Heart and Blood
By Richard Nelson
Alfred A. Knopf $27.50
Deer in the United States were hunted down to a few hundred
thousand by the 1880s, but thanks to restoration efforts, strict game laws, and forest
regrowth they have rebounded to more than 25 million, possibly as high as before European
While these changes have renewed deer habitat in the East and Midwest, it has been
ravaged by massive clearcutting in the West and Alaska, warns Richard Nelson, heralded
author of The Island Within. And ironically, deer face the prospect of being loved to
death by Bambi-hugging opponents of hunting. The animals have done so well, he contends,
that hunting is often necessary to prevent overpopulation, which could force millions to
endure disease and starvation.
Tracing the complex and contradictory relationship between deer and society, Nelson
engagingly blends science, history, and lyrical tributes with sturdy tales of thousands of
hours with deer in the wild. He serves up intriguing details-such as the fact that if a
buck has a damaged leg, his antlers grow larger on the opposite side-and then goes poetic
to celebrate "lithesome bodies, and incredibly gracile legs . . . . great, suspended,
arcing leaps, as the deer flung themselves like dark moons over the earth's far
Nelson's stories follow deer from Angel Island in San Francisco Bay to Fire Island off
the Atlantic Coast, and far north, where he learned the ways of deer while living with the
I˝upiaq Eskimo people. He communes with whitetails on a Texas ranch and tramps the hills
of southern Wisconsin, where deer thrive in a mix of open space and dense woodland similar
to habitat created by the Indians who burned patches of forest to create sunny areas rich
in plants for browsing.
Nelson's wanderings culminate with an event very few of the most seasoned deer
biologists have ever witnessed, the birth of a fawn in the wild. With the respect and
sense of gratitude that suffuse his work, he concludes: "I remember what the Koyukon
elders teach: that everything we receive from nature comes as a gift. Bob
Margaret Murie, a Life for Nature
Two in the Far North
By Margaret Murie
Alaska Northwest Books $14.95
Margaret Murie, a Life for Nature Margaret E. Murie and her
biologist husband, Olaus, spent their honeymoon mushing huskies up a frozen Alaskan creek
in sub-zero snow squalls. As she tells it, no better time could be had. In 1924 the
exuberant newlyweds were among the first whites to settle in the Brooks Range, he as a
U.S. Biological Survey scientist studying caribou and she as a passionate nature-lover who
would become one of the grande dames of American environmentalism.
This re-released classic, originally published in 1962, is based on journals Murie
wrote while building a marriage and starting a family among the miners, trappers, and
Native Americans who coexisted in the raw Alaskan wilderness. Intensely aware of the
novelty of being a woman in an unusual historical situation, she brings to life the
generosity, self-reliance, and camaraderie of her colorful and far-flung community.
"On the frontier," she writes, "anyone lacking a sense of humor is
inevitably weeded out, and only those who can laugh at it all are able to remain."
Murie's writing is akin to John Muir's: she conveys not only the physical presence of
the wilderness, but also the sublime awareness wilderness can evoke in us. Once, trapped
by a snowstorm, Murie and her husband built a lean-to and kindled a fire between it and
their sled. Unperturbed by her situation, she awakens in the night to find the skies have
cleared: "I felt somehow privileged, humble yet triumphant, waking so in the night
hours, as though I had found omnipotence at work undisturbed."
The couple later settled in the Grand Tetons, and over the decades many a notable
environmentalist and wildlife biologist traversed their cabin's rough-hewn porch. Murie's
ability to inspire the likes of David Brower and Howard Zahniser, who cofounded The
Wilderness Society with Olaus, is legendary. But it was her decades of hands-on advocacy
that helped create the Wilderness Act of 1968 and the Alaska Lands Act of 1980, whose Rose
Garden-signing included commendations from former President Jimmy Carter. Tireless, Murie
now works to protect the Arctic.
Murie's homespun activism earned her the Sierra Club's John Muir Award in 1983-though
she maintains today, at 95, that all she did was "make cookies and serve tea."
While her baking may be excellent, it is her words that invite her guests-and her
readers-to keep nature's "omnipotence at work" undisturbed. Tom
New from Sierra Club Books
Songbirds: Celebrating Nature's Voicesby Ronald Orenstein. Sierra
Club Books, $35. Singing his heart out is the young northern mockingbird, accompanied by a
chorus of 130 other species photographed in color, with a naturalist's insight into their
life and music.
Vulture: Nature's Ghastly Gourmet by Wayne Grady. Sierra Club
Books, $22.50. When you eat death for a living, it's hard to get respect. But this book
gives the austere scavenger its due with 60 dramatic photos and a richly detailed,
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.
