Jordan Fisher Smith's "NatureNoir" (Houghton Mifflin, $24) is the intensely original story of Fisher's 14 years as a park ranger on 48 miles of Sierra Nevada river canyons.
The gorgeous government-owned land along the American River that Smith and his band of fellow rangers have pledged to protect is condemned to be inundated by a huge dam. As Smith learns from his first day on patrol, the provisional quality of life in the Sierra foothills attracts the marginal and the purely crazy. Ranger work, in this place where wildness tends toward the human kind, includes encounters with armed miners who scour canyons for gold, and with drug-addled squatters and adrenaline seekers who enjoy combining motorcycles, parachutes and high bridges.
"NatureNoir" reveals some startling truths about what park rangers actually do on America's public lands. In one heart-stopping scene, Smith comes across the corpse of a woman runner, killed and partially eaten by a mountain lion — the first Californian to die that way since the 19th century. Elsewhere, the predators loose in Smith's path are too often human.