Desert Solitaire

September 17, 2014

Abbey’s Desert Solitaire confronted a lot of the complexities of the human connection to nature. Throughout the book, he seems to contradict himself, but I think he is just addressing the multiple perspectives one can appreciate nature. One of the main sources of seemingly contradictory statements is when he talks about sacred vs. secular views of nature. Some moments he appears to be taking a highly romanticized and spiritual view of nature. He says he is trying to make a spiritual connection with the half dead, half blooming Jupiter tree, but has failed. He personifies the tree, as well as many other animals, plants, and places throughout the book, and tries to relate with them. Later in the book, he describes the desert at noon with an extremely harsh realism: “Noon is the crucial hour: the desert reveals itself naked and cruelly, with no meaning but it’s own existence.”  Even though he says this, there is something undeniable romantic about his connection with the desert, which he once used the word “magic” to describe it with. Maybe this is him searching for the spiritual connection, like the one with the Jupiter, but he has yet to find a way to articulate it?

It is easier to see his contradicting view by how he treats other living organisms. One of my favorite parts is when he is considering killing the rattle snake, which he insists “would be like murder–plus, where would I put my coffee?” This instant change from showing empathy toward a fellow living creature was immediately overshadowed by a factor of convenience. This theme of convenience vs. ethics is also a common theme throughout the book, and Abbey is by no means a saint in the ethics category. He bashes society for simply doing what is convenient throughout the book, but many times himself gives into what is easier. Anyway, back to animals. The rabbit experiment was also an acknowledgement of two seemingly contradictory views of killing. After killing the rabbit, he “rejoiced in his innocence and power”. At first it seems impossible that the brutal killing of a living being could go together with a feeling on innocence, but he was part of the natural order of things when he directly took a life to sustain a life. I think the simplicity and the clean kill, acknowledging the suffering of an animal, but determining it necessary to go toward another life, is as innocent as the process of eating flesh can get.

I think Abbey is trying to grasp the awe of nature in whatever way he can, and trying to find multiple ways to persuade the audience to see the deeper satisfaction in life when you embrace this highly complex world surrounding our “man-made shells.”

September 17, 2014

Desert Solitaire

As discussed in class Conan, Sullivan and now Abbey have focused on the view of wilderness. However, Abbeys view has a very different approach to the view of wilderness. This is that humans have actually destroyed wilderness out of greed and the wilderness that remains is some way contaminated with human destruction.  A perfect example in the book is when he is talking about the Glen Canyon Dam and how it has ruined the area, “original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us—if only we were worthy of it.”  Continuing Abbey gives more and more examples of how humans have impacted the wilderness and also bout Industrialized Tourism and how these wild areas are actually turning into money farms. He brings out a point talking about how a government would rather have their people in a closed quartered area for total control such as a large city where they can track and find everyone. Which was interesting to me was that he brought out the value of wilderness and how the government is secretly destroying it without people knowing.

As the book progress we can see his loneliness sets in and how it is the style of the dessert and to feel lonely is ok and it belongs with the wilderness. However he brings up the fact of it being therapeutic and giving someone the ability to free their mind and be isolated.  Overall though I thought the book out a major point and that was the destruction of wilderness and it is due to humans populating and using it. However this point can be pretty contradictive to him because he is experiencing it himself so this could be problematic because when would you cross the line to destroying the wilderness to experience it. Going further when would a campground turn into actually destroying the wilderness around it. I think that is a good question since Abbey plays a double standard by staying in the wild yet criticizing people who do the same.

Good Questions

Where can we draw the line with experience wilderness?

As abbey said  “original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us—if only we were worthy of it” how can we change the way our wilderness is experienced today?

When it comes to national parks and campgrounds what roles do they play in preserving the wilderness and also how does that impact the surrounding wilderness and when does that wilderness become “industrialized tourism”.

Has the Heat Gone to His Head? Desert Solitaire Review

September 10, 2013

Desert Solitaire has some valid points, but I feel the book is very disjointed.  I am unsure at times why he did not organize the book better.  The author, Edward Abbey, has very good diction when describing the land around him and the love of his job.  I can’t help but feel as if I am there, but at the same time his rants about the stupidity of people, the government etc. really does sour the book.  I do agree with his point of view of leaving the wilderness of the national parks alone, but at the same time he does not acknowledge the fact that humanity has touched everywhere.  This includes the areas that we think are protected.  Pollution of all types and even our ancestors have left tangible and figurative footprints on earth.  It is almost like anything we do is in fact is like leaving a footprint on the moon.

I can give Desert Solitaire some slack since the book is 45+ years past the times.   We have come along way in protecting the environment, but our efforts are still not enough.   The human population continues to grow at an exponential rate.  People have become more wealthy and can go visit the national parks.  While, it contributes to the industrial tourist, the author talks about, more people are able to go to places to learn to appreciate the wonders of the United States.  It is in this that we can teach the next generations about preserving the Earth.  We are privileged to have the national parks and the governmental agencies that own them.   I do agree with Abbey that the government may not do the best, but for the time that the national parks have been around, they have endured and expanded.  I don’t think I have met someone who is against the idea of national parks.

National parks are national treasures and are places that could not exist unless they were set aside.  While they are national treasures, they are also national resources.  As natural resources, they are a source of revenue for the United States and away to attract people from around the world.  There are areas that are very popular in national parks that people visit in troves every year, but there are still areas that are dangerous and inaccessible to people.  The roads may bring the people, but the average person is not a hardcore hiker or adventurer.   Abbey does point out how dangerous Arches National Park is and the canyons that lay within its boarders.  He does not seem to understand that people cannot be prevented from going to these places.  The government owns the land and can there for do what they please with it.

Abbey is not happy with the fact that the government chose to make national parks more accessible.  He wants to limit human interaction.  It seems to me that he wants to limit people all together, except those who have the skill to go. Those people he describes the most are the Native Americans and the now dead traditional cowboy culture. These people are reliant on themselves, but even Abbey explains that the Native Americans are subjected to civilization as everyone else it.  They, at the time, the book was written, were poor and subclass.   The youth want to be more integrated in society while the elders try to preserve their culture.   As a white man writing an opinion on this matter, I feel that Abby has no reason to write on such matters.  He does not know what it is like to be them.  He is merely an outsider looking in.  Even when he studies the cowboys, he can’t even seem to understand the disappointment of the last cowboys as they watch their way of life fade into the environment which they sprang from.


Exploitation of the wilderness and the people living in the area is evident (rocks, waterway damming, mineral mining etc.).  Yet, I feel that Abbey just complains about everything that is wrong in his book and does not try to do something about it.  There is no way a modern person can live in the world like that today.  He just works his seasonal job a lot, too hot and thirsty, letting his mind wonder.  Overall, I find his book nothing but a man detailing the pretty desert then randomly complaining about societies current situations.

Interesting Quotes:

  • “The word “shrub” presents a challenge, a least to such verse as this;but poetry is nothing if not exact.  The poets lie too much” (28).
  • In reference to uranium: “The miner would disregard this danger, so vague, theoretical and intangible (to him)” (80)
  • “The horned owl may be the natural enemy of the rabbit but surely the rabbit is the natural friend of the horned owl” (123).
  • “There is no indication that the men who carved and painted the figures made any attempt to compose them into coherent murals; endless variety of style, subject, and scale suggests the work of many individuals from different times and places who for one reason or another came by, stopped, camped for days or weeks and left a sign of their passing on the rock” (126).
  • “Bureau of Indian Affairs…like most government agencies always meddling” (250).

A Harsh and Hostile Land?

January 31, 2012

Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire is exactly what he proclaims it to be in his introduction – an elegy (xii). This novel portrays a beautiful, often overlooked landscape that has been threatened by civilization and the strength of capitalism. In his novel Abbey beautifully describes the Moab desert and Arches National Park, where he worked as a Park Ranger. In his descriptions he confronts the ultimate decision – whether it is preferable to live within civilization or on its margins in the wilderness. At many points it seems as though his conclusion is obvious, particularly when he makes statements such as, “I’m a humanist; I’d rather kill a man than a snake” (20). To doubt the intensity with which Abbey believes nature and man are interconnected would be foolish when he makes these claims.

Of course, the next question becomes “What is wilderness?” Even Abbey admits “we scarcely know what we mean by the term” (189). In the novel Abbey is describing a National Park, thereby automatically including some human element that has acted upon nature. He claims “it is the primary responsibility of the national park system to preserve intact and undiminished what little still remains” (54). What sacrifices would this entail, both for the wilderness area being protected and society as a whole? Certainly it would help to conserve wilderness, but does that mean old people and small children cannot witness it’s beauty?

I agree with Abbey that more needs to be done to protect wilderness areas, and that the government should refrain from developing them to such a great extent. Yet, some concessions must be made, otherwise, how is one to experience something of that magnitude? I myself have witnessed the convergence of wilderness and civilization; had I not, this view of a rainforest in Costa Rica would not have been possible.Another aspect that must be considered  when deciding to what extent civilization should be allowed to encroach upon wilderness is human contact itself. Abbey, a strong proponent of living in the wilderness and being free of the constraints of civil society, admits “that the one thing better than solitude, the only thing better than solitude, is society” (111). Our definition of wilderness must ultimately include some aspect of civilization – the two are intrinsically connected and cannot exist without one another. Our very definition of wilderness has been shaped by civilization. Abbey’s novel is a beautiful portrayal of the American desert and of a wilderness that is not as desolate or dangerous as it may at first seem. I agree with him that preserving such wilderness areas is important, though empathize more with his belief that there must somehow be a connection with civil society lest “alone-ness become loneliness” (111).