Return to site

A Man Who Loved Unfenced Country

Jim Stiles

Like so many others, I went West to find Edward Abbey.  

I'd read about the loss of Glen Canyon to a massive dam in Abbey's 1968 essay collection Desert Solitaire. This was the book that led the nature writer David Quammen to write: “A man wrote a book and lives were changed. That doesn’t happen very often.”

Here is what Abbey wrote about that canyon:

“…I was one of the lucky few (there could have been thousands more) who saw Glen Canyon before it was drowned. In fact I saw only a part of it but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise. To grasp the nature of the crime that was committed imagine the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral buried in mud until only the spires remain visible.”

Influenced by Montaigne and Thoreau, with a healthy dose of the Russian anarchists he'd written about in his master's thesis at the University of New Mexico, Abbey's writing had opened a new world of possibilities to this Midwestern boy. The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey’s picaresque novel about a motley group of eco-saboteurs, was published a few weeks after I crossed the 100th meridian. The jacket copy said Abbey lived in Wolf Hole, Arizona. I found Wolf Hole on a map and made the pilgrimage but he wasn’t there.

Nobody was.

After I wound up in Moab, Utah I discovered Abbey had been living there all along, in a ranch-style home on suburban Spanish Valley Drive of all places. The Wolf Hole story was…a diversion (the bastard!)

He played poker with some mutual friends on Wednesday nights. I finagled an invitation, and finally, I was able to give Abbey the cartoon I'd drawn of Glen Canyon in a state of disarray that I thought he'd appreciate. He was gracious and kind and complimented me more than I deserved.

Months later, I got a letter from E.P. Dutton publishers in New York—they wanted me to illustrate Abbey’s next collection of essays. Abbey often helped out young writers and artists, and although he protested that he was a writer, not an activist, he rarely failed to show up when his friends in the environmental movement asked him to make an appearance.

As we bumped into each other around Moab, we became friends. I wouldn’t begin to suggest that I was among his tight circle of close pals like John De Puy or Jack Loeffler, Doug Peacock, or Chuck Bowden. I was one of those friends on the fringes. But I'm grateful that I got to know him, even just a little. That's why I've been appalled, frankly, at the revisionist history that's come to surround someone I consider to be a great writer and a damn decent human being.

broken image

The Secret Hideout

In the 1980s, I became a seasonal ranger in Arches National Park, where Abbey had worked while he was writing Desert Solitaire. While he lived in Moab, and after he moved to Tucson, he’d stop by Devil's Garden, where I lived in Arches, to say hello. We corresponded from time to time. Back then, there was a means of communication, now almost extinct, called letters. Some of those letters, even Ed’s, were handwritten. I still have most of them.

The artist John De Puy also had a cabin in San Juan County that he called his ‘secret hideout’ and Abbey spent a lot of time there, especially after one of his more painful divorces. I had a little hand-built shack not far away.

For much of that time, I admit I was intimidated by Abbey. I knew he was far smarter than me (and just about everyone else) — I was in awe of his intellect — and I worried that I would say something stupid, something that would diminish his opinion of me. I remember one winter morning, bumping into him at the old Yellow Front store on Main Street. I had just seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and I had loved it.

Abbey gave me the furrowed brow. “You liked that movie? We can’t even find intelligent life on Earth. If there are beings out there who have evolved, do you think they’d waste their time on us?” Then he just stood there, staring at me.

The Abbey stare was indeed frightening. I wanted to crawl into my shoes. Abbey used his long glaring awkward silences like a weapon. We parted ways, and I felt like a bloody idiot, but a few weeks later, we were both at the post office. He was as friendly as ever. It was just Abbey.

broken image

Ed Abbey and John DePuy

How Many Pages Does It Take?

In those days, Abbey wasn't well known beyond the West. He was, he liked to say, “A minor regional personality.” As he noted, people kept confusing him with Edward Albee. I’d mention Ed to a friend and he’d say, “Oh yeah..the guy that wrote that Virginia Woolf movie."

Abbey didn’t want fame, other than the fact that it was a great way to meet women. I think he wanted recognition for his work, but he hated the bullshit promotion that was required to get there. This was generational, I think. In those days, instead of courting attention, artists with integrity exhibited ambivalence about publicity, if not outright contempt.

