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  March/April 1998 Features:
On Top of the World
Just Deserts
Tallying the Taku
Rolling Towards the Moon
The Great Indoors
 
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Sierra Magazine
Natural Resources

Books | Video | Web

Books

Wild Scholar | Wild Westerner | Wild Rivers

SHORTTAKES

Wild Rivers?

River rats can celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act with a shelf of books on American rivers: their glory, the damage we've done them, and hope for their restoration.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry (Simon & Schuster, $27.50) is lyrical on the river's grandeur, yet a telling scrutiny of the politics and engineering blunders in attempting to control a torrent that drains a third of the United States.

Delaware Diary: Episodes in the Life of a River by Frank Dale (Rutgers University Press, $17.95) tells of the past 200 years of the Delaware, a saga of storms, log rafts the size of football fields, and a struggle against a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' dam project.

River: One Man's Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea by Colin Fletcher (Knopf, $30) is the famed walker's wild ride down the Colorado, with rewarding side trips on the shores and into his and the river's memory.

A River No More: The Colorado River and the West by Philip L. Fradkin (University of California Press, $15.95) explains the economics and politics of dams that choke the Colorado's flow. Now in paperback.

Northwest Passage: The Great Columbia River by William Dietrich (University of Washington Press, $18.95) gives a history of the Columbia and the policies that have so changed it. Reflections on other rivers add spice, and strong nature writing holds it all together. Blaine Harden's

A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia (W. W. Norton, $17.50) is a moving story of an author's return to his childhood town on the river.

Finally, two volumes with the big picture:

America by Rivers by Tim Palmer (Island Press, $30) ranges through glacier-carved streams of the Northeast to the South, the Mississippi and Ohio and the Great Plains, on to the Southwest and the Sierra, with a heady mix of poetry, geology, and policy-wonk data.

Land of Rivers: America in Word and Image edited by Peter C. Mancall (Cornell University Press, $35) magnificently flows all the streams into one, combining history with vignettes from classic river writers Thoreau and Twain, poems and prose of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stegner, Annie Dillard, and William Least Heat Moon. It's illustrated with dozens of paintings, drawings, and photos from archives in sites as varied as the rivers they reveal. -Bob Schildgen


New from Sierra Club Books

An Appalachian Tragedy edited by Harvard Ayers, Jenny Hager, and Charles E. Little. Photographs by Jenny Hager Sierra Club Books, $45 The splendor of Appalachia—from forest floor to treetops—is threatened by pollution. A well-researched, moving text and 200 photographs reveal the beauty and document the harm.

The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization by Joshua Karliner. A timely investigation of how transnational corporations cause environmental ruin in the global economy.

Track of the Tiger: Legend and Lore of the Great Cat edited by Maurice Hornocker. An intimate look at the grand feline, in a gallery of color photographs, with essays by naturalists dedicated to its protection.

Thunder of the Mustangs: Legend and Lore of the Wild Horses edited by Mark Spragg. From the mesas of Mexico to the Badlands of the Dakotas, follow the galloping vagabonds in dramatic photos and essays by famous mustang friends.

The Sierra Club Guide to the Natural Areas of New England by John Perry and Jane Greverus Perry. An authoritative guide to more than 350 sites on a million acres for camping, hiking, birding, fishing, skiing, and riding. Completely revised, updated.

Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site, www.sierraclub.org/books, or by writing 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.


VIDEOS

The New York City Sierra Club Film & Video Festival (April 17-19, 1998) showcases films, speakers, and panel discussions covering environmental issues worldwide. For more information or to rent films from last year's program, call (212) 869-1630.

Bound by the Wind
The Video Project, $39.95;
1-(800) 4-PLANET

In the postwar dawn of the nuclear age, when government officials said atomic testing would guarantee the welfare and security of the nation, most Americans figured they meant it. But as the 1950s drew to a close, many discovered they had figured wrong.

In this award-winning documentary, director David L. Brown tells the harrowing story of the "hidden casualties of the cold war," the victims of nuclear-weapons testing. But he also celebrates the spirit of survival, of victims uniting to forge an international movement to end nuclear testing.

Moving testimonials, expert commentary, and a comprehensive survey of archival footage and stills demonstrate how the United States and former Soviet Union repeatedly exposed their citizens to lethal levels of radiation through atomic tests while lying about its poisonous effects. Most disturbing is the parade of government officials denying any public risk and an Atomic Energy Commission propaganda film cast with recruits from a downwind Utah town where other residents had raised complaints about livestock and wildlife deaths. Most of the "actors" have since died of cancer.

Brown interviews engineers who worked in tunnels below the Nevada Test Site, soldiers assigned to ground-zero duty there, and "downwinders" in the United States, Pacific Islands, and Kazakhstan. Physicists and scholars add scientific backbone and historical context to the victims' often heart-rending stories.

Developed as democracy's defense against tyranny, the film's narrator explains, nuclear weapons were intended to signal U.S. dominance in the postwar world order. Newsreel footage illustrates how the Marshall Islands, a U.S. trust territory, were used to bolster that position: "American officials discuss plans with the Bikini natives for the evacuation of the atoll. The islanders are a nomadic group and are well pleased that the Yanks are going to add a little variety to their lives." As evidence of the tests' health impacts surfaced in 1954, the islanders were hit with the largest thermonuclear blast thus far—this time, without warning. Ever optimistic, AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss reports, "Four months after the event, the medical staff have advised us that they anticipate no illness, barring of course diseases which may hereafter be contracted."

