Friday, September 20, 2013

Good Reads: The Last Season, by Eric Blehm

Randy Morgenson was a veteran of the National Park Service, having served as a back country ranger starting in 1965. He was something of a legend among his fellow back country rangers. With an uncanny sense for knowing where to look for missing hikers or campers, he seemed born to work the remote areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where he knew every plant and every animal.

Randy came across his calling naturally. He spent his formative years growing up in Yosemite National Park, the younger of two sons of Dana Morgenson, who worked for a concessionaire in that park. With Half Dome and other wonders of the natural world in his back yard, it was only a matter of time before Randy became a naturalist. He spent time in the Far East in the Peace Corps where he climbed some of the higher peaks there and experimented with Eastern spiritualism, which would help shape the man he was to become.

In July 1996, Randy was reported missing from his back country camp in Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks, two parks abutting each other in eastern California. Several attempts at radio contact failed, but the radios used by the park service were notoriously unreliable. Eventually, a full-out search was initiated.

In The Last Season, author Eric Blehm recounts the search for Randy in the high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As the search progresses, Blehm weaves Randy's past into the tale, giving us wonderful insights not only into Randy, but into the making of a back country ranger. Randy was completely at peace with the wilderness; it was his home, and there was no place he'd rather be.

What happened to Randy? Did he have an accident while on patrol? The previous year, he had experienced two particularly unpleasant encounters with park visitors. Could he have been the victim of foul play? His personal life was in turmoil, and his wife had recently served him with divorce papers. How depressed was he, and what was he capable of in this state? Or fed up with the bureaucratic failings of the system, had he grown tired of his job and simply walked off to surface later in another place?

This is my second time to read this book. Even though I knew the outcome on the second reading, I was held spellbound, especially by the accounts of Randy's background and his philosophy and relationship to the natural world.

This is a must read for all outdoor adventurers.

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