Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra, by Jordan Fisher Smith. Mariner Books, 2005. 216 pp. 978-0-618-7119506.
... in which a park ranger describes what it's like in one of America's least appreciated, but hugely significant, jobs.
I bought this book several years ago in a national park gift shop on one of my numerous trips to the parks. Before I read it, it got buried away in a mountain of stuff in my closet and I forgot all about it until I was sifting through my pile of junk. I'm really glad I unearthed it.
The book follows the adventures of a park ranger who worked in a mountain valley near Sacramento. As the land was not federal land, he was employed by the state of California, and California didn't really care all that much about this particular chunk of land. Years before, the government had decided to build a dam at the base of the valley, so the land the rangers were guarding was essentially condemned land, as the understanding was that the land would one day be flooded.
One might think that ranger work might get kind of dull... leading interpretive nature walks for little kids, writing tickets for people who forgot to pay their campsite fee. Fisher does a nice job of exposing the darker aspects of the work: he opens with a story where a man (high on drugs) literally flings a baby into the open window of a moving car, then proceeds to go into cardiac arrest as a result of his drug use. The book could have very easily become very dark and depressing. The rangers, all passionate about preserving and protecting the land, have to fight against many foes, not the least of which is apathy. Why bother preserving the land when it's going to be underwater someday? However, Fisher does a very nice job of balancing out the dark parts of the work with his inherent love and respect for nature. Who cares if the land will be underwater someday? That campfire is illegal, and it's damaging to the landscape in the here and now. The book reads like an old-fashioned crime novel crossed with the writings of environmentalist Bill McKibben.
My main complaint is that I wish the little section on the history of rangering was a little longer. He wrote the section so well and captured my interest enough that I was disappointed that the topic didn't get more coverage.
I would definitely recommend this book to someone who has an interest in the public parks of America, or for someone looking for an interesting, informative, quick vacation read. It's a pretty short book, and Fisher's writing moves along at a nice pace.