Desert Solitaire

January 29, 2014

Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire, spent six months in the Arches National Monument outside Moab, Utah, working as a temporary park ranger. He was the only ranger at the park and that was heaven on earth for Abbey; who enjoyed a very silent desert. A true lover of nature, Abbey writes about the all the names of the plants, animals, and the behavior of the native beasts. The behavior of visiting tourists does not make him happy, and he expresses strong concern about their ways.

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He thinks, and I agree, that the ongoing development of national parks destroys the wilderness, and should be preserved. Everyone needs wilderness, whether they visit or not, but real wilderness—none of that Meadowland stuff. This land truly is a wild wilderness of the Wild Wild West. Abbey did all in his power to preserve this area in the name of nature and preservation. In this book, Abbey uses his time to become one with nature by understanding and learning this unique landscape. Abbey describes the main attractions at the park—the arches—and how nature creates them.

arches_winter

One adventure that Abbey had during his stay; Abbey goes native while near Havasu—Native American settlement in a canyon off the Grand Canyon—and nearly dies in a canyon. He also takes a rafting trip through Glen Canyon before the Glen Canyon Dam was completed, which would flood the area to create Lake Powell. The Glen Canyon trip brings out descriptions of the natural wonders that Lake Powell keeps secret.

HydroDam4-GlenCanyon

I myself have never been to Arches National Park, but have heard many stories that come from this majestic desert landscape. It is a unique environment, and home to a lot of different wildlife. Sadly, the most destructive animals are the tourists; people like my dad who go on biking trips every year, or the man from 125 hours that cut off his own arm to survive. After reading this book and based on my own personal knowledge. There is no question that this is a dangerous and wild environment.

Here are some pictures from my fathers trip to Utah:

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Desert Solitaire

January 29, 2014

It was hard for me to really get my head into  this book. I have never read a book where there was not a lot of conversation, and although the language was beautiful, I found it to be quite boring sometimes. I have been to New Mexico, and have been in the desert so I had a pretty good idea what the environment looks like. I could never imagine what it would be like to be out there alone. However to  Edward Abbey, “Wilderness. The word itself is music.” Music to me is an escape from the world and the problems with it. Music can be calming, overwhelming, complicated and simple. I thought it was interesting that the word wilderness brought the same feelings to Abbey as music does to me. He found being out in the wilderness alone as calming as music

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Another quote that I found interesting was on page 162. Abbey says, “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power-lines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it”. I thought this was interesting because it made me realize even though I may never go to that place of wilderness, I can still enjoy it. Abbey continues and talks about how the wilderness can be a place for us to escape, even if we never go there.  This also made me realize that although you may not get enjoyment from the wilderness, it might be somebody’s escape from the world.


Desert Solitaire

January 29, 2014

For me, the most interesting thing the author does in Desert Solitaire is his criticism of the national parks. This is because he believes that ‘wilderness’ should be a place where there is no human connection. He also believes that national parks are an invasion of humans into this pristine wilderness. At first, the author did not convince me that we need to shut down or severely limit human exposure  to national parks. This is because I have been to many national parks and I have seen their beauty. I have been to Badlands, Yosemite, Arches, and Grand Canyon National Parks. As you can see from the pictures, all four parks are beautiful and look very pristine.

Then after I read the book it made me think. I was thinking is there real problems with national parks? I decided to Google it and see what could be affecting them. I found an article that talks about ten issues that currently face our national parks. Very interestingly, they said the main problem is trying to find a balance between human recreation and wildlife preservation inside our parks. Other problems include air and water pollution that flows from nearby cities or human development. Also, they said the amount of human activity inside parks is also causing problems. You can read the full article below to get a better idea.

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/top-10/national-parks-issues/

Even now that I understand that national parks are being affected by humans and they are not really a sanctuary for pure nature I still believe they have a purpose. In the book, Abbey says that we as humans need places without us. I believe that in this day and age this is not possible. As the human species grows we need more and more resources to keep us alive. This means that we need to venture into nature to take these resources. This is why I believe that national parks are a key part to environmental protection. It limits areas of nature that as humans we can not touch. Without them people would move in and deplete the area of resources essentially destroying the place as we seen in The Meadowlands. In the end I believe that the book does a good job describing nature and showing us how important it is to humans but that is it. I do not feel that his solutions would be a viable way to go in our current time.

