Tag Archives: wilderness

“Hayduke Lives!” by Edward Abbey

This book was difficult to find. I had been keeping an eye out for it for a while, since I am a fan of Edward Abbey and particularly enjoyed The Monkey Wrench Gang, of which Hayduke Lives! is the sequel (published posthumously in 1990). I eventually found a copy at Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC, a cool used and antiquarian bookstore. Anyway, I bought the book and finally got around to reading it.

While I do not think the book is as good as The Monkey Wrench Gang, nor as good as Desert Solitaire, it is decent and worth the read. Basically, the old gang from the first book teams up again to save the environment from the evil government-backed corporate interests seeking to destroy the pristine wilderness for the quick extraction of resources.

The first thing that struck me about this book is how little has changed in the 27 years since it was published. People still believe the lies that raping the environment will create jobs, and that jobs are more important than protecting the planet.

…”good folks of southern Utah and the Arizona Strip, listen to me. I’ll only take a minute, just like everybody else I’ll speak my little piece and let you go. [Crowd resumes seats.] Thank you. Now we heard a lot today, especially in the last ten minutes, from those good neighbors of ourn, Mr. and Mrs. Kathy Smith [laughter] about how dangerous this nuclear industry is. Uranium is poison, they say. Well I want to tell you folks something different: that uranium smells like money to me. [Cheers!] It smells like jobs to me. [More cheers!] Hundreds of jobs right here in Hardrock and Landfill County and and just across the line in northern Arizona. Hundreds? I mean thousands of jobs. [Thunderous applause!]

(p. 22)

Abbey appears to be very critical of the news media. At one point, one of the characters asserts that the only intelligent part of a newspaper is the Letters column.

When looking for wit, wisdom, knowledge or intelligence in a newspaper, any newspaper, your only hope is the Letters column.

(p. 99)

Sadly, though, this is no longer true. With the proliferation of social media and online commenting, comments and letters have sunk to a new low. People now use online commenting to spew vitriol based upon pre-established beliefs about biased news articles. It seems that every day it becomes more and more difficult to find thoughtful and unbiased information regarding world events. It’s kind of sad.

As the book progresses, Abbey paints a bleaker, misanthropic view of humanity. It appears that he acknowledges the good of individuals, but sees the whole of humanity as petty, mean-spirited, and just outright dangerous.

“People are no damn good,” agreed Seldom. “Take ‘em one at a time, they’re all right. Even families. But bunch ‘em up, herd ‘em together, get ‘em organized and well fed and branded and ear-notched and moving out, then they’re the meanest ugliest greediest stupidest dangerest breed of beast in the whole goldang solar system far as I know.”

(p. 228)

Without giving away the story or spoiling anything, I will say that the gang is seeking to stop a machine called GOLIATH, which is a giant earth mover used in strip mining. Symbolically, I see the machine as representing America as controlled by massive corporations, a mindless machine whose only purpose is to acquire and consume in an endless cycle until nothing is left. Abbey implies that it is only through radical action and anarchy that our country has any chance of defeating the leviathan of greed that dominates our world.

He waited, frowning into the gloom, looking two miles west at the glinting strobe light of the Super-G.E.M. He heard no roar of motors. GOLIATH had paused. Was down, waiting. Waiting for him, Hayduke, George Washington Hayduke, father of his country. Not the America that was – keep it like it was? – but the America that will be. That will be like it was. Forward to anarchy. Don’t tread on me. Death before dishonor. Live free or fucking die. Etc., etc.

(p. 274)

Edward Abbey’s earlier works inspired the Earth First! movement, so it was interesting to read Abbey’s commentaries on the movement which were woven into this book. In fact, Earth First! founder Dave Foreman makes a cameo character appearance in the text.

Abbey once stated that “If wilderness is outlawed, only outlaws can save wilderness.” Our planet is still in peril and there is a lot of work to be done on the environmental front. I encourage everyone to do their own small part.

If you want to learn a little more about Edward Abbey, here is a good article on Wilderness.net:

Edward Abbey: Freedom Begins Between the Ears

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“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

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“Beyond the Wall” by Edward Abbey

BeyondWall

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—

(p. xvi)

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.

(p. 14)

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.

(p. 40)

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.

(p. 67)

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.

(p. 203)

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“Between childhood, boyhood, adolescence & manhood” by Jim Morrison

MorrisonVenice

Photo taken at Venice Beach

Between childhood, boyhood, adolescence
& manhood (maturity) there
should be sharp lines drawn w/
Tests, deaths, feats, rites
stories, songs, & judgements

I recently went out to Los Angeles to visit my daughter, and while I was there, I went and spent a few hours roaming around Venice Beach, which was also Jim Morrison’s haunt in his younger days. In fact, Venice Beach was where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek met and decided to form a band together which later became The Doors. The place still has a strange feel, and the huge mural painted on the side of a building reminds you that this was home to Jim in his formative years (see photo).

As I read this short poem included in Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison, I could not help thinking about those moments in my life that served as symbolic rites of passage, where I moved on to my next phase of personal development. There have been many, but each one is clear, each accompanied by its own epiphany.

As I helped my daughter move into her own apartment off campus in L.A., I realized that this must be one of those moments for her, clear and defined, where she truly becomes her own person. I suppose it is also a sharp line for me too, realizing that my child has grown and moved out on her own.