Bob Dylan was the prime example, and as I look back on it, Abbey was the kind of iconic figure in the West that Dylan was nationally. Three years before the publication of Desert Solitaire, Bob Dylan was already famous. He was barely in his mid-20s, but fans and critics alike clung to every word he uttered. Every gesture was sure to have meaning. Decoding Dylan was an obsession. It could wear on a person.

When one reporter asked about his role as a “protest singer.”

“How many people who labor in the same musical vineyard that you toil in are protest singers? That is, people who use their music and songs to protest the social state in which we live today, be it crime or war or whatever it might be.”

Dylan stared blankly at the reporter and seemed to give the matter some thought. “How many?…I think there are about 136.”


Just a trace of a smirk crossed his face. The reporter sought clarification.


“Do you mean about 136? Or exactly 136?


“I think it’s either 136 or 142.”


Reporters muttered and talked amongst themselves. A few got it. Many were still seeking further clarification. Dylan smiled his cryptic smile.

Years later, at a book signing, a fan approached Ed Abbey with her copy of what would turn out to be his last novel, Fool’s Progress. As the author scribbled his name across the title page, the woman exclaimed,

“You know Mr. Abbey, I’m a novelist too!”

“Really,” Ed smiled (or was it a grimace?)

“Yes,” she boasted excitedly, “and I’ve been wanting to ask you a question. How many pages should a novel be?”

Ed stared at the woman a moment, his famous brow furrowed into a serious frown and he said without a hint of humor, “It should be 306 pages.”

The woman sighed in relief. “Thank God then…I’m almost done.”

The Mudhead Kachina

Ed Abbey would come to know how Dylan felt. His legions of devotees have been as intensely and unshakably loyal as any rock idol could hope for. I should know; I’ve been one of them — to a reasonable degree — for 35 years, though my respect for Abbey came to be centered on his humanity, flaws and all.

Posthumously, his reputation as a provocateur came to overshadow his genuine talent. (Bob Houston, no mean novelist himself, once called Abbey America's greatest prose stylist.) At his memorial service near Arches National Park in 1989, Earth First! Founder Dave Foreman called Abbey “the mudhead kachina of the environmental movement and of social change…the trickster farting in polite company.” True enough.

You could compare him to Jonathan Swift as a social satirist, but he was more lyrical, more full of heart. There were more layers to his writing. When Foreman and his friends, the best and the brightest of the 1970s and 1980s environmentalists, decided to bail on their day jobs and start something new, their motivation was to make Abbey's imagined world real.

But Abbey’s myth, almost 35 years after his passing, has become distorted. Part of the confusion may have been his ability to willingly and unflinchingly, and even with great humor, contradict himself. It gave us the option of choosing which Abbey we preferred.

And now, in this – forgive me for even using the word — in this Woke World, complex individuals like Abbey are being castigated and condemned for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their talents.

Let's get right to it. Abbey's most controversial pronouncements came from essays that dealt with immigration and overpopulation. Like Foreman, Abbey held out a vision of the world as it should be - Nirvana, as one former federal agency head once put it, something you can never reach but hold as an ideal.

"Stop every campesino at our southern border, give him a handgun, a good rifle, and a case of ammunition, and send him home. He will know what to do with our gifts and good wishes. The people know who their enemies are," Abbey wrote in One Life at a Time, Please, one of several books of essays.

Note: This is precisely what Vice President Kamala Harris said on her recent trip to Latin America: "Don't come" The difference is that she was serious. If only it were that simple. Charles Bowden wrote the coda in an expressive essay about Abbey in High Country News. There is a reason many considered Bowden almost a younger brother to Abbey, the inheritor of the mantle.

"When you live on the line and see up close the murder of dreams, you find that facts transcend logic. The millions here are not going home. And the time is past that the world can be kept at bay by a wall." Bowden wrote this in 2014, shortly before his own death.

Perhaps Abbey's time is truly past, but I don't think so. There were too many truths in what he wrote, and too much love beneath it all: love of life, love of country, and God knows, after five wives, love of women. And there was a graciousness we would do well to emulate.


Some of the most scathing satire ever penned about the Mormon Church came from Abbey, particularly in his portrayals of the novel’s antagonist, Bishop Love, and other rural Utahns in The Monkey Wrench Gang. Whether he meant to or not, Abbey created, or at least embellished, a stereotype about Mormons that warms the hearts of the anti-Mormon community in Utah to this very day.


