I picked this book up while visiting The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I was introduced to the writings of Edward Abbey in college when I took a class on environmental literature. We covered Desert Solitaire in the class, and I also read The Monkey Wrench Gang for my independent project. Both books made a lasting impression on me.
This book is a compilation of ten essays that Abbey wrote about his experiences in the wild, the area he considers to be beyond the wall of controlled civilization. This is the area that Abbey considers to be the real world, where you can discover who you truly are.
Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences topped with barbed wire and razor wire, beyond the asphalt belting of the superhighways, beyond the cemented banksides of our temporarily stopped and mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the air, there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it. And then—
Like Abbey, I love to hike, and he points out what it is about hiking which is so amazing: it is an authentic and spiritual experience.
Why do I do this? (My feet hurt.)Why? Well, it’s the need, I guess, for some sort of authentic experience. (My hip joint hurts.) As opposed to the merely synthetic experience of books, movies, TV, regular urban living. (My neck hurts.) To meet my God, my Maker once again, face to face, beneath my feet, beyond my arms, above my head.
I firmly believe that the root of our environmental problems is human overpopulation, and Abbey shares this sentiment in very strong terms.
To aid and abet in the destruction of a single species or in the extermination of a single tribe is to commit a crime against God, a mortal sin against Mother Nature. Better by far to sacrifice in some degree the interests in mechanical civilization, curtail our gluttonous appetite for things, ever more things, learn to moderate our needs, and most important, and not difficult, learn to control, limit and gradually reduce our human numbers. We humans swarm over the planet like a plague of locusts, multiplying and devouring. There is no justice, sense of decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife and—antihuman.
In Desert Solitaire, Abbey criticizes the development of access roads in wilderness areas so that anyone can visit these remote “natural” settings. He reiterates these thoughts in Beyond the Wall, asserting that once an area is made accessible, it is no longer the same and loses its magical essence.
Today the old North Wash trail road is partly submerged by the reservoir, the rest obliterated. The state has ripped and blasted and laid asphalt highway through and around the area to link the new tin bridges with the outside world. The river is gone, the ferry is gone, Dandy Crossing is gone. Most of the formerly primitive road from Blanding west has been improved beyond recognition. All of this, the engineers and politicians and bankers will tell you, makes the region easily accessible for everybody, no matter how fat, feeble or flaccid. That is a lie.
It is a lie. For those who go there now, smooth, comfortable, quick and easy, sliding through as slick as grease, will never see what we saw. They will never feel what we felt. They will never know what we knew, or understand what we cannot forget.
I feel that as a global society, we are getting more and more distracted by the trappings of modern technology, and we are losing our connection to the wonders, beauty, and mystery which is our world. There is so much still out there, waiting to inspire us. With that, I want to close this post with one more quote about the ability of our amazing planet to stretch the boundaries of our consciousness and our imagination.
What can I say except confess that I have seen but little of the real North, and of that little understood less. The planet is bigger than we ever imagined. The world is colder, more ancient, more strange and more mysterious than we had dreamed. And we puny human creatures with our many tools and toys and fears and hopes make only one small leaf on the great efflorescing tree of life.
Too much. No equation however organic, no prose however royally purple, can bracket our world within the boundaries of mind.