The Pine Barrens are so close to New York that on a very clear night a bright light in the pines would be visible from the Empire State Building.
New Jersey is one of the most densely populated US states, but unknown to many it is also home to a vast wilderness, a forest of pines, oaks and cedars almost identical in size to the Grand Canyon.
This is the Pine Barrens. People tend to think of New Jersey as a suburban thoroughfare, yet huge sections of the Pine Barrens remain uninhabited. The sandy soil is too acidic for farming, but beneath it lies an immense natural reservoir of soft pure water, while millions of wild blueberry and cranberry bushes grow amongst the trees and alongside the rivers.
With his customary curiosity, McPhee sets out to map this mysterious landscape. He retraces its history and meets the ‘pineys’, the often misunderstood people who call the pines home. One resident can navigate the dense woods by sheer memory, and another responds to McPhee’s knock on his door with a pork chop in one hand, a raw onion in the other, and the inimitable greeting, ‘Come in. Come in. Come on the hell in.’
The Pine Barrens is a compelling portrait of a place and its people, captured at a crucial moment when it seemed headed slowly toward extinction.
‘McPhee’s genius is that he can write about anything.’ – Robert Macfarlane
‘McPhee is a grand master of narrative non-fiction.’ – Guardian
‘A direct loving look at the people and social and natural history of the piney belt of New Jersey, beginning with a chatty old bachelor cranberryman whom we meet lunching on raw onions.’ – New York Times