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
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.
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
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
Appalachiafrom forest floor to treetopsis 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,
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
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)
Bound by the Wind
The Video Project, $39.95;
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
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 farthis
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 groundor in this case, bound by the windcan
The Boyhood of John Muir
Bullfrog Films, $29.95;
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
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 usesit 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,
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.
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.