Posts Tagged ‘West Coast’

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?