Posts Tagged ‘Jack Loeffler’

Was Edward Abbey A Mystic?

September 12th, 2011

Jack Loeffler And Edward Abbey Discuss Mysticism While Camped At The Strait Of Hell On The West Coast Of Sonora, Mexico

White Herons, Playa, Baja California, Mexico, copyright 1981 by Philip Hyde.

In his biography of Edward Abbey, Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey, Jack Loeffler described traveling, friendship and working with Edward Abbey on various environmental campaigns. In one chapter Jack Loeffler told a story about exploring and car camping with the “Thoreau of the West” and his wife Clarke Cartwright Abbey on the west coast of Mainland Old Mexico. “On a dirt road that extended from El Desemboque to Kino Bay,” Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey made camp.

They dubbed their camp “Osprey Bay” because they could see “no fewer than five inhabited osprey nests…” and during the day they could see osprey aloft nearly all the time. To get to the camp they had traveled several hundred miles from the U. S. border. Their camp was across Estrecho Infiernillo, or the Strait of Hell, from Baja California with Tiburon Island and Shark Island a few miles out in the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California. Nineteenth century explorers called the narrow passage between Mexico and Baja California the Strait of Hell because during high tide and low tide, in some conditions, treacherous currents and sand bars tended to obstruct navigation and still do today. “There we remained for the better part of two weeks, hiking, floating in the rubber raft, avoiding stingrays, eating, drinking cold beer and warm beer, and even considering thinking about working.”

Edward Abbey made forays for firewood. Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey dug a fire pit and lined it with large rocks in which they put a giant stuffed Turkey that Clarke Abbey had wrapped frozen before the trip. In the evening after their first Turkey feast when “the sound of the surf lulled them into a collective reverie,” Edward Abbey and Jack Loeffler set out on a walk east toward the mountains a few miles away:

The moon was bright. The air was warm. There was no wind. The conditions were ideal for a nighttime stroll near the Straight of Hell. We spoke very little for the first mile or so. We finally crossed the main north-south road and followed a trail continuing east. We were able to walk abreast and listen to the night sounds.

“Jack.”

“Ed.”

“Do you consider yourself a mystic?”

“Wow, I have to think about that for a minute. Do you?”

“Consider you a mystic? Yes.”

Consider yourself a mystic.”

“I asked you first.”

We stumbled along the trail for a bit.

“Probably no more than you do,” I replied vaguely. “Is there any vestigial Presbyterianism left in you?”

“Oh maybe a remnant or two left over from my childhood… But I was asking if you were a mystic?”

“It’s ironic, when I was in college, I was one of the two professed atheists on the campus. It took me years to realize that my sense of atheism was mostly the result of semantics. I certainly didn’t and don’t believe in an anthropomorphic god in any biblical sense. It seems that somehow I’ve intuited the presence of some principle or urge that the English language, at least, isn’t prepared to define. I suppose any religious feelings I have stem from the way I feel about the Earth and about consciousness. I’ve suspected for a long time that the planet is the living organism and that life is the way the planet perceives. We’re just a step along the way. Humans, I mean. We’re really not all that important when you think about it.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Ed. “But what about a sense of purpose? I wonder if we have any purpose in a higher sense. It seems like you spend years trying to absolve yourself from your childhood biases. If you’re really interested, that is.”

“What about you, Ed? Have you ever had a sense of the mystical?”

“Well, as you know, I’ve always tried to follow the truth no matter where it leads. And intellectually, I’ve tried to come to terms with reality by examining the evidence of my own five good bodily senses that I was born with, using my mind to the best of my ability. But there was a time back in Death Valley where I had what I guess was as close to a mystical experience as I’ve ever had. That was years ago. I was a young man. I’ve never had anything quite like it since. As close as I’ve come is after I’ve been out camping somewhere for at least two weeks. It takes at least that long for me to really get into it and leave all the baggage behind.”

“Can you describe what happened back then?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not something that’s easy to remember intellectually. It was more the way I felt. As I recall, I felt like I wasn’t separated from anything else. I was by myself at the time. It was as if I could almost perceive some fundamental activity taking place all around me. Everything was alive, even the rocks. I was part of it. Not separate from it at all. I wept for joy or something akin to joy that I can’t really describe. It was a long time ago. It’s not something that can be remembered in the normal way, or at least normal for me. The only time I can get close to it is out camping. I don’t get to do that enough. Not nearly enough.”

See a video of Jack Loeffler on the role of artists in environmental activism… Or, read more about Edward Abbey and how he met and wrote Slickrock with Philip Hyde in the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?

Who Was Edward Abbey?

October 14th, 2010

Edward Abbey: The Thoreau of the American West

Green River At Hardscrabble Bottom, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, 1971 by Philip Hyde. First published in "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah," 1971, in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series. (RAW SCAN--not yet printing.) Edward Abbey's caption for this photograph in "Slickrock" was "Hardscrabble Bottom along the Green. A great good place. A man could whittle away his life down here and never lose a minute."

