I have some really mixed feelings about this book and the author. He does a wonderful job at painting a picture of the landscape and the nature of the area. “Everything is lovely and wild, with a virginal sweetness. The arches themselves, strange, impressive, grotesque, form but a small and inessential part of the general beauty of this country.” “Dark clouds sailing overhead across the fields of the stars. Stars which are unusually bold and close, with an icy glitter in their light–glints of blue, emerald, gold.” He seems to have such a reverence for the landscape and plants that exist within, but when it comes to animals and other humans, he has almost zero respect.
Abbey treats other living things more like tools than anythings else. The snake was a tool to get rid of the mice, the rabbit was a tool to make him feel closer to nature, the horse as a tool to boost his ego. The way he views other humans, native Americans, or people that are unlike him in their views of the world, is also very low. While this sentiment seems to change some towards the end of the book, it is still there. There is an arrogance that I feel is common for people that, like him, have a disdain for society. That people who are like him are somehow better than those who choose to live in and embrace the developed world.
This study found that environmental degradation disproportionately affects women in issues such as human trafficking and sexual assault. Environmentalists all over the world already face assault and murder in the process of standing up for what they believe in, but women are more likely to be treated negatively through engaging in environmental activism and more likely to see increased gender-based violence in the case of a decreasing lack of access to natural resources. And, this isn’t just limited to the Global South. For example, there was an increase in cases of abuse after Hurricane Michael in 2019 in the regions impacted in the United States.
Page 6- “Standing there, gaping at this monstrous and inhuman spectacle of rock and cloud and sky and space, I feel a ridiculous greed and possessiveness come over me. I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally…” A bit greedy… When I think something is beautiful I always wish my loved ones and closest friends could see it with me.
Page 24- The author scaring off the snakes for no reason… “I follow them for a short distance… For god sake let them go in peace, I tell myself” Also, I researched whether gopher snakes actually keep away rattlesnakes–and they do! It’s because they outcompete them for food.
Page 31- “On the way I pass a large anthill, the domed city of the harvester ants. Omnivorous red devils with a vicious bite, they have denuded the ground surrounding their hill, destroying everything green and living within a radius of ten feet. I cannot resist the impulse to shove my walking stick into the bowels of their hive and rowel things up. Don’t actually care for ants. Neurotic little pismires.” He seems to hate humans and their destructive forces. And then he destroys an anthill just because he doesn’t “actually care for ants.”
Page 45- “A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us-like the rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness-that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours” See page 162 response. (see delicate arch picture attached):
Page 46- “(Where are you now, J. Soderlund? Alva T. Sarvis? John De Bris? Bill Hoy? Malcom Brown?)” I appreciate the frustration of vandalism but maybe publishing their names wasn’t the best idea… I Googled it and can’t seem to find any responses from these people to having their names published.
PAge 162- “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces.” Interesting how the article by William Cronon argued against the deep separation of humans and nature but this writer calls the divide out often.
Page 211- “If industrial man continues to multiply his numbers and expand his operations he will succeed in his apparent intention, to seal himself off from the natural and isolate himself within a synthetic prison of his own making”
Page 267- “that surely was an overwhelming stroke of rare good luck”. Speaking for somebody that died, not cool.
Overall, I thought the writing style was extremely descriptive and creative. I struggled with some of the author’s less interesting passages and I also really disliked some of his insensitivities that I found. His harshness and angriness were occasionally funny but usually I found them obnoxious.
Overall, I liked the end of the book fine and strongly disliked the first half/ two thirds because that’s how long it took me to realize the author was human. I really empathized with some of his experiences in the wilderness because I have had similar ones and know what that’s like. However many of his philosophies about minority groups, religious groups, women and animals I disagree with strongly and can’t tell if some of those are purely his or cultural from the 50s. He is also mildly ablest, but I think his ideas are mostly aimed at cars driven by able bodied people and that his policies could be made more accessible (but still not as good as with roads and cars) with small adjustments.
