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The Last Season (P.S.) Paperback – January 30, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 245 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Blehm (Agents of Change) offers a thorough if cumbersome account of the life of Randy Morgenson, a National Park Service ranger in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains whose zeal gave way to disillusionment before he disappeared on duty in 1996, after 28 summers on the job[...]. The book begins with the day Morgenson left his camp for a three-day patrol and then failed to make scheduled radio contact. From there, the narrative weaves the events of the ensuing search with descriptions of ranger life, tales of past incidents in the area and Morgenson's increasingly fraught personal history. Blehm's exhaustive research is impressive, although the author struggles to find the proper balance of background information and narrative pace, spending, for instance, an entire page on a peripheral reference to the California Conservation Corps when a sentence or two would have sufficed. He does, however, succeed in creating an empathetic portrayal of Morgenson and a revealing look at the taxing, underappreciated calling to which he dedicated himself. Readers are left with an intimate sense of an intelligent if flawed man whose love of the mountains ended up costing him his marriage, his ambitions and his life. 16-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW. (Apr. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In 1996, after nearly 30 seasons as a park ranger in the Sierra Nevadas, Randy Morgenson set off on a routine patrol and never came back. His body was found in July 2001, almost exactly five years after he disappeared. To this day, the circumstances of his death remain unclear. In this fascinating account, the product of several years' investigation, Blehm explores the many mysteries surrounding Morgenson. Why did the veteran ranger, a man whose knowledge of his territory was virtually encyclopedic, seem suddenly to be disillusioned with his life's work? Was his death an accident, foul play, or suicide? Did his single-minded quest to preserve the wilderness finally seem futile? Despite obvious comparisons to such best-sellers as Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (1996), Blehm's book stands on its own just fine. A vibrant and ultimately tragic story of a man whose life was full of passion until the very end. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060583010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060583019
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
OK. Total Disclosure: I worked with and was a friend of Randy Morgenson -- the subject of this book -- for over 25 years; I was also interviewed for the book (endlessly, it seemed).

For all that, when I read this (a manuscript copy), I found it compelling. I mean, I lived the whole thing pretty intimately, but kept wondering "hmm, I wonder what happens next?"

A number of the reviews emphasize Randy's apparently troubled life. That's kind of true, but I notice one of the reviewers calls it a love story -- a love for the land. And I think that's closer to it. It's also one of the few honest descriptions of the exciting, glamorous life of a backcountry ranger (the fast cars, alluring women, investment strategies...)I've run across (Jordan Fischer-Smith's "Nature Noir", though not about backcountry rangers, is the other excellent account of rangering).

Anyway, if you're a hiker or one of those folks who always wanted to be a backcountry ranger, this is the book to read. Maybe a cautionary tale but, really, it's all about not being happy anywhere else.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was a backcountry ranger in the High Sierra and Rocky Mountains for many years with both the Natl Park Service and USDA-Forest Service. This is a compelling book because it captures the culture, values, accomplishments and limitations of living a backcountry life. "Wilderness teaches a person the answers to questions that we have not yet learned how to ask" (photographer Nancy Newhall). To paraphrase Isaac Walton's "The Compleate Angler" (1650), "time spent in mountains will not be counted against the rest of your life."

Randy was well known and admired because he lived a backcountry life and lived it well. He modeled first-hand knowledge and care and respect for wild ecosystems. Being a backcountry ranger immerses you in rarified air and light, extends the useable light of every day, winter and summer and in many ways is living a religious experience, a special calling. This sets you apart from the every day world and makes it hard on relationships, personal and professional. Each day is a wealth of learning opportunities that teaches you to not take life and people for granted.

Randy lived with the understanding of Sierra Nevada mountaineer Norman Clyde, "the mountains will always be there tomorrow, make sure you can say the same." Randy relished every day with Clyde's thought in mind. We are all envious of Randy, he lived a full life (including the ups and downs) doing what he loved and doing it well.

As with Alsup's (2001) "Missing in the Minarets" the search for Walter A. Starr, Jr., in 1933, "The Last Season," immerses you in the culture, shortcomings, accomplishments and day-to-day activities of Sequoia-Kings Canyon Natl Park backcountry. Everyone involved is passionate.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book I staggered through in a few days: here is an emotionally significant, compelling biography of a contemporary man, Randy Morgenson, and the people about him that contributed to and helped define his humanness. Eric Blehm's spyglass peek into Randy's life is both tense and tender and - while a major search and rescue effort to find Randy after he is reported missing in the Sierra backcountry is woven throughout the book - it is about our relationships and community with others and nature.

We are all without purity; Randy Morgenson models his humanity cloaked in honesty, deceit, heroics, compassion, anger, frustration, and love. He has become a backcountry Ranger in the Sierra Nevada, both lifeline and escape from and for reality. He's a conflicted man in the end, but still a person I would have cherished knowing and appreciating firsthand.

Like Randy Morgenson, I was fortunate to grow up in a family that spent summers in the Sierra. My father was a pioneering desert rat and Sierra maven; he refused to let his boys swim in fresh water sources, training us instead to look for dead ponds, without inlet or outlet. As young children, we learned it was noble (or so we thought then) to carry out someone's carelessly or purposefully discarded trash.

By the time of my first extended backpack trip some 45 years ago, the Sierra had captured my soul and given me in return a sense of strength, confidence, quiet, and purpose. Unlike Randy, my life spun away from the Sierra except for as many backpack and camping trips I could manage. But, a piece of me always is fixed to the smell of these mountains, for it is my lifeline as well.

This book is not just about Randy Morgenson. Like each of us, our stories involve a community of people.
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Format: Hardcover
On the morning of July 21, 1996, Randy Morgenson tied together the tent flaps of his ranger station at Bench Lake in Kings Canyon National Park and went on patrol. He was never heard from again. What happened to Morgenson and how that story was pieced together is the subject of Eric Blehm's, "The Last Season."

Tracking down every detail of the Morgenson disappearance, Blehm interviewed the missing backcountry ranger's family, friends and co-workers. He also sifted through reports and logbooks from the Morgenson SAR. Not confining himself to a paper search, Blehm walked the ground, following Morgenson's probable last steps. The author's research, his affinity for the missing ranger and his obvious love for the Sierra Nevada mountains all come shining through to make "The Last Season" a must-read. Blehm additionally tackles many issues important to seasonal rangers such as recognition of their term of service.

Because it's biography, "The Last Season" is also a story about dreams and aspirations, successes and failures, friendships, love and human frailty. And it's also the story of the National Park Service when the Wilderness Act of 1964 was young - before it forever changed the concept of how our nation's wild lands would be visited and managed.

How things have changed in 45 years! In 1965, Randy Morgenson's first year as a seasonal backcountry ranger, he wasn't required to know CPR. He carried no sidearm or handcuffs and had no training in search and rescue. In fact, Morgenson received no training of any kind before taking up his station at Rae Lakes, deep within the wilderness of Kings Canyon. At his post, located along the John Muir Trail, Morgenson was responsible for "spreading the gospel" of wilderness to as many hikers and packers as possible.
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