Rachel's Daughters: Searching for the Causes of Breast Cancer
Women Make Movies, $30; (212) 925-0606
This ambitious documentary picks up where pioneering environmentalist Rachel
Carson left off, investigating the connection between breast cancer and the
synthetic chemicals that Carson warned us about 35 years ago.
Academy Award-winning filmmakers Allie Light and Irving Saraf were compelled
to learn all they could about breast cancer after their 39-year-old daughter was
diagnosed with it in 1994. Working with producer and breast cancer activist Nancy
Evans, they recruited seven women battling the disease to act as detectives
searching for clues to its etiology. After all, who would be more motivated?
This powerful, at times harrowing film opens with a hearse-led
procession-it's the funeral of one of the detectives, we later learn. "We are the
generation of women who . . . came of age during the most toxic and
environmentally unregulated decade ever known," ecologist and author Sandra
Steingraber tells us as the cars pass by. "We didn't know that so many of our
mothers would bury us." Archival footage then trumpets the postwar conversion of
a fighter plane to civilian use: "Today's target for this B-25 is Rockford,
Illinois, a peacetime mission to spread 500 gallons of DDT, the Army's miracle
insecticide, over the city."
While scientific ignorance explains some toxic exposures, current federal
statutes approve the production of known poisons, regulating them as if "safe"
levels exist. Of the 70,000 synthetic chemicals in use today, only 1,000 have
been studied in any detail. Given the impossibility of compiling complete data on
the interactive effects of a constantly changing toxic stew, how do we act?
Common sense, the filmmakers say, dictates a precautionary approach: identify
known carcinogens, eliminate them, and develop safer substitutes. "Where should
the burden of proof lie?" asks Peter Montague, director of the Environmental
Research Foundation. "The chemical dumpers get to dump whatever they want, and
you and I have to line up the dead bodies and prove that harm has occurred."
Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up: one in eight women are at risk for
breast cancer, and "we still have no idea what causes it [or] how to prevent it,"
says Dr. Susan Love. Yet hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars are poured
into detection and treatment, and recently genetics-"the one piece of the puzzle
we can do absolutely nothing about," says Steingraber-instead of finding ways to
prevent the disease.
The detectives did not solve their cases. It's likely that a wide variety of
environmental agents interact with other factors to produce the DNA damage that
eventually leads to cancer cells. Carson, who was dying of metastatic breast
cancer while writing Silent Spring, warned, "We should no longer accept the
counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous
chemicals." Rachel's Daughters echoes her message. For more information on the
issue, call Breast Cancer Action at (415) 243-9301. Liza Gross
River Runners of the Grand Canyon
Don Briggs Productions, $29.95
"I saw the mad, wild water hurled against the curving wall. Jagged rocks like
the bared fangs of some dream monster appeared now and then in the leaping,
tumbling waves." So wrote Ellsworth Kolb in 1911 of his trip down the Colorado
River to make the first adventure film. His words might not inspire the average
soul to grab an oar, but then this two-hour-plus history of people "messing about
in boats" isn't about average souls.
Filmmaker Don Briggs combines rare archival stills and film clips,
you-are-there footage of bone-shattering rapids, and writer Charlie Pearson's
folksy narration to tell the story of people testing their limits on the
free-flowing river in the days before Glen Canyon Dam. His account has all the
elements of a good Western-liquor, guns, greed, even love-and a diverse cast of
characters, from scientists and entrepreneurs to charlatans and madmen. Among the
standouts are Bus Hatch, whose only provisions were whiskey and bullets; Norman
Nevills, who ferried his new bride downriver in a boat made from his mother's
horse trough; and Martin Litton, whose impassioned speeches spurred the Sierra
Club to launch a national campaign to save the Colorado.
The boaters' struggles down (and in some cases up) the river echo the
monumental battles over harnessing its flow. Litton hoped when he took reporters,
photographers, and politicians down the canyon in the 1960s that once people
heard what was at stake, they would fight to protect it. Briggs' film is made in
that spirit. Twenty percent of sales are donated to river-preservation groups
around the world.Liza Gross
World on the Web
by Sierra Club Webmaster John Kealy
Consider the World Wide Web a giant electronic encyclopedia, only it's
randomly organized and lacks a table of contents. Buried among sites devoted to
has-been pop stars and conspiracy theories are some excellent sites on
environmental-science issues. They may not always be glitzy, but they're loaded
with facts and data that can help turn an armchair environmentalist into a
For the latest on the weather event of the century, click on the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's huge El Niño site (www.pmel.noaa.gov/toga-tao/el-nino/home.html). It provides animated weather maps, in-depth
analysis of previous El Niño events, a FAQ (frequently asked questions) file, and
up-to-date advisories with links to related reports.