For example, on page 33 he killed a young rabbit to see if he could, left it there to rot, and felt “mild elation” and “innocence” afterwards. He also stuck his stick through an anthill on page 27. The whole cowboys and indians section he belittles native americans. He tries to capture a basically wild horse, Moon eye just because, and leaves his horse trapped in the sun in a desert in the summer for the whole afternoon without water when he had the chance to leave them by a shady spring and walk (p 147)
I think i’s important, even though this book is kinda messed up, to remember that the author is still human and does care about nature and other people. He recognizes some of his faults(p 226), and misses and has empathy for people (p 233)
House plants are a growing trend in many households for various reasons, but the biggest one being for health, mental and physical. Unfortunately, despite this hobby being green in color, it is not always green in the realm of sustainability. The good news is many of these problems can be mitigated by a few simple changes.
Buy locally grown plants, the less miles they have to travel to get to you the better. This also cuts down on the chance that the plant you are getting was taken from the wild. Another option is to attend swaps and trade with other hobbyists. Re-use your plastic nursery pots that plants come in, most of them can’t be recycled. If possible, get plants that are grown in biodegradable packaging.
There is a rather personal pet peeve of mine that is only mentioned once in the article but I think it is an issue that needs to be addressed. You have probably seen moon cacti, Poinsettias, and plants that have been spray painted for sale. These plants are designed to die, costing you money, especially if you keep replacing them. They are incredibly wasteful as they take time, energy, and water to grow. They are also shipped to stores near you, so they have fossil fuel use attached to them as well. Sometimes these plants are even glued into the pot along with decorative rocks, so when they die, the pot is almost impossible to reuse unless they are removed, which can cause it to break.
While in the overall scheme of things, the houseplant hobby does not have a huge environmental impact, it is a hobby that should do everything it can to reduce its impact to zero.
I think I am going to pursue the eco-friendly toilets idea. Here is some notable information from my preliminary search efforts:
Eco-friendly toilets offer a relatively easy and immediate way to save water. They are more of a necessity in areas that experience drought and face water shortages, but they are becoming more common around the world. In addition to saving water, they are also more economically friendly- meaning businesses and homeowners who switched to eco-friendly toilets eventually save money. In terms of environmentally friendly toilets, they come in two main forms: water-saving toilets and waterless, or composting, toilets. For this project proposal and when considering our geographic location, I think that the water-saving toilet would be the best route.
While they may save you money in the long run, one of the largest concerns of switching to water-saving sanitation systems is the cost. Changing entire sanitation and plumbing systems can be a costly project. Ideally, these water-saving toilets would pay for themselves over a relatively short period of time and would end up as a money saving method in the long run. From a study conducted to examine the costs and benefits of using these systems globally, it was found (in the United States) that “When different cost and benefit assumptions were used, the cost-benefit ratios changed considerably, but even under pessimistic scenarios the potential economic benefits generally outweighed the costs.” (Hutton et. al. 2004)
P4. “Lavender clouds sail like a fleet of ships across the pale green dawn;” This creates a peaceful image.
P6. “Not the work of a cosmic hand, nor sculpted by sand-bearing winds, as many people prefer to believe, the arches came into being and continue to come into being through the modest wedging action of rainwater, melting snow, frost, and ice, aided by gravity.” I thought this was a unique way to explain/ describe weathering.
P7. “The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself,” I find this interesting as up to this page and throughout the entire book, the author uses personification to describe the natural world.
P7. “devoid of all humanly described qualities” Interesting as well- similar to our discussion of whether or not nature and humanity can be united/related/tired together.
P9. Solitaire chapter: “Once a week I may drive the government vehicle to headquarters and Moab for fuel and supplies.” One of the reasons he likes the desert so much is solitude, yet there are many instances where the author hints at loneliness.
P11. Initially describes the rock formations as “geologic chaos”- relates to the idea of wilderness/nature being wild, untamable, dangerous, unknown.
P12. “…urging them to stay and have supper with me.” Again, hints at loneliness.
P13. “…and I become aware for the first time today of the immense silence to which I am lost.”
P15. “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.” I disagree. I feel that a flashlight helps you connect with the natural world at night as you would be unable to see it otherwise.
P16. “…but instead of loneliness I feel loveliness.” I think the author experiences both of these phenomena.
