Monday, August 07, 2006

Long Lost Letters from Ed Abbey

There has been no more influential writer, for me, than the "buzzard in the dead tree," the old desert curmudgeon Edward Abbey. Author of the singularly powerful Desert Solitaire, the Earth First!-inspiring Monkey Wrench Gang, and a host of other novels and collections of essays, Abbey's words continue to inspire generations of environmentalists in the Western U.S. and elsewhere.

And now there are a few more words, courtesy Orion, which in the July/August 2006 issue has published a series of previously unpublished letters, and as expected, they are classic Ed, and an absolute must-read for Abbey fans.

What many folks may not realize is that, at his core, Abbey is an eco-philosopher, and a damn good one. Take this example, from one of the Orion letters:

"I no longer have much interest in the supernatural, or what is mistakenly referred to as 'mystical' events and experience. That kind of search belongs to the youthful stage of life, both in the individual and in the race. I now find the most marvelous things in the everyday, the ordinary, the common, the simple and tangible.

"For example: one cloud over one mountain. Or a trickle of water seeping from stone after a twenty-mile walk through the desert. Or the smile of recognition on the face of your own child when she hasn't seen you around for several hours. These are the deepest joys, as we learn to understand when we go into the middle age of life.

"The love of a man for his wife, his child, of the land where he lives and works, is for me the real meaning of mystical experience. Those who waste their whole lives hungering for fantastic and occult sensations are suffering from retarded emotional development and stunted imaginations. One world and one life at a time, please. I have no desire to be reborn until I have exhausted every possibility of this life in this time on these few hundred square miles of earth I call my home."

While all ten letters are worth reading, my favorites are the numbered-response letter to Karen Evans, 18 June 1984, and a response to a book review in the form of a letter to the editors of New York Review, New York City, 30 March 1973.

Yet another reason Orion is simply the best environmental magazine out there. More importantly, yet more proof that old Ed, the likely cantakerous ghost in the gully, is still with us.


Sheryl said...

I read Desert Solitaire years ago and was not paying close attention. I think I was young and thinking about the supernatural.
I think now that I am in middle age, Abbey's work sounds interesting to me. I have mostly been reading poetry, but lately I think all the eco stuff sounds good and his style here is almost peaceful to read. I did read him along with Robinson Jeffers and I remember a discussion about the two in terms of the environment or nature. I think I was disinterested in the idea of environmentalism 10-15 years ago, and now, somehow, I think these eco writers matter and will matter.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Well, reading Abbey can be a bit like pouring salt in a wound, no doubt. But Desert Solitaire especially is a real wakeup call. Might I also suggest (and perhaps reading these first would be better): Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams, and A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. There are countless other "classics," of course, but I'd start with those.