Edward Abbey Bibliography Website

Edward Paul Abbey (January 29, 1927 – March 14, 1989) was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views. His best-known works include the novelThe Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by environmental groups, and the non-fiction work Desert Solitaire.

Early life and education[edit]

Abbey was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, on January 29, 1927 to Mildred Postlewait and Paul Revere Abbey. Mildred was a schoolteacher and a church organist, and gave Abbey an appreciation for classical music and literature. Paul was a socialist, anarchist, and atheist whose views strongly influenced Abbey.[1]

Abbey graduated from high school in Indiana, Pennsylvania, in 1945. Eight months before his 18th birthday, when he would be faced with being drafted into the United States military, Abbey decided to explore the American southwest. He traveled by foot, bus, hitchhiking, and freight train hopping.[2] During this trip he fell in love with the desert country of the Four Corners region. Abbey wrote: "[...]crags and pinnacles of naked rock, the dark cores of ancient volcanoes, a vast and silent emptiness smoldering with heat, color, and indecipherable significance, above which floated a small number of pure, clear, hard-edged clouds. For the first time, I felt I was getting close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible and the mythical became the same."[3][4][5]

In the military Abbey had applied for a clerk typist position but instead he served two years as a military police officer in Italy. Abbey was promoted in the military twice but due to his knack for opposing authority, was twice demoted and was honorably discharged[2] as a private. His experience with the military left him with a distrust for large institutions and regulations which influenced his writing throughout his career, and strengthened his anarchist beliefs.[6]

When he returned to the United States, Abbey took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend the University of New Mexico, where he received a B.A. in philosophy and English in 1951, and a master's degree in philosophy in 1956.[2][7][8] During his time in college, Abbey supported himself by working at a variety of odd jobs, including being a newspaper reporter and bartending in Taos, New Mexico. During this time he had few male friends but had intimate relationships with a number of women. Shortly before getting his bachelor's degree, Abbey married his first wife, Jean Schmechal (another UNM student).[9] While an undergraduate, Abbey was the editor of a student newspaper in which he published an article titled "Some Implications of Anarchy". A cover quotation of the article, "ironically attributed to Louisa May Alcott" stated "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." University officials seized all of the copies of the issue, and removed Abbey from the editorship of the paper.[10]

Upon receiving his honorable discharge papers, he sent it back to the department with the words "Return to Sender". The FBI took note and added a note to his file which was opened in 1947 when Edward Abbey committed an act of civil disobedience; he posted a letter while in college urging people to rid themselves of their draft cards.[11] Abbey was on the FBI’s watch-list ever since then and was watched throughout his life. In 1952 Abbey wrote a letter against the draft in times of peace and again the FBI took notice writing, "Edward Abbey is against war and military." Throughout his life the FBI took notes building a profile on Abbey, observing his movements and interviewing many people who knew him. Towards the latter part of his life Abbey learned of the FBI’s interest in him and said "I’d be insulted if they weren’t watching me."[6]

After graduating, Schmechal and Abbey traveled together to Edinburgh, Scotland,[9] where Abbey spent a year at Edinburgh University as a Fulbright scholar.[7][9] During this time, Abbey and Schmechal separated and ended their marriage.[9] In 1951 Abbey began having an affair with Rita Deanin,[12] who in 1952 would become his second wife after he and Schmechal divorced. Deanin and Abbey had two children, Joshua N. Abbey and Aaron Paul Abbey.[13]

Abbey's master's thesis explored anarchism and the morality of violence, asking the two questions: "To what extent is the current association between anarchism and violence warranted?" and "In so far as the association is a valid one, what arguments have the anarchists presented, explicitly or implicitly, to justify the use of violence?"[14] After receiving his master's degree, Abbey spent 1957 at Stanford University on a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship.[7]

Work for National Park Service[edit]

