Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

As I started reading, I realized that I had no idea really where Arches National Park was. I also realized that I had no clue how large it was. So, doing the sensible thing, I Googled it and found a plethora of maps like the one below.

I’m sure nearly everyone has seen some of the iconic pictures of the arches themselves, but I admit that I had never given any thought to what the park itself must be like. I’ve never been to Utah, though my mother lived there for many years as a child and into her teens, but she has told me plenty of stories about how beautiful it is there and how much she loved the scenery. Now I realize that maybe I should have paid a little more attention so I would’ve had a better idea of what it was really like.

From the very first sentence, Abbey drew me into the story and made me feel connected to what he was seeing and experiencing. To get a better idea of what the ranger station looked like, I once again turned to Google, and this picture is one that popped up:

Well, it didn’t give me a visual on what the ranger station looked like, but it did give me a better idea of just how important Abbey was to the idea of preserving the wilderness because of its beauty, or at least that is what I got out of this picture.

He describes the feeling of waking up after the snowfall the night before and seeing the snow on the mountains, gazing across the expanse of open wilderness, and seeing everything so clearly, and looking at this next picture, I feel like I can relate:

Then, I continued Googling and found even more awe-inspiring photos, each more beautiful than the last…

The thing that struck me the most, throughout the entire book, was the way he made everything sound so beautiful. It made all of the other definitions of wilderness that we’ve heard, that have largely been filled with words with negative connotations, fall flat. The desert is most definitely a wilderness, a place where nature can run free and just exist, and it is beautiful. The beauty that is associated with nature should be able to just exist, and that’s what Abbey’s book, at least for me, brought to the forefront.

Abbey says, in the last chapter, “If I’m serious, and I am, the desert has driven me crazy.” After 6 months of freedom, of “sunlight and stars, wind and sky and golden sand” he is leaving the Park and is going back to “civilization.” I’m trying to imagine what that would be like and I admit it is hard to do. I think that I would also feel that the desert had driven me crazy, but perhaps not in quite the same way. I think that spending so long in such a beautiful place would spoil me. I wouldn’t be able to readjust to the day-to-day grind of “normal” life. Sitting in a cozy office building would not be able to satisfy me. I like the fact that Abbey almost turned around to stay, because I think I would do the same.

Just as the first paragraph captivated me, so did the last. “When I return will it be the same? Will I be the same? Will anything ever be quite the same again? If I return.”  That is an incredibly poignant question. Will anything remain the same if you leave it and later return. I think no, because the world is in a constant state of change no matter what we do to try and stop it. The  Arches won’t be the same, they will be missing part of themselves the next time you see them, the trees won’t quite be the same, and no, neither will you. It isn’t possible to sit back and let everything change around you, because everything affects you too. The Park changed, and so did he.

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