Readings: Desert Solitaire

Interesting Facts about Edward Abbey:

  • Served as a military political officer in Italy after the completion of which he was honorably discharged.
  • Barred as member of a student newspaper during his undergraduate years for his controversial article titled “Some implications of Anarchy.” He strongly believed that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”!
  • He had a FBI file opened against him after he wrote an article against “draft cards.” (Side note: Draft cards were removed from the US in 1973).
  • Spent an year at Stanford University on a creative writing fellowship.

Desert Solitaire:

I really like the book for two main reasons. One, he presents an extreme passion for wilderness, adventure and the supernatural – traits which are seen as exotic in today’s world. Second, the book has captured well the intricate details of desert life, which are often overlooked or difficult to notice (especially for people like me who love cities and people around me all the time – Delaware freaks me out at times!). Also, the book has been organized into brief chapters which carefully open up every aspect of desert life for us.

My Favorites in the book:

  • I like his analysis of the Navajo tribes and their tryst with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is interesting how they have been forced to move or rather “develop,” only to end up in more trouble. Reminds me of how often the western development world studies about the poor who don’t consider themselves poor! As in the case of the BIA, it might well be that it only creates more employment opportunities for us!

The Jarawa tribes in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands off the coast of India have faced similar situations – and so have many other tribes around the world.

Tribal "Development"

  • Earth Liberation Front: Founded in Brighton in the United Kingdom in 1992. According to their press office they are a group of people who believe in “economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and the destruction of the environment.” An interesting idea of using extremism to protect our environment and ourselves, but where does this really lead us! Abbey seems to be an environmental anarchist, when he talks about the balance of the wild and the rabbit incident. He feels that the rabbit incident is a successful example, but seems brutal to me! Should we let the world come back to where it started? Should we go back to hunting each other in the wild? AND by the way, don’t we anyway hunt each other down? Just in a more sophisticated way! IS environmental (can we define it?) lawlessness the ultimate level of anarchism?
  • The idea of finding the supernatural often comes up in this book. There are various instances when Abbey looks into the canyons and feels that there is God beyond or that this is the place where we are most likely to find god. To the contrary, there is a time during his canoe trip down the river when he walks up a slope and reaches the top, exhausted and worn out to find nothing but emptiness all around him. This is when he feels that there can be no god around here.

This makes me wonder, that is god another term for good and bad? If something is beyond imagination, or something blows us away, we attribute supernatural values to it and refer to it as god. But if we don’t like something, we don’t find or expect to find god there. Is God, when compared to the wilderness, only a failed explanation of what humans cannot put in words?

  • Industrial tourism is another key issue that he raises in this book. There have been numerous cases where industrial tourism has been appreciated as it has made it easy for the common city dweller to afford to spend some time in the wilderness – to rejuvenate, to sightsee or whatever it may be. But, Abbey raises some interesting and valid points. He criticizes the building of roads and encourages practical solutions such as providing bikes and buses to people, employing enough well-experienced rangers around the parks to let people digest the real essence of the wilderness. All said and done, would this ever happen? It is interesting to note here that Abbey pursued his master’s in philosophy, and his argument takes root in that.

I believe in his ideas, but the fact that the industrial tourism industry is run by huge oil corporations, road-building contractors, state and federal agencies and the “all-powerful automotive industry” largely troubles me. They have the power and their decision might have to be the right forever, even if it is wrong! This essentially refers to Karl Marx’s theory of ruling ideas which claims that people with more economic power have more power to distribute their ideas and make them seem as the objective truth. The theory also asserts that these ideas are often presented as the “the only rational, universally valid ones.”

  • Abbey also claims that the “value of wilderness . . . as a base for resistance to centralized domination is demonstrated by recent history. He feels that the easiest way to establish a dictatorship is to eliminate all wilderness. He takes the example of countries such as Cuba and Algeria where it was difficult to curb revolutions due to the difficult terrain on the regions.

This certainly seems to be a valid and interesting argument, but not always true. Looking at it from another angle, it seems that the wilderness is one of the best hideouts for all kinds of revolutions against the government. For example, Naxals and Maoists in India operate from deep in the wild and they are impossible to trace. They cause havoc in the cities and thrive in the wild!

Rather Interesting: Veerappan was a dacoit and bandit of India who evaded three state governments and the Border Security Force of India for a period of over 20 years. He lived deep in the jungles and was absolutely untraceable! He was one of the most wanted criminals in India, with over $1.1 million as prize money for his capture! He is known to have murdered 184 officials and smuggled goods worth over $22,000,000!   

            So well, looks like the wilderness has both advantages and disadvantages!


Horror legend of the Wilderness!

 FUNNY Moment: The funniest moment I thought in the entire book was when Abbey claims that US mail delivers goods “on muleback down the fourteen-mile trail from Topocoba Hilltop! What could be a better advertisement for any private mail delivery company in India!

Juniper (Rather Exotic!)

The Blue Columbine

Rainbow bridge -- Now you WILL find God here!

 FAVORITE quotes: 

  • “There are times when creation can be achieved only through destruction.  The urge to destroy is then a creative urge” (142).
  • “The tree of liberty is nourished by the blood of tyrants; it is its natural manure” (142).

An interesting Plant:  This article talks about the sacred Datura which is a poisonous and ornamental plant that Ed Abbey briefly talks about in the book. It is said to induce hallucinations and is used in sacred rituals in many communities.

Beauty . . . or Beast?

Something to think about: Abbey claims that “we must concede that science is nothing new, that research, empirical logic, the courage to experiment are as old as humanity.” This gives us a sense of the roots of Abbey’s courage to explore the wildest and strangest of places by himself and the never ending search by humans for the supernatural. What else could it mean in the context of the book and the world around us?

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