Double-O-Arch in Arches National Park in Southwestern USA

“Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.” ― Edward Abbey

Edward AbbeyIt was the birthday of novelist and essayist Edward Abbey last week (1/29) and I picked a few of his books off my shelf and read some sections that I had marked years ago in the margins.

He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, but we associate him with the southwest. At 17 years old, he first went to the desert when he hitchhiked and rode the rails across the country.

He did some time back east working for a bit as a caseworker in a welfare office. But the desert called him and he went back and worked as a fire lookout and ranger in Arches National Park. He did that for three years. That period pretty much became his 1968 book Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness . I read that book in high school and wanted very much to hitchhike to the desert.

He is probably best known for his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang which came out when I graduated college. I read about his gang of four environmental warriors and felt like I had missed my opportunity to go cross-country and do my own “on the road” experience.

The Gang “liberates” sections of the Utah and New Mexico wilderness through sabotage. I didn’t want to do any monkey-wrenching. I did want to be in a fire tower, which was a job that seemed to work for a number of writer types including the poet, Gary Snyder, who I much admired.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” ― Edward Abbey

His desert (and Life) advice from the Abbey’s Web is “Enter at your own risk. Carry water. Avoid the noonday sun. Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently. ”

Hayduke and the Gang are fighting those who would develop the Southwest and pollute the land, water, wildlife and air. Their top target is the Glen Canyon Dam. Seldom Seen Smith kneels atop the dam and prays for a “pre-cision earthquake” to remove the “temporary plug” of the Colorado River.

The book is often credited for being the inspiration for real life monkey-wrenchers like Earth First! Abbey’s gang is more on the side of vandalism than eco-terrorism with actions like burning billboards rather than blowing up the dam.

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” ― Edward Abbey

I remember when Edward Abbey died because it was one of my son’s birthdays – March 14, 1989. He was 62. He was at his home in Tucson, Arizona, and the cause was complications from esophageal surgery.

He left burial instructions: he wanted his body transported in the bed of a pickup truck and immediate burial without embalming or a coffin – a “green burial” before the term was used.  He wanted to be placed inside an old sleeping bag. Of course, this disregarded all local laws concerning burial.

“I want my body to help fertilize the growth of a cactus or cliff rose or sagebrush or tree.” said his instructions. “No formal speeches desired, though the deceased will not interfere if someone feels the urge. But keep it all simple and brief.” He also wanted gunfire and bagpipe music, and “a flood of beer and booze! Lots of singing, dancing, talking, hollering, laughing, and lovemaking.”

Abbey is said to be buried in the Cabeza Prieta Desert in Pima County, Arizona, where “you’ll never find it.” It does have a carved marker on a nearby stone, that says has on it what Ed said should be used as his final words: EDWARD PAUL ABBEY, 1927—1989, No Comment.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” ― Edward Abbey