But while Ed mocked the culture and the religion and their sacred underwear and called them “Latterday Shitheads” from time to time, his other ruminations on the church might be disappointing to some of the church’s fiercest critics.

In Desert Solitaire, he came to the defense of his Mormon friends. “Leaving aside the comical aspects of their creed, “ Abbey wrote, “one can argue that the Mormons in practice achieved a way of life in which there is much to admire, much worth saving.”

Bishop Love, the fictional San Juan County Commissioner/developer that the eco-saboteurs of the Monkey Wrench Gang squared off against was based, more or less, on the real-life, flesh and blood Calvin Black, a familiar face and controversial politician from Blanding, Utah.

I’d never heard of Black until he was revealed to be THE Bishop Dudley Love. I actually learned that Cal got a chuckle out of the notoriety. And while Cal Black became synonymous with environmental destruction and avarice and greed to Abbey’s many readers, Abbey couldn’t seem to hold a grudge. In Postcards from Ed, I found a note Abbey wrote to a young man in Blanding:

“Old Cal Black is not a bad guy. I’ve met him a couple times and I like and respect him as a person, as an individual. Of course, his dedication to industrial development, whatever the cost to other values, sticks in my craw. There we disagree—but not—I hope—violently.”

It's worth noting that the ecosabotage that Abbey and his friends, including DePuy, were known for, consisted of what most authorities consider minor vandalism. Blowing up Glen Canyon Damn was purely a fiction, the fantasy of The Monkey Wrench Gang. Some say that's a pity, but there it is.

broken image

The edition of the Monkey Wrench Gang illustrated by R. Crumb

One Dying Man to Another

Ed Abbey and Cal Black remained the lightning rods of the public lands war into the late 1980s. But then, almost simultaneously, both men were struck down. Black announced he had inoperable lung cancer, a death notice Black and his doctors attributed to uranium exposure. He had worked the mines in southeast Utah, going back to the 1940s.

Abbey died in 1989, but a year before his own death, Ed received word that Cal was sick. Cal Black announced his retirement from the San Juan County Commission. The Deseret News reported that “the 60-year-old commissioner has inoperable cancerous tumors in his right lung and clavicle.” Clearly Black was dying.


The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was asked to comment. They could only complain, “He single-handedly has probably represented most of what the environmental community doesn’t like in public officials, which is insensitivity to the environment…It’s a shame Edward Abbey isn’t around to comment on Cal Black’s political obituary,”


In fact, Abbey did have a chance to comment. Though dying himself, Abbey learned of his old adversary’s terminal cancer and on December 1, 1988, penned a note to Cal. A few days later it arrived in Blanding. 


Abbey wrote:


Dear Cal,
I hear rumors that you’ve come down with a serious illness. If true I hope you beat it. Although you and I probably disagree about almost everything, you should know that I have never felt the slightest ill-will toward you as a person. Furthermore, you still owe me an airplane ride. Good luck & best wishes.

Ed Abbey

He rarely meant to insult anyone, and in most cases, he didn’t. But he sometimes failed to connect the dots that traveled from his rhetoric to real life. The writing was real, a world of its own. Disconnected, sometimes, from the other one.

broken image

Utah Rules: Longtime Senator Orrin Hatch (R) and Cal Black, aka Bishop Love

The Backlash

According to David Peterson, who has edited two collections of Abbey's journals and letters, the idea that the general public might be interested in his papers seemed far-fetched to Abbey when the University of Arizona first sought to include them in its Special Collections Library in the 1970s. But he reluctantly agreed and over the years, according to Peterson, he would visit the collection occasionally, “lining out entries or writing second-thought notes here and there.”


One thing is certain, Ed Abbey knew that someday, perhaps years after his death, many of his most intimate, heart-felt, unvarnished words and opinions, expressed over 35 years in his journals, would become the subject of even more debate and dialogue. And maybe that was his last hope and aspiration —to generate one more good, hotly argued, albeit posthumous, controversy.

The journal entries were revelatory and expansive. But it made his fans…uncomfortable. As more liberals and mainstream environmentalists turned on Abbey for his views on immigration and population, for example, the more bitter he became. He wasn’t particularly thrilled to be revered, but now he was being called a racist and a white nationalist.

Just two months before his death, a particularly nasty review of “Fool’s Progress,” put him over the edge. In his journal he wrote:

Never thought I’d be attacked from the point of view of the most standard, doctrinaire, conventional chickenshit liberalism–but this is it. Exactly the kind of cant and sham and hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice, that has turned me finally against ‘liberalism’ in general.

