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But Mr. Stark came to realize that the greatest discovery in these travels - in large part because it was unanticipated - is that in his “empty spaces” he unexpectedly found a profound connection with an America whose existence he hadn’t known.

He learned that “far beyond the homogenous nodes and exit ramps and strip malls, lay this other life in America,” a kind of life, he emphasizes, “tied closely to our national identity and history and destiny.”

Such an “empty spot” America, he explains, is “a collection of self-possessed individuals, creating an individual destiny, in a vast land,” a land “that has become swallowed up in the anonymity of the interstate exchange and … the fantasized dramas of television.”

Mr. Stark worries that we’ve forgotten about this America and “that we lose strength by not seeing it and touching it in its genuine incarnation - the flesh.”

Basic common sense prevents Mr. Stark’s love of nature from descending into tree-hugging rapture, but it sometimes comes close. He notes that one of his naturalist heroes, Aldo Leopold, traveled to Germany in the 1930s to view government-operated forests. Leopold did not like what he found, describing the German projects as nothing but “tree farms” that had long since lost all wildness and were the habitat of no animals other than deer.

“[T]oo much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run,” Leopold concluded about government planning. The danger he feared was the loss of all wildness.

Mr. Stark likewise fears this loss. Near the end of “The Last Empty Spaces,” he quotes an old man he overhears talking in Missoula, Mont., where Mr. Stark and his family live.

No longer able to traipse off into the nearby forests and mountains and experience the wilderness as he’d obviously love to do, the old man muses, “I can’t go there anymore, but I feel better knowing it’s there.” That old man very likely speaks for many Americans.

Stephen Goode is a writer who divides his time between the high desert of New Mexico and the shores of Delaware.