Desert Solitaire

In comparison to Sullivan’s Meadowlands, Abbey’s Desert Solitaire is a “breath of fresh air” – pun intended. First, Abbey’s writing style is much more relatable and immersive than Sullivan’s. His use of imagery and lyrical expressions create a heartfelt, fascinating collection of memories, much unlike Sullivan’s failed attempts of romanticizing the Meadowlands. Furthermore, Desert Solitaire is a memoir of true wilderness – a wilderness that we described on the first day of class with picturesque landscapes and an extraordinary connection with nature. While the Meadowlands can be described as wilderness to an extent, it does not compare to the emotional connectedness of the reader and Desert Solitaire.

There are many passages in this book that I found moving for one reason or another. Perhaps one of my favorites can be found on page 121 where Abbey says,

“With more desert and mountains than I could explore in a lifetime open to view, I was invited to contemplate a far larger world, one which extends into a past and into a future without any limits known to the human kind. By taking off my shoes and digging my toes in the sand I made contact with that larger world—an exhilarating feeling which leads to equanimity.”

I feel like this quote almost “sums up” one of the main motivation of environmentalists – to become more connected and learn to sincerely appreciate the larger world. Furthermore, it makes us feel like it is our duty to protect and preserve nature so future generations can feel the same feeling of “equanimity.” When I read this passage I identified greatly with it and thought of my own experiences in finding my adoration for nature; for me, it was sitting on a secluded beach on a small island in North Carolina, digging my toes in the sand just as Abbey did. I was looking across the horizon of the ocean wondering if it ever did end, taking in every bit that I could imagine. My love for nature and the ocean collided and I found my life’s calling to honor the Earth and find myself in a world that is much larger than myself. I feel that we all forget at one time or another that we are only small, unimportant figures of a larger picture and as much as we hate to admit it – we are not at the center. Abbey’s words are a nice reminder of that.

Like many other naturalists, Abbey’s main theme of writing is the disconnection with nature from the human race as a whole and the constant battle of nature versus industrialism. Even Abbey does not feel as if he deserves to be in the desert and that even he, although he does his best to live in harmony with nature, is an unwelcomed guest. He describes his thoughts in yet another passage on page 267:

“How difficult to imagine this place without a human presence; how necessary. I am almost prepared to believe that this sweet virginal primitive land will be grateful for my departure and the absence of the tourists, will breathe metaphorically a collective sigh of relief—like a whisper of wind—when we are all and finally gone and the place and its creations can return to their ancient procedures unobserved and undisturbed by the busy, anxious, brooding consciousness of man.”

As I read Desert Solitaire, I kept thinking of my favorite piece of art, “Betrayal” by Mario Sanchez Nevado, where Mother Nature, with tears streaming from her eyes, is being held at the gunpoint of industrialization, resting in the hand of a burning, crumbling man. They both have red, puckered lips as if they are about to kiss, if the trigger isn’t pulled first.


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