It was his last salvo. Two months later, Abbey was gone. For years after he died, Ed’s more controversial quotes vanished. Like John F. Kennedy, “Abbey the Man” ceased to exist. He became the Myth.

It was rare to see any of Abbey’s most candid quotes appear anywhere in the social media, on the various Abbey Groupie pages, or in any popular reviews of his work. For those who think it’s somehow disrespectful to include Abbey’s candor, fail or refuse to recall that it was Abbey himself who allowed his journals and letters to be published. He wanted them to be read and discussed. He did not want them sanitized.

Whenever I saw Abbey, it was usually in Moab or Arches. He sold his Moab home in 1980 and moved to Tucson, but he and Clarke often came back in the summer, to beat the Arizona heat. Especially in those last few years, he often invited me to join him on a backcountry trip, usually with his best friend De Puy. But I could never get away. Several times he invited me to Tucson to stay with him and his family at their home south of town. I guess it was just my own timidity and lack of self-confidence, but I always chickened out. I once made it all the way to Tucson, and even saw the El Moraga turnoff. But I kept going. Coward! I yelled at myself.

But finally, in 1988, he and Clarke both insisted that I come down for a few days. I gathered my courage and accepted the invitation. I arrived in Tucson late in the day, and I had not been specific about my arrival time, so I got a motel room that night. The next morning I drove to their home, still a little nervous.

Ed came out to greet me. “You’re here early,” he said. Did you drive all night?”

“No,” I explained. “I hadn’t told you for sure when I’d get here and I thought it might be sort of rude. You may have had other plans.”

He gave me the furrowed brow. “That’s ridiculous.” By now Clarke had joined us. “Stiles stayed in a motel last night. Can you believe that?” He patted me on the back and said, “ From now on you are staying here. You can sleep in my studio. We wouldn’t have i any other way.” He acted annoyed but I think he actually appreciated the fact that I was trying to be thoughtful.

broken image

Abbey with his youngest children, Ben and Becky

The Red Caddy

I stayed two or three days. One day, Clarke assigned us the job of babysitting Becky and Ben. Seeing Ed Abbey in a sand box playing with toys was a sight to behold. The previous day, we went to a ball game.

Both of us were baseball fans and Tucson was the spring training camp for the Cleveland Indians—now the “Guardians,” another woke change that would have infuriated Ed. It was an afternoon game against the Giants at Hi Corbett Field, and we blasted along Speedway Blvd in his politically incorrect 1972 red Caddy convertible (top down) with the white leather interior. I can’t recall what led to it, but somehow we got into an argument, the only dispute I ever recall having the courage to challenge him on.

The topic was overpopulation. And the human race. We agreed there were “too many damn people,” but somehow I found myself defending individuals of the species. Nobody specific. My argument was that there are many good people, including “individuals” that other people might loathe. I saw no way, short of an asteroid, that was going to change that.

For a few moments, he seemed genuinely disgusted with me. He snarled, “What the hell has happened to you Stiles? Have you become some goddamn bleeding heart liberal? Ninety-percent of all humans are scum and should be lined up against a wall and shot.”

I didn’t even take him seriously which probably annoyed Ed even more. Instead I laughed and replied, “If you lined up ninety anonymous humans against a wall, there’s no way in Hell. on your worst day, that you could shoot ninety of them. You’re just doing your Abbey Thing.”

I couldn’t believe I even said that. We drove the rest of the way in silence. When we got to Hi Corbett Field, he pulled to the curb and said, “You go buy the tickets. I’ll park the Caddy and meet you at the entrance to the ballpark.

It was a short walk to the ticket office. I got our tickets and waited for Ed. And waited. And waited. No Abbey. Good God, I thought. Did I make him that mad? Has he abandoned me? Another five minutes went by. Finally in the distance, I spotted the distinctive dirty white sombrero with the beer tab hat band. The scowling face and the red bandana.

I said, ‘What happened? Where have you been?”

He growled, “I told you there were too many damn people. I had to park the Cadillac a mile away to find a parking space.”

I said, “Well, if you didn’t own a car that was 32 feet long, you might have had better luck.” I was finding courage I didn’t know I had.

