Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
“The Maze Photos”
Edward Abbey’s book, Desert Solitaire is a memoir about six months that he spent in Moab, Utah working at Arches National Park. Throughout the book, Abbey focuses on the personification of his desert environment and zones in on the importance of wilderness in the United States.
When Abbey first arrives at Moab he introduces the desert to us as “Abbey’s country,” and “the red wasteland,” (4). Abbey continues to describe Arches National Monument as a monstrous and inhuman spectacle. The emotion that comes over Abbey is that of greed, lust, and want, it is almost as though, in Abbey’s mind, the park has become his to conquer or possess. It is interesting that Abbey views the park as a wilderness, a lonely wasteland and yet is completely enamored by its features. Undoubtedly, the image of the desert rock formations is none other than awe-inspiring, however Abbey conflicts the general feelings of fascination towards the desert in his language. Can something be beautiful and a wasteland? Abbey’s descriptive language continues throughout the chapter, “The First Morning.” “Like a god, like an ogre? The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency to suppress in myself,” Abbey suggests that Arches Park is ominous and the reader can only picture the imagery presented here that Arches National Park is terrifying. (6) Whether it be a good personification or a bad one, it is terrifying nonetheless. The idea that Abbey’s environment is beautiful and grotesque, “Lovely and Wild” is a repeating theme and emotion given through out the entirety of the novel.
“I’m a humanist.” (17) “The Serpents of Paradise” chapter gives the reader another predicting clue into Edward Abbey’s elitist views of nature. As Abbey encounters a rattlesnake, he knows that his safety is in jeopardy, not only because he has one rather close call with a rattlesnake, but because he knows that if he lets the rattlesnake live, the mice in his home will not only attract this rattlesnake to come back again, but other snakes as well. Abbey states “I’d rather kill a man than a snake.” (19) This again returns to the theme of Arches National Park being lovely and wild. Abbey, although threatened, prefers to take the risk to live and take part in the wild, so in that he may also partake in its beauty. Wilderness, in this case a rattlesnake, does not daunt Abbey. The unknown and unforeseeable future does not daunt Abbey either. This is his practice in full immersion with wilderness. Abbey ends his risky encounter with deciding that “all things on earth are kindred.” (21) This is probably one of the more relate-able instances in the novel that I shared with Abbey in his view of other living entities.
Abbeys humanist views appear throughout the novel as well, especially when the surveyors come to visit Abbey and rely on his hospitality. Abbey becomes horrified of the idea of industrial tourism in Moab. Abbey suggests that this road only destroys the natural and promotes human laziness. He implies that it is Un-American to take away man’s sense of conquest, risk and adventure by creating a road going through Arches National Park. He says in his book that allowing cars and motorized vehicles/ machines to race through the park will only destroy the magic of the park. He says, “Wilderness is a necessary part of civilization and that it is the primary responsibility of the national park system to preserve intact and undiminished what little still remains.” (47) This brings up two different perspectives on wilderness, especially of that which exists in a National Park. Should the opportunity of natural beauty be given to all who would like to view it, or should this opportunity be given only to those who seek it out, by finding it on their own adventure and explorations? Abbey seems to contribute once again to a more elitist view saying that only those willing to explore the land first handed, and not through a window in a car. Humorously, he denotes his humanist views once again by explaining that yes, only the physically capable will be able to explore these lands, but good riddance to those who cannot. The world is becoming too populated anyway, and no-one wants to see a mechanized wheelchair lift taking tourists through the rock formations anyway.
Edward Abbey’s Worst Nightmare: