Desert Solitaire

September 17, 2014

This book has some definitive themes that largely influence its content:

-The first one is the issue of accessibility in national parks. The Park Service has two kinds of people running for them: Developers and Preservers. The Developers are the ones that are all for having the parks fully accessible to all people and their accompanying machinery (Industrial Tourists as Abbey so calls them). The Preservers are against that and think that machines should be left out of the park experience. Abbey, as well as I, are with the Preservers on this one. He states that cars should no longer be allowed in the parks, no more new roads should be built to the parks, and that park rangers should actually be put to work. That last one is ironic considering he is a park ranger, but from his point of view most of them just reside in their offices most of the time. He thinks they should be out experiencing their job and learning as much as they can so that they can more of assistance to the people as well as to themselves. In his eyes, leaving automobiles out of the equation will lead to an increased enjoyment/interest in the activities that you can do there. Why bring all that modernized stuff to a place where you are going to escape from modernity for a little while? Not building anymore roads would make the park seem less crowded as well, retaining its actual size. When it comes to people that are not easily able to come to the parks or do the activities (such as children, the elderly, and the handicapped), he does not think that they need to be there. They can either wait longer to go or it was their fault they did not go when their lives were in better condition (with the exception of the handicapped). That I also agree with.

-Another one is the concept of overpopulation in our world. He mentions this on multiple accounts, portraying that the increasing numbers of people are causing multiple problems. In the case of the Navajo Indians for instance, he explained that their dramatic jump in population size lead to overuse of the land by not being able to accommodate that many people, falling into poverty with slummy living conditions and low income based jobs, and to the use of drugs and alcohol to cope. It is a kind of snowball effect in a way; one bad thing just continuously leading to another. All of this because of overpopulation. This is just one example; it’s happening to all kinds of different people across the planet. Here is an article proving that. Abbey even states that the two basic causes of poverty are: too many children (in relation to overpopulation) and too little money (from having too many children). He also mentions his view on water shortage in the desert, which is that there is none; there is as much water there as there should be unless you put a city there that shouldn’t be there. Overpopulation causes places like that to have development, where normally people would not thrive and therefore start claims that that area is not accommodating when it really is for its original inhabitants. As Edward quoted: “There are no vacant lots in nature”. He even made a connection to of overpopulation to industry, using Europe as an example. With increases in population come advances in technology because more people are around to make things better. Basically he links the tyranny in those countries such as Germany to continuing industrialization and says that if we let our population get out of control that we could end up having a tyranny of our own. I truly believe that there should be a law everywhere limiting the number of children that you are allowed to have and have birth control more easily accessible. These would help reduce all of the problems discussed above.

-The author does explore the term “wilderness” briefly, just like we did on the first day of class. He used some words to describe Arches National Park that were controversial to our discussion such as wilds, the wild, wasteland, useless, and unprofitable, showing some of the typical ideas of what people think of when they hear the word. He also has a hard time defining the term like anyone else does, but to him it is part of Paradise which refers to earth itself. He sees wilderness as vital to the human civilization because it is where we originated from and what made us who we are today.


Desert Solitaire

September 17, 2014

Abbey’s Desert Solitaire confronted a lot of the complexities of the human connection to nature. Throughout the book, he seems to contradict himself, but I think he is just addressing the multiple perspectives one can appreciate nature. One of the main sources of seemingly contradictory statements is when he talks about sacred vs. secular views of nature. Some moments he appears to be taking a highly romanticized and spiritual view of nature. He says he is trying to make a spiritual connection with the half dead, half blooming Jupiter tree, but has failed. He personifies the tree, as well as many other animals, plants, and places throughout the book, and tries to relate with them. Later in the book, he describes the desert at noon with an extremely harsh realism: “Noon is the crucial hour: the desert reveals itself naked and cruelly, with no meaning but it’s own existence.”  Even though he says this, there is something undeniable romantic about his connection with the desert, which he once used the word “magic” to describe it with. Maybe this is him searching for the spiritual connection, like the one with the Jupiter, but he has yet to find a way to articulate it?

