MARKING THE SPARROW'S FALL
Wallace Stegner's American West
A greatest-hits package from the late dean of western American letters. Stegner (1912-1993), already widely respected as a novelist and historian, became a hero of the environmentalist movement with his 1962 "Wilderness Letter," which made a plea to protect public lands in the west. He revisited this theme often while writing magazine pieces with western settings, most of which Stegner himself roundly dismissed as "grocery-buying junk." His son Page Stegner, a historian, has collected representative essays here, a handful of which--mostly travelogues and op-ed pieces--indeed seem to have been written for a quick boost in disposable income. Most of the others are, however, vintage Stegner, written with an eye toward educating the reader in the historical and ecological value of the western landscape. Stegner visits Lake Powell, the 200-mile-long result of damming Glen Canyon on the Colorado River; travels down the backroads of Utah and Saskatchewan; and wanders through western ghost towns. As he does so, he offers lessons from the past and warnings about the future, writing, for instance, "No western states except those on the Pacific Coast can permanently support large populations"--and this at a time before Nevada, Arizona, or Colorado had yet begun their ongoing population explosions. Readers familiar with Stegner's western oeuvre, especially "The Sound of Mountain Water" and his 1987 lecture series, "The American West as Living Space," will find little substantively new here, although Stegner fils has turned up some less celebrated writings that merit reprinting. For readers who are new to Stegner's environmental work, this is as good an introduction as any.