inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #51 of 69: Public persona (jmcarlin) Sat 3 Sep 05 18:59

> increases in storm severity that most climatologists have
> predicted for a decade and a half in response to global climate change.

Amongst other sites, the following graph is from one such
which came from:
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #52 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sat 3 Sep 05 20:42
That's great information, thanks, Persona.

So if that kind of quality information is available from the
government on a NOAA website, why haven't we seen or heard the press
covering this story?  We've seen about everything else in the last few
days--the role of ham radio operators in disaster relief, the story in
Houston, the relationship of demands on the national guard in disaster
relief to the guard's role in the ongoing War on Isms, and so on.  

Jordan Fisher Smith

inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #53 of 69: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Sat 3 Sep 05 21:18
Sacramento is an interesting example, because their first response
to repeated flooding was not to build a dam.  The first response,
back around 1870, was to raise all city streets by 12 feet.  Not only did
this put the main floor of buildings above water level, but
it also provided a grid of levees to slow floods down.

They built regular levees along the rivers too, of course, but I think
the street raising thing is interesting.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #54 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Sat 3 Sep 05 22:38
Dams were not considered at the time of Sacramento's first response to
flooding because flood control dams didn't exist yet, and wouldn't for
about seventy years.  It took the perfection of steel-reinforced
Portland cement concrete and construction equipment like steam shovels
for structures large enough to contain an American or Feather River at
flood stage to be built.  Dams in 1850 were of stone, wood, or earth,
stored limited quantities of water for irrigation, but not whole raging

Sacramento's first response was to levee the Sacramento Embarcadero
(along what is now Old Town Sacramento), and that levee was raised and
extended each time it failed.  Raising the downtown came later in 1863.
 Fourteen years after the city was founded, the flood of 1862 turned
the area in and around Sacramento into a lake sixty miles wide and a
hundred long, killing scores of people and causing property damage
estimated at a quarter of the state's assessed valuation at the time.  

The streets of downtown Sacramento were raised ten to twelve feet, a
tremendous project when all you have is hand labor and Fresno scrapers
and wagons pulled by mules, but that has not proven the end of the
story.  For example, the area of greatest growth and development in the
last couple of decades is in the northern part of the city, in what is
called the Notomas basin (this is the area you see from what is
presently the main route of Interstate 80 as opposed to the old route
of 80, now called business 80.  The ground, and people's living rooms,
in some parts Natomas are more than 20 feet below the water level of a
20-year flood.  Natomas is protected by the levees on the Sacramento
River, and a system of drainage canals serving the area to the east of
it.  The areas around Sacramento State University lie almost as far
beneath that waterline, and they are at a troublesome bend and
constriction in the river's course.

If you drive from downtown Sacramento to the Sacramento Airport, you
will see to your left hundreds of acres of what were marshes and are
now brand new housing tracts.  We haven't learned.  Hubris is still our
specialty as human beings.  Anyone who knew anything about New
Orleans' waterscape could have told you that something like what
happened there was bound to happen soon, global climate change or not. 
But in the end the value of real estate and tourism becomes a reason
for sculpting the reputation of a place. 

Jordan Fisher Smith  
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #55 of 69: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Sat 3 Sep 05 23:03
Now at Disney World, instead of moving millions of tons of dirt to
raise the ground level, they just built the entire place on stilts.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #56 of 69: Autumn Storhaug (autumn) Wed 7 Sep 05 06:32
Jordan, your book interested me personally because, as I mentioned
earlier, I've been involved with the National Park Service.  I apologize
for posting only a couple of times so far in this topic.  I had a family
emergency when the discussion started and when I finished dealing with
that, I became caught up in the Hurricane Katrina horror, trying to keep
up with thousands of Well posts in <media.>, <news.>, <current.>, and the
new <katrina.ind.>.

Question: Is there an organization that the average city-dwelling person
can join that does an especially good job of helping save our wild areas?  
I'm a member of the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, but I'm
wondering if you know of others that do good work.

Another question: You don't have to go into detail, but are you planning to
write another book?  I enjoyed "Nature Noir" a lot.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #57 of 69: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 7 Sep 05 16:20
Jordan, "Crossing the Mekong" is an especially beautiful, poignant
chapter, beginning with your comments at its start about maps. I share
your love and appreciation of maps, and still cannot even imagine going
up into the high country without the requisite USGS quadrangles, and
to hell with GPS gizmos. (A few weeks ago I tried to buy some USGS
topos at the local REI. That particular REI store no longer carries
them, it turned out. A clerk listened to my bewildered question, and
replied: "Ah, so you're *real* old school.") 

Anyway, would you tell us a bit about writing "Crossing the Mekong"?
It seemed to have touched a deep place in you. The chapter certainly
touched a deep place in this reader.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #58 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Wed 7 Sep 05 22:48
First of all, Autumn, posting here was never a job, just an
entertainment!  So I'm happy you're back but please do not apologize
for having other things to do.  We have lives.

