We all want to believe that there are still pristine places around, but reality says otherwise: Park designation in America is often just a protective stopgap meant to halt further damage beyond what's already been done. With that in mind, veteran park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith ushers in a new era in nature writing with his aptly named Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra, a memoir of his years working for the California Department of Parks and Recreation as a patrol ranger on the American River.
It's a wild ride that isn't what you'd expect. To begin with, the wild environment Smith describes sounds like it has much more in common with an urban slum. It comes across as a larger ghost world dotted with ghost towns along a river whose banks were ravaged, first by decades of mining spurred by the California Gold Rush, and then by landscape-altering preparations for a dam that's never been built. The author notes that, according to a 2001 study, the rate of assaults on National Park Service officers is surprisingly high, and that's just a stepping-off point into a page-turner of an account as riddled with recollections of murder, suicide and mayhem, illegal-mining squatters, methamphetamine manufacturers, domestic-violence perpetrators, Evel Knievel wannabes and tree poachers as it is dotted with obviously reverential observations of the natural world. Elmore Leonard, look out.
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Smith speaks and signs copies of Nature Noir tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street, and again at the same time on May 3 at the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street in Boulder. For information, call 303-436-1070 or 303-447-2074. -- Susan Froyd
See America's Wildest Places in one place.
With a whooping crane's head and a human-sized body, the pale "creature" currently on display at the Wildlife Experience looks a bit like the mismatched ghoul that spooked Scooby and the Mystery Machine gang. But the structure is actually an outfit worn by biologists while they were raising whooping-crane chicks; it prevented the fledglings from bonding to the humans. The suit is part of the traveling America's Wildest Places exhibit, which chronicles the 100-year history of this country's National Wildlife Refuge System through artifacts, mounted specimens, photographs and videos. The show, which opened at the Smithsonian Institution in 2003, also includes "a couple of amazing [stuffed] whooping cranes," says the WE's Jessy Clark.
America's Wildest Places runs through August 28 at the Wildlife Experience, 10035 South Peoria Street in Parker. The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays; admission ranges from $3 to $6. For information, call 720-488-3300 or go to www.thewildlifeexperience.org. -- Shara Rutberg