 


Desert Solitaire

January 29, 2014

Based on the cover of this book and the fact that it was written by some guy in the 1960s, I did not think it would be that interesting. Also, there is something unappealing to me about being somewhere with basically no water. But, It was not that bad, it just felt like i was reading someone’s diary about some place I do not really want to go.

I’ve been to national parks but never anywhere I’d call a desert, so I googled Arches National Monument. Because though, Abbey offers extremely extensive descriptions, staring at black words on discolored pages of a book does not help me.

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I guess I could not expect much different. Dry arches made of rock.

The first thing in the book (actually one of my more favorite parts) that interested me was how close Abbey actually got to the wildlife in particular the two gopher snakes. Being a zoology major, this fascinated me. I am not quite sure that I would like to ever get that close to two snakes, but it is possible. Being able to watch two snakes “dance” is pretty cool and seems like it would be almost unreal. I guess anything is possible when you are all alone in the desert.

Mating gopher snakes… mating gopher snakes

Another part of Abbey’s wildlife description that I enjoyed was the part about the symbiotic relationship between the moths of the specific genus and the yucca plant. I always find it interesting when organisms share such specific relationships with each other and no one else.

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While certain things impressed me, others did not. “Attention: Watch out for rattlesnakes, coral snakes, whip snakes, vinegaroons, centipedes, millipedes, ticks, mites, black widows, cone-nosed kissing bugs, solpugids…” etc.. etc… etc.. (Page 35) I mean I guess I am impressed that so much variety exists there, but I do not want to exist there. I do have great respect for this environment, but I will not going anywhere where a sign needs to be in place so that I do not sit on a black widow… at least not go there alone.

My favorite chapter of the entire book was “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks.” I always get a kick out of reading or listening to people rant about the destruction of the environment. I thoroughly enjoyed Abbey criticism of the paved roads that the government was installing. There is something magical (page 53) about a secluded location with little destruction, and I agree with Abbey when he says that wilderness is an essential part of civilization. I also laughed when Abbey mentioned the vandalism administrators complain about. If the park itself could talk, would it complain of vandalism by  the construction of paved roads and tourist attractions? His unsympathetic attitude towards children and old people was also funny as well as his Smokey the Bear suggestion. I agree with Abbey in that the accessibility to parks like this should be limited. I have been to several parks and I have always had the most fun when I’ve traveled off the paved pathways.

The chapter called “Rocks” reminded me of how greedy people can be. Two men almost died because of greed. And another was shot and killed, and the man who killed the first died too. Greed never ends well I guess unless you are Mrs. Husk who received her 100,o00.

Learning about the Navajo in “Cowboys and Indians Part Two” was interesting. Usually when I would learn about Native Americans it would just be about how foreigners came and ruined everything for them. I was surprised when I read that the Navajo population had grown from 9,500 to 90,000 in 100 years as a result of medical sciences that were introduced on their reservation. This population growth seemed great to me until I read that it helped them into severe poverty which just made me sad.

The introduction of the chapter about water was probably the best part of that chapter. I can relate to the man from Cleveland in a sense because I personally never want to live anywhere without an abundance of water. Engineering ideas created to help solve water shortage problems always amuse me. Water shortages are a complex situation, but I feel like the intensity of the issues could be dramatically reduced if put our common sense to work. The fact that we have to divert water from state to state upsets me.

The rain described by Abbey is not enough to support a large population of people. You would thing that would keep people away from areas like that, but no. Average Annual Precipitation by Sate. Utah is the second driest state. Why do people like to inhabit dry places like the southwest?

utah rain

The chapter about the moon-eyed horse was somewhat suspenseful. It made the desert seem like a magical place. I know that this horse has no magic powers, its elusive nature was interesting. I was impressed that Abbey actually found the horse. I wished he had captured it, but I guess leaving it be was best.

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I thought Abbey’s interpretations of the words wilderness and paradise were interesting (189-190). I agreed with his definition of wilderness. I thought he worded it well. I think the definition of wilderness is something more can agree on. The definition of paradise (not his) is definitely more vague (assuming there is an actual definition) because I do not want spiders, quicksand, and rotting flesh in mine. The definition of paradise is entirely opinion based even more so than wilderness.

Slobivious americanus made me laugh a bit. I felt Abbey’s pain as he witnessed all of the trash. The sign from the Bureau of Reclamation at the end of that chapter brought back my feelings I had while reading the chapter on water.

The last thing I read that confirmed my lack of interest in traveling to such as place as Arches National Park was when Abbey went on a manhunt for the missing tourist. I know people can die anywhere, but a desert seems like more of  a high risk zone. I’d rather go to the Everglades and be surrounded by alligators and water… emphasis on the water.