Your question is another great one: what organization does an
especially good job of saving wild places?  Here's what I think. There
are two answers: 

1) any organization that is actively working to get the current regime
out of Congress and the White House, because the effects of this
regime are being felt in wild places far beyond our borders.  Under
this administration and this Congress (and a newly packed Supreme
Court), the United States has become a globally regressive force for
the environment; in global climate change treaties, in population
policy, and in environmental matters of all kinds.  But.....

2) the question inevitably goes back not only to saving wild places,
but to saving yourself and preserving your own hope and joy of living
in times like these.  In a sense there is no proxy organization--which
is to say an organization you can put a check in the mail to and then
forget about--that can do that as well as you can by developing a
personal relationship with one place.  Pick a place.  My friend Ellen
Straus, who with her husband Bill ran a dairy farm in West Marin
County, California, chose her own fields and the surrounding hills of
their home.  She and her husband worked tirelessly to save not only
their own farm from development into housing tracts, but the fabric of
farming in general in their county.  Both of them have died now, but
their land lives on as a testament to them.  The organization they
started, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust works in partnership with
the National Park Service, the county's planning authorities, and local
farms and businesses and has so far succeeded in preserving a whole

Not all of us have that kind of energy to give.  But there are service
trips run by the Sierra Club where you can do trail maintenance in the
North Cascades or your own backyard.  The national and state parks use
volunteers.  And there is probably a patch of land somewhere near
where you live over which war is being waged by some penniless
nonprofit with a photocopied newsletter against a powerful developer.
You'll know it when you see it.  And it needs a letter or two written
for it some weekend.  That's much more direct and builds hope.

What I'm suggesting is not just to support an organization by giving
money (although money is sorely needed too) but to have a personal hand
in something having to do with a given place.  Do some work,
something, one weekend a year, for a certain place that you find
important.  Pick a place and know it.  Love it.  Because as I say, the
job is not just to save places but to save ourselves from grief and
despair, to find joy in place, in places.

On to Steve Bjerklie's questions:

The chapter "Crossing the Mekong" in Nature Noir was written from one
of those experiences I had as a ranger that absolutely compelled me to
write it all down.  I knew the day I took those people down to see that
place where their son had died that I ought to remember everything I
saw and heard.  I went home and took notes on the dialogue between the
three of us at the office.  It looks transcribed because it was.  I
went right home and wrote it down.  And those ladybeetles!  I remember
few experiences as a ranger more ecstatic and life affirming than
standing in that swarm as it rolled over me after saying goodbye to the
grief-stricken parents.  

But there were a lot of good things to put in that book and some
didn't make the cut.  This one made the cut because I felt strongly
that the environmental movement in this country is always in danger of
being branded a white, upper-middle class concern (although clearly it
isn't, and won't be in the long run).  Yet our country is a country of
immigrants, and the mid-Twentieth century European immigrants with
names like Bjerklie and Smith (my father's Smiths were from England and
I am a first generation American) are being supplanted by people like
the Ditsavongs.  So the question for an environmental writer is how to
give them a stake in the game of saving the land, too.  What came to me
that day in the North Fork is that the things that happen on the land
give it meaning to the families that come to it.  That's where the
names on the map came from.  So I wrote that chapter for every
immigrant, as an invitation to find meaning in and make common cause
with our American land, which will now be their land to destroy or
save, too. 

And topographic maps.  I really do have boxes of them here in my
study, and I really do have some here with marks on them from my
earliest wilderness trips, now 30 years ago.  But I have to tell you,
Steve, I just got one of those topo programs on CD and I kind of like
it.  For one thing the paper it prints on is weatherproof.  I've always
laminated my maps with the clear sort of shelf paper to keep them from
shredding in bad weather.  And they're seamless, so you can generate a
map on the boundary of two normal topos.    
Authors didn't used to give online interviews (or any interview that
lasted two weeks), either!  But like you, I still prefer a map and
compass and the stars to a GPS, although a few years ago in a
particular Alaskan forest, I would have been very happy to have a GPS.
I'm beginning to teach my children to use maps so they don't get too
dependent on satellites.

Jordan Fisher Smith
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #59 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Wed 7 Sep 05 22:50
By the way, Bill and Ellen Straus's story is told in an article at

Jordan Fisher Smith
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #60 of 69: Autumn Storhaug (autumn) Thu 8 Sep 05 06:46
Thanks for the great suggestions, Jordan.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #61 of 69: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 8 Sep 05 10:37

> there were a lot of good things to put in that book and some
>  didn't make the cut.

Jordan, I'd love it if you'd talk about one or more of the stories that
didn't make it into the book. Do you have a particular favorite that you'd
really hoped to include?
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #62 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Thu 8 Sep 05 20:09
What actually comes to mind is a story that came as close to not
getting in the book as you can get, and was then included with much

The story in "Occurrence at Yankee Jims Bridge" of the two miners and
that woman they got mixed up with, and her boyfriend is admittedly a 
tale of great and repeated misfortune, but it is one that for me is
important to the book.  Part of the darkness hanging over that part of
the world is that of the Gold Rush and this story is about men who lust
after gold (and women that get mixed up with them).  Anyway, my editor
hated that story.  I wanted it.  And so we went around and around
about it.

Part of the magic of a book is the marriage of writer to editor, and
the conversation between the two that becomes the book.   

