In Praise of Home

Posted: May 2, 2012

Author Chris Bolgiano in the mountains of West Virginia. (Photo by courtesy)
Bottom Creek Gorge, Virginia (Photo by James Valentine)

Chris Bolgiano has written and published five books in the time it took her latest collaboration to reach the presses. The Fulks Run resident was patient, she said, because of the opportunity to work with renowned nature photographer James Valentine.

The end result of that 15-year-long project is “Southern Appalachian Celebration: In Praise of Ancient Mountains, Old-Growth Forests, and Wilderness,” a collection of 136 photographs by Valentine with accompanying text by Bolgiano. The coffee table book was published by UNC Press in September.

That glacial pace continued with the Journals coverage, which appears six months after the book’s release.

But the topic itself—ancient mountains and old-growth forests—lends itself to a meditative approach.

That’s something Bolgiano has been doing for years. She’s been captivated by forests—and specifically Appalachian ones—since 1974 when she and her husband Ralph moved to the Shenandoah Valley. He was a biologist and she was a special collections librarian at James Madison University—their unique professional interests merging together in a common love of nature.
They lived in the Broadway area until “we decided we needed more wildness,” she said, then moved to more than 100 acres in Fulks Run. Their property is protected by a conservation easement and managed carefully through selective timbering. The couple harvests firewood and grows shitaki mushrooms.

“I was looking for home…,” she said, of her interest in the Appalachians. “I wanted to learn everything about it and I immersed myself in my own particular place.”

When she was contacted years ago about Valentine’s proposed book, Bolgiano recognized a unique opportunity.

“I’ve been writing about and researching and visiting old growth forests for so many years,” she said. “This is definitely a book that I could not have written about any other place.”

It was also a test of her writing skills. After the photographer selected and organized his images, Bolgiano was given three months to write 133 captions and seven one-page chapter introductions. She didn’t have to identify each species by its scientific name—the publisher hired a botanist to do that—but she did have to interpret the images and include what she calls “the wider context” of human and natural history.

“This book is not for scientists,” she said. “The audience is really anyone who loves mountains and scenic views.”

Since publication, Bolgiano has focused on promotion: a book tour in North Carolina; presentations at Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville and Virginia Forum in Harrisonburg; and book signings at Turner Hams in Fulks Run and Massanutten Regional Library.

In her presentations, Bolgiano stresses the importance of preservation—the Appalachians are the most diverse region in the world’s temperate climate zone. And as a historian, she also notes the preservation and destruction caused by humans.

“From 1880 to 1930, there was a holocaust of logging on much of that forest,” Bolgiano said. “…That’s something we’re not going to get back. It’s not going to be what it was, but if you let trees grow, you’ll develop that structural complexity that is so important for wildlife species.”

Her next project is about the forest, too. Bolgiano jokes that like every other writer, she is also at work on “the Great American Novel.”

“It’s set in 2084 and the forest is very much a character in the book. It’s taking a lot of thought about what the forest will be. It’s changed a lot in the last 30 years, but it will change even more in the years ahead.”

Her latest endeavor also contributes to a beautiful record of an ecosystem in flux.

“Southern Appalachian Celebration: In Praise of Ancient Mountains, Old-Growth Forests, and Wilderness” is available at Books of Merit in the Dayton Farmers Market, Books A Million or Barnes and Noble or at Learn more about Chris Bolgiano at


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