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Pronghorns for Turkeys

January 29, 2014

The states of Arizona and New Mexico announced a trade and it had nothing to do with sports. New Mexico agreed to send 43 pronghorns to their neighboring state; in return Arizona gave New Mexico 60 Gould’s Turkeys. I found this a very unique and interesting environmental current event.

http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2014-01-28/animal-welfare/nm-az-make-a-trade-pronghorns-for-goulds-turkeys/a37140-1

 

 

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Desert Solitaire

January 29, 2014

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

  • Alone in the wilderness
  • Wants to suppress tendencies of “personification of the natural”
    • He seems to need companionship so it’s hard not to talk to/create stories about wildlife
  • Desert as being “profitable”
    • We are always trying to make something out of something else – make a profit
  • Arches National Monument – Developed (p. 54)
    • Good learning environment – but what will our kids learn from this? Will they understand the sacred wilderness?
    • Abbey paints a much different picture, it doesn’t seem that everyone is in pure agreement with how this desert area is being treated
    • Untitled1
    • arches-sandstone-formations_2102_600x450
  • Industrial Tourism (p. 61) – Money, industrialization, etc
    • National Park Service
      • “Experience Your America” – About Us
        • Seems like Edward Abbey would disagree…
  • Abbey expresses difficulty taking care of the wilderness (herding cows, dealing with horses, etc…)
    • Does that mean we should stop getting in the way/trying to tame it?
  • Stories about people dying in various ways in their own homes – making a point that the wilderness should not be assumed to bring people to their death?
  • Society as companionship = man is his own companion = nature as companion (p. 121)
  • New age poverty (p. 129-130)
  • “No lack of water unless you try to establish a city where a city should not be…” (p. 159)
  • Humans need the wilderness to escape and truly “live.” (p. 162, 170)
  • Wilderness as a refuge from political oppression (p. 163)
  • Potential dictatorship – remove possibility of experiencing wilderness, provide no escape for citizens  (p. 165).
  • Author’s intense disbelief of normal daily life (p. 193)
  • Are we afraid of tranquility? (p. 200)
    • How does technology play into this?
    • tranquility-cape-cod-massachusetts
  • Wilderness defined (p. 208) and a necessity (p. 211)
  • Tourist culture (p. 238) – evidence of litter, carelessness
  • Abbey calls people to action (p. 290) – “how can I pry the people free?” “Get out of your cars!”
  • “New American mode…” (p. 296)
  • Why he likes the desert (p. 302, 303) – it cannot assimilate, stays sacred
  • Abbey’s strong oppositions (p. 305) – “I discovered…”
  • Attachment to desert – questions his return
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Desert Solitaire

