Readings from Desert Solitaire

I didn’t know what to expect reading Desert Solitaire, but I anticipated it would become one of my favorites. Edward Abbey goes to Moab, Utah to work as a seasonal park ranger at the Arches National Monument. The book is divided into sections that show what he experienced or thoughts he had written and documented in his journal. From the start he wanted to gain an understanding of nature without the use of human invention or feeling that would hinder and remove him from the relationship with nature he was trying to experience (13). Abbey demonstrated through his writing that it is possible to be  thorough and extremely detailed, yet still entertain the reader. His satirical humor and downright kooky comments (57) made me enjoy reading the book that much more. From his ride with the cowboys and encounter with quicksand, to his attempt at communicating with animals; this man wrote and experienced it all.

Throughout  reading his book my mind would drift to The Meadowlands and I was able to make connections between the two texts. These are clearly very passionate authors that know how to write to entertain their readers. Both Abbey and Sullivan referred to the places they explored as “wastelands” (4). This also brings up a tie to the discussion we had in class the very first day. What is the definition of wilderness and how does wasteland contribute/relate to it? We have two very different topographies yet both were called wastelands. Another connection was how they both used collections of stories and moments to tell of their adventures. Abbey mentions that most of what is written is derived directly from his personal journal entries.

I was pleasantly surprised when he incorporated facts. For example, how the Spanish Bayonet is pollinated, “the flowers are pollinated not by bees or hummingbirds but exclusively by a moth of the genus Pronuba with which the yucca, aided by a liberal allowance of time, has worked out a symbiotic relationship beneficial and necessary to both” (25). I found that so fascinating and amazing the connections and collaborations nature works itself into in order to thrive.

Many of Abbey’s opinions and thoughts centered around the idea of industrialization in some fashion. He discusses the inevitability that modernization will continue to happen (47). However, measures can be taken so that we, humans, do not destroy the environment as drastically as it was headed back in the late sixties. He proposed that the NPS should convince tourists to remove themselves from their vehicles and explore without the use of a human invention. This also brought me to one of my favorite sections of the book, where he first explores the landscape surrounding his little housetrailer. The paragraph where he discusses the conflict he has with using a flashlight in the wilderness at night. At first I took it as he was just a crazy man with lots of crazy ideas. When I continued to read, I started to understand his point. By using a human invention that produces artificial light, not moonlight. The dialation of your pupils and being blinded for a second when he went back in his trailer. “I am shut off from the natural world and sealed up, encapsulated, in a box of artificial light and tyrannical noise” (13). What he had to say in this section really resonated with my feelings and perspective.

  1. What are your thoughts on the rabbit experiment he conducted on (33-34)?
  2. Is it conceivable to think we can escape the cultural bias and mental constructions we have developed against nature?
  3. What do you think Edward Abbey’s main reason was for publishing his book?
  4. What do you think Abbey wanted the reader to get out of his book?

Figure 1: Coming from a family who own two Jeeps, I know Moab, Utah for the annual Jeep Enthusiasts Gathering. This is the first image that popped into my head.


Figure 2: Jeep Wrangler has a Moab model.


Figure 3: I was curious to see what some of the arches look like now, and thought this picture was stunningly beautiful!

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