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Extracts

Abbey’s influence on the ecology movement stems overwhelmingly from two works. Desert Solitaire, published in 1968, tells the story of his time as a park ranger in Arches National Monument. It prefigures his famous novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, published in 1975. The following extracts, mainly from from these two books, give the flavor of the man and his work.

On the meaning of nature

The beauty of Delicate Arch explains nothing, for each thing, in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful. (There is no beauty in nature, said Beaudelaire. A place to throw empty beer cans on Sunday, said Menken.) If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us to a reawakened awareness of the wonderful — that which is full of wonder.
Cliffrose and Bayonets” from Desert Solitaire

On Growth

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.
Money, Et Cetera” in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

On Development in the National Parks

There are some who frankly and boldly advocate the eradication of the last remnants of wilderness and the complete subjugation of nature to the requirements of — not man — but industry. This is a courageous view, admirable in its simplicity and power, and with the weight of all modern history behind it. It is also quite insane. I cannot attempt to deal with it here.
Industrial Tourism and the National Parks” in Desert Solitaire

A Proposal for the National Parks

No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs — anything — but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Let us behave accordingly.
Industrial Tourism and the National Parks” in Desert Solitaire

On Joy

Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don’t, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snalkes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness.
Water” in Desert Solitaire

On Buzzards

Let us praise the noble turkey vulture: No one envies him; he harms nobody; and he contemplates our world from a most serene and noble height.
Life and Death and All That“‘ in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

On Deserts

There is something about the desert that the human sensibility cannot assimilate, or has not so far been able to assimilate. Perhaps that is why it has scarcely been approached in poetry or fiction, music or painting; every region of the United States except the arid West has produced distinguised artists or has been represented in works of art which have agreed-upon general significance.
. . . Even after years of intimate contact and search this quality of strangeness in the desert remains undiminished. Transparent and intangible as sunlight, yet always and everywhere present, it lures a man on and on, from the red-walled canyons to the smoke-blue ranges beyond, in a futile but fascinating quest for the great, unimaginable treasure which the desert seems to promise. Once caught by this golden lure you become a prospector for life, condemned, doomed, exhalted.
Episodes and Visions” in Desert Solitaire

On Glen Canyon Dam (then under construction)

The new dam, of course, will improve things. If ever filled it will back water to within site of the Bridge, transforming what was formerly an adventure into a routine motorboat excursion. Those who see it then will not understand that half the beauty of Rainbow Bridge lay in its remoteness, its relative difficulty of access, and in the wilderness surrounding it, of which it was an integral part. When those aspects are removed the Bridge will be no more than an isolated goelogical oddity, an extension of that museum-like diorama to which an industrial tourism tends to reduce the natural world.
Down the River” in Desert Solitaire

On Neighborhood Beautification

Dr. Sarvis with his bald mottled dome and savage visage. grim and noble as Sibelius, was out night-riding on a routine neighborhood beautification project, burning billboards along the highway — U.S. 66, later to be devoured by the superstate’s interstate autobahn. His procedure was simple, surgically deft. With a five-gallon can of gasoline he sloshed about the legs and support members of the selected target, then applied a match. Everyone should have a hobby.
The Monkey Wrench Gang

On Freedom

Hayduke, rejoicing, scarfing up more beer, concluding his Flagstaff six-pack, wheels down to the river on the narrow road at a safe and sane 70 per, bellowing some incoherent song into the face of the wind. He was indeed a menace to other drivers but justified himself in this way: If you don’t drink, don’t drive. If you drink, drive like hell. Why? Because freedom, not safety, is the highest good.
The Monkey Wrench Gang

On Barbed Wire

“You can’t never go wrong cuttin’ fence,” Smith would say. “Especially sheep fence.” (Clunk!) “But cow fence too. Any fence.”
The Monkey Wrench Gang

On Lake Powell

The blue death, Smith called it. Like Hayduke his heart was full of healthy hatred. Because Smith remembered something different. He remembered the golden river flowing to the sea. He remembered canyons called Hidden Passage and Salvation and Last Chance and Forbidden and Twilight and many many more, some that never had a name. He remembered the strange great amphitheaters called Music Temple and Cathedral in the Desert. All these things now lay beneath the dead water of the reservoir, slowly disappearing under layers of descending silt. How could he forget? He had seen to much.
The Monkey Wrench Gang