Ed finally laughed. The scowl receded and he said, “But Stiles, if the world wasn’t so screwed up, what would I write about?”

broken image

Bleating Sheep and Braying Jackasses

We sat in the bleachers and Abbey drank his first beer in two years. His health was declining; I could see it . He looked gaunt and tired. As a consequence, he’d given up the booze. “But,” he said, “damn that tastes good…you’re corrupting me Stiles.”

We talked throughout the game. I have no idea who won. We went back to his place and to his studio and continued the conversation. And yet for the life of me, other than our brouhaha in the Caddy on Speedway Blvd, I can’t remember anything specific from the conversation, other than the fact that we both agreed the world was indeed going to hell and there wasn’t a damn thing anybody could do about it. Now I realize it’s important to add…the world as we know it. The truth is, what the world wants now bears little if any resemblance to the world we longed for. I do recall him saying, “we were both born too late.”

In the evening, as we were walking back up to the house, he stopped to split some wood for the fireplace. The light was just right and I finally gathered the courage to ask if I could take his picture. I had never tried to impose on him, but he was agreeable, and so he sat down on a stump and I snapped a couple photos. Later as I looked at the pictures, I noticed that while he’d been careful to wear work gloves, he was splitting wood with a double bladed axe in his bare feet, Years later, I told DePuy the story. “That figures,” John said. “To tell you the truth, Ed could be sort of a klutz. America’s greatest outdoorsman and he chops wood with no shoes.” De Puy paused a moment. “Damn I miss that old bastard.”

Years later, I realized I’d taken the picture on March 14, 1988. Ed died a year later to the day.

broken image

Now, almost 34 years after his departure, Abbey Lives— he is still remembered. Still absurdly revered by many and unjustly loathed by others. Just recently, in this loathsome, woke, artificially enhanced society, where three quarters of the U.S. population can’t locate Texas on a map, or name the three branches of government, and think George Washington was president during World War II. Abbey’s myth is being revised yet again. This is not the world and the West that we cherished and loved. The New West is not even remotely compatible with his vision of wilderness and wide open spaces.

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey offered a unique reason for establishing wilderness. “We may need wilderness someday,” he proposed, “not only as a refuge from excessive industrialism but also as a refuge from authoritarian government, from political oppression. He warned that “technology adds a new dimension to the process,” and believed (then) that the wilderness would provide escape from those kinds of Big Brother controls. For Abbey, wilderness was meant to be the one vast “blank spot on the map,” as Aldo Leopold longed for.

Today, he would not recognize the wilderness he sought to protect (though in his journals, in 1987, he had already complained, “Too many tourists in the backcountry now.”)

Environmental groups, once dedicated to saving the wilderness that Abbey envisioned, take the position that the only way to save wilderness is to market it as a commodity. What is the economic value of wilderness? Environmentalists promote the notion of a swarming tourist economy. They’ve taken a favorite Abbey line: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense; it needs more defenders,” and turned it into a Chamber of Commerce promo.The more money that can be made from the product, the greater the chance, in their estimation, of passing wilderness legislation. Never mind what gets destroyed in the process.

Even grassroots groups, who once worked for the protection of the land and the satisfaction that they were honest participants in “the good fight,” now parse their battle cries and make a $150K a year. Their boards of directors are filled with wealthy fat cat industrialists who today, would have had Abbey deported if they could find a way (and if he were still alive!) Together, they support a economy that brings millions of tourists to the once remote rural West and with them, untold quantities of money and environmental devastation.

Adrenaline junkies from the far corners of the planet descend on the canyon country to string slacklines, and rock climb and ride bikes off cliffs and BASE jump and ‘do’ the river.

Abbey used to talk about “a loveliness and quiet exultation.” Nowadays exultation makes a lot of noise. When he talked about seeking wilderness, he admonished us, “to walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.” When he talked about riding bicycles, he imagined them as a replacement for cars, not feet. He did not envision luxury “adventure tours” and hand-held guided hikes to “remote locations,” barely a mile from their cars.

Abbey wrote, “We don’t go into the wilderness to exhibit our skills at gourmet cooking. We go into the wilderness to get away from the kind of people who think gourmet cooking is important.”

He didn’t envision a wilderness experience that included cell phones, smart phones, GPS units, or daily uploads to Facebook (“Here’s what our sunset looked like tonight! Here in the WILDERNESS!” —–126 ‘LIKES’)

In 2023, there is even more change in the air. Today’s young people are not nearly as enamored with Abbey as their parents were. Even decades ago, he was often attacked for being against “Progress.” He’d reply, “That’s not true. I’m not for keeping things the way they are. I want things to be like they were.”

