Park ranger Anna Pigeon is enjoying the open spaces of Colorado when she receives an urgent call. A young woman has been injured while exploring a cave in New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern Park. Before she can be pulled to safety, she sends for her friend Anna. Only one problem: a crushing fear of confined spaces has kept Anna out in the open her whole life.
About the Author
Formerly an actress and a park ranger, Nevada Barr is now an award-winning and New York Times–bestselling novelist and creator of the Anna Pigeon mysteries, and numerous other books and short stories. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and various pets.
Date of Birth:March 1, 1952
Place of Birth:Yerington, Nevada
Education:B.A., Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 1974; M.A., University of California at Irvine, 1977
Read an Excerpt
Blind Descent:An Anna Pigeon Mystery
By Nevada Barr
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Nevada Barr
All right reserved.
Anna hadn't seen so much dashing about and popping in and out of doors since the French farce went out of fashion. Given the pomp and posturing surrounding her, she felt like a walk-on in Noises Off.
Anna Pigeon was on the overhead team, the second wave to hit CACA -- the official if unfortunate National Park Service abbreviation for New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns, home to two of the most famous caves in the world, the original cave, known and exploited since the late 1800s, and Lechuguilla, discovered in the 1980s and yet to be fully explored.
Though Carlsbad was less than an hour's drive from the Guadalupe Mountains, where Anna had worked some years back, she'd been down in the cave only once. The parts of Carlsbad open to the public were highly developed: paved paths, theatrical lighting, named formations, benches to sit on while changing film. At the bottom, some seven hundred fifty feet underground, there was a snack bar and souvenir shop. When hot dogs and rubber stalactites had been brought into this pristine heart of the earth, their ubiquitous companions came as well: rats, cockroaches, and raccoons.
It could be argued that the open areas of the caverns felt as much likea Disney creation as Space Mountain. There were no dangerous mazes, no precipitous heights, no tight squeezes. Still, it was a cave, and so Anna had passed on repeat trips. Given the inevitable nature of things, she would spend much of eternity underground; no sense rushing on down before the grim reaper called for her. Her love of bats might have overcome her fear of enclosed spaces, but if one waited, the splendid little creatures were good enough to come out and be enjoyed in less stygian realms.
This December she had been sent to CACA from her home park in Mesa Verde, Colorado. Trained teams consisting of park rangers from all over the region responded to catastrophes that ranged from hurricanes to presidential visits. This time it was the injury of a caver.
Had the caver been hurt in Carlsbad Cavern, extrication would have been simple: pop her in a wheelchair, roll her down to the snack bar and onto the elevator. She'd have been home before her mother knew she was missing.
But this caver had been injured in Lechuguilla. The cave was on NPS lands near CACA's headquarters. Lechuguilla was closed to the general public for the protection of both the cave and the visitors. Nearly ninety miles of the cave had been explored but it would be many years before it was fully mapped. Lech was a monster man-eating cave, dangerous to get into and harder to get out of. Two days into Lechuguilla, a member of the survey team had been hurt in an accident. Not surprisingly there'd been a contingent of experienced cavers at Carlsbad at the time, a small but dedicated group given to squeezing themselves into dark holes and living to write home about it.
Before Anna and her teammates had descended on the park, the cavers had begun doing what they did best: getting one of their own back. Procedures in place from the last, well-publicized rescue from Lechuguilla, in 1991, the NPS had mobilized in record time. Within four hours of the report, Anna had been on a plane to El Paso. By the time she reached Carlsbad more than two dozen others from the southwestern region had arrived.
With the overhead team came the inevitable Porta-Johns, food trucks, and power struggles.
On duty less than three hours, Anna was happy to sit out the political squabbles in Oscar Iverson' s snug little office. There, far from the madding crowd, she manned the phones in her official capacity as information officer, doling out approved statements to a press already panting for another media glut like that generated by the Baby Jessica case in Texas. When she was eight hundred feet below the surface of the earth and two days travel from the light of day, a grown woman in a limestone cave was almost as good as a baby in a well shaft.
For the past half hour reporters had been getting short shrift. Anna was reading. By chance she'd picked Trapped!, the story of caver Floyd Collins, off Iverson's shelves. It detailed the gruesome death and media circus surrounding the entrapment of a caver in the 1920s. Collins had become wedged in a tight passage; his attempts to wriggle free had brought down loose dirt and rock, entombing him from neck to heels, his arms pinned at his sides. For thirteen days, friends had made the dangerous descent to feed him, while up above concessionaires sold food and souvenirs to an ever-growing crowd of vultures gathered in curiosity, sympathy, and morbidity. On the fourteenth day rains so softened the earth that the access tunnel collapsed. Collins was left to die alone.
Scrawled in the margin of the book were the words "fact: wedge victims die."
Transfixed by the same dread a woman in a stranded VW might feel watching a logging truck bearing down on her, Anna was glued to the book. Iverson, Carlsbad's cave specialist, gusted into her sanctuary, and she dropped Trapped!, glad to be rescued from its bleak pages. He waved her back into his ergonomically correct office chair and folded himself haphazardly over the comer of the desk.
Housed in an old stone building built in the 1920s, the office was small, crowded by two desks, the walls lined with metal shelving and stuffed with books. Sprawled over the cluttered desktop, Oscar looked as homey and leggy as a spider in his web. Long limbs poked out the fabric of his trousers at knee and hip. His arms, seeming to bend in several places along their bony length, were stacked like sticks on his thighs. Come Halloween it would take only a little white paint to pass him off as a respectable skeleton. . . .
Excerpted from Blind Descent: by Nevada Barr Copyright ©2006 by Nevada Barr. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Before the live bn chat, Nevada Barr agreed to answer some of our questions: Q: What was it like growing up the daughter of two pilots?
A: I loved growing up with pilots. We lived on a small mountain airport. Wonderful characters came and went every day: parachutists, crop dusters, firefighters, borate bombers (the old open-seat double-wing planes they used to drop a fire retardant on forest fires). There was always something to do and someplace to go. I was flown home from the hospital six days after I was born in an old J-3 cub, Mom was the pilot. I was flown back and forth to boarding school, then college. It sometimes amazes me that I am a successful "artist" and had such a wonderful childhood.
Q: How has your writing been influenced by your past experiences as a National Park Service Ranger?
A: The National Park Service triggered in me the character of Anna Pigeon and shaped the direction my writing would take. In this I found, after years of writing, my own voice.
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors? Why?
A: Jane Austin, Charles Dickens -- because of the worlds they create and the detail they provide in human insight that keeps me totally in their reality. Arthur Upfield, Abigail Padgett, P. D. James -- for the places they take me both in the outside world and in the internal landscapes of their protagonists' minds.
Q: How do you enjoy living in Clinton, Mississippi?
A: I love living in Clinton, Mississippi-- much to my own surprise. I came here for a job. Figured I'd get on permanent with the NPS and serve my time in Mississippi, then get the hell out. It's beautiful. The food is good, the people are open and kind and friendly, the weather is wonderful. Mississippi has been the scapegoat of the nation for so long, no one even knows what's here. What I love is the genuineness of the people and the gracious flow of life.