In 1956 and 1957, Abbey worked as a seasonal ranger for the United States National Park Service at Arches National Monument (now a national park), near the town of Moab, Utah. Abbey held the position from April to September each year, during which time he maintained trails, greeted visitors, and collected campground fees. He lived in a house trailer that had been provided to him by the Park Service, as well as in a ramada that he built himself. During his stay at Arches, Abbey accumulated a large volume of notes and sketches which later formed the basis of his first non-fiction work, Desert Solitaire.[15] Abbey's second son Aaron was born in 1959, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.[16]

In the 1960s Abbey worked as a seasonal park ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, on the border of Arizona and Mexico.[citation needed] In 1961, the movie version of his second novel, The Brave Cowboy, with screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, was being shot on location in New Mexico by Kirk Douglas who had purchased the novel's screen rights and was producing and starring in the film, released in 1962 as Lonely Are the Brave. Douglas once said that when Abbey visited the film set, he looked and talked so much like friend Gary Cooper that Douglas was disconcerted. However, over 25 years later when Abbey died, Douglas wrote that he had 'never met' him.[17] In 1981, his third novel, Fire on the Mountain, was also adapted into a TV movie by the same title.[17]

On October 16, 1965, Abbey married Judy Pepper, who accompanied Abbey as a seasonal park ranger in the FloridaEverglades, and then as a fire lookout in Lassen Volcanic National Park.[18] Judy was separated from Abbey for extended periods of time while she attended the University of Arizona to get her master's degree. During this time, Abbey had relations with other women—something that Judy gradually became aware of, causing their marriage to suffer.[19] On August 8, 1968 Pepper gave birth to a daughter, Susannah "Susie" Mildred Abbey. Ed purchased the family a home in Sabino Canyon, outside of Tucson.[20] Judy died of leukemia on July 11, 1970, an event that crushed Abbey, causing him to go into "bouts of depression and loneliness" for years. It was to Judy that he dedicated his book Black Sun. However, the book was not an autobiographical novel about his relationship with Judy. Rather it was a story about a woman with whom Abbey had an affair in 1963. Abbey finished the first draft of Black Sun in 1968, two years before Judy died, and it was "a bone of contention in their marriage."[21][22]

Desert Solitaire, Abbey's fourth book and first non-fiction work, was published in 1968. In it, he describes his stay in the canyonlands of southeastern Utah from 1956-1957.[23]Desert Solitaire is regarded as one of the finest nature narratives in American literature, and has been compared to Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac[citation needed] and Thoreau's Walden.[24] In it, Abbey vividly describes the physical landscapes of Southern Utah and delights in his isolation as a back country park ranger, recounting adventures in the nearby canyon country and mountains. He also attacks what he terms the "industrial tourism" and resulting development in the national parks ("national parking lots"), rails against the Glen Canyon Dam, and comments on various other subjects.[citation needed] In 1973, Abbey married his fourth wife Renee Downing. However, Abbey was always gone so they divorced after four years of marriage.[25]

Later life[edit]

Abbey met his fifth and final wife, Clarke Cartwright in 1978,[26] and married her in 1982.[27] Together they had two children, Rebecca Claire Abbey and Benjamin C. Abbey.[28] In 1995, Abbey's granddaughter, Sophia Abbey-Kuipers, was born.

In 1984, Abbey went back to the University of Arizona to teach courses in creative writing and hospitality management. During this time, he continued working on his book Fool's Progress.[29]

In July 1987, Abbey went to the Earth First! Rendezvous at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. While there, he was involved in a heated debate with an anarchist communist group known as Alien Nation, over his stated view that America should be closed to all immigration.[30] Abbey devoted an entire chapter in his book Hayduke Lives to the events that took place at the Rendezvous.[31] In autumn of 1987, the Utne Reader published a letter by Murray Bookchin which claimed that Abbey, Garrett Hardin, and the members of Earth First! were racists and eco-terrorists. Abbey was extremely offended, and demanded a public apology, stating that he was neither racist nor a supporter of terrorism. All three of those Bookchin labelled "racist" opposed illegal immigration into the United States, contending that population growth would cause further harm to the environment. Regarding the accusation of "eco-terrorism", Abbey responded that the tactics he supported were trying to defend against the terrorism he felt was committed by government and industry against living beings and the environment.[32]