It is easier to see his contradicting view by how he treats other living organisms. One of my favorite parts is when he is considering killing the rattle snake, which he insists “would be like murder–plus, where would I put my coffee?” This instant change from showing empathy toward a fellow living creature was immediately overshadowed by a factor of convenience. This theme of convenience vs. ethics is also a common theme throughout the book, and Abbey is by no means a saint in the ethics category. He bashes society for simply doing what is convenient throughout the book, but many times himself gives into what is easier. Anyway, back to animals. The rabbit experiment was also an acknowledgement of two seemingly contradictory views of killing. After killing the rabbit, he “rejoiced in his innocence and power”. At first it seems impossible that the brutal killing of a living being could go together with a feeling on innocence, but he was part of the natural order of things when he directly took a life to sustain a life. I think the simplicity and the clean kill, acknowledging the suffering of an animal, but determining it necessary to go toward another life, is as innocent as the process of eating flesh can get.

I think Abbey is trying to grasp the awe of nature in whatever way he can, and trying to find multiple ways to persuade the audience to see the deeper satisfaction in life when you embrace this highly complex world surrounding our “man-made shells.”

Blue Whales Recover in CA

September 17, 2014

I thought it would be nice to hear some positive environmental news.

The blue whales off the Western coast of the US are back to 97% on their original numbers. It didn’t say exactly how they new what the historical numbers were though. Interestingly, they identified this population of blue whales based on their songs and regional dialects, which are unique to this group. They also reported that in the Antarctic, 99.85% of blue whales were killed before whaling was stopped. The only thing that saved the California ones was that whalers weren’t making enough money of them – not preservation efforts.


Desert Solitaire

September 17, 2014

Some things that stood out or were interesting:

1) Abbey’s distaste of human meaning or human interpretation of the natural world.

Abbey wants to “confront…the bare bones of existence” (p. 6). To him, the only way to truly understand the natural world is to see things as they are, no more. “To discover the significance of its form” (p. 27) you must look only at the surface of things. Anything beyond that gets in the way. A rock is just a rock, and the only way to understand a rock or a juniper is to see it purely without human interpretation clouding the way. “The essence of the juniper continues to elude me, unless…its surface is the essence” (p. 27). But why do we struggle to do this? Abbey would say habit and fear. “The unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions…anything rather than confront…its implacable indifference” (p. 191). This indifference of the world to our presence hints at the feeling of the sublime, which Abbey thinks characterizes wilderness.

2) The theme of aloneness, distance, and stillness – but not loneliness.

To Abbey, the essence of the desert is isolation and distance between things. Each plant and animal is separated by large expanses of sand and rock. The air is still spare a few sparse birds. But there is a connection between all things that Abbey taps into. His loneliness is cured by connecting himself this to the larger world that encompasses everything. Life here is “vividly isolate, yet joined each to every other in a unity which generously includes [him]” (p. 99). Aloneness and isolation of the mind are cured by society, a society between living and non-living things. Abbey finds society among the junipers, snakes, hawks, his friends, and also the desert features themselves.

3) To to feel the connection between things, you need to eschew man and its “machines”.

“There’s another disadvantage to use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him…leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through” (p. 13). To see the essence of things, to feel a connection to the world around you, to feel society among all things, nothing must separate you from the nature around you. This sentiment is highlighted in Abbey’s hatred toward the automobile. In cars and in cabins we are “shut off from the natural world and sealed up, encapsulated” (p. 13). Not only do cars and roads destroy the natural landscape and destroy any sense of adventure, more importantly (to Abbey), they prevent us from truly seeing and experiencing the wilderness.

Abbey has his own ideas about wilderness that are somewhat different but also similar to Cronon and Meadowlands:

Abbey  holds similar regard for the “frontierism” aspect of wilderness that is mentioned in Cronon. The frontier has curative effects on the mind and spirit: “to renew our affection for ourselves and the human kind in general”, “a  rebirth backward in time and into primeval liberty, into freedom” (p. 155), “without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis”, (pg. 130) “once they rediscover the pleasure of actually operating their own limbs and senses” (pg. 54).  This is something only the frontier of wilderness can provide or cure.


He also tries to define deserts and wilderness. To Abbey, wilderness has spiritual and emotional allure, it is somewhat romantic. The emotion toward it is “an expression of loyalty to the earth” (p. 167). Would Abbey call the Meadowlands wilderness? I don’t think so – it has been too touched by man to see things as they really “are”.

