A Closer Look at “Gypsy” Chain

A Good Forest for Dying

Patrick Beach

Doubleday, 2004


After six years, the crash of the felled redwood that killed David Nathan “Gypsy” Chain on a remote Humboldt County hillside still reverberates. Although not first blood in the North Coast timber wars, it was still a pivotal event. In the ensuing protests and legal battles, Chain’s death seemed to eclipse his life. Was this young Texan a committed forest activist martyred for his cause or a naive dupe who died in a grotesque accident?

A Good Forest for Dying: The Tragic Death of a Young Man on the Front Lines of the Environmental Wars is probably as close as we’re going to get to an even-handed account of the “Gypsy” Chain story, and it turns out to be compulsively readable. Patrick Beach, an Austin newsman, came to the story as an outsider, drawn by the Texas roots of both Chain and Maxxam’s Charles Hurwitz. With those two exceptions, he had access to most of the major players: Earth First!ers, Pacific Lumber execs, loggers, lawyers, cops. Treesitters with “forest names” must have seemed pretty exotic to him, yet he manages to get beyond stereotypes and capture the tangled mix of motivations on all sides.

Although Hurwitz remains a shadowy presence, Chain comes alive through the memories of his family members, friends, lovers, and fellow activists. A working-class kid born downwind from the Houston Ship Channel, drifting between jobs and relationships, he seems an unlikely candidate for the role of old-growth defender.

But it becomes clear how the forest changed him and gave his life a focus.

The most vivid portrait is of Chain’s mother, Cindy Allsbrooks. I was reminded of Lila Lipscomb, the Flint, Michigan woman who appears in Fahrenheit 9/11— another mother struggling with grief and rage, trying to make sense of the loss of her son to a distant, barely comprehensible conflict. Allsbrooks wanted justice, but also reconciliation; whether her tortuous journey through the courts led to either one is an open question. While a new forum for dialogue was created, the opposing sides remain entrenched, and the timber wars drag on. —Joe Eaton

Introduction to Water in California

David Carle

University of California Press, 2004

$39.95 hardcover,

$16.95 paperback.

First in a projected series of Sierra natural history guides, Sierra Birds was described by author-illustrator Jack Laws as “the kind of field guide I’ve always wished I had but couldn’t find.” It’s novice-friendly but detailed enough to be useful to experienced birders, and it would fit neatly into a hip pocket or backpack.

Laws borrows Roger Tory Peterson’s approach of grouping his subjects by appearance rather than taxonomic relationship. If you’ve seen a small streaky brown bird but are unsure if it was a sparrow, a finch, a pipit, or a female blackbird, see the two-page spread of streaky brown birds from all these families. The dipper, an eccentric water-loving songbird, is grouped with rails, sandpipers, and other birds likely to be seen at mountain streams or lakes.

The lively illustrations are good at conveying not just shapes and colors but recognizable attitudes. The concise text points out key plumage features and identification cues from habitat and behavior.

—Joe Eaton

More handbook than guidebook, this new title in UC Press’s California Natural History Guides series does an admirable job of explaining California’s natural waterscapes, what we’ve done to them, and where we go from here. Dealing with an alphabet soup of agencies and projects—CVP, SWP, MWD, CALFED—David Carle makes what could have been a forbiddingly technical subject accessible to anyone with an interest in water policy and politics.

Introduction to Water in California outlines the natural water cycle, describes the state’s hydrologic regions and water delivery systems, and addresses wildlife and wetlands conservation, water quality, and public health issues.

With 27 maps, this is also a useful water atlas. It’s sobering to contemplate the Central Valley’s vanished wetlands, the lost salmon streams, the maze of plumbing that shunts water all over the state.

The book is testament to William Mulholland’s dictum: “Whoever brings the water, brings the people”—and sustainability be damned. —Joe Eaton

Wild Lilies, Irises, and Grasses: Gardening with California Monocots

Nora Harlow and Kristin Jakob, Editors

University of California Press, 2004


Collecting the vast experience of a dozen California pioneers of native plant gardening into one accessible volume was a thirty-year task that began with a Bay Area study group in the 1970s. The group narrowed its focus to monocotyledons for practical reasons—”they are a clearly identifiable group and are not so numerous as to be daunting.”

Flowering plants belong to one of two botanical groups: monocots emerge from germination with one seed leaf, their flower parts usually come in multiples of three, and their leaves most often show parallel veining. All other flowering plants are dicots, with two seed leaves; they outnumber monocots almost four to one.

California’s monocot treasures include lilies, irises, orchids, and perennial grasses, as well as sculptural garden specimens like agaves and yuccas, and the native fan palm. Two hundred fifty of the most garden- worthy are described here; it’s information you’ll find nowhere else. Though color photos enliven the text, Kristin Jakob’s graceful line drawings steal the show.

—Gina Covina

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