“I don’t believe in doing work I don’t want to do in order to live the way I don’t want to live.”
“They cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human. ”
“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.
So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.
Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
All quotations from Desert Solitaire by Ed Abbey.
“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”
“An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches.”
“A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches—that is the right and privilege of any free American.”
“No 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 it’s origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
“If man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder were not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernatural. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves, and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of ancient dreams.”
“Feet on earth. Knock on wood. Touch stone. Good luck to all.”
When I met F almost four years ago, he was sitting in a coffee shop in Corvallis reading Desert Solitaire. While I liked to read about the outdoors and traveling, I’d never had the good fortune to discover the writings of Ed Abbey. I’m sure this was in no small part thanks to the fact the closest I’d ever come to the “desert” was the area just east of the Columbia River in Washington (mostly the Vantage area).
I hadn’t ever really delved into the ways that being in the desert could complement and enhance the being in the mountains. F left his beat up copy of ol’ Cactus Ed’s book with me when he decamped for Mexico just after meeting me. I devoured it. I loved it. But, as sometimes is the problem when I plow through a book I love, I didn’t savor it.
Last fall, when we were in the early stages of planning our Moab wedding, I promised myself that I would reread it over the winter. Winter pretty much came and went and I didn’t. This spring, however, I decided I’d pay a few dollars to download it on my Kindle and one evening at the cabin, I dipped back into it. I’d read parts aloud to F and really settle in to the landscape that I always itch to go back and visit.
(If you haven’t ever read Abbey, Desert Solitaireis the place to start. After that, you have to give his fiction a try with The Monkey Wrench Gang and its sequel, Hayduke Lives! I recently read Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outsideand enjoyed it very much. Some people sort of frown on Abbey’s attempts at poetry that are collected and published in Earth Apples but really enjoyed the collection. Confessions of a Barbarianwill also give you some pretty good insight into Abbey’s tongue in cheek way of viewing the world. I’ve also read Brave Cowboy and Fire on the Mountainbut I generally don’t enjoy his fiction as much as the essays.)
One of the things I love so much about good travel literature (like Travels With Charlie, Blue Highways, or the like) is that they can transport you to a place. Before I traveled through the south I was able to absorb William Least Heat Moon’s description of his travels there. The desert, and specifically, the red rock desert of Utah, was a little different. While I loved Desert Solitare on the first read, I wasn’t able to fully process and absorb Abbey’s words. I was completely unequipped to understand and feel for the landscape as he was describing it.
While you’re reading this, I’m down playing in the beautiful red rock canyons of Utah with my soon-to-be-husband. (SATURDAY people…that’s like TOMORROW.) If you’ve been there, you’ll read this and think, “September in Moab? AWESOME.” If you haven’t you might be a little more “Meh.” But in any case, this afternoon, I’m sending some of my favorite Abbey quotes your way…try to feel the desert however you can.