Probing account of the mysterious death in the High Sierras of a veteran National Park Service ranger and the passion that shaped his life.
Blehm, an outdoor-sports editor and writer, goes to great lengths to establish the wilderness experience, skills and dedication of outdoorsman Randy Morgenson in a sometimes redundant apotheosis. Morgenson mysteriously disappeared in his 28th season as a backcountry ranger while on patrol in July 1996, in the Kings Canyon national park, some 200 miles south of Yosemite in a valley called, by legendary wilderness pioneer John Muir, one of the most beautiful in the Sequoia region. Yet while the book unfolds with flashbacks as his fellow rangers marshal to search for him some six days after his last communication, Blehm also builds the picture of a complex and conflicted person, as well as a man whose wife, having become aware of his recent affair, is seeking a divorce. The question of whether Morgenson was in a state of depression serious enough to take his own life haunts the expedition as the search party fans out, some recalling that he “hadn’t been himself” in the weeks or even months prior. The suspense is leavened by hints that the circumstances of his death are not to be immediately resolved. But in piecing together Morgenson’s conversations, memos and personal journals while serving (as backcountry rangers sum it up) “to protect the park from the people and the people from the park,” Blehm somewhat offhandedly illuminates the ultimate quandary of wilderness preservation: For whom and for what do we persist in it? Morgenson’s conflict yields an apt metaphor: Privately referring to outsiders who intruded into his idyllic solitude as “swinish Americans,” he nonetheless established an exemplary record of providing aid to all who got into trouble on his watch.
A rambling, yet compelling portrait of a man who perhaps loved the wilderness too much.