Edward Abbey: The Thoreau of the American West
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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)
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
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.