Ed Abbey has penned a deceptive work with Desert Solitaire. One that starts out with what I thought was going to be the journey of a man adventuring out into a place that is mostly uninhabitable. I began reading the book with the sense that Abbey was going to be the type of person that sees living in the desert as a grand adventure at first but comes to realize that with the unbearable heat, virtual isolation, and other untold perils that it would an excursion that was to be endured and eventually looked back on with a kind of “I can’t believe I actually did that, what was I thinking?” Instead of this, Abbey really cultivated this theme that didn’t have a focus on us appreciating nature, but rather that we should be awe of and realize that as humans we are solely at the mercy of nature in the long-term.
Instead of being a book about self-discovery like so many exploration books are, I think this book was more about human interaction with a place like the Arches and surrounding areas. One theme that is stressed from the start of the book is that the personification of natural things should be done away with. Abbey goes on to elaborate this point by mentioning that he wishes to examine the bedrock that sustains us for what it truly is, and only that. I also began to notice a lack of metaphors and similes in Abbey’s writing, generally mechanisms used to give human-like qualities to non human objects. I would like to believe that was intentional but it may just have been his staunch writing style which doesn’t leave room for much flowery and romanticized personifications of nature. I also noticed that when he encountered a snake living under and around his trailer he recruited another snake to fend off the dangerous rattle snakes. After some time, he let the tamed snake go and watches it with another snake possibly mating. Here he realizes that he has fallen into an anthropomorphic view of these reptiles and feels disgusted. Nature is something that Abbey takes lightly and so I think that makes him even more vehement about his convictions about not dragging down the natural world for the sake of making it more relatable.
One of the other great points Abbey makes is in the chapter “The Heat of Noon” when he begins explaining the preservation of nature on a human level instead of just why it so pertains to him. He goes on to say that people can love and defend the wilderness without ever setting foot in it. People need the wilderness even though they may never actually enter it. We are grateful that places like that exists. People need to possibility of escaping the monotony of daily life just like we need hope. That more than anything else in the book resonated with me because it was that this idea of nature would be its saving grace. I think this really proves how powerful nature is, that even in abstract concept, even just the idea of it can give people hope.
Abbey also makes completely valid points about the water usage in the desert. He reasons that there already is enough water in the desert for what should be there and argues against the politicians and the engineers that are trying to bring in more water to help support cities. These people are only playing a numbers game and want to just expand, but “they cannot see growth for the sake of growth is cancerous madness.” There is a pretty extensive list of cities in the desert but none as famous as Las Vegas. Vegas in fact gets its water supply from Lake Mead which is quickly shrinking. There have been many articles and studies done in order to survey the water usage for this desert city, but this article about the gross overdevelopment one captures pretty much exactly what Abbey warned about.
Edward Abbey doesn’t seem like the type of man I would want to be around for an extended period of time, with his quick to judge attitude and almost arrogant comments, but I do hold respect for how intensely passionate he is for what he holds true.