Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey is a incredible book. Prior to reading it, my only association with Abbey has been my affinity for some of his quotes. His ideas pop up from time to time on daily calendars and nature memes. I don’t think he would be flattered by that. I’m not sure he would be flattered to find his quotes pop up anywhere that doesn’t constitute graffiti, especially on tourist billboards.
So, if you have a billboard in mind, here is a little ammo compliments of Abbey.
“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”
Abbey has thousands of little gems like this littered throughout Desert Solitaire, as he documents a season serving as park ranger out at Arches National Monument.
From the introduction to the very last word, Abbey grips the reader. He refers to this book not as a travel guide, but an elegy. A tombstone. He was writing just prior to the construction of Arches’ permanent campgrounds, and paved roads, prior to the damming of Glen Canyon. He was writing at a time when nature was still something to be a part of, not something to post on social media.
He offered a warning about what would happen if we allowed the National Park Service to follow through on the projects they had in mind, and his worst-case scenarios would be welcome compared to the much sadder reality that has become.
This book however is so much more than a warning. Abbey does such a terrific job of connecting the reader to what it means to live in the moment, especially the solitary moments. He captures the feel and distinction of being alone without being lonely. His adventures along the way are thrilling and funny. My favorite story is about the time he went to The Grand Canyon with some college buddies. They were going to wait for him while he went on a 14-mile hike into the canyon, he ended up staying down in the canyon for five weeks. His friends were gone when he returned.
His interactions with tourists had me in stitches, his ability to conjure fitting philosophical ideas to capture a moment was brilliant, but his drive to experience life was the most inspiring thing I walked away with. I felt sad when the season ended, and he had to jump back into society, but I am grateful beyond words that he left us with this memorial which he recommends we throw at something big and glassy once we are done!
I’m not sure the book aesthetic really captures anything (well, maybe a look at the reality of paving roads through nature), and so I’ll leave you with one more quote from this book, this gift to humanity, this elegy of Arches National Monument.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
My only regret is that I read this book in a house, in the suburbs. I wish I would have read it at camp or on a rock, or near something that resembles what used to be considered nature.
For November we are reading about one of the greats. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. Another NYT Best Seller, that I am pumped to read. If you feel like going along, HERE is a link to the book.