(See the RAW SCAN of the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Novelist, essayist, philosopher, conservationist, environmentalists, social critic, gadfly, anarchist, self-declared extremist, lover, father, original monkey wrencher and author of 21 books of fiction and non-fiction, Edward Abbey may have been one of the most popular writers to take the American West and most often the Southwest as his subject. Larry McMurtry called Edward Abbey, “The Thoreau of the American West.”

Edward Abbey attracted a cult following but was uncomfortable with it. His books today enjoy an ever-widening readership, as the modern environmental movement that he helped popularize continues to grow. Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey’s crowning achievement is a lament for wilderness lost, a celebration of a quiet life in the desert landscape and a portrayal of the Southwest unlike any other. Edward Abbey’s enjoyable romping anarchist novel The Monkey Wrench Gang is on a similar list for environmental activists who would prevent the plundering of natural resources. His wry wit and vivid prose carry on the legend of Edward Abbey.

Edward Abbey And Philip Hyde Meet In Canyonlands

In the introduction to Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde, John G. Mitchell, editor of Sierra Club Books, described how Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde first met in a remote part of Canyonlands National Park:

Edward Abbey and a friend had been exploring a small canyon near the Doll’s House (In the Maze, Canyonlands). Friend, scrambling solo, encounters man with tripod on the rimrock. Cameraman explains he is doing a book. Funny, friend says, so is my buddy. Cameraman asks identity of buddy. Edward Abbey, says Friend. Funny, says Cameraman, same book. Friend hollers down canyon: Hey, Ed. Guy up here says you’re collaborators. Abbey scrambles up. Ed Abbey, says Friend, meet Philip Hyde.

Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde Describe Each Other

There will be more on Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah in blog posts to come. In Slickrock, Edward Abbey described Philip Hyde. His description is on the home page of PhilipHyde.com. For more about Philip Hyde in Canyonlands see the blog post, “Earth Day Celebration Of Ardis And Philip Hyde And Canyonlands.” Philip Hyde also described Edward Abbey on the back flap of the original 1971 edition of Slickrock:

I remember Abbey in a sandstone window overlooking a maze of canyons that wind off toward the deep gorge of the Colorado River. He was chewing on a blade of grass and his sombrero was low again in observance of sundown. Darkness was coming on fast. Time to return to camp. Abbey removed the hat and holding it level, slowly extended his arm toward the big river. Though it struck me as an unusual gesture, it was at once natural and moving. Abbey, saluting the Slickrock with that silly sombrero, reaching out to the stark chiseled bounties of that wild beyond.

Edward Abbey On How To Get To Know Canyon Country

One of Edward Abbey’s most well-known quotes gives advice on how to connect with the natural world:

Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the Canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the…cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.

Greg Russell of Alpenglow Images wrote a thoughtful post yesterday called “Aspen Trees and Staying Close to Home” in which he wrote about Edward Abbey and also decided to photograph near his home rather than traveling for Fall color. His results were just as fine, in my opinion.

A Tribute To Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey born in Pennsylvania in 1927, now has a state historical marker commemorating his birth and life:

Author and defender of wilderness,
most famous for his two books Desert
Solitaire
and The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Born in Indiana, Pa., in 1927, Abbey grew
up in and around the village of Home.
Although he moved to the western U.S.
in 1948, books such as Appalachian
Wilderness
, The Journey Home, and The
Fool's Progress
describe his native
county, where he learned to love nature.
Abbey died in Tucson, Arizona, in 1989.

PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM COMMISSION 1996

From an environmental activism perspective, possibly the most important historical fact about Edward Abbey is that he helped start the environmental organization called Black Mesa Defense Fund, the first radical environmental group, after which Dave Foreman later patterned Earth First. The Black Mesa Defense Fund direct-action campaign against the strip mining on Black Mesa, shared by the Navajo and Hopi people, was organized by the American Indian Movement, Edward Abbey, Marc Gaede (a photographer and environmentalist who also taught a few workshops with Philip Hyde), and others in 1970. Black Mesa Defense Fund is considered the first modern-day environmental confrontational protest organization.

Edward Abbey References

(Click on each for more information or to purchase)

Abbey’s Web

Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

The Monkey Wrench Gang By Edward Abbey

Down the River by Edward Abbey

The Serpents of Paradise by Edward Abbey

Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside by Edward Abbey

Resist Much Obey Little: Remembering Ed Abbey edited by James R. Hepworth and Gregory McNamee

Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey by Edward Abbey

Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey by Jack Loeffler

Edward Abbey: A Life by James M. Cahalan

Epitaph For A Desert Anarchist: The Life And Legacy Of Edward Abbey by James Bishop, Jr.