P17. “…raising dust and sand in funnel shaped twisters that spin across the desert briefly, like dancers, and then collapse,” personification of natural elements again.
P20. “… is meant to be among other things a sanctuary for wildlife… it is my duty as a park ranger to protect, preserve, and defend all living things…” This should have been his first thought, not an afterthought… the sole purpose of his job.
P31. “… the domed city of the harvester ants.” This author has a habit of using characteristics of human life and civilization to examine nature yet despises this very act.
P35. “It is undoubtedly a desert place, clean, pure, totally useless, quite unprofitable.” I find the term useless here to be out of place. The desert is his sanctuary? So clearly it has several uses.
P39. “Even if I found them and somehow succeeded in demonstrating my friendship and good will, why should I lead them to believe that anything manlike can be trusted? That is no office for a friend.” This pattern of him trying to be “friends” with the wildlife is interesting. He wants to befriend the natural world, but he speaks to it harshly. How does he truly feel?
P55. “Industrial Tourism has arrived.” He is not pleased with others increasing interest in his desert.
P58-59. The author hashes out the various points of view of people coming to the desert. While Nature needs to remain protected and undeveloped, it is also important to allow people to experience nature at some point so that they understand the need to conserve and protect it.
P65. “I now feel entitled to make some constructive, practical, sensible proposals for the salvation of both parks and people.” Some of these are not very sensible or practical. For instance, to a certain extent, cars need to be in national parks. How will people get to these parks? What if there is an accident and a rescue team needs to get to someone, how would they go about doing so? I don’t think roads should lace throughout the park but to an extent they are needed for entry and navigation.
P75. “For my own part I seldom take rocks home…” I agree with this sentiment as taking shells, rocks, etc. is extremely common. However, if someone pockets two rocks in the vast Utah desert, does that take away from the environment/natural experience for everyone else? If that specific rock makes someone entranced with this habitat then I think one less rock would be beneficial in supporting interest and passion towards the wilderness.
P106. “He has been infected with the poison of prejudice.” This chapter delves into different issues outside of the desert.
P120. “… the solitary confinement of the mind.” Again, solitude and ways to solve it.
P141. “This would be a good country if only you had some water.” Educating tourists again, the desert is a drastically different environment, unique and important in its own way.
P146. “…few traces of animal life.” In class we defined wilderness as having animals, but that is not always the case (at least not in surplus).
P157. “To human ears their music has a bleak, dismal, tragic quality.” Speak for yourself, I would never describe frog calls as being “bleak” or “tragic” -they are exuberant and jovial.
P163. The wilderness should be preserved for political reasons.” Hmm. The preparations for this section do not make sense to me. I am confused as to his thought processes and motive.
P175. I found the moon blindness story to be very interesting. This is such a bizarre and bewildering story. Relates back to him trying to be friends with nature, yet I still do not understand how the author truly feels about the animals here.
P211. “…to seal himself off from the natural and isolate himself within a synthetic prison of his own making.” I feel that the author is filled with bitterness and disdain towards all of humanity.
P219. “God provides.” This statement seems controversial as throughout the book he states that the desert and formation of this environment is not from any divine hand, but from the earth itself. But now God is playing a factor.
P225. “A predawn wind comes sifting and sighing through the cottonwood trees; the sound of their dry, papery leaves is like the murmur of distant water, or like the whispering of ghosts in an accident, sacrosanct, condemned cathedral.” Again using human qualities to describe the natural world surrounding him, however it also provides a peaceful ambiance.
P226. “Civilization needs us.” But he is not willing to accept civilization? Or at least people?
Music Temple in Glenn Canyon, 1959
P243. “…landscape of the Colorado is like a section of eternity-timeless.” I love this description, I think all of nature is timeless.
P247. “There I lived, mostly alone except for the ghosts, for the next thirty-five days.”
P249. “What did I do during those five weeks in Eden?” Another biblical reference?
P251. “In contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” Again desiring solitude, unwilling to share this wilderness.
P285. Home. Now refers to the trailer as home.
P301. “Despite its clarity and simplicity, however, the desert wears at the same time, paradoxically, a veil of mystery.” The wilderness remains a mystery, the unknown.