Edward Abbey — a voice crying for the wilderness

“Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.” For Edward Abbey, writer of those words, that place was the canyonland of south-east Utah, where he served as park ranger at the Arches National Monument. In Desert Solitaire, published 50 years ago this month, he was, as one reviewer memorably put it at the time, “a voice crying in the wilderness, for the wilderness”. It was a passionate, combative book, in which he argued that there should be

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. . .  What about children? What about the aged and infirm? Frankly, we need waste little sympathy on these two pressure groups. Children too small to ride bicycles and too heavy to be borne on their parents’ backs need only wait a few years — if they are not run over by automobiles they will grow up into a lifetime of joyous adventure. . .  The aged merit even less sympathy: after all they had the opportunity to see the country when it was still relatively unspoiled.

Half a century on, when Donald Trump and his interior secretary are intent on opening up parts of “Abbey Country” to oil and gas companies, the message of Desert Solitaire is more urgent than ever, the novelist John Buckley writes in High Country News.

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