Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology, and Culture

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9780820319896: Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology, and Culture

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.

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About the Author:

Eric Zencey is the author of the best-selling novel Panama and a contributing editor for the North American Review. He lives in Vermont.

From Publishers Weekly:

At the outset of this essay, Zencey (Panama) asks: "How do we make ourselves a place?politically, morally, practically" in a "post-Nature" world? Perhaps it is not surprising that a professor of history (at Goddard College, Vermont) should look to history for the answer. These 12 essays?11 of which were previously published, mostly in North American Review?are thematically connected to this premise, although to consider them "one extended essay," as Zencey conceived it, is a stretch. The author is at his best when he is concrete and practical: lambasting migratory academics, or exposing the mythos of the virgin forest, or learning patience?"shopper's gait, that languid pumping, a sort of meditation"?in a mall. There are moments of exuberant prose, when he steers readers from mundane observations to profound insight: "The richest life... is lived in an awareness of the maximum number of connections backwards and forwards in time, all of which are brought together in the individual's experience of the narrow moment of 'now.'" But too often the book's momentum bogs down, as when Zencey offers no fewer than 12 extensive reasons why the law of entropy seems (to him) to crop up as a metaphor in popular culture, or when he devotes an entire essay to the dubious task of discovering "The Contemporary Relevance of Henry Adams." But Zencey still offers many erudite and reflective lessons on nature and our place in it. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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