A scientist's view of change

 

Of Rock and Rivers: Seeking a Sense of Place in the American West
Ellen Wohl
267 pages,
hardcover, $24.95.
University of  California Press, 2009.

Ellen Wohl shudders when she sees houses built on gently sloping benches at the mouths of mountain clefts. She knows that such sites, with their incredible views, were created by past landslides, and hence are risky places to build. Wohl is a geomorphologist, a scientist who studies the physical forms of the planet and the processes that shape them. She can read the story behind the shape of the landscape.

Her latest book, Of Rock and Rivers, is a valuable addition to the growing shelf of essays and memoirs written by scientists. Books like these -- more personal than the "hard science" found in professional publications -- are often the only channel through which scientists can make their work accessible to wider audiences. Few people have read Aldo Leopold's monographs on game management, but his land ethic, described in A Sand County Almanac, became part of the foundation of modern environmentalism.

Mixing memoir and environmental history, much as Leopold did, Wohl leads us through her life and research. Raised in Ohio with a naive belief in the "pristine wilderness of the West," she adopted the West as her home. As a professor of geology at Colorado State University, she has worked throughout the arid Intermountain region.

In a clearly written, sometimes lyrical style, Wohl describes how over 30 years, she has uncovered layer after layer of loss in the West. She relates the sorry history of streams dewatered and diverted, water contaminated and rivers degraded, from the damage caused by obvious physical changes to the chemical pollutants that invisibly poison wells.

But she also learns "that knowledge alone is not enough." Politicians and the public repeatedly ignore scientific recommendations. Wohl warns that until we integrate what science has learned "into the everyday choices made by individuals and by society … we who live in the West will remain lost." And yet she continues to find hope in the resilience of rivers and landscapes.

Despite evidence that might lead one to despair, Wohl believes that we can learn to live sustainably in the West. It is not only landscapes that change, Wohl writes. "We can change, if we choose."

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.