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“Into My Own” by Robert Frost

BanyanTree

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

I read this sonnet three times this morning, and each time I read it I liked it more. This poem works for me on so many levels, and the fact that it was the first poem in Frost’s first book (A Boy’s Will) makes it all the more impressive.

On the surface, we have a young man who longs to set out on his own and travel his own path in the world. The trees symbolize his present life, rooted as it were in the place where he lives. But he longs to venture into the woods, to get lost in the world beyond his present life. I could not help thinking about Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. This is the archetypal American feeling of freedom to lose oneself in the wilderness, to seek one’s true self in nature. It’s why we relate to Huckleberry Finn.

But I see another level of symbolism in this poem, something deeper, more spiritual and psychological. This poem serves as a metaphor for the inner search for one’s true spiritual self. On this level, the trees become symbols for our established beliefs, rooted deep in our consciousness, obscuring the deeper forests of the subconscious mind that lay beyond the threshold of the woods. The speaker now wants to delve deep into his soul and search for his essence. He knows innately that this inner self is his true nature, and that discovering that part of himself will not change him into something different, but will only unveil who he really is.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

The more I read Robert Frost, the more I appreciate his genius. This poem is a great example of how great a poet he was.

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“Destruction” by Charles Baudelaire

Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch

At my side the Demon writhes forever,
Swimming around me like impalpable air;
As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever
And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.

Knowing my love of Art, he snares my senses,
Appearing in woman’s most seductive forms,
And, under the sneak’s plausible pretenses,
Lips grow accustomed to his lewd love-charms.

He leads me thus, far from the sight of God,
Panting and broken with fatigue into
The wilderness of Ennui, deserted and broad,

And into my bewildered eyes he throws
Visions of festering wounds and filthy clothes,
And all Destruction’s bloody retinue.

(Translated by C. F. MacIntyre)

This sonnet describes Baudelaire’s source of inspiration in the decadent and decayed. In the first stanza, he addresses his artistic desire as a demon, something that haunts him and lures him down dark pathways in search of inspiration. He continues in the second stanza, acknowledging that his love for artistic expression is what tempts him to succumb to his physical desires, seeking to capture that carnal feeling in his poetry.

In the third stanza, he describes himself as entering the “wilderness of Ennui.” I love this metaphor. Through the lens of ennui, the world around him seems bleak and deserted, void of beauty and lacking spirituality. I also see the wilderness as a symbol of our subconscious mind, or the shadow part of ourselves. Baudelaire is probing the darker regions of his psyche in search of inspiration. And he finds this in the images of decay and destruction in the final stanza.

It’s important to note that the horrific visions that Baudelaire describes are sources of beauty. Just like the Phoenix rises from the ashes, as life grows from the dead and decaying, and as the old must be destroyed to create the new, so the destruction he sees is the first stage in the birth of new artistic expression.

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“Into The Wild” by Jon Krakauer

IntoTheWild

This book has been on my list of books to read for quite a long time. I finally got around to it. For those who do not know the premise of the book, it is the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man who decided to journey into the wilderness of Alaska alone and ended up dying of starvation. It’s a powerful story and extremely well-written. I found it difficult to put down.

In the book, Krakauer uses journal entries, letters, photos, and interviews to piece together the events of Chris’ odyssey into the wild, which he undertook immediately upon graduating college and did not inform his friends or family about. He basically severed his ties to society and decided to live on the fringe. In a letter he wrote to Ron Franz, a person he met while traveling, he expresses his belief in the importance of living an adventurous life.

I’d like to repeat the advice I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.

(pp. 56 – 57)

Throughout the book, Krakauer includes quotes from writers regarding experiences in the wilderness. One of these quotes really struck me.

Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works. It not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he frequently made of his own soul. The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect setting for either melancholy or exaltation.

Roderick Nash,
Wilderness and the American Mind

(p. 157)

I have always found the wilderness to be a powerful symbol for the dark, primordial realm of the subconscious mind. That, combined with the fact that much of America was wilderness for a long time, the symbol of wilderness has become part of the American collective consciousness. It is the wild, unexplored part of ourselves that always seems to lure us.

McCandless traveled around the United States for about two years before finally heading out into the Alaskan bush. There is a great journal entry that describes his feeling as he finally found his solitude in the wilderness.

Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ‘cause “the west is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the great white north, no longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.

(p. 163)

For my entire life, I always believed that burning had to be the worst way to die, and while I still think that it is probably the worst, after reading the description of what happens to a person who starves to death, I believe that this is a close second.

Starvation is not a pleasant way to expire. In advanced stages of famine, as the body begins to consume itself, the victim suffers muscle pain, heart disturbances, loss of hair, dizziness, shortness of breath, extreme sensitivity to cold, physical and mental exhaustion. The skin becomes discolored. In the absence of key nutrients, a severe chemical imbalance develops in the brain, inducing convulsions and hallucinations. Some people who have been brought back from the edge of starvation, though, report that near the end the hunger vanishes, the terrible pain dissolves, and the suffering is replaced by a sublime euphoria, a sense of calm accompanied by transcendent mental clarity. It would be nice to think McCandless experienced a similar rapture.

(p. 198)

In my younger days, I took a lot of risks and had some pretty close calls. I suppose that is why I related to this book. I could see myself in Chris McCandless. I share his romantic idealism, the longing to live a full life, the reverence of nature, and the love of literature.

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