Edward Abbey - Desert Solitaire

"The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom."

"Those were all good times, especially the first two seasons when the tourist business was poor and the time passed extremely slowly, as time should pass, with the days lingering and long, spacious and free as the summers of childhood." (p. ix)

"I quite agree that much of the book will seem coarse, rude, bad-tempered, violently prejudiced, unconstructive--even frankly antisocial in its point of view. Serious critics, serious librarians, serious associate professors of English will if they read this work dislike it intensely; at least I hope so." (p. x)

This is one of the more enjoyable books I've read in a while. Not necessarily in total, but large chunks of it are fantastic. The adventures, as Abbey relates them, are wonderful. They are poetic, humorous, and usually profound.

The story is somewhat similar to what others (like Thoreau and Sam Wright) have done. Rather than choose a pond or arctic tundra for a journey lasting a year, however, Abbey's stomping grounds are the desert and its immediate surroundings, and his account isn't for an entire year. The stories aren't all completely desert related either as one adventure deals with the mountains and at least a couple other (including the longest and best IMO) involve canyon and river life. These mountains, canyons, and rivers are connected to the desert though so I guess they can still count.

The non-preachy sections provide better evangelism than the sermons and lectures. The message comes across loud and clear in the enlightening, amusing, and well-told stories. I'm not sure why Abbey felt the need to repeat himself in the non-story discourses as well. I found myself put off by them a bit and eager to get back to the current, or on to the next, story.

For instance, when he talks about how flashlights can handicap a person, I hear some wonderful (symbolic) philosophy on the dangers of tunnel vision, rigid dogma, and going along with what others do just because it seems like the thing to do. It moves me far more than the preacher Abbey does.

There's another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary. (p. 15)
The trip down Glen Canyon is so well done. It's as if the reader is along for the incredible ride. I had to grab a copy of The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado before I could go on to the next chapter in order to live the experience a second time (and to try and find the scene Abbey refers to on page 236, but I didn't have any luck; anyone know the page number in The Place No One Knew?). This story, as well as the others, are packed with so many basic and simple truths and insights that never quite, but certainly should, make it to my consciousness or tongue.
A crude meal, no doubt, but the best of all sauces is hunger. (p. 198)
The final chapter, like much of the rest, is brilliant. Abbey leaves us with the haunting feeling we have all (hopefully) experienced at the end of a summer, the end of an enjoyed event, or the end of a period of our lives (college, a move, etc.).
"Stop this car. Let's go back."

But he only steps harder on the gas. "No," he says, "you've got a train to catch." He sees me craning my neck to stare backward. "Don't worry," he adds, "it'll all still be here next spring."


When I return will it be the same? Will I be the same? Will anything ever be quite the same again? If I return. (p. 336-7)

So if you like Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Mother Nature, Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, or things along these lines you are bound to welcome, and perhaps even love, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire.

Some Abbey quotes:
I'm a humanist; I'd rather kill a man than a snake.

Is there a God? Who knows? Is there an angry unicorn on the dark side of the moon?

Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God; this saves much wear and tear on the brain tissues.

It may be true that there are no atheists in foxholes. But you don't find many Christians there, either. Or, about as many of one as the other.

Belief in God? An afterlife? I believe in rock: this apodictic rock beneath my feet.

From the point of view of a tapeworm, man was created by God to serve the appetite of the tapeworm.

What's the difference between the Lone Ranger and God? There really is a Lone Ranger.

God is love? Not bloody likely.

Mormonism: Nothing so hilarious could possibly be true. Or all bad.

A review from the message board.