Excerpts and Themes of Interest
In Abbey’s introduction to “Desert Solitaire” he describes his method in writing on page x, “I have tried to create a world of words in which the desert figures more as medium than as material. Not imitation but invocation has been the goal.”
Abbey carries a strong theme of revolt against industrial man and risk taking throughout the work which begins on the last page of the introduction, “You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don’t drop it on your foot-throw it at something big and glassy. What do you have to lose?”
Experience and personality wise I have a strong sense of identity with who Abbey was. How he writes is in a tone and candor that I relate to personally. On page 4 he writes, “I try to pull on my boots but they’re stiff as iron from the cold. . . until they are malleable enough to force my feet into.”
On multiple occasions in the service we would do 3, 4, and 10 day field excursions. There would be mornings we would get up before dark around 4 or 5 in the morning in 30 degree weather. I can remember waking up freezing on days like this with wet gear and wet socks from the night before, trying to dress in the dark with a flashlight and boots that did not want to wake up either.
(Facing East toward Sierra Vista, AZ)
(On the grounds of Ft. Huachuca, AZ. That is Bill Dill. All 6 foot 8 of him, a close friend of mine. We would do field excursions in the mountains to the rear using wet wipes for a shower and socks for toilet paper on occasion.)
Page 15: “There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him.” Abbey’s goal is the “personification of the natural”, attempting to confront the bare bones of existence.
Page 16: “I am twenty mile or so from the nearest fellow human, but instead of loneliness I feel loveliness. Loveliness and quite exultation.”
As a kid growing up in the 90’s there was a very popular book called “The Hatchet” that stuck with me over the years. I was in awe of this teenager’s survival in the novel and Abbey’s tone of quite satisfaction of self-sufficiency is something that reminded me of this work.
Page 48: “. . . The discovery of something intimate-though impossible to name- in the remote”.
Reawakened awareness of the wonderful.
Industrial Tourism (Chapter 5)
Page 62: “. . . and hear, while thunderstorms rumble over mountains, the fall of a dollar bill on motel carpeting.”
Page 159: “There is no lack of water here, unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”
Havasu (Chapter 13)
As a sophomore in college in the summer of 2007 with a group of roughly 8 students and a Sociology professor we took a 2 week trip to the Southwest which included the 14 mile hike within the canyon to see the “People of the green water”, the Havasupai Indians. Much of what Abbey describes still seems to be the landscape to this day. The waterfall pictured below was a main attraction; the majority of tourists using the rocks to the left as a sort of beach area. The water was freezing in June, but very beautiful. I remember knocking our host’s TV satellite loose with a football on a 30 yard pass; likely one of the most important sources of technology in the whole area. For those who did not want to hike back to where our van was, you could fly out of the canyon on a helicopter.
(This was where we set up tents for those couple of nights. The satellite dish was on this house.)
Page 331: “Balance, that’s the secret. Moderate extremist.”
Abbey seems to be pained and emotional in his return to civilization. The desert is dear to him, something that goes beyond passion and aesthetics. This area is personal to him, part of his being, something that deserves to be protected and cherished. A deviant from the rat race, how many times a day do we wish we could escape this same script we must play out every day?
Group Discussion Questions
Page 25: On the subject of anthropomorphism, do you agree with Abbey when he says that many of the nonhuman undomesticated animals experience emotions unknown to us?
Page 31: The assertion that “Love flowers best in openness and freedom”.
Page 72: Our obsession with time and moving toward a love of space.
Page 299: Abbey states, “. . . In precisely what way is the desert more alluring, more baffling, more fascinating than either the mountains or the oceans?”