Verlyn Klinkenborg at the New York Review of Books:
The Moth Snowstorm is one of the few books I know that tries to grasp how the thinning of nature changes our experience of the natural world. The book takes its name from a visual illusion that has disappeared in England: the way the headlights of a speeding car on a summer night turned moths flying above the roadway into a blizzard of insects. When that happened, McCarthy notes, “the true startling scale of their numbers was suddenly apparent.” People in their fifties and older remember the moth snowstorm vividly, once they’re reminded of it, “as if it were locked away in a corner of their minds.”
The memory of the insect whiteouts seems extraordinary now, but in those days “it just seemed part of the way things were.” This is the trick that time and human nature always play on us. The way things are—no matter how they are—quickly comes to seem normal. It’s as unremarkable not to see moth snowstorms now as it once was to see them. As a species, we too are passing through the bottleneck of the present. It’s stunning to realize that the ampleness of nature in 1970, however you measure it, isn’t even a memory for most Americans. For every generation, nature seems full enough no matter how empty it becomes.
“Even more than the single species,” McCarthy writes, “it’s the loss of abundance itself I mourn.” But it’s a mistake to think of this lost abundance happening only in the past, beyond the memory of youth, as ancient as the plight of the American bison.