ED ABBEY: FOUNTAIN OF WISDOM RE NATURE, POLITICS AND PROTEST!

“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.

edward-abbey-author-of-desert-solitaire-shown-here-in-the-desert-at-JY6K00

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“CACTUS ED” ABBEY ON MY MIND

“The earth is not a mechanism, but an organism.”                   Ed Abbey, The Journey Home

[Being in the Southwest] “is a treasure best enjoyed through the body and the spirit…, not through commercial plunder.”                                                       Ed Abbey, The Journey Home

“Are we going to ration the wilderness experience?”                 Ed Abbey, The Journey Home                              delicate-arch-arches-national-park-utah

Delicate Arch, Canyonlands, from Internet

The more I experience of man’s inhumanity to the Planet, –especially in overpopulated, pipe-line-threatened New Jersey–, the more I need Ed Abbey at my side. 

Right now, horrified at the success of the multi-billion-dollar-funded Climate Change Deniers (see This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein), I’m reading Adventures with Ed by Jack Loeffler.  The  author hiked and ate and drank and discussed and even fought with Ed during his lifetime. 

The two made a solemn pact that neither would let the other die in a hospital.  A pledge Loeffler was barely able to keep, but did.  The secret burial site required by Ed was facilitated, honored and often visited by Loeffler.  He would bring beer, –one poured for Ed; one drunk by himself, whenever he made that pilgrimage.

Everything about which we have been warned by Naomi Klein and 350.org and James Hansen and and Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill McKibben and probably even Rachel Carson and even the Nobel Prize Committee and Al Gore, is described in chapter and verse of anything by and about Abbey. 

A professed non-naturalist and determined “desert rat”, — who claimed to want to turn into a vulture upon dying–, Ed showed us the Southwest as the Poster Child for military/industrial/Big Coal/Big Gas/Big Copper ruinations.

McKibben issued his clarion call when The End of Nature was published in 1989.  He is still calling.  Abbey’s pivotal Desert Solitaire brought us to attention to commercial despoilations of our planet, especially in the Southwest, in 1968   Is anybody listening?

My first attention to the plight of our pPlanet came through Ed’s articles, as  well as through his seminal non-fiction work, Desert Solitaire. 

My first protests began and accelerated with the proposal to dam the Grand Canyon (!yes!) and another to build an enormous coal-fired generating station on the Kaiparowits Plateau, fouling the Four Corners region sacred to countless Indian tribes.

In those enlightened days, popular magazines published words and memorable images of the beauties we seemed fated to lose, as we now stand to lose New Jersey’s last green spaces to Pipelines conspiracies.  That’s when I joined the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, and ‘adopted whales’ through a Provincetown non-profit, as my daughters’ main Christmas presents.

Ed, whom I did not yet ‘know’ from that one volume (still most successfully in print) said it first.  Working as I do for D&R Greenway Land Trust, though I am speaking here as my very private, very opinionated self, I see perils to nature at every turn.  Some of which incursions we can prevent, and in some cases turn around.  Every year of the benighted 21st Century, it becomes more and more clear to me that Ed was a remarkable prophet, as well as a stirring author.  (Read his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, if you don’t believe me.)

Ed is carefully quoted by Jack Loeffler, –from a speech Abbey was asked to give to St. John’s College in Santa Fe, in his beloved New Mexico:  “WILDERNESS IS WORTH SAVING FOR ITS OWN SAKE.”  This was 1975.  “Not for human benefit or pleasure.  Wild things and wild places have a right to exist and to continue existing…  Bees. birds, animals, snakes, buzzards, bugs, whatever, have a legal and moral right to continue. Even rocks have the moral right to continue being rocks.”

Those of you who read my US 1 (Business) Newspaper Cover Story on Four Shady Walks this week [princetoninfo.com], have absorbed my passion for the towering boulders of the Sourlands trail off Hopewell’s Greenwood Avenue.  This haven taught me that not only trees and flowers, animals and insects,  –but the very rocks themselves–, exude spirit.  One is changed, –of course for the better–, in their midst.  One is stilled, inspired and strengthened merely walking among them.  Even more-so, sitting upon the most majestic rocks at the end of the blue trail, their ancient reality, their connection to creation, seeps  into and surrounds one.

You who read this blog, who did read NJ WILD all those years with the Packet, have seen images of those rocks.  They impact me like Chartres and Mt. St. Michel.  But you must go there in timelessness.  You must allow them to realize that you are open to their beings, and sometimes, even their messages.  You might apologize aloud for humans who ferried them away and pulverized their eminences into gravel and Belgian blocks.  To say nothing of the angry and misguided who defaced them with (now effaced, but never forgotten) wild graffiti last fall.  You might also make amends to noble beech trees along the trail, scarred by (to me, inexplicable) human need to carve their initials upon their sacred skin.

Ed insists, and I have always agreed, the Bible has it wrong.  “Man was NOT put here to have dominion over all things…  The earth was here first, and all these living things before us.”  Ed, also, –whose great joy was scrambling over rocks and boulders, mountains and peaks, preferably in sere desert landscapes–, goes on to tell the St. John’s students:  “Is it not possible that rocks, hills, and mountains, may enjoy a sentience, a form of consciousness, which we humans cannot perceive, because of vastly different time scales?”  His most outrageous proposition, which I find irresistible, is “…consider that we are thoughts in the minds of mountains, or that all humanity is a long, long thought.”

His (temporary, for Ed never gave UP on these themes) conclusion is, “As mind is to body, so is humanity to earth.  We cannot dishonor one without dishonoring and destroying ourselves.”

The Intrepids and I turn together to Eleanor Roosevelt and Georgia O’Keeffe, to stiffen our spines for the battles demanded in the 21st Century, to carry on to victories small and large upon which the Planet’s very survival depends.  Privately, every single year, I turn to Ed.

Ed ruminates on reverberations of research: “Science leads to technology…, and industry.  It’s what [science] can lead to that could be bad… Things go wrong, and scientists (and the Army Corps of Engineers, adds Carolyn-of-New-Jersey) are called in to think up remedies.  More and more, the system comes to rely upon remedial tinkering.  It becomes ever more centralized until utter collapse is inevitable.”  Outrageous Ed dares to say “the sooner, the better”, which quip I do not applaud.  But his conclusion is essential, “Then, maybe, we can stamp out this blight, this cancer of industrialization.”

When our beautiful –state, with its marvelous green preserves of forest and farmland–, is reduced to a “What Exit?” joke…  When everyone’s view of this entity formerly known as The Garden is a plethora of tanks and chimneys and wires and overpasses.  When our sacred Shore is eyed by Big Power as one long limitless oilfield — it’s time to pay attention to Ed.  Read him.  Write letters to editors.  Protest every pipeline suggestion/appropriation.  Support your local land trusts, who are trying to turn the tide of ruination decried by Ed Abbey, the Hemingway of preservation.