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The Green Life: Book Roundup Wednesday: California's Sierra Nevada

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July 06, 2011

Book Roundup Wednesday: California's Sierra Nevada

Book Roundup Wednesday Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending books exploring the Sierra Nevada.

Rise of the Ranges of Light (by David Scott Gilligan, $19, Heyday, 2011): With the precision and knowledge of a science writer and the sensibilities of a poet, Gilligan chronicles the evolution of the world’s fastest rising mountain range. Rise of the Ranges of Light is a continuation of and tribute to John Muir’s classic Mountains of California, with further inspiration from Lao Tzu, Darwin and Homer. From this alone, the reader should guess that the book will be expansive: part geology, part memoir, part philosophy. A pioneer of more holistic science writing, the author recounts the glaciation of the Pleistocene Epoch as vividly as his own ascent of Black Kaweah peak.

The Pacific Crest Trail (by Brian Johnson, $25, Cicerone, 2010): Written by someone who has walked the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail three times, The Pacific Crest Trail has the inspiration of experience. The guide is perfect for studying up on the trek before embarking; plan your schedule with the help of Johnson's day by day itineraries for hikers of different speeds, pack your bags with his expert suggestions on gear (whoever thought of bringing an umbrella?), and most importantly, get motivated with his continued assertions that “anyone can do it!” The only downside is that the otherwise informative section by section maps lack contour lines, rendering them useless for routefinding. Bring a topographic map and you'll be all set.


Yosemite and the Southern Sierra Nevada (by David T. Page, $22, The Countryman Press, 2011): It’s impossible to imagine a more comprehensive guide to the Southern Sierra Nevada than this Explorer’s Guide.  Geared toward the everyday traveler, with sections on lodging and shopping, the book is by no means “touristy.”  Page prefaces every geographic section with a discussion of the history and ecology of the landscape, while the initial chapter “Contexts” is a beautifully written chronicle of the region's past, complete with timeline. The author not only provides extensive descriptions of every outdoor activity possible, including places to camp, skateboard, ice climb, and birdwatch, but also stories of other travelers to enliven and inspire.  

The Sierra Nevada Before History (by Louise A. Jackson, $15, Mountain Press, 2010): It only takes a glance at the bibliography to realize this book is a gem, exhaustively researched and devoted to telling the story of the Sierra Nevada’s pre-John Muir. While the book is focused on the native peoples who have made their home in the mountains and valleys of the Sierra’s, Jackson also addresses the geology, ecology, and climate of the region; giving an integrated picture of life before westerners arrived.  Each chapter begins with a story from the oral tradition of a different Native American tribe, reminding us, as Jackson says in her dedication, of “those who came before.”

The Sunny Top of California (by Norman Schaefer, $14, La Alameda Press, 2010): Norman Schaefer, who has spent four decades wandering the Sierras, would probably agree that there are few experiences more blissful than waking up to a clear sunrise in the mountains. But for those of us who cannot get to this lake-strewn wilderness on a regular basis, his poetry a good substitute. Zen-like in its simplicity, reminiscent of Rumi in its profundity arising in playfullness, Shaefer’s writing is clear in his attempt, not to create beauty, but to dutifully transcribe it. The collection also contains a short story about his fascination with Black Bears and a rare attack that brings astonishing clarity of mind and prose.

--Christa Morris

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