Death and burial[edit]

Edward Abbey died on March 14, 1989,[34] at the age of 62, in his home in Tucson, Arizona. His death was due to complications from surgery; he suffered four days of esophageal hemorrhaging, due to esophageal varices, which is a recurrent problem with one group of veins.[35] Showing his sense of humor, he left a message for anyone who asked about his final words: "No comment." Abbey also left instructions on what to do with his remains: Abbey wanted his body transported in the bed of a pickup truck, and wished to be buried as soon as possible. He did not want to be embalmed or placed in a coffin. Instead, he preferred to be placed inside of an old sleeping bag, and requested that his friends disregard all state laws concerning burial. "I want my body to help fertilize the growth of a cactus or cliff rose or sagebrush or tree." said the message. For his funeral, Abbey stated "No formal speeches desired, though the deceased will not interfere if someone feels the urge. But keep it all simple and brief." He requested gunfire and bagpipe music, a cheerful and raucous wake, "[a]nd a flood of beer and booze! Lots of singing, dancing, talking, hollering, laughing, and lovemaking."[35][36]

A 2003 Outside' article described how his friends honored his request:

The last time Ed smiled was when I told him where he was going to be buried," says Doug Peacock, an environmental crusader in Edward Abbey's inner circle. On March 14, 1989, the day Abbey died from esophageal bleeding at 62, Peacock, along with his friend Jack Loeffler, his father-in-law Tom Cartwright, and his brother-in-law Steve Prescott, wrapped Abbey's body in his blue sleeping bag, packed it with dry ice, and loaded Cactus Ed into Loeffler's Chevy pickup. After stopping at a liquor store in Tucson for five cases of beer, and some whiskey to pour on the grave, they drove off into the desert. The men searched for the right spot the entire next day and finally turned down a long rutted road, drove to the end, and began digging. That night they buried Ed and toasted the life of America's prickliest and most outspoken environmentalist.[37]

Abbey's body was buried in the Cabeza Prieta Desert in Pima County, Arizona, where "you'll never find it." The friends carved a marker on a nearby stone, reading:[38][39]

EDWARD
PAUL
ABBEY
1927—1989
No Comment

In late March, about 200 friends of Abbey's gathered near the Saguaro National Monument near Tucson and held the wake he requested. A second, much larger wake was held in May, just outside his beloved Arches National Park, with such notables as Terry Tempest Williams and Wendell Berry speaking.[citation needed]

Abbey is survived by two daughters, Susannah and Becky; and three sons, Joshua, Aaron and Benjamin.[citation needed] He also has a nephew, David Abbey.

Personal life[edit]

When he died at 62, he left behind a wife, Clarke Cartwright, five children and a father.

Documentaries[edit]

  • "Wrenched",[40] by Jerome filmmaker ML Lincoln is a 2013 documentary film that picks up where Edward Abbey's iconic novel 'The Monkey Wrench Gang' left off, chronicling Abbey's legacy of environmental civil disobedience. This was originally called 'Lines Across The Sand.[41][42]
  • "Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness" is a 1993 award-winning PBS documentary by Eric Temple.
  • "The Cracking of Glen Canyon Damn — with Edward Abbey and Earth First!"(1982)[43] captured the legendary first action of radical desert rats when they dropped a 300-foot long black plastic "crack" over the dam and called poetically for its demise. Produced by Toby McLeod, Glenn Switkes and Randy Hayes.