Soil Microbes

September 17, 2014

This article from about a year ago in the Atlantic gives some insight in to the complex world of soil microbes. It turns out that they could be more important than we ever realized as drivers of plant productivity and diversity. We devastated many of these soil microbe communities during the green/agricultural revolution and we still are today. However people are starting to realize the damage we have done and, perhaps more importantly, the financhel  implications of using soil microbes to our advantage in agriculture.

heres a more academic perspective.

September 17, 2014

Desert Solitaire

As discussed in class Conan, Sullivan and now Abbey have focused on the view of wilderness. However, Abbeys view has a very different approach to the view of wilderness. This is that humans have actually destroyed wilderness out of greed and the wilderness that remains is some way contaminated with human destruction.  A perfect example in the book is when he is talking about the Glen Canyon Dam and how it has ruined the area, “original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us—if only we were worthy of it.”  Continuing Abbey gives more and more examples of how humans have impacted the wilderness and also bout Industrialized Tourism and how these wild areas are actually turning into money farms. He brings out a point talking about how a government would rather have their people in a closed quartered area for total control such as a large city where they can track and find everyone. Which was interesting to me was that he brought out the value of wilderness and how the government is secretly destroying it without people knowing.

As the book progress we can see his loneliness sets in and how it is the style of the dessert and to feel lonely is ok and it belongs with the wilderness. However he brings up the fact of it being therapeutic and giving someone the ability to free their mind and be isolated.  Overall though I thought the book out a major point and that was the destruction of wilderness and it is due to humans populating and using it. However this point can be pretty contradictive to him because he is experiencing it himself so this could be problematic because when would you cross the line to destroying the wilderness to experience it. Going further when would a campground turn into actually destroying the wilderness around it. I think that is a good question since Abbey plays a double standard by staying in the wild yet criticizing people who do the same.

Good Questions

Where can we draw the line with experience wilderness?

As abbey said  “original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us—if only we were worthy of it” how can we change the way our wilderness is experienced today?

When it comes to national parks and campgrounds what roles do they play in preserving the wilderness and also how does that impact the surrounding wilderness and when does that wilderness become “industrialized tourism”.

Desert Solitaire

September 17, 2014


Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey book is a bit of a task to read. A lot of it is made up of the ramblings of a lunatic. In some parts he says something profound about man interacting with nature and asks how separate they really are. In other parts he’s listing desert plants, yelling at deer, or throwing rocks at rabbits. There’s an entire chapter about rocks. This is a trope of sorts that I see in a lot of books. In these books someone goes into the wilderness and goes mad, but you wonder if the madness a result of freedom or the result of isolation. In some books it’s done better, such as Into the Wild, and in some it’s done worse, such as Touching Spirit Bear. What is it about the wilderness, that makes us think this way about it? Does it take a little crazy to want to retreat to the isolation of the wilderness or does the isolation of the wilderness make people a little crazy? Here’s an interesting article I found on the subject: Therapy gone wild.

I find the wilderness therapeutic myself, it’s hard to tell wether it’s getting to witness nature first hand or the isolation that makes me feel that way. Perhaps you cannot truly witness nature when there are people around.


One chapter I found especially interesting was Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks. In the chapter some government workers from the Bureau of Public Roads stop by and worry Abbey that the roads might ruin the wilderness. He then goes on to describe the park years later when it suffered from overcrowding and why cars are such a bad thing for national parks (perhaps being a tad overzealous about it). This brings up some interesting questions:

  • Is the absence of people what makes the wilderness wild?
  • Is it selfish to keep the experience of wilderness to yourself?
  • Are cars the problem or is it the people cars bring in?
  • Are the only people that deserve to enjoy the wilderness the ones that can get there without cars?
  • If the parks service is making money, doesn’t a chunk of that money go into preservation?
  • Does that make it worth it to make the wilderness accessible to everyone?
  • Is a developed national park even a wilderness anymore?

I think it depends on how things are being run. This book is a touch dated, having been published in 1968, and nowadays the national parks service has a better management team thanks to environmentalism. Here is an article from 1985 that showcases how the parks service is fixing exactly what Abbey is talking about.


Like I said this book is dated and reads like it was written by a madman, but it does have some good points to make about nature/environment/wilderness. National parks should be preservation/conservation, and not for people to enjoy. We have, to an extent, embraced that notion in modern times, but it was the minority opinion in 1968. While the environmental issues are also a tad dated, such as mountain lions and other predators being near extinction, Abbey is still ahead of his time on his stance environmentalism.


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