Thursday, June 04, 2009

Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968. paperback, 337 pps.

Naturally since I am on an island in the northeastern part of the United States this week, I decided to pick up an Edward Abbey book about living in the desert of Utah for reading. Abbey was a guy (he is dead now) who liked his living and had many things to say about stuff I am just getting educated about now. The books covers a couple of
summers worth of time spent living in an old trailer at Utah Arches before Industrial Tourism came in and wrecked everything. Abbey had a pithy style of telling stories interspersed with humor which I admire greatly. He spoke about the desert surrounding the town of Moab, the hikes he took, his reflections on nature as found in the desert, the great irrigation and dam projects which served to and continue to serve to obliterate much of what was once remote and beautiful. Glen Canyon was one such place and Abbey described a rafting trip there before the engineers took over.

Abbey and his friend with one bum leg navigated the Glen canyon on a blow-up boat-- no leaks, rips, or holes the whole trip. There was catfish aplenty, a few day hikes which Abbey took alone, petroglyphs and pictoglyphs left by the natives in times past. It sounded grand and I would have liked to float through Glen Canyon myself.

On another trip, Abbey went down the Grande Canyon in Arizona (I'd been to the rim) and he stopped at the Indian settlement at the bottom. The folks there had been wise enough to refuse the government's offer of a "free road" which would have enabled more tourists to wreck havoc with their way of life. Abbey stayed in the tourist hostel one night, then rented a house. He floated a few more miles down the Colorado River and slept out in the stars among some old ruins. It sounded wonderful!

Abbey's dealings with the tourists passing through Arches is not to be missed. Of particular hilarity are the questions that the tourists asked him over and over again. His comment on television caused me to laugh out loud. Something there about vacuum tubes. Many of the tourists complained about the rutted road they had to take to go into the Arches and leave by in order to get to the highway. At that time, there was also no soda machine-- that little "problem" has probably been fixed by now.

It is hard to summarize this book. A few of the things Abbey talked about I had passed through on my cross-country trip several years ago. Most of it was foreign to me and even so I was moved when reading about the plight of the desert out west. I came away with a distinct feeling that I will not purchase any land west of the 100th meridian and a desire to see more of the desert which I had caught only glimpses of in my travels.

Highly recommended for those who like the outdoors and simple living.

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