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High Uintas Bookshelf

A High Uintas Bookshelf

In this column we’ll list 2-4 interesting articles, books or the like that have caught our attention. They aren’t necessarily recent or recently read-- sort of a random compilation. Within a year, hopefully, we’ll have an established and detailed reading list. It won’t be complete without your additions. Please send suggestions and a descriptive sentence or two.

This month's reviews are by HUPC members Steve W. Lewis and Rich Warnick, both of Salt Lake City.

The Golden Spruce. A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed. John Vaillant. Norton and Company. 2005. Reviewed by Steve W. Lewis.

Visit the heart of America's last great forest. Travel the Northwest's Inside Passage, slip along the coasts of or into the alcoves of the Queen Charlotte Islands and embark upon the centuries old cathedral like forests of Sitka spruce, red cedar and Douglas Fir.

The Golden Spruce is a haunting tale of a mystical and magical unique towering tree that flourishes, while all around, the native Indian culture and unfettered forests from the Alaskan Kodiak coast to Northern California - some of the biggest trees on earth - are pillaged and plundered. Trees - eighteen to twenty feet in diameter -prosper for centuries in miles of coastal wild woods and then shockingly meet their demise when in just a few recent decades - modern machinery and the demand for roads, newsprint, housing, and airplanes (Howard Hughes - Spruce Goose) tears the forest asunder.

Vaillant weaves a most occupying and lyrical tale that eventually plumbs the murky depths of ecosystem and culture destruction, and the protagonist's - Grant Hadwin - slide from champion to charlatan. Skillfully but tragically, Vaillant narrates the slow but impending doomsday of the forest activist and enigma Hadwin, the majestic and idolized three hundred year old 165 foot spruce, and the steadily shrinking desecrated coastal woods.

Science, clashing cultures, Haida Indians, political and economic drivers, ravenous industrial appetites for what wooded forests offer, chainsaws, clear cuts, greed, obsession and the will of some to leave coastal wood wild-- all intersect in this dramatic, memorable and bewitching tale.

Another sterling Northwest Inside Passage text that heartily compliments and, in many ways, eclipses - Vaillantís book is a work by Jonathan Raban.

Passage to Juneau. A Sea and Its Meanings. Jonathan Raban. Knopf Publishing Group. 2000. Reviewed by Steve W. Lewis.

Raban's masterful storytelling and discourse - of the Northwest's natural and social world - provides a valuable backdrop and nuance to the boundless gulf between early European explorers and the Northwest's native Indians, and the rift amongst naturalists, fisherman and ravenous loggers. Raban's stylish and poignant narrative of ecosystem, culture and personal loss - along the inside passage from Seattle to Juneau - is a most memorable and rewarding tale. The author, a master of his 35 foot sailing vessel, is also "one of the finest writers afloat."

The Whale and the Supercomputer. On the Northern Front of Climate Change. Charles Wohlforth. North Point Press. 2005. Reviewed by Steve W. Lewis.

Inupiaq Eskimos venture on increasingly perilous whale hunts and scientific researchers struggle with the elements on the stark frozen arctic. Climate change and global warming cause both groups to come to grips with creeping dramatic changes in glaciers, ice floes, air-water temps, tundra, fauna, flora and native lifestyles.

Both indigenous Eskimos and visiting mathematicians and scientists live on the outskirts of barren regions of Barrow Alaska. There's no reason to conflate the two. But still, an instinctive link exists between the scientists and native-born that chart the grave consequence of an Arctic thaw that shows its hand so clearly in this historic reshaping of their world.

Climatology, complexity and caprice of climate change, abstract modeling, albedo ("the snow's reflective ability to cool the earth beneath it"), shifting landscape, steady increase of carbon dioxide in the Arctic, migrating Bowhead whales that support subsistence living - all are part of the "Whale" story line. Wohlforth, a native Alaskan, crystallizes the cosmic changes in this ice region and ponders its impact on us all.