Literature[edit]

Abbey's literary influences included Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Gary Snyder, Peter Kropotkin, and A. B. Guthrie, Jr..[44][45] Although often compared to authors like Thoreau or Aldo Leopold, Abbey did not wish to be known as a nature writer, saying that he didn't understand "why so many want to read about the world out-of-doors, when it's more interesting simply to go for a walk into the heart of it."[46] The theme that most interested Abbey was that of the struggle for personal liberty against the totalitarian techno-industrial state, with wilderness being the backdrop in which this struggle took place.[47] Most of Abbey's writing criticizes the park services and American society for its reliance on motor vehicles and technology. He wanted to preserve the wilderness as a refuge for humans and believed that modernization was making us forget what was truly important in life.[25]

Regarding his writing style, Abbey states: "I write in a deliberately provocative and outrageous manner because I like to startle people. I hope to wake up people. I have no desire to simply soothe or please. I would rather risk making people angry than putting them to sleep. And I try to write in a style that's entertaining as well as provocative. It's hard for me to stay serious for more than half a page at a time."[48] Abbey felt that it was the duty of all authors to "speak the truth--especially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic".[49]

Abbey's abrasiveness, opposition to anthropocentrism, and outspoken writings made him the object of much controversy. Agrarian author Wendell Berry claimed that Abbey was regularly criticized by mainstream environmental groups because Abbey often advocated controversial positions that were very different from those which environmentalists were commonly expected to hold.[50]

Abbey has also drawn criticism for what some regard as his racist and sexist views.[51] In an essay called "Immigration and Liberal Taboos", collected in his 1988 book One Life at a Time, Please, Abbey expressed his opposition to immigration ("legal or illegal, from any source") into the United States: "(I)t occurs to some of us that perhaps ever-continuing industrial and population growth is not the true road to human happiness, that simple gross quantitative increase of this kind creates only more pain, dislocation, confusion and misery. In which case it might be wise for us as American citizens to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people. At least until we have brought our own affairs into order. Especially when these uninvited millions bring with them an alien mode of life which—let us be honest about this—is not appealing to the majority of Americans. Why not? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful—yes, beautiful!—society, for another. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see."[52]

It is often stated that Abbey's works played a significant role in precipitating the creation of Earth First!.[53]The Monkey Wrench Gang inspired environmentalists frustrated with mainstream environmentalist groups and what they saw as unacceptable compromises. Earth First! was formed as a result in 1980, advocating eco-sabotage or "monkeywrenching." Although Abbey never officially joined the group, he became associated with many of its members, and occasionally wrote for the organization[54]

Works[edit]

Fiction[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

Letters[edit]

  • Cactus Chronicles published by Orion Magazine, Jul–Aug 2006 (no longer active,)
  • Postcards from Ed (book)|Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast (2006) (ISBN 1-57131-284-6)

Anthologies[edit]

