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.”