I have three confessions to make here at the moment:
First confession: Edward Abbey was and remains one of my most favorite authors. A most appropriate comment, and it will remain true through the rest of my days.
Second confession: When I learned of Abbey’s death in 1989, I cried at our loss of a fierce defender of the natural world. Then I called my Mom and talked with her about Abbey and proceeded to start crying again. A most inappropriate set of reactions.
Mom wasn’t impressed. I will note that during the previous year she had attended a reading by Abbey specifically because I was such a huge fan of his. She purchased The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel (1988) and asked Abbey to sign it for me. He did, and wrote “to Andy – best regards! Ed Abbey.” Mom sent it to me in Japan, where I was stationed at the time, and where I was – no doubt – celebrating my birthday. Mom wrote “For Andy – Who introduced me to E.A.’s writings – With love, Mom 11-3-88” It is one of my prized possessions.
Cry at the death of Ed Abbey? Abbey would have been the first to ridicule me. Hey, I was sad and young and I didn’t know any better!
It would have been more appropriate for me to celebrate his voice and work. Desert Solitaire (1968), a beautiful work containing bits of memoir and natural history of Arches National Monument in Utah, remains – in my opinion – one of the finest volumes of observations of the natural world. His description of two snakes intertwined in an intimate embrace is excellent, comical, and most memorable. Desert Solitaire was Abbey’s opening salvo in defense of nature, and specifically, of the American West. It also contained a withering attack on what he called “industrial tourism.” The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) is one of my favorite novels, and I’ve read it a number of times now. It is an unforgettable novel. It added a phrase to our lexicon, “to monkey wrench” (or “monkeywrenching”) or to gum up the works of the industrial colossus consuming everything and polluting without conscience or consequence.
Third confession: I was never afraid of Edward Abbey; I was a fan from the day I started reading Desert Solitaire! His essays, book length nonfiction, and novels are essential statements against environmental degradation and destruction. His truth telling made him lots of enemies; curiously, he had enemies on the right and on the left. As maddening and as politically incorrect as he could be at times, Abbey was outspoken and fearless in defense of the American West. In this role he was without peer.
Unfortunately, I never met Ed Abbey.
Years later I read that after his death, friends of Abbey had gathered in his honor, poured a shot of tequila and placed it on the fireplace mantel. Then they proceeded to drink tequila, party and celebrate his life through the night and deep into the morning hours. When people started waking up, someone noticed that the shot glass on the mantel was empty.
Those of us who feel similarly might gather together, soon enough. We’ll pour a shot of tequila and leave it on the mantel. We’ll raise shots of tequila and we will toast to Edward Abbey and his enduring legacy. We will laugh at those who feared and hated him for his truth telling. Then we will party and raise hell all night! However, here – in the City of Subdued Excitement (Bellingham, WA) – we will raise hell considerately.
Thank you Ed.
To the memory of Edward Abbey (January 29, 1927 – March 14, 1989)
*With apologies to Edward Albee, author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962)