  • Slumgullion Stew: An Edward Abbey Reader (1984)
  • The Best of Edward Abbey (1984)
  • The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader (1995)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^Mongillo, John F. & Booth, Bibi (2001). "Edward Abbey: (1927-1989)". Environmental activists. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-313-30884-0. 
  2. ^ abcPeterson, David (2003). Confessions of a barbarian: selections from the journals of Edward Abbey. Big Earth Publishing. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-55566-287-5. 
  3. ^Ronald, Ann (2000). The New West of Edward Abbey. University of Nevada Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-87417-357-4. 
  4. ^Western Literature Association (1987). "Edward Abbey". A Literary history of the American West. TCU Press. p. 604. ISBN 978-0-87565-021-0. 
  5. ^For Abbey's full account of this trip, see his essay "Hallelujah on the Bum"
  6. ^ abname="Bishop", [Epitaph For a Desert Anarchist: The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey], "Macmillan Publishing Company", 1994
  7. ^ abcRonald, Ann (2000). The New West of Edward Abbey. University of Nevada Press. p. 247. ISBN 978-0-87417-357-4. 
  8. ^For a detailed discussion of Abbey's college years, see Bishop, James (1995). "The Anarchist Emerges". Epitaph for a desert anarchist: the life and legacy of Edward Abbey. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-80439-2. 
  9. ^ abcdBishop, James (1995). Epitaph for a desert anarchist: the life and legacy of Edward Abbey. Simon & Schuster. pp. 88–89. ISBN 978-0-684-80439-2. 
  10. ^Scheese, Don (2002). Nature writing: the pastoral impulse in America. Psychology Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-415-93889-1. 
  11. ^"Edward Abbey". vault.fbi.org. 
  12. ^Abbey, Edward (2003). Peterson, David, ed. Confessions of a barbarian: selections from the journals of Edward Abbey. Big Earth Publishing. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-55566-287-5. 
  13. ^Macrae, John, ed. (1996). The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader. Macmillan. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-8050-3133-1. 
  14. ^Phillipon, Daniel J. (2005). "Toward Ecotopia: Edward Abbey and Earth First!". Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement. University of Georgia Press. pp. 225–226. ISBN 978-0-8203-2759-4. 
  15. ^Scheese, Don (1998). "Desert Solitaire: Counter-Friction to the Machine in the Garden". In Glotfelty, Cheryl & Fromm, Harold. The ecocriticism reader: landmarks in literary ecology. University of Georgia Press. p. 305. ISBN 978-0-8203-1781-6. 
  16. ^Peterson, David, ed. (2006). Postcards from Ed: dispatches and salvos from an American iconoclast. Milkweed Editions. p. 277. ISBN 978-1-57131-284-6. 
  17. ^ abCox, Alex (29 July 2012). "The fretful Birth of the New Western". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  18. ^Loeffler, Jack (2003). Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-0-8263-2388-0. 
  19. ^Loeffler, Jack (2003). Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey. University of New Mexico Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-8263-2388-0. 
  20. ^Loeffler, Jack (2003). Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey. University of New Mexico Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-8263-2388-0. 
  21. ^Pozza, David M. (2006). Bedrock and paradox: the literary landscape of Edward Abbey. Peter Lang. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-0-8204-6330-8. 
  22. ^Bishop, James (1995). Epitaph for a desert anarchist: the life and legacy of Edward Abbey. Simon & Schuster. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-684-80439-2. 
  23. ^Pozza, David M. (2006). Bedrock and paradox: the literary landscape of Edward Abbey. Peter Lang. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-8204-6330-8. 
  24. ^Olson, Ted (2000). ""In Search of a More Human Nature": Wendell Berry's Revision of Thoreau's Experiment". In Schneider, Richard J. Thoreau's sense of place: essays in American environmental writing. University of Iowa Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-87745-708-4. 
  25. ^ abScheese, Donald. "Abbey, Edward." Encyclopedia of American Environmental History. Ed. Kathleen A. Brosnan. Vol. 1. New York: Facts on File, 2011. 75-76. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 June 2013.
  26. ^Bishop, James (1995). Epitaph for a desert anarchist: the life and legacy of Edward Abbey. Simon and Schuster. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-684-80439-2. 
  27. ^Oakes, Elizabeth H., ed. (2004). "Abbey, Edward". American Authors. Infobase Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-8160-5158-8. 
  28. ^"Genealogy data", AbbeyWeb
  29. ^Loeffler, Jack (2003). Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey. University of New Mexico Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-8263-2388-0. 
  30. ^Lee, Martha Frances (1995). Earth first!: environmental apocalypse. Syracuse University Press. pp. 105–107. ISBN 978-0-8156-0365-8. 
  31. ^Lee, Martha Frances (1995). Earth first!: environmental apocalypse. Syracuse University Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-8156-0365-8. 
  32. ^Loeffler, Jack (2003). Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey. University of New Mexico Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-8263-2388-0. 
  33. ^From a speech to environmentalists in Missoula, Montana, and in Colorado, which was published in High Country News, (24 September 1976), under the title "Joy, Shipmates, Joy!", as quoted in Saving Nature's Legacy : Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity (1994) by Reed F. Noss, Allen Y. Cooperrider, and Rodger Schlickeisen, p. 338. ISBN 1-55963-248-8
  34. ^Trimble, Stephen (1995). "Epilogue: Remembering Edward Abbey". Words from the land: encounters with natural history writing. University of Nevada Press. p. 390. ISBN 978-0-87417-264-5. 
  35. ^ abMongillo, John F. & Booth, Bibi (2001). "Edward Abbey: (1927-1989)". Environmental activists. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-313-30884-0. 
  36. ^Quammen, David, "Bagpipes for Ed", Outside, April 1989
  37. ^Daley, Jason (September 30, 2003). "Forever Wild". Outside. 
  38. ^Kowalewski, Michael (1996). "Introduction". In Kowalewski, Michael. Reading the West: New Essays on the Literature of the American West. Cambridge University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-521-56559-2. 
  39. ^Peterson, David (1997). The nearby faraway: a personal journey through the heart of the West. Big Earth Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-55566-187-8. 
  40. ^"Home - Wrenched". whrneched-themovie.com. 
  41. ^"Lines Across The Sand - HOME". linesacrossthesand.com. 19 November 2011. Archived from the original on November 19, 2011. 
  42. ^"Home | Wrenched". Wrenched. 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  43. ^"Index of /the-cracking-of-glen-canyon-damn-with-edward-abbey-and-earth-first". sacredland.org. 
  44. ^Bishop, James (1995). Epitaph for a desert anarchist: the life and legacy of Edward Abbey. Simon & Schuster. pp. 221–222. ISBN 978-0-684-80439-2. 
  45. ^McClintock, James I. (1994). Nature's kindred spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-299-14174-5. 
  46. ^McClintock, James I. (1994). "Edward Abbey: "An Earthiest"". Nature's kindred spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 67–68. ISBN 978-0-299-14174-5. 
  47. ^Payne, Daniel G. (1996). "Monkeywrenching, Environmental Extremism, and the Problematical Edward Abbey". Voices in the wilderness: American nature writing and environmental politics. UPNE. pp. 156–157. ISBN 978-0-87451-752-1. 
  48. ^Trimble, Stephen, ed. (1995). "Introduction". Words from the land: encounters with natural history writing. University of Nevada Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-87417-264-5. 
  49. ^Moore, Brian L. (2008). Ecology and literature: ecocentric personification from antiquity to the twenty-first century. Macmillan. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-230-60669-2. 
  50. ^Nelson, Barney (2000). The wild and the domestic: animal representation, ecocriticism, and western American literature. University of Nevada Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-87417-347-5. 
One final paragraph of advice: [...] It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.

