Title: The Last Season
Author: Eric Blehm
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006. 335 pages.
Source: Borrowed from a friend.
A third of the way through the book, I was wondering why I was reading it. This was partly the inevitable result of picking away at it in tiny bits when I wasn't very engaged, but it was also a result of the way the book is written. Let me hasten to add that, not long after that, I settled down to read for real and soon found myself caught up in the story.
The main issue with the book is really the question of whether, aside from the mystery of his disappearance, Randy Morgenson was really a person in need of a biography. And the point of the book is really the disappearance and the search operation, with the rest of Randy's life feeling a bit as though it's there to make this into something more than an in-depth magazine article. But at some point, too, we realize that the construction of Randy's nature, through his past and up to the time of his disappearance, was essential to the searchers.
I was also intrigued by the description of a life that might have been one of those Robert Service wrote of when he penned "The Men That Don't Fit In" (except I think Service is too hard on them, and Randy would tell Service that his life had its own rewards). Randy really couldn't live in the front country for long, and that was both what made him an amazing ranger, and what (I'm guessing) also made it a difficult job in the end. He seemed to subsume his need to roam the world into a need to park himself in the depths of the Sierra for months at a time, an urge I can understand.
Randy was also, in some ways, a mystic, and I have less sympathy for that. Still, he turned that impulse toward conservation, and toward writing about the mountains in the manner of John Muir or Mary Hunter Austin--with prose that ranges toward the purple, but carries a lot of understanding and love. The pieces of his writing--journals as well as published essays--included in the book make for interesting reading.
If you like John Muir, or wonder about what kind of person it takes to spend the whole summer in a cabin three days' hike from the nearest road, take a look. Not every back-country ranger (thank goodness) needs to be quite as wedded to the mountains as Randy Morgenson. But I'm guessing that the job requires a certain amount of that impulse Robert Service wasn't sure about.
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed The Last Season from a friend, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."