Desert Solitaire

I must say I am a bit envious of Edward Abbey’s initial job. It reminds me a lot of when I volunteered at The Rhino Orphanage (TRO) in South Africa. I showed up at TRO late on a cold night just as Abbey showed up to his station. I too was given a small room shared with creatures of the bush. I however, don’t think I would ever be as bold as Abbey to try and domesticate a snake.

There’s just something about living in the wilderness that makes you take each day so much differently than we do now. For example, when it’s dark our instincts are to turn a on a light or the flashlight on our phones. I found, just as Abbey did, that flashlights can be a dangerous thing in the wilderness. While you can now see what’s right in front of you, you’ve also blocked yourself out of all the darkness. You are also separating yourself from the environment. In South Africa you could not go out at night without a flashlight, because black mambas are pretty common and they are the last thing you want to run into. So I would have the flashlight down straight in front of me, which then forced my eyes down and blocked me from seeing what was straight ahead. I always felt exposed when I had my flashlight out, like every animal was looking where this source of light was coming from, but I couldn’t see them. Just another example of technological advances that continue to separate us from nature.

Abbey begins to introduce the troubles humans have brought the area. By killing coyotes, mountain lions, etc. they are removing the predators of herbivores like deer and porcupines. The deer and porcupines then only become limited by food, which means their carrying capacity increases dramatically. This means there are much higher rates of starvation. While Abbey didn’t mention this, I imagine this also had a negative impact on the flora; not that the flora is usually very abundant, but enough to make a noticeable difference. When herbivore populations become out of control plant life suffers. This can lead to a crash in both the plant and herbivore’s populations. Humans always want to control predator populations for our own protection, but that causes severe crash and booms of other species’ populations, which could be equally as dangerous for us.

As my conservation biology class prepares to participate in the Mock Convention we are learning about the Republican party’s environmental platform and ways to help persuade them to invest more in environmental issues. For this reason, I began to think of the developers as republicans. On page 48 Abbey says,

The Developers insist that the parks must be made fully accessible not only to people but also their machines, that is, to automobiles, motorboats, etc.

Republicans are more favorable of the idea that individuals all have rights to their land and should be able to do with it as they please. The preservers, on the otherhand, are not denying people access to the land, they just want restrictions as to what you can do on that land. Developers, very similar to Republicans, feel we need to go beyond just allowing access to the land, but to let people do so on the individual’s terms. This often means visiting from the comfort of their vehicle. Basically they have the right to drive their vehicle and should not be stopped from doing so, no matter the costs. Unfortunately, what the developers, and in my opinion Republicans, do not understand is that means uneducated tourists are allowed to come in and abuse the land, which subsequently ruins it for future tourists.

On that note, not only is it not necessary to drive vehicles up to to the very edge, it ruins the experience. While in Ecuador for the island biology travel learning course we were brought to this forest to go see a bunch of waterfalls. We filled up our water bottles, put on these horribly uncomfortable galoshes, and made our way up this mountain/forest. It was a solid 5 mile hike to the waterfalls and 5 miles back. Ask anyone that went, that day would not have been nearly as fun had we driven up to the waterfalls. We would have missed the toucans performing their mating ritual, cows that were left to graze for the day, many other creatures, and not to mention the relaxing time spent just walking out in the fresh air. While the destination might be amazing, beautiful, picturesque, it’s getting there where the memories are made. It’s such a shame that people think the only way to draw more visitors and make a better profit is to ruin the best part of the trip. Edward Abbey said it best,

“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles

Abbey continues to present his distaste for humans industrialization of the area when he says,

“No lack of water unless you try to establish a city where a city should not be…” (p. 159)

Just as with the Meadowlands we are developing areas that are not meant to be inhabited by humans. Areas that can only support a small population of humans are constantly being loaded with more humans than the land can actually support. Unfortunately, it’s rarely us that suffers, but rather the land, the animals, the ecosystem.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and appreciate Abbey’s thoughts and work.


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