He once said, channeling Thomas Jefferson: “ If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule. That was the American Dream.”

What Abbey always hoped we’d take away from his writing and from his life was a sense of ourselves as individuals, as men and women who could take control of our own lives and our own destinies. Abbey spoke disapprovingly of a “nation of bleating sheep and braying jackasses.” He longed for a people with dignity and courage and he loathed the mindless “bleating” that he found even in his own readers.

broken image

Abbey's backyard writing studio in Tucson

Time Doesn't Love a Hero

A few years ago, an environmentalist named Amy Irvine wrote a book touted as the sequel to Desert Solitaire. It was like reading a book written by someone with a multiple personality disorder—one minute she was spewing obsequious praise on Abbey, then, in the next breath, the novella-length screed would transform itself into a condemnation.

Essentially, the book condemned the spirit of individualism that was fundamental to Ed, and called for a new “collectivism” to replace it, in the name of feminism. I felt it was a book meant to marginalize and diminish Ed himself. While the author is entitled to her ideas about the way forward for the environmental movement, I couldn't help thinking that when taking out after a great writer it would look better if the critic actually wrote well. Desert Cabal was dreadful.

In 2019, the rag I'd been publishing since 1989, The Canyon Country Zephyr, offered a rebuttal. It was brilliant and I was never prouder to publish it. The author is my ex-wife, Tonya, but that's another story.

Here is part of what she wrote:

“(The author) seems to believe that Individualism represents some grave and overwhelming threat in our modern world– that it is “draining the world dry,” in fact. But I can find nothing in my own experience to support her. She thinks we need ‘intimacy’ more than ‘privacy.’ Has she noticed what’s happened to privacy in the last 20 years? She thinks we need ‘solidarity’ more than ‘solitude.’ But, as it is, we can hardly hear ourselves think amidst the jangling and the clanging, the beeping and babbling din of people around us.

“Surely, we don’t need more consolidation. And we don’t need more groupings. The whole grinding machinery of the world is pushing us into little collectives — so that we can be more easily advertised to, and pandered to, and convinced that we are absolutely 100% right about everything, while that other group is absolutely 100% wrong.

“We don’t need any more homogeneous proper-thinking neighborhoods, or more towns that look like a million other towns. We don’t need more people who think just like every other person in their cabal. We don’t need another cabal. Goddammit, what we need are more caballeros!

“This is a time for individuals—rugged or otherwise. And Desert Solitaire remains as powerful a case for compassionate and observant Individualism as it was 50 years ago. Ed doesn’t sound like anyone you can follow on Twitter. (Thank God!) As he wrote in his journals, ‘The one thing both conservatives and liberals, Left and Right wingers, hate, is a free-thinker, a nonconformist. From either side. Unless you subscribe in every detail to one doctrine or the other, you will be denounced. Look at me.’”

For a link to the entire story, click here. And be sure to read the record number of comments.

broken image

In 1989, a bright young Harvard boy named Bill McKibben wrote a book called The End of Nature. His idea was that human hands had reached every inch of land and water and air that is out there. He wasn't wrong, and he's been fighting the good fight on climate change ever since.

But in this face-recognition, digitized new world of ours, what makes nature worth saving is too often forgotten. It is something like this, from The Monkey Wrench Gang.

He slept well that night, out in the piney woods near Sunset Crater, twenty miles to the northeast, snug in his broad-shouldered mummy bag, his goosedown sack, light as a feather, warm as the womb. Under the diamond blaze of Orion, the shimmer of the Seven Sisters, while shooting stars trailed languid flames through the troposphere. The sweetness of it. The satisfaction of a job well done. He dreamt of home. Where that is. Of silken thighs. Wherever they may lead. Of a tree greener than thought in a canyon red as iron.

Solitude. Resist much, obey little, as Walt Whitman wrote, and Abbey quoted. Abbey is as right today as he was then. In 2023, not only would he be denounced, I doubt Ed Abbey could even get published. Yet we need him more than ever.

Once someone asked Abbey how he would label himself. He replied, “If a label is required, say that I am one who loves unfenced country.”

broken image

Jim Stiles is editor and publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr ("All the News That Causes Fits.")

broken image