Jordan Fisher Smith is a park and wilderness ranger turned author and lecturer. His 21 years of experience working for the Forest Service, National Park Service, and California State Parks has given him the knowledge and perspective needed to make his writing truly captivating.
On Dec. 16, he will be at Donner Memorial State Park promoting his second book, Engineering Eden — the story of Harry Eugene Walker, who was killed and partially eaten by an endangered grizzly bear at Yellowstone National Park in 1972. Smith uses the story to ask questions like, “When nature has been disrupted by human beings, how do we go about repairing it? How much should we try to control or manipulate it in order to heal it? And, what happens when we get it wrong?”
We talked to him about his relationship with the outdoors, career changes, and his opinion of President Trump.
It seems you have spent a majority of your adult life working with nature. Do you remember your first experience with the outdoors? Was there a pivotal moment that sticks out when you think back and ask why you decided to make this your life’s work?
My parents and their friends introduced me to a life in nature. I was outdoors as a baby and toddler, so I was there before memory. I came to understand very early in life — by my early teens — that I had been born into a time when all of nature was under greater threats than at any time in history. The decision to try to serve my fellow human beings by remaining present to that simple, yet huge, reality, as a ranger and then in writing, film, and the spoken word, was a natural outcome of that realization.
What made you change careers from a park and wilderness ranger to a writer and lecturer?
I didn’t feel I was reaching enough people in my transactions with individuals and small groups as a park ranger. So I got the idea 30 years ago now of having what I thought of as a “campfire talk” with the larger public, through writing.
You’ve worked in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska, and you have decided to make the base of the Sierra your home — why?
I’m from here. I have pictures of myself and my brothers on skis at Sugar Bowl at age four or five. I’ve got a photo here of myself leading a pack animal down a rocky trail in Yosemite at age eleven. I love Northern California not only for its geography and natural assets, but also for its free-thinking, wide-open, inclusive culture and the ragtag assembly of biologists, cowboys and cowgirls, artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers who have invested in California with this wealth of the heart and mind.
I would be remiss not to ask you your feelings about President Trump’s recent action at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Can you briefly explain your thoughts on this issue and perhaps give advice to folks who are interested in becoming involved locally?
Trump’s attempt to cut the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments falls into line with this obsession he has of undoing anything that the previous president did. Trump is very challenged in thinking of initiatives of his own that would last into the future — it takes deeper thought than he is capable of. So, most of his platform consisted of undoing things. There is a rich tradition in the Republican Party of conservationism like that of Teddy Roosevelt. But at present, Trump and the Republicans subscribe to a way of thinking that holds that anything in nature that is not being exploited and converted into private wealth is useless. It’s a greedy, soulless way of seeing the world. And the thinking behind it is very shallow. Read a bit of one of Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches online, and then compare that to Trump’s tweets. This president is not a big thinker — he has trouble assembling a complete sentence. He’s not someone with any vision for what it will take to get through this century.
My advice to folks who want to get involved locally is to engage with what is going on along the Highway 267 corridor with the 760-unit Martis Valley West development. See protectourmountains.org and sierrawatch.org.
~ Ally Gravina/Moonshine Ink
Info: free with suggested $5 donation, 6 p.m., Donner Memorial State Park, 12593 Donner Pass Rd., Truckee, (530) 583-9911, jordanfishersmith.com/events