A U.S. Forest Service staffer called recently to inquire
about one of our freelance writers, Rebecca Solnit. Did I know much about
her? What has she written? Had I seen her business card?
Her business card? I knew Solnit only from her work. She
has penned seven Sierra feature articles over the past eight years
on topics ranging from environmental art to Irish ancient forests. No matter
what the topic, she has consistently delivered vivid, solid, provocative
Solnit helps environmentalists see the world from a perspective
midway between the fields of ecology and art. An environmental activist,
historian, and art critic, she is the author of two volumes of American
history: Savage Dreams, about the resource wars of the West, and
Secret Exhibition, about Beat-era artists. She writes in art publications
about "identity-shifting, self-mythologizing" postmodernism.
Sierra appeals to her more down-to-earth activist side, providing
a coveted audience she describes as "half-a-million readers who might
actually do something."
Solnit's favorite Sierra assignment was a raft
trip down the remote Tuchodi River in British Columbia, "which under
the crew's lavish care," she reported in our March/April 1996 issue,
"resembled Cleopatra on the Nile as much as Powell down the Colorado."
She hoped that her most recent assignment, to report on the fate of the
giant trees in the southern Sierra Nevada, would be equally "fun and
easy." It was not to be. In Sequoia National Forest, which has more
sequoia groves than any place else on Earth, she found the Forest Service
placing timber revenues and two-by-fours before stewardship. In Orwellian
fashion, the agency's staff had been calling clearcuts "grove enhancements"
and discussing the sound economics of sales that are actually being subsidized
by taxpayers. What Solnit hoped would be a walk in the woods became an
introduction to Forest Service mismanagement and duplicity.
Given these circumstances, it's not surprising that Solnit's
business card caused consternation in official circles. "Rebecca Solnit:
flowery prose, ghostwriting, and flaming propaganda"-the Forest Service
caller read the card to me, and said that she did not find the self-mockery
amusing. The story of our unconventional reporter's encounter with the
powers-that-be in Sequoia National Forest starts on page 30.
Also in this issue, we introduce two new departments:
our revitalized environmental news section, "Lay of the Land,"
and a one-page feast for the eyes, "Photo Op." Elsewhere, you'll
find plenty of high adventure. Sheryl Clough paddles solo amid the ice
chunks of Alaska's Inside Passage. Kathryn Wilder paints a dramatic picture
of life in the flood plain. And one of Sierra's senior editors, Paul Rauber,
roams the corridors of Washington, D.C., in search of clues to the future
of environmentalists' "Great Green Hope," Vice President Al Gore.