The author weaves an adventurous path between scientists and natives and reports that he loves the winter season. But his spirit declines when he advises, "Average winter temperatures in Interior Alaska had risen 7 degrees F since the 1950s.... Alaska glaciers were shrinking, permanently frozen ground was melting, spring was earlier, and Arctic sea ice was thinner and less extensive than ever before measured. Winter was going to hell."

This intimate, engaging and most revealing look at how the Arctic's frozen grip is loosening is a compelling read and an important addition to the debate on global warming.

A "lighter read" on climate change and global warming is that offered by Gretel Erhlich, prolific natural history and nature writer:

The Future of Ice. Gretel Ehrlich. Pantheon. 2004. Reviewed by Steve W. Lewis.

Travel to Tierra del Fuego in the Southern Hemisphere, northeast of icy Greenland, and then to the barren but bountiful Arctic as Ehrlich offers science, natural history and a spirited point of view as she announces her "fear that our democracy of gratification has irreparably altered the (earth's) climate." She ponders, "What will happen to us if we are de-seasoned?" And then she offers a tribute of hope. "This world is all ours, belonging to each of us: swan, crane, walrus, wren, dog, muskrat, saxifrage, pine, polar bear, you, me. But too many of us have relinquished our hold on the natural world and turned toward power and the ownership of things. The circuit that binds air to ocean, river to mountain, snowdrift to glacier, ice to water, flows through each of us."

A more recent testimonial and supplication from Ehrlich:

"Beauty's value shines not on us, but in us." Essay by Gretel Ehrlich. Los Angeles Times. December 6, 2005.

May the following memorable lines from her essay serve to guide us well.

"I consider these mountains, once covered by a continuous icecap that ran the length of the range, pierced only by the high peaks of the Continental Divide. Outlet glaciers dropped ice from between granite flanks and meltwater fell from the edges of faulted plateaus. The landscape smoothed into wide meadows and undulating moraines is a place where ice has left the memory of movement on the land."

"Changes surround us. To live fully in this world as it is should be our common aspiration, not to dominate and improve but to be co-residents."

"Here, in the mountains, we might learn to read the sacramental text of the landscape, to knock our busy heads against the clarity of ice and swim the rivers' oxbows and rapids where beauty and the unconditioned mind form a sacred alignment with those original circumstances of life - with all that is alive."

Utah's Wilderness Areas: The Complete Guide.
Lynna Howard. Westcliffe Publishers. 2005.
Reviewed by Rich Warnick

After several delays in publication, Westcliffe Publishers has added a Utah volume to its series of comprehensive statewide wilderness guidebooks. Like others in the series, it features superb color photography, 42 color maps, and concise first-hand descriptions of each area. For Utah, wilderness study areas (WSAs) are included as well as designated wilderness (the Cedar Mountains, which Congress designated early this year, were still a WSA when the book came out.) According to Westcliffe Associate Publisher Linda Doyle, "Utah is a very difficult state to pin down in regards to wilderness areas - very political - lots of revisions to the original manuscript." For example, the author carefully distinguishes between established roads and other vehicle routes, which are omitted from the maps.

Utah's Wilderness Areas gives brief introductions to both wildernesses and WSAs, with neighboring areas grouped into the same chapter. There are descriptions of recommended day hikes and backpack trips, and other practical information, but usually just enough to make the reader want to find out more from other sources. A short section highlights recommended wilderness in the backcountry of Utahís national parks.

This book could be improved. It doesn't discuss or map significant national forest roadless areas such
as Mount Watson in the Uintas. Wild Utah by Bill Cunningham and Polly Burke (Falcon Publishing, 1998) is more complete in this respect. And Howard wrote a longer discussion on avoiding bears than about the long and contentious struggle to designate Utah wilderness.

Some people are skeptical of guidebooks, but I think itís hard to appreciate wilderness areas without them. Too often, we hear wilderness talked about as if it were a commodity - 100,000 acres here and 50,000 acres there, simply space for wildlife and solitude. What about the sense of place we get while experiencing and learning about a wilderness area? Utah's Wilderness Areas gives us a renewed appreciation of why each wilderness is unique and worthy of preservation.

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