Ms.pegasus's Reviews > Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
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Dec 06, 11

bookshelves: nonfiction, the-american-west, ecosystems-nature
Recommended for: anyone who has or plans to travel to the American West; nature lovers
Read in December, 2011, read count: 1

Humanist/misanthrope, spiritual atheist, erudite primitive, pessimistic idealist – not that these traits are incompatible. As descriptions of the author, Edward Abbey, they hint at a complicated man struggling to reconcile the contradictions he finds in himself. He embraces an individuality that defies categorization, and that often places himself in an uncomfortably ambivalent relationship with the reader. It is a point worth confronting because DESERT SOLITAIRE is in part a memoir of Abbey's year as a park ranger at Arches National Park. Abbey voices at times a surly and wounded outrage. Destruction of natural habitats by a society consumed by growth, government using its power as a profiteer rather than as a steward, and the alienation of people from nature are the primary targets of his outrage.

I only began to like this book when he relaxes into a description of the terrain. The spring blooming of desert flowers, the symbiosis between the yucca and a particular type of moth, the animated awakening of sparse and precious life are described in vivid prose. We see the colors, feel the movement of wind and sand, taste the water, and smell the dried sage. Four plant communities are described: Pinyon pines and junipers on the mesa, brushes and grasses in the Salt Valley, poplar and cottonwood along the washes and streams, and fern, primrose, and columbine along the canyon walls. Each season is distinct and yet part of a total continuity: “Balanced on a point of equilibrium, hesitating, the world of the high desert turns toward summer.”

One of Abbey's most interesting digressions from the present is his story of an excursion through Glen Canyon just before it was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam which created Lake Powell. The imagery of architecture, geology, and a polyglot of history bring this now lost scenic wonder to life. This story is a perfect blend of personal testament, poetry, and historical perspective. Other reminiscences from the author's life are also embedded in this year's chronicle.

DESERT SOLITAIRE is a thought-provoking book. Although published in 1968 it's relevance has, if anything, grown. Demands for oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, denial of the reality of Global Warming, Bureau of Land Management round-ups of mustangs, and legalization of wolf hunting are issues under debate today. In 2008 the Wall Arch collapsed, to much publicity. DESERT SOLITAIRE allows us to understand that event in a deeper way. Although there is a pervasive strain of pessimism, I'm glad that I read this book.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Will Byrnes Abbey is a good writer, but also a crank.


Ms.pegasus So true of a lot of good writers! Time moves on, and political acuity rather than passion is environmentalism's strongest weapon. Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the review.


Will Byrnes I am glad I read this one as well. ALthough I expect that were we to meet in person, it would result in screaming and profanity, I truly respect his affection for the land and his skill and passion as a writer. Clearly that is something you possess as well.


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