So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space.

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.

~ Edward Abbey [33]

Connecting federal employees, scientists, educators, and the public with their wilderness heritage

Edward Abbey: Freedom Begins Between the Ears

To call Edward Abbey simply an "environmentalist" would be inaccurate. Although his writing focused primarily on environmental issues, Abbey seemed to be constantly critiquing the culture that surrounded him. His works ranged from fiction writing to blunt, and sometimes slighting, essays. Much of his writing was so controversial that even some groups of environmentalists rebuked his stance. Abbey was known to throw beer cans from his car because the highway he was traveling had already ruined the landscape surrounding it. He wrote essays degrading western farming and ranching methods and yet he was a proponent of the National Rifle Association. His writing suggests he wasn't comfortable with environmental activists or activism as a whole. Abbey wasn't concerned with keeping either a liberal or conservative point of view; his views were directed by nature and his love of the American West.

Originally an easterner from Home, Pennsylvania, Abbey spent the majority of his life in the southwestern part of the United States. His parents, Paul and Mildred Abbey, were considered liberal for their views on homosexuality and avocation of socialism. There were five Abbey children, with Edward being the oldest. Abbey grew up during the Depression era and moved with his family around the east; they spent time at small campsites around Pennsylvania and lived in New Jersey. Abbey often wrote about his parents, and through this writing it is obvious they had shaped the man that he would become. Abbey's first notions of the West were from his father, a love that they would both share. His spirit of freedom led him down many paths, first hitchhiking around the Southwest at age 17, and then spending two years (1945-1947) in the military where he received two promotions and two demotions (for refusing to salute). He used much of his experiences working as a park ranger, for nearly 15 years, in his later writing (in the 1950's). He returned to the West to study Philosophy at the University of New Mexico (as well as the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland). Abbey finished with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Philosophy (received 1951) and a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy (1956). His thesis was titled "Anarchism and the Morality of Violence." This title proved to be indicative of the type of movement Abbey would start in the environmental community.

Abbey's first novel, Jonathon Troy, (published 1956) has been called almost autobiographical. The main character is a loner and a societal outcast, traits that are also held by the protagonist in Abbey's second work of fiction. This novel, The Brave Cowboy, would eventually be turned into a screenplay in 1962, entitled "Lonely Are the Brave." It is after these first two novels that Abbey wrote a piece of non-fiction work, Desert Solitaire. In this novel, he writes about the beauty of the Southwest (mainly Utah, where he worked as a ranger) in an embittered tone and calls the finished work a "eulogy." Desert Solitaire became a cult classic (a work that may not gain mainstream popularity, but has a deep and solid base of fans) almost immediately. However, his next novel would prove to cause the most well-known controversy. The Monkey Wrench Gang actually launched an entirely new offshoot of the environmental movement: sabotage (not violence) as a means of protest. Abbey once stated "If wilderness is outlawed, only outlaws can save wilderness."

This idea of sabotage was well-received by some conservationists, illustrated by the group EarthFirst! When asked about the sabotage, Abbey responded:
"Well I'm not going to advocate sabotage publicly on the federal airwaves here. But I think there probably will be more of it if the conflict between conservation and development becomes more intense, and if the politicians fail to follow the popular will on the matter. I think a lot of people are going to become very angry and they're going to resort to illegal methods to try to slow down the destruction of our national resources, our wilderness, our forests, mountains, deserts. What that will lead to I hate to think. If the conflict becomes violent and physical then I'm pretty sure the environmentalists will mostly end up in prison or shot dead in their tracks. So I hope we can save what's left of Arizona and the United States by legal, political means and I still think we can. I still vote in elections...even though there doesn't seem to be much to vote for or against, when there's not much choice. I think if enough people get sufficiently concerned, why we can still make changes...needed changes in this country by political methods...God, I hope so.
(From a KAET-TV [Phoenix, Arizona] interview, given in December of 1982.)
EarthFirst! was a non-governmental organization formed in 1979, and though Abbey was never a formal member of the association he was well known by the group. Some of the policies EarthFirst! proposed were taken directly from Abbey's writing, most notably The Monkey Wrench Gang. Even today the EarthFirst website uses the term "monkeywrenchers" stating, "While there is broad diversity within Earth First! from animal rights vegans to wilderness hunting guides, from monkeywrenchers to careful followers of Gandhi, from whiskey-drinking backwoods riffraff to thoughtful philosophers, from misanthropes to humanists, there is agreement on one thing, the need for action!" Abbey was accused of monkeywrenching crimes, but no evidence of such crimes has ever been produced. Abbey was not a loud advocate for monkeywrenching and his involvement with the movement seemed to have been merely as the initiator of a simple idea. Other more mainstream environmental groups have not embraced the type of gonzo environmentalism some of Abbey's fans relied upon so heavily. Green Peace makes no mention of Abbey in their archives, and a May 1st, 1982 article in "The Nation" by Dennis Drabelle lists Abbey's writing as arrogant and elitist, saying the "immense popularity among environmentalists [of Abbey] is puzzling." Abbey was truly a man loved or hated by those who knew him and his work; he kept his supporters and his cynics speculating on his next move, which was often a move no one expected. His fan base is and was sturdy and unyielding, including a strong base of women. Details concerning the number and intimate nature of Abbey's relationships with such women were typically a matter of conjecture.

Abbey was married and divorced several times, and it is suggested in the book "Edward Abbey: A Life" (Cahalans, 2001) that Abbey was something of a lady's man. He fathered five children during his lifetime, supporting himself and his offspring through a plethora of jobs, holding titles of caseworker (1960), teacher (1956, 1962 and 1970), bus driver (1966 and 1967), and technical writer (1962). A great number of Abbey's jobs reflected his passion: the outdoors. Abbey was a ranger at the Arches (now a national park) from 1956-1957, Casa Grande from 1958-1959, Canyonlands in 1965, the Everglades from 1965-1966, Lee's Ferry in 1967, and Araviapa from 1972-1974. He was also a fire lookout on the North Rim, Numa Ridge and Aztec Peaks in Arizona, where the trail that climbs to the top of the peak is called Abbey's Way Trail, number 151. Abbey's love for the West is demonstrated in many of his books, journals and interviews but no thought sums up Abbey's approach as much as this quote, from when he originally discovered the West: "For the first time, I felt I was getting close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible and the mythical became the same."

While Abbey strived to be close to the West in life, he also desired to be close to the West, the desert and nature, in death. On March 14th, 1989, Abbey passed away due to what was determined to be an esophageal hemorrhage. He was 62 years old. He died in his own home, Fort Llatikcuf (named by Abbey) and was survived by his last wife, five children and his father. All five of his children are still living. It is believed Abbey's final resting place is in the southern Arizona desert. The accounts of his burial vary greatly, but the common thread that connects all the myths is a headstone that is believed to read Abbey's name, dates of birth and death and a simple sentence: "No Comment." The myth of Edward Abbey is carried on in one account of his burial and final resting place. It is said he wished not be embalmed, but to be transported (post mortem) in the bed of a pickup truck to his grave, wrapped in only a sleeping bag, and buried without concern for the laws concerning burial. He supposedly left a note that stated his final wish was to fertilize the growth of a tree, bush or other desert plant. With the knowledge we have of Abbey, this account is easy to believe and may even satisfy a need for a rambunctious end to his colored life. The man and the myth; they both contributed to the name of Edward Abbey, but which was more lively remains a question.

References
Abbey, Edward. Personal interview. December 1982. Interview by Eric Temple of KAET-TV of Arizona. Retrieved on March 21, 2006 from http://www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/archives/abbey-interview.html

EarthFirst!, "About" section. Retrieved on March 21, 2006 from http://www.earthfirst.org/about.htm

James M. Cahalan, Edward Abbey: A Life. 2001, University of Arizona Press

Peacock, Doug. Chasing Abbey. Outside Magazine, August 1997.

Hepworth, James R., The Life and Legend of Edward Abbey, from the Bloomsbury Review. Volume 22, #3 2002.

Links (Retrieved on March 21, 2006)
http://www.abbeyweb.net : a site devoted to Abbey with quotes, articles, biographical information, reader contributions, and a mailing list.

http://www.ecotopia.org/ehof/abbey/ : praise of Edward Abbey, listing his credentials to be a member of the Ecology Hall of Fame.

http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Edward_Abbey : several quotes by Abbey.

http://www.canyonproductions.com : site to preview and purchase "Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness," a documentary about Edward Abbey, first released in 1993, that has been completely re-edited and updated for its 2006 debut on DVD.

Edward Abbey, with father Paul and mother Mildred. (abbeyweb.com, from the 1983 Indiana Gazette)

Literary Works

Fiction
  • Jonathan Troy (1954)
  • The Brave Cowboy (1956)
  • Fire on the Mountain (1962)
  • Black Sun (1971)
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975)
  • Good News (1980)
  • Fool's Progress (1988)
  • Hayduke Lives! (1990)


Nonfiction
  • Desert Solitaire (1968)
  • The Journey Home (1977)
  • Abbey's Road (1979)
  • Down the River (1982)
  • In Praise of Mountain Lions (1984)
  • Beyond the Wall (1984)
  • The Best of Edward Abbey / Slumgullion Stew (1984)
  • One Life at a Time, Please (1988)
  • Vox Clamantis in Deserto (1989)
  • Confessions of a Barbarian (1994)
  • The other Confessions of a Barbarian, Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey (1994)
  • The Serpents of Paradise (1995)
(NOTE: Dates do not reflect original publication; those listed are the most recent publications.)
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