Thoughts on Desert Solitaire:
Edward Abbey, while often portraying himself as a pompous prick and an arrogant know-it-all, is an intriguing writer and has composed a book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. His unique writing style and use of anecdotes throughout the book sustained my interest long enough to not only get me through a single chapter, but to compel me to continue reading several chapters after. While some of his stories seem contradictory and controversial, I find that they speak a lot of truth about wilderness and human response to an area of untouched land.
A chapter that particularly sticks out to me is “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks” (pages 48-73). It is this chapter that Abbey gets straight to the point: progress at the hands of humans will essentially lead to the downfall of untouched land. The three men from the Bureau of Public Roads stop by and lay down the master plan for establishing a new road into the Arches. Abbey is taken aback by this information and attempts to convince himself that this plan will never work, that he was dealing with madmen. Of course, this master plan is fulfilled and the roads are made much to Abbey’s dismay. On page 55, he states, “Progress has come at last to the Arches, after a million years of neglect. Industrial Tourism has arrived.” I found this quote to be particularly sad, considering Abbey cares so much for the land. He is one of few people (if any others at all) that appreciated the land for what it was and noticed every striking detail about its beauty. While he enjoyed his job dealing with tourists, he also enjoyed the lack of tourists that he had to deal with. It is within this chapter that Abbey proceeds to devise a number of ways that tourists could still visit the Arches without the addition of a new road, or at least without the use of vehicles. There is so much irony to be found in the convenience of driving a vehicle around a national park simply because it is comfortable and doesn’t require expending physical energy to get from one place to the other. Abbey finds this to be absolutely ridiculous, and so he comes up with a perfectly good list of ways to get around the use of vehicles. I really liked this part of the book because while his ideas seem nearly perfect, there will still be people that complain. Personally, I think that if you can’t manage to enjoy a national park for the beauty of your surroundings because your right to drive a vehicle has been stripped from you, then don’t visit a national park. Period. As Abbey says, it is far more worthwhile to spend two whole weeks in a single national park than to visit dozens of parks in two weeks. Where’s the joy in that? Finally in this chapter, I absolutely loved pages 71 and 72. I will extract specific sentences that I found pleasing from a few paragraphs on these pages:
“The parks, they say, are for people. Very well. … We shall erect a billboard one hundred feet high, two hundred feet wide, gorgeously filigreed in bright neon and outlined with blinker lights, exploding stars, flashing prayer wheels and great Byzantine phallic symbols that gush like geysers every thirty seconds.” First of all, that is amazing. Let me continue. “Behind the fireworks will loom the figure of Smokey the Bear… Push a button and Smokey will recite… in a voice ursine, loud, and clear, the message spelled out on the face of the billboard.” There’s that long list of vehicles, which I thought was hilarious, and then the message ends with, “Enjoy yourselves. This here park is for people.”
Abbey is so relentlessly sarcastic and confident in his beliefs that it just astounds me to no end.
Another chapter that I’d like to quickly touch base on is “Rocks”. Starting on page 82, the chapter goes on for 19 pages about Albert Tusk and his search for uranium. It almost felt like the genre of the book had completely shifted to action and suspense, considering all that had happened to Tusk and his son, Billy-Joe. I found this chapter to be particularly sad as well. Firstly, it’s sad that Billy-Joe had to die after he had survived for as long as he could despite getting hit with Charles Graham’s bullet. Secondly, this chapter, to me, spoke of true human nature and how humans will do anything to obtain what they desire even if for the most selfish reasons. Not only was it selfish of Tusk to put his entire family in harm’s way, but it was also selfish to dig in to the land to find uranium even after Graham had given him a warning. It was entirely preventable as well as completely unnecessary. Even after befriending Graham, Tusk was still killed at the hands of selfish progress.
Environmental news item:
Researchers recently discovered parasitoid wasps encased within 55 fossilized fly pupae. This goes to show that parasitism has been evolving for millions of years! The arms race between host and parasite is a never-ending struggle between two organisms out-competing the other.