The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map
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Americans have shaped the idea of wilderness, and it has shaped us. The Last Empty Places is one man’s love letter to the enduring American wild, where our country’s character was forged and its destiny set in motion.
Memories of growing up in a log cabin in the Wisconsin woods inspired writer Peter Stark to seek out untouched tracts of the American wilderness. What he discovered in these “blank spots” on the U.S. map is that these places are actually teeming with the rich history of our nation.
Stark journeys into the great wild to four of the emptiest expanses he can find—northern Maine, central Pennsylvania, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, and southeast Oregon—and in so doing weaves together a majestic and dramatic tale of frontiersmen and fighters, naturalists and philosophers, émigrés and natives. But he also goes beyond that, acknowledging to some of the great minds that first framed our relationship to the wilderness that would become our home—passionate thinkers and writers including Thoreau, Emerson, and John Muir.
The result is a narrative that blends nature and history in a vivid new way, a tale that provides an unforgettable window into our country’s past and present.
highest boss, U.S. Forest Service chief William Greeley, wanted Leopold elsewhere—not the Southwest. In particular, he wanted him to move to Madison, Wisconsin, to head the Forest Products Laboratory. Leopold didn’t want to go. He loved the Southwest, and his wife, Estella, was deeply committed to her family and its long history in New Mexico. It wasn’t the first time he’d been asked to move. There had been complaints, at least at the beginning, of his work as second-in-command of the
southwestern forests—that he was too sure of himself, untactful with his staff, and not grounded enough in management details. His immediate boss, Frank Pooler, head of the Southwest Region, had proposed a transfer of Leopold to the Northern Region. Leopold wouldn’t go. “There is an extraordinary amount of ability and originality stored up in this man,” Frank Pooler reported back to headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The FS can hardly afford to lose it. It will be my business to try to draw it
British pointed their muskets at the outraged Acadian men and boys. The Acadian ancestors had migrated from France and settled here, on this great peninsula of land they called Acadia and we know as Nova Scotia that hovers out in the Atlantic east of Maine. By the time the British read their decree at Grand Pré in September 1755, the Acadians had lived on the peninsula for a century and a half. They’d been among the very first permanent northern European migrants to the New World, arriving in
on the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes; By the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not man the less, but nature more. Washington Irving, “America’s first man of letters,” well knew Byron’s Childe Harold. Born in New York City, Irving had moved to Britain in 1815 as an aspiring writer, entered its literary scene, and discovered his voice—“Rip Van Winkle,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—by looking back on rural America through a Romantic lens shaped by Sir Walter Scott,
Carr wrote him to say that a friend of hers, a psychic, predicted he would end up in the western United States and the Yosemite Valley. Muir read the prediction with skepticism. “My faith concerning its complete fulfillment is weak,” he wrote to Mrs. Carr. THEY’D SEEN ME COMING—my tiny Trooper in the distance kicking up a plume of dust far across the sagebrush valley. As I neared, bumping up through the sage, one of the riders sidled his horse to the edge of the corral. As I got out of the