Literature: Into the Wild–With Edward Abbey

As I’m rushing around this morning getting ready to go to Utah for a backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park, I’m trying to decide which books—and how many—I can sensibly carry with me into the wild. The book I’m currently reading? The upcoming book I’m supposed to be reading? Or maybe just my journal—and a classic. The latter will probably end up being what I choose. I’ve pulled out my copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a book that has inspired several of my previous journeys to the Utah desert. It’s full of underlined sections and notes in the margins—affirmations like “Yes” and “Right On” and “Yeah.” As in—“You said it, Mr. Abbey, and I hear ya.”

I spent a good chunk of time going through this book last night, and the “Episodes and Visions” essay-chapter is the one that sticks out to me most. It’s Labor Day in The Park, and Abbey is its desert-anarchist-ranger. He’s abrasive, and curmudgeonly, but at least he’s not afraid to say what he really thinks to the tourists—stuff such as:

“Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelchairs, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like human beings! And walk—walk—WALK upon our sweet and blessed land.”

Walk, walk, WALK—that’s what one of my girlfriends and I propose to do for the next three days on an out-there loop in the Needles area of Canyonlands. Hopefully, we’ll find water, we’ll hear coyotes singing at night, we won’t get lost too many times, and we’ll come back without blisters. These are ideals. And one thing’s for certain—Abbey will be there with me, whether or not I carry Desert Solitaire in my pack.

Here are a few more of Abbey’s “Episodes and Visions” that I hope to inspire this journey:

“Despite its clarity and simplicity…the desert wears at the same time, paradoxically a veil of mystery. Motionless and silent it evokes in us an elusive hint of something unknown, unknowable, about to be revealed.”

“There is something about the desert that the human sensibility cannot assimilate, or has not so far been able to assimilate.”

“Where is the heart of the desert?”

“I am convinced that the desert has no heart, that it presents a riddle which has no answer, and that the riddle itself is an illusion created by some limitation or exaggeration of the displaced human consciousness.”

And…I’ll close with one of Abbey’s “Episodes and Visions” that I hope will also inspire you to get out there, here—in America, even in Utah—this summer:

“So much for the stars. Why, a man could lose his mind in those incomprehensible distances. Is there intelligent life on other worlds? Ask rather, is there intelligent life on earth? There are mysteries enough right here in America, in Utah, in the canyons.”

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