe winds can be expected to cause far more
devastation to low-lying coastal areas because of higher storm waves. 
The worst places for effects like this are cities that have been
sinking toward sea level--cities like New Orleans and Venice, Italy.  

Bob Atta's right.  Sacramento can be expected to be effected by this
phenomenon too--but in a slightly different way.  The problem in
Sacramento--and I describe this problem in chapter 2, "It Never Rains
in California" is that the surface elevation of the Sacramento River
where it passes through the city is only a couple of feet above that of
San Francisco Bay.  And the river flows another 60 miles from the city
to get to the Bay.  And the Sacramento Delta is the only natural
outlet to the Central Valley.  So by the time it gets to the Bay, the
river has to carry the entire drainage of the four-hundred-mile long
bathtub of the Valley.  That's over half the state's annual

But because the river isn't falling much in that sixty miles, it isn't
in a big hurry to go anywhere.  And when we get one of those warm,
high-energy subtropical storms like the one I describe in that chapter,
suddenly the Central Valley turns into a lake, or tries to.  

Old paradigm thinking is to battle the river with dams and levees. 
But unless we do something about global climate change, in the long
run, Sacramento's flood future doesn't look good. Because basically, as
the river surface reaches closer to sea level--and that could take a
while, but it's now underway--Sacramento is toast.  Or, like the Dutch,
the Central Valley will live behind dikes, pumping half the rainfall
in California uphill into the Bay. 

As far as a war on nature is concerned, I think the Bush adminstration
has been conducting that war for some time; not out of aggression
toward her, but from a lack of understanding of what nature is.  The
corporations that call the shots in the White House right now--and the
President can be thought of here as a figurehead or a CEO, not a true
political leader--think of nature in terms of a storehouse of raw
materials to make money on.  And an anthropocentric (human-centered)
fundamentalist protestantism provides a God who answers prayers for
personal wealth and does not impose moral strictures against the
complete utilization of nature to create that wealth.  Such religions
have always been present; the Catholicism of the sixteenth century
worked hand in glove with the conquest of Central and South America by
the Spanish; and in the ante-bellum Confederacy slave owners attended a
largely approving and complacent church on Sundays. 


One worry I have about Nature Noir is that people might feel it had
become more dangerous in the outdoors.  I certainly stand by my
position that it is increasingly dangerous out there for rangers, but I
haven't seen any statistic showing that it's more dangerous for
citizens.  And I don't think it is.  To the extent that squatters,
people who make methamphetamine, and some of the more misanthropic
occupants of public land mining claims (now there's a contradiction in
terms--why allow people to claim public land to live on as miners?) are
sometimes not the friendliest group of people to run into, they still
represent a threat primarily to the rangers who must seek them out.    
 Most of those people don't want you to go back and call the sheriff
or the ranger, nor do they want to do away with you and have a hundred
search and rescue people looking over their place for you, so they
avoid trouble with members of the public.  It's the ranger who has to
set foot in their little world and break the bad news to them.  

Among other things, the Trinity country and the northern Coast Ranges
of California in general have been just another area where the failure
of the War on Drugs has been played out.  The latest thing I hear from
my friends who are still in the ranger business is that the Mexican
drug cartels, seeing the problem with transporting marijuana across a
border, have set up growing operations on our side.  The people who
care for and guard the plots are often illegals, and they have guns. 
They have a reputation for being more willing to use them, since their
fingerprints aren't in our systems and they are legal non-entities. 

I think the basic situation for the average person's safety in the
wilderness really hasn't changed, though.  It's just a tough time to be
a ranger.

Jordan Fisher Smith




Members: Enter the conference to participate. All posts made in this conference are world-readable.

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us

Twitter G+ Facebook