With this remarkable book Eric Zencey changes the way we think about nature by changing how we think about history. "The ecological crisis is also a historical crisis", he writes. "If we are out of place in nature, we are also out of place in time, and the two kinds of exile are related."
Zencey's way home takes us many places: to a starlit mountaintop, where a nineteenth-century sect awaits the second coming; to the northern woods during hunting season; to the salt marshes of a Delaware childhood; to the softball games and abandoned mill ponds of his adopted Vermont. Always we are shown a world outside our preconceptions. In the essay In Search of Virgin Forest we see that virgin forest is not the pure escape from civilization that romantics make of it. Like the second-growth forest around it, virgin forest too is a human construct, one whose "different disturbance history" is not natural but is equally the product of human perception and appropriation.
A nationally acclaimed novelist, Zencey has brought together autobiography and philosophy to produce a work at once accessible and intellectually rigorous. Perceptive, urgent, and lyrical, these essays are alive with warmth and wit and the occasional glint of melancholy. Virgin Forest is a passionate call for ecological health. It amply demonstrates (as the final essay has it) Why History Is Sublime: if we suffer a postmodern lack of grounding, only a rooted-in-place ecological sensibility can supply our need, and historical understanding is its inescapable prerequisite.
"If you were to pick one person who sees deepest into environmentalism, I think that person might be Eric Zencey. And if you were to list the four or five best writers in the field, I know for sure he'd be one of them."
– Noel Perrin, author of First Person Rural
"[Zencey] is a fine essayist with a graceful, quiet voice and a talent for putting some of the more vexing environmental questions of our time into perspective."
"Infinitely wise and unflinching."
– Bill McKibben
"Offers many erudite and reflective lessons on nature and our place in it."
– Publishers Weekly
"In a time of rising ecological concern and interest Virgin Forest is a useful book to readers who are interested in the philosophical side of ecology, culture and history, and who want to understand the deeper forces behind moral ecology, before they study the more practical application of environmental history."
– Environment and History
"These philosophical essays [...] should intrigue those who enjoy exploring unexpected connections and fresh insights."
– Library Journal
"Puts Zencey in the high company of pro-nature intellectuals like Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson."