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Desert Solitaire Paperback – January 15, 1990
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, the noted author's most enduring nonfiction work, is an account of Abbey's seasons as a ranger at Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. Abbey reflects on the nature of the Colorado Plateau desert, on the condition of our remaining wilderness, and on the future of a civilization that cannot reconcile itself to living in the natural world. He also recounts adventures with scorpions and snakes, obstinate tourists and entrenched bureaucrats, and, most powerful of all, with his own mortality. Abbey's account of getting stranded in a rock pool down a side branch of the Grand Canyon is at once hilarious and terrifying.
The New Yorker An American Masterpiece. A Forceful Encounter with a Man of Character and Courage.
The New York Times Book Review Like a ride on a bucking bronco...rough, tough, combative. The author is a rebel and an eloquent loner. His is a passionately felt, deeply poetic book...set down in a lean, racing prose, in a close-knit style of power and beauty.
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I am a huge annotator of books, and love to highlight and mark comments next to passages in all my books that I want to return to. The whole book is like that for me. Every sentence shows the rare, sublime mystery of shadows, lights, passing moments of a living and breathing planet that accepts and watches all who travel through, inviting them to delve into the secrets and profound truths that only the wilderness can teach us. Now more than ever, we need to remember why America is so unutterably fragile, beautiful and worth protecting.
On the completion of "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey
Earlier today I completed reading "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey, a book that was for me full of immeasurable personal connection and inspiration. By connection I mean I felt connected to the material as one is connected to their own feelings and philosophies. In many regards I feel Edward Abbey and I to exist almost as one in thought and perspective, but of course I feel equally the chasm by which every man is separated from every other. It is entirely apparent he is Edward Abbey and I am Clifford Novey- each replete with as many idiosyncrasies as one can imagine.
The reading of this book took place over the period of what I would say was close to 2 months, mostly in short visits to the coffee shop and sitting in the sun. I found myself looking forward to each reading- treasuring my dog eared paperback- knowing that I was going somewhere I wanted to be- a wise place- a wild place- a place of beauty- a place of sobering reality- a place of angry outcry and of sublime affection.
Southeastern Utah. The mid 60s. Ed has taken the job of park ranger for the still relatively unadulterated Arches National Monument. For a season anyway. April 1st- his first day on the job and what a few years later would be the day of my very own birth. There is the pickup truck and the little trailer- separated by 20 miles of desert and rock and pure inspiration before the next house or bar located in Moab. He makes the rounds- describes his life in the desert- his trailer- the heat- the clouds- the vultures- the plants- sand- rocks. He takes occasional journeys- as hired hand rounding up cattle- to Moab for supplies and a little human contact- to remote canyons in search of a horse called Moon Eye- to aid in the search of a dead man- to the mountains for a mid summer respite from the heat and sand - to Glen Canyon before it was flooded- and to The Maze. One chapter may be practical and to the point- daily life- the ways and means- the mundane and minute. The next chapter could almost be written by someone else entirely- literally pure poetry- describing in beautiful detail the scents, sounds, the air, the stones- the sky- the horizon- the sun. Next you might have a dramatic accounting from days gone by- straight off the screen of a 50s noir set in the desert. And through it all the dry wit and humor endearing you to this writer slowly melting into the desert like so much sandstone from mesa into canyon to river into earth.
But I don't wish to get caught in specifics- I wish to convey the sublime- the big picture- the inspirer (Edward Abbey) to the potential inspiree(you).
In my bed- half asleep- half dreaming- recuperating from too many weeks of late night interests, I see Edward Abbey sitting in 2 chairs. One chair is on a porch. Could be a rocking chair or a simple square back wooden chair complete with creaks- no matter. This first chair holds the weight of a man who is an everyman- the salt of the earth as it were- with a simple wit and conviction and wisdom born of a life connected with hard labor and simple living. Trucks, tractors, wagons, wheels, pulleys, levers, beams, rods, tarps, knives, gullies, dirt, trees, livestock, dive bars, stiff drinks and cold beers after a hard days work, lawn mower repairs, rakes, hammers nails and bolts, and an appreciation, suspicion, and condemnation of such "modern conveniences" like the refrigerator, automobile, revolver, and bureaucracy .
Then there is the other chair- the one I saw in my dream-like state. It is very old- wooden- hand carved with ornate design and sits in some library centuries old. Here sits the scholar, the philosopher, the intellectual. Here is the man who quotes Socrates and Sartre, the ideas of Nietzsche and Hitler- contrasting his experiences with the words of Christ, Confucious, and organized religions. Edward Abbey states he is not an atheist, but an earthiest. He believes in the Earth and what he sees and feels before him as he drifts down the Colorado river in a small rubber boat- he and his companion taking in the magnificence of Glen Canyon soon before it is to be flooded by the completion of another modern sign of "progress" called the Glen Canyon Dam. He, like myself- stands and sees heaven and Eden all at once- right where he stands- gazing into the little pool of crystal clear water, noticing the minnows and grains of sand at it's bottom, taking in the eons and cycles that created then eroded the earth into the beautiful and graceful sandstone slot canyon where he now stands.
I see now his effect and the truth that Edward Abbey sits not in 2 chairs, but only one. In my own ramblings I have unknowingly emulated his style and shown that in this one chair he is all of those things- laborer, philosopher, revolutionary, simple conformist, and outspoken advocate of the desert and all things natural and wild. He uses his knowledge, his patience, respect, openness and stubbornness as he sits at campfire with a stranger and talks…
"Revealing my desert thoughts to a visitor one evening, I was accused of being against civilization, against science, against humanity. Naturally I was flattered and at the same time surprised, hurt, a little shocked. He repeated the charge. But how, I replied, being myself a member of humanity (albeit involuntarily, without prior consultation), could I be against humanity without being against myself, whom I love- though not very much; how can I be against science, when I gratefully admire, as much as any man, Thales, Democritus, Aristarchus, Faustus, Paracelsus, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein; and finally, how could I be against civilization when all which I most willingly defend and venerate-including the love of wilderness-is comprehended by the term?
We were not communicating very well. All night long we thrashed the matter out, burning up half a pinyon pine in the process, transforming its mass into energy, warmth, light, and toward morning worked out a rough agreement. With his help I discovered I was not opposed to mankind but only to man-centeredness, anthropocentricity, the opinion that the world exists solely for the sake of man; not to science, which means simply knowledge, but to science misapplied, to the worship of technique and technology, and to that perversion of science properly called scientism; and not to civilization but to culture" – E.A., Desert Solitare
C.N., September 1, 2007