I'm curious...I'd like to hear from any reader: was my editor right
about the Yankee Jims Chapter?  Should it have been left out?

Do tell.

Jordan Fisher Smith
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #63 of 69: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 9 Sep 05 10:14
No, Jordan, you were right. "Occurrence at Yankee Jim's Bridge" is a
key chapter in the book for the reasons you cite above. It deepens one
of the central, if subtle, themes of "Nature Noir," which is how people
relate to landscape and how landscape relates to them. Imposing a dam
on a wilderness is a kind of violence; it is important, then, to
discuss as well local violence. 

(You know, in my memory I have us watching the fine film version of
"Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" in the same freshman English class
back at Tam High, or maybe it was at Edna Maguire.)

Reading "Nature Noir," I couldn't help but wonder whether the
characters you describe who are out there in Auburn trashing the
wilderness and each other in various ways felt somehow, in some way,
sanctioned to do so by the threat of a dam in the canyon. It's like
when some people see a lot of trash along the road, they think nothing
of adding a little more of their own but probably wouldn't litter a
pristine roadside. In the urban environment, numerous studies have been
shown how a blighted cityscape impacts the mental state of those who
must or choose to live in it.

inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #64 of 69: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 9 Sep 05 12:09

The past two weeks have just flown by! I want to thank Jordan Fisher Smith
for providing such rich material for this conversation, and to also thank
<izzie> for her excellent moderating. Though our virtual spotlight has
moved to a new author, this topic will remain open and available for
additional conversation if you're able to continue, Jordan. We'd love
to have you stick around. 
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #65 of 69: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 9 Sep 05 13:30
Yes, this has been terrific, despite the timing during the great
natural/pollution dsiaster of the young century in our continent, which sure
distracted my attention some.  Wonderful food for thought.
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #66 of 69: errant thoughts of redheaded mischief (izzie) Fri 9 Sep 05 16:34

but wait!  it's Friday!  my work week is over!  i'm here now!  no fair.

Jordan, i spent way to much time in a river yesterday, and again thought 
of you.  Just wanted you to know that As Weak As Water is my favorite 
chapter in Nature Noir.  Today.

One of my wilderness ranger pals at work started reading the book, and 
couldn't do it.  Said it was too much like reading about work, and that 
he'd try picking it up when he was off season.  I think that's a very good 
sign - your writing is real enough that someone living it day to day 
couldn't deal with that much more Real Life.

I have one more burning question from one of your stories.  Did Mr. 
Morehouse's ruger Single-Six .357 ever show up in a crime, after coming 
missing in the flood in I think 1986?
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #67 of 69: Jordan Fisher Smith (jordan-f-smith) Fri 9 Sep 05 16:58

Yes!  I do remember the black and white film they showed us in school
of the Ambrose Bierce story "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." It would
be decades before I actually read the story, but the film left a
lasting impression on me.  And I'm certain, in the way you bring these
things to art and writing, that this impression was in me when I titled
the chapter.  Yankee Jims Bridge seemed so forbidding when I first
went there. 

It's perceptive of you to notice that the condemnation of the
landscape in some way gave people license to not only be brutal to the
land, but also to each other.  There is little a human being comes in
contact with in a lifetime as substantial as the landscape itself; and
if the landscape now becomes ephemeral, than what can be presumed to be
real and lasting?  And what difference does it make what you do there;
it will all be underwater.

Dear Redheaded Mischief: That .357 Magnum lost from the car swept away
by the flooding American never turned up in my jurisdiction, and I am
unaware whether it was used in a crime.  But I had a lot of practice
over the years tracing guns back through their wayward lives and there 
was one that will always haunt me (and this isn't in the book.  

It was a throwaway .380 automatic (by throwaway I mean it was a
Saturday night special), a small, pocket-concealable kind--that was
found deep in the the North Fork canyon, where it had been thrown off
the Foresthill Bridge--no doubt by somebody who had just done something
awful with it and was closer to that bridge than they were to the
ocean.  I traced it to its last registered owner who said he had sold
it but couldn't remember to whom; that story wasn't all that great to
hear but there was nothing to hang on the guy.  I ran an APB (all
points bulletin) to law enforcement agencies all over the West) looking
for a John Doe or Jane Doe in some morgue or cold case file with a
.380-sized hole in them.  I had an analyst at the Department of Justice
print out a spec sheet on every unsolved gun homicide in northern
California and western Nevada and went through these cases looking for
.380 holes or .380 slugs.  Nothing.  

When I retired and handed over the keys to the evidence lockers to a
new ranger that case still weighed heavily on me.  And the gun sat in
its little bag with the evidence tag on it.  I walked away from it and
will never know what it had done.

People don't throw guns off a 730-foot high bridge into a rugged
canyon for nothing.

Jordan Fisher Smith  
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #68 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Sat 11 Mar 06 20:01
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>
inkwell.vue.253 : Jordan Fisher Smith - "Nature Noir"
permalink #69 of 69: Bob Akka (akka) Mon 1 May 06 19:55
    <scribbled by akka Tue 10 Feb 09 11:59>

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