Though I have spent the better part of my adult life pondering questions related both to religion and to the environmental imagination, this book represents my first extended effort to put the two together. In the past, my scholarly investigation of topics related to literature and faith rarely ventured out-of-doors. When I was growing up, in a typical American suburb after World War II, the environmental movement had yet to gain popular attention. But I always felt peculiarly drawn to the patch of field and woodland that I roamed as a child beside my home in Schenectady, New York. I suppose I never quite recovered from the shock of seeing this pleasantly enchanted, if not sacred, spot turn, some years ago, into a dreary strip mall. The local dairy farm, too, has long since been displaced by commercial development. So for me, as for countless others of my generation, the period that ended childhood's bucolic innocence happened to coincide with the beginning of decisive environmental and cultural changes. The postwar era saw development of a new interstate highway system, flourishing chemical and pesticide industries, limitless suburban sprawl, the decline of family farming, and the malling of America—but also, in time, new initiatives toward ecological restoration.
Like many others, too, I was moved when I first encountered Thoreau's Walden as an adolescent. This book, unlike any other I had read, awakened me not only to the beauty and surpassing worth of literature but also to the potentially religious—even sacramental— power of nature as reverenced by one committed to living deeply and deliberately. For me, this last awareness was reinforced by summer experiences at camp in the Adirondacks, a region that I still find sustaining during annual visits to Silver Bay on Lake George.