“When the world is too much with me,” — and, ever since 11/16/16 it has been overwhelmingly so! — I turn to my heroes of old. Thoreau. Rachel (Carson). Eleanor (Roosevelt). Ed Abbey. They inspire me, stiffen my spine, balance me, serve as quintessential examples. Ed does all this, PLUS, he makes me laugh. Yes, right out loud, in the middle of the night, when I least expect it.
But it’s Ed’s prophetic wisdom that sustains me now, in this time worse than 1984, worse than Lord of the Flies…
Pictures of Ed seem few and far between — this isolate one who reached the entire world. Here is a stock photo of Ed in his beloved Red Rock Country. Thank you, Alamy.
I wrote in the first page of Ed’s The Journey Home,: (first published in 1970) “Oh, Edward, where are you now?! There is no one to speak/write/CRY OUT against greed, destruction, war on the land itself. No one to protest the ruin of our land/air/water/future!”
As though Ed himself (no one calls him Edward – it’s my ‘pet name’ for my hero) had answered, I wrote his stunning proclamation: “WE HAVE CONNIVED IN THE MURDER OF OUR OWN ORIGINS.”
Wizard. Prophet. So long ago, to have realized, to have dared call attention to the wasting of the West, of liberty itself! “The earth is not a mechanism but an organism.” “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Truth-teller, par excellence: “Yosemite is no more wild nature than Central Park!” Insisting that we should ban cars in our parks, he asserts, “You’ve got to be willing to walk!”
America’s parks Abbey considers essential to the survival of democracy: –“treasures best enjoyed through the body and spirit, not through commercial plunder!.” Which leads to one of my all-time favorite Abbeyisms: “The best cure for the ills of democracy is MORE democracy!”
Ed Abbey holds a particular hatred for those who would destroy his beloved desert, all in the form of ‘progress’: “Vegas is creeping out everywhere.”
Abbey warns against “ration[ing] the wilderness experience.” One of his quotes I’ve used as my e-mail signature proclaims “Long live the weeds and the wilderness!”
At his most exuberant, this author –who refuses to be called a naturalist–, exclaims, “O, to be a buzzard!” One appeared at his (forbidden desert) funeral, delighting every mourner, all of whom has memorized so many of E.A.’s salient points, –circling, slowly, lazily, approving procedures below. Those who know me, know I’m sure Ed borrowed that vulture’s physical body, for a fitting farewell.
Most chilling, always, are Ed’s musings on the dangers of our country’s losing true liberty. “Our own nation is not free from the dangers of dictatorship. And I refer to internal, as well as external, threats to our liberties.” Abbey decries “the tendency upon the part of the authoritarian element always present… to suppress individual freedoms; to use the refined techniques of police surveillance…, in order to preserve, not wilderness, but the status quo, the privileged positions of those who now so largely control the economic and governmental institutions of the United States.”
(Have you noticed how rarely is used the term “United States” in post-1916 Amerika? cfe)
In 1970, Ed warns of “the two-legged flesh-skinned robot, her head, his head, its head, wired by telepathic radio to a universal central control system.”
(Does anyone besides me cringe whenever I hear ‘the man or woman in the street’ use that ghastly Weather Channel command, “Stay Safe.” It’s right up there with “Shelter in place,” which commands were rampant after the Boston Marathon Massacres. We are being coached during every storm to follow mandates that were the tools of tyrants. cfe)
Edward Abbey probably had very little patience with matters of clairvoyance. How else, though, do we explain his agony over, “When reality becomes intolerable; when the fantasies of nightmare become everyday experience, deny that reality; obliterate it; escape, escape, escape.” “Every train of thought seems to lead to some concentration camp of nightmare.”
The heart of the matter with Edward Abbey comes down to his conclusion in this final chapter of “The Journey Home“: “WE CANNOT HAVE FREEDOM WITHOUT WILDERNESS.” He quotes one of his own heroes, the legendary Dave Brower, in case we are missing the point: “A WORLD WITHOUT WILDERNESS IS A CAGE.”
(David Ross Brower was a prominent environmentalist and the founder of many environmental organizations, including the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies, Friends of the Earth (1969), the League of Conservation Voters, Earth Island Institute (1982), North Cascades Conservation Council, and Fate of the Earth.” Wikipedia)
Abbey goes out on yet another flawless limb: “I SEE THE PRESERVATION OF WILDERNESS AS ONE SECTOR IN THE WAR AGAINST THE ENCROACHING INDUSTRIAL STATE.”
“IF WE WISH TO GIVE OUR CHILDREN A TASTE OF THE GOOD LIFE, WE MUST BRING A HALT TO THE EVER-EXPANDING ECONOMY, and put the growth-maniacs under medical care.”
In case we didn’t get his point, about the importance of wilderness as a place where humans can rediscover themselves; as well as as “coyotes, lions (he means mountain lions), eagles and badgers; a place to re-experience freedom, the place “to learn what the lion has to teach,” Abbey declares, “All government is bad, including good government.”
“I am an extremist,” he insists in his naturalist-denying preface, merrily confessing his “extreme intransigence.” Edward Abbey raves about being “far out on the very verge of things, on the edge of the abyss, where the world falls off into the depths. That’s where I like it. E.A.”
My hero describes his writings as having been “stirred in a blackened iron pot over a smoking fire of juniper, passionflower and mesquite. Agitate. “(italics Ed’s). He calls his words “a slumgullion”, which, “like any stew, makes a tasty, nutritious and coherent stew… Society, too, is like a stew 00 If you don’t keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top.”
Travel with Ed. Revel with Ed. Experience and re-experience Canyonlands and Arches and Death Valley and even Hoboken, and always the sere, saguaro-studded landscape in which he earned is deathless nickname, Cactus Ed.
Realize that to lose untrammeled wilderness is to lose the very liberty for which this country was founded in the 1770’s. Let Edward Abbey, seer, open your eyes, stiffen your spine. The times, our troublous times, demand it!