Sunday, October 12, 2008

Desert Solitaire

I finished Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire today. Written in the late 1960s, it is a non-fiction book about his summers as a ranger in Arches National Park, before the area became known. I think its fair to say that environmentalists list it way up there on the conservation literature book shelf, with Silent Spring, A Sand County Almanac, and Walden. It definitely has an anarchist feel to it--sort of reminds me of Jack Kerouac, but better, although occasionally tedious too. Abbey spends most of the time talking about Arches, but there are some great stories of Canyonlands, the Colorado River, and the locals. Recommend it.
"We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it's there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis." Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire.
I've been thinking about wilderness and conservation philosophy a bunch this year--hence, the post. I took a course in college called History of Conservation, which was essentially a survey of some of the big conservation writers, which in turn is really a survey of eco-philosophy. It's been almost 15 years now, but some of our discussions still stick with me, and with all my trail running, are becoming of renewed importance. We spent a fair amount of time debating the value of preservation v. conservation. Abbey is on the more radical end of the spectrum, endorsing putting people in one place and putting wilderness elsewhere. Sort of an anti-people vision, and in fact the book debates the value of civilization at one point. A friend and I recently attended a presentation by Dave Foreman, one of the EarthFirst leaders in the 90s, who is now pushing for something he calls "rewilding," which as I understood it, is about rededicating major corridors across North America for the free passage of big critters. I'm not anti-people, but I do like wilderness. Notably, we do have a new wilderness area up here in Northwest Washington, called the Wild Sky Wilderness, somewhere north of Highway 2, and Rep. Larsen gets big props from me for pushing that through.

1 comment:

Allan Stellar said...

Glad you read Desert Solitaire. Although I would never call reading Abbey tedious. Man,that guy could write! Far and away the best American essayist ever, in my opinion.

Anyway, I enjoyed this post!