Sunday, September 22, 2013

Edward Abbey, an Overview

In my younger years, I remember watching two seemingly unrelated movies that made an impact on me: Lonely Are the Brave (1962, starring Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, Carroll O'Connor, Gena Rowlands, and George Kennedy) and Fire on the Mountain (1981, starring Buddy Ebsen and Ron Howard). I was particularly moved by the central characters, men who were essentially standing firm in the onslaught of progress. This is a theme I personally relate to. I'm something of a fossil myself, and for many things I prefer the old ways.

What I didn't know at the time that I saw these movies is that both were based on books written by Edward Abbey. Since then, I've become something of a fan of Edward Abbey and can identify to some degree with his attitudes towards the environment. Now, don't misunderstand -- I don't aspire to eco-terrorism or anything extreme like that, but I am a naturalist who wants to be a good steward of the earth, and Abbey does have something to say on this matter.

I've not read all the works of Abbey, but I've read many. If you are interested at all in the environment, especially that of the Southwest, then here is a pretty good list of Abbey works you might consider.
  • Desert Solitaire (if you have read The Last Season by Eric Blehm, you will see a lot of Randy Morgenson in here)
  • Down the River
  • The Brave Cowboy (the basis for Lonely Are the Brave referenced above)
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang
  • Hayduke Lives
  • The Fool's Progress (don't even try this book unless you are a fan of Abbey)
Abbey was quite an interesting man. He was born January 29, 1927, and spent his formative years in Pennsvylvania. Immediately following graduation from high school, he drifted towards the American Southwest, particularly the Four Corners region, and fell under the spell of the desert.

Abbey was drafted at the tail end of WWII. Following his brief two-year stint in the military, he took advantage of the GI Bill and attended the University of New Mexico, where he received a BA degree in 1951 (philosophy and English) and a Master's degree in 1956 (philosophy).

In 1956 and 1957, he worked as a seasonal ranger at Arches National Monument, an experience which formed the basis of his well received and respected work, Desert Solitaire, published several years later in 1968. Personally, this is my favorite non-fiction work by Abbey, and it was one reason why I visited that park last year.

Throughout the 1960s, Abbey continued to work at various parks around the country, all the while churning out novels and other writings. He was something of a controversial figure, espousing anarchism and opposing the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, for example. Because of his novel the Money Wrench Gang, many consider him the father of eco-terrorism.

Not even death could tame Abbey, who requested that his friends bury him in an undisclosed location in the Arizona desert in his sleeping bag so that he could serve as fertilizer to the desert plants. He died March 14, 1989, in Tucson following surgery to correct a problem with his veins. His friends carried out his final request.

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