January 29, 2014
  • One thing I noticed early on then noted again and again and again: Edward Abbey loves lists. He lists birds, mammals, parks, ideas, etc. Much of what he discusses is in some way, shape or form put into a list. If he did this on purpose, as in it wasn’t just a writing habit, then the way he lists nearly everything (at one point there is over a page of just one list [284]) could be a representation of nature in a “civilized” form. Humans have a tendency to organize and categorize; and Abbey is not an exception to this rule despite his pages-long rants (and they are rants—he uses italics and exclamation points when particularly worked up about something) about how humans and industrial tourism are ruining the National Park system, one park at a time with concrete for ease of travel, dams for making lakes for human recreation, and environmentally unfriendly luxuries for the tourists who don’t want to change their lifestyle when they go to a different place.
  • The title of one chapter begins with “polemic,” a critical argument on industrial tourism. Abbey spends a great deal of words on everything wrong with tourism, then comes up with some suggestions as to how to fix the problem of industrial tourism. The biggest one is “no concrete!” If people get out of their cars, they’ll be forced to enjoy nature and remember that there is a world outside of their little suburban bubbles. This passage reminded me of the children’s movie WallŸe when every human aboard the Axiom lives on a hover-chair and communicates with holograms that block their view to the world around them. WallŸe accidentally turns off the hologram system of Mary, one of the adults on board, who, after being introduced to the robot, notices for the first time in her life that there is a pool. Later, Mary turns off John’s hologram system to show him WallŸe who is out in space and they both admire the stars.
  • WALLE
  • Some of these lists are productive. Abbey uses the word “inventory” (27) when he first starts seriously listing organisms for a paragraph or more. He continuously takes inventory on the natural world around him, noting flora, fauna, tracks, stars, etc. I think he does this as a way of reminding people that even though populations are spread apart; the desert is an admittedly harsh place that is full of life, not a barren wasteland. Abbey takes pride in observing the “brave explorers” who dare settle in a place like Arches National Park.
  • long-tailed widowbird in flight
  • Some of his descriptions I found very amusing like his analogy between a cactus flower and a bar: “This flower is indeed irresistibly attractive to insects; I have yet to look into one and not find a honeybee or bumblebee wallowing drunkenly inside, powdered with pollen, glutting itself on what must be a marvelous nectar. You can’t get them out of there—they won’t go home. I’ve done my best to annoy them, poking and prodding with a stem of grass, but a bee in a cactus bloom will not be provoked; it stays until the flower wilts. Until closing time” (29).
  • oblivious to competition
  • “The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good” (7). Abbey says this very early on in the book, but, throughout, I noticed many instances where he places his thoughts, ideals, and emotions into the heads of animals though he does after many such comments refute himself for thinking so anthropocentrically.
  • “I’m a humanist; I’d rather kill a man than a snake” (20). This seems almost like an oxymoronic statement. A humanist typically values human interest and importance in the natural world; however, it also places emphasis on humans as being responsible for their own actions (supernatural responses to questions would not be tolerated) so, since Abbey views humans as irresponsible with the world they were given, he has come to value the life of a snake more than the life of a man.
  • A concept familiar to many people who study nature, though maybe the name is unknown to them, is trophic cascade. Here is an example from the text: “Having nearly exterminated their natural enemies, the wildlife experts made it possible for the porcupines to multiply so fast and so far that they—the porcupines—have taken to gnawing the bark from pinyon pines in order to survive” (34). There was a cascade in trophic levels (less predators, more prey) resulting in an unforeseen negative consequence (less pinyon pine). This tends to happen a lot when humans meddle with the natural way of things. Sometimes these consequences are minor, sometimes these cascades can cause total ecosystem collapse. It’s better to leave these systems well alone, especially since there’s no telling how severe the consequences are going to be until it’s too late. Yet it happens over and over again (Yellowstone’s wolves, uranium mining, nuclear power, bycatch in fishing, etc.).
  • I spent some time trying to figure out the meanings behind lengthy stories Abbey writes about separated by chapters. I’ve thought about ways to connect them, but I couldn’t find any one single underlying theme except that maybe nature does what nature does, no matter what we do, in the end nature cannot be anthropomorphized. Nature doesn’t pity: Mr. Husk dies and despite the long struggle, his son dies, too. While the world’s population continues to increase exponentially, resources don’t expand to accommodate the new people. The world does not stop for what humans consider a tragedy. When something horrific happens, the owl doesn’t stop hunting, the river doesn’t stop flowing, and the grass doesn’t stop growing. It is also apparent that humans in general seem to treat nature the same way—as if it was unimportant and they have no real need of it. Nature is replaced with concrete and isolated buildings and most people who live this way are oblivious of the effect they’re having on the environment.
  • I like Abbey’s point of view on water scarcity. It’s true that there isn’t enough water, especially in places like the American southwest, but it’s completely our fault that there’s not enough water. There isn’t truly a scarcity, there are just too many people allotted the same ever-decreasing supply. The desert evolved the way it did (with populations spread far apart from each other and in relatively small sizes for water conservation among other adaptations) so that it could sustainably use what resources were available to them. If there were too many people and not enough water, the excess people died and the equilibrium was restored. Now we help people live in excess causing an unsustainable drain on the area’s resources.
  • oklahoma lake
  • Abbey’s wilderness: “When I write “paradise” I mean not only the apple trees and golden women but also scorpions and tarantulas and flies, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters, sandstorms, volcanos and earthquakes, bacteria and bear, cactus, yucca, bladderweed, ocotillo and mesquite, flash floods and quicksand, and yes—disease and death and the rotting of flesh” (208).
  • I appreciate the use of humor: “This must be it, the way to Rainbow Bridge; it appears that we may have come too late. Slobivius americanus has been here first” (238). He writes this after listing the different kinds of litter he begins to spot as he walks towards Rainbow Bridge.
  • Rainbow bridge
  • Abbey is very opinionated, which could be a good or bad thing depending on who’s reading the book. I like how observant he is though to have written this book and somehow kept track of all the flowers, birds, small mammals, rock formations, etc. He lists them whenever he describes a new area or season, which makes me believe he has very good scientific method.