As the wall of secrecy about the bomb's health effects began to crumble, downwinders worldwide organized. Empowered by glasnost, Kazakhstanis formed an alliance with U.S. downwinders in 1989. Within a year, the coalition stopped 11 of 18 planned tests at the Kazakhstani site and later won a permanent ban on testing there. Their victories helped pass the U.S. Nuclear Testing Moratorium Act of 1992 and laid the groundwork for negotiating a comprehensive ban.

While the film is a chilling reminder of how easily governments sacrifice the public trust in the name of national security, it's also a testament to the changes that people bound by common ground—or in this case, bound by the wind—can effect.—Liza Gross

The Boyhood of John Muir
Bullfrog Films, $29.95;
1-(800) 543-3764

Admirers of Sierra Club founder John Muir would do well to watch this finely crafted dramatization of his early life to be aired on public TV in December. Based on Muir's autobiography, Stories of My Boyhood and Youth, the narrative opens in 1864 with the fateful accident that would blind him and change his life, then backtracks to follow the boy as he emigrates from Scotland with his father and sister to the American Midwest.

As the three cultivate the Wisconsin wilds to prepare for the arrival of Muir's mother and younger siblings, the free-spirited boy and his rigidly puritanical father battle constantly. But the land and wildlife of his new surroundings, beautifully captured here by a keen cinematographic eye, comfort the boy. "Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes," he writes to his mother. "There are strange plants and creatures, birds and animals and butterflies, and everything is pure and wild." Muir's love of all things wild only fuels his father's disdain. "It's our duty as Christians to bring light and order into this Godless wilderness," the elder Muir says. "The mark of Satan is on everything that's wild."

The all-Scottish cast lends authenticity, and the 16-year-old actor who plays Muir fills the character with passion and burning curiosity. Seductive images of misty, fog-covered lakes, sand hill cranes in flight, and saturated sunsets convey Muir's worldly delight in nature's beauty, while alternately mournful and joyous strains of Scottish fiddle reflect his spiritual awakening, cementing a lifelong commitment to "live for the inventions of God . . . for everything that's wild."—Liza Gross

The Hemp Revolution
Siren Entertainment, $29.95;
(03) 9429-9555

George Washington grew it. Thomas Jefferson urged others to grow it. So how did hemp earn its rep as Public Enemy Number One? Australian director Anthony Clarke traces the much-maligned plant's history from its revered status in ancient Sumeria to its modern-day vilification.

No stranger to U.S. foreign policy (his Panama Deception won the 1993 Academy Award for best documentary), Clarke now aims his lens at domestic policy, examining the political, economic, and cultural forces behind hemp's prohibition in 1937 and its censure in the War on Drugs. A vast gallery of archival footage, photos, and paintings traces hemp's historical and often surprising uses—it was listed in a Chinese pharmacopoeia 5,000 years ago, U.S. military uniforms were made out of it, and pioneer wagons were covered with it. "Few plants in the world have been as useful," says physician and best-selling author Andrew Weil. "Yet merely being in the presence of the plant is a criminal offense."

The demonization of hemp, Clarke argues, had nothing to do with the psychoactive effects of cannabis and everything to do with the petrochemical industry's desire to monopolize the textile and paper markets. While DuPont was patenting processes to make paper from chemically treated wood pulp, and nylon and plastics from oil and coal, the hemp industry was on the verge of becoming a billion-dollar-a-year business. DuPont did not welcome the competition and called for hemp's prohibition, aided by William Randolph Hearst, who ran lurid news accounts linking marijuana to violent crimes, and U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics Harry Anslinger, who pushed to find jobs for federal agents unemployed after the repeal of alcohol prohibition in 1933.

Clarke interviews scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the world studying hemp's potential as a source of food, fiber, seed oil, and fuel. Because hemp spares forests and produces minimal pollution, they say, it's a superior alternative to the petroleum- and timber-based textile, paper, and fuel industries. What's more, because hemp is insect-resistant, substituting it for bug-prone cotton would greatly reduce the need for pesticides. Despite a rocky past, hemp products (made from foreign-grown fiber) are enjoying a renaissance. Though they sometimes cost more than their conventional equivalents, it seems a small price to pay to avoid reliance on chemicals and vanishing forests. And the prospect of an ecologically sound industry giving timber and oil companies a run for their money is enough to lift your spirits, naturally. —Liza Gross


World on the Web

by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy

Spring is nearly here, and if you're like me, you're beginning to plot your next fair-weather forays into the outdoors. For many of us, that means backpacking, wildflower-watching, and perhaps a river trip or two.

A good site for basic hiking information is the The Backpacker (www.thebackpacker.com). This site has a searchable database of trail reviews, pictures of destinations, and an active "trail talk" section, where you can unearth info on hikes, browse discussions of global positioning systems, or dive into a debate on the merits of using antiperspirant on your feet.

Another good hikers' site is BaseCamp (www.bpbasecamp.com), created by Backpacker magazine, which includes an interactive "weekend wilderness guide" that offers trip suggestions near 50 U.S. cities.

River runners will revel in the U.S. Geological Survey's "real time" water-flow site (water.usgs.gov/public/realtime.html). It provides virtually all the stream-flow data available in the United States, uploaded by satellite several times a day. Additional river information is available at iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/iwdspg1.html.

For the latest weather advisories, check with the National Weather Service's list of regional sites (http://www.websites.noaa.gov/) or The Weather Channel (www.weather.com). Both provide maps, forecasts, and satellite data. California travelers should also check out the California Regional Weather Server (squall.sfsu.edu), which offers similar information for the Golden State.

While the Web can't guarantee you fair weather or high water, it can send you out the door well informed and ready to take on the elements for yourself.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact sierra.magazine@sierraclub.org for more information.


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