by Tim Palmer
Island Press, 2002
468 pages, $28
So often in literature, mountains have served as backdrop—a sturdy, all-purpose scene-setter. But in Tim Palmer’s Pacific High, the mountains don’t just provide scenery. They’re the main characters. Chronicling his nine-month odyssey along the Pacific Coast Range, Palmer surveys the astonishing landscape, and in the process introduces us to more characters—both animate and inanimate—than a Chekhov play. Part explorer, part walking encyclopedia, Palmer strikes the perfect balance between being informative and capturing the sublime. He notes with a considerable amount of expertise the serious impact exotic species are having throughout California. And he unflinchingly recounts the environmental degradation he witnesses along the way—from the unabated urban sprawl of Los Angeles to the ravages of unchecked logging throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Palmer is the author of 14 books including the National Outdoor Book Award-winning The Columbia. In Pacific High he channels the spirit of great conservationist nature writers before him, such as John Muir, “whose ghost—just figuratively speaking, of course—accompanies me many places I go.” Before setting out for a five-day hike from the Golden Gate Bridge through the Marin Headlands to Stinson Beach, Palmer recalls Thoreau’s advice to let the night overtake him “everywhere at home.”