Friday, November 06, 2015

A Letter to Edward Abbey



In the memoir writing class, one of the assignments was to write a letter to someone (it could be a relative, former lover, favorite author or musician).  I decided to write Edward Abbey who died on March 14, 1989.  At the time, I was living in Virginia City, Nevada, getting ready to head back to Pittsburgh to finish school.  Here's my letter:

Edward Abbey, 1927-1989

Cactus Ed,

I wish I could have enticed you to come to Virginia City where I could have treated you to a few beers in the Union Brewery.  We could have sat around the woodstove in the back, staying warm as the cold wind blew across the Nevada desert.  I’m sure you’d kept your eye on Judy as she danced around serving drinks while we swapped stories of rivers and trails.  Or, if you were up for the cold (as I know you tended to like the lower desert), we could have trekked on skis down the old railroad grade and warmed ourselves with a fire of sagebrush and pinion while watching stars and speaking of lost lovers and endangered wilderness.  Sadly, at the time I became acquainted with your writings, you were dying.
The first book of yours that I read was The Monkey Wrench Gang.  I am surprised that no one has yet made it into a movie, but perhaps anarchy doesn't sell.  Reading of the plot Hayduke, Seldom-Seen Smith and the rest hatched to blow up the Glen Canyon dam and restore the Colorado River to its natural course struck close to home.  I was reminded of times in college spent on the Haw River in North Carolina and discussions around campfires and at bridgeheads how we might blow up the B. Everett Jordan dam.  Both dams, one in the East and one in the West, wiped out some wild whitewater and rugged landscape.  But Ed, things have changed since those carefree days when such discussions could be held without fear of arrest.  Some right-wingers used your recipe to blow up a government building in Oklahoma and with the ever-present threat of terrorism from the Islamic extremists, our government can't be too cautious and don't take kindly to such conversations.  Yes, we are less free now than when you checked out. 
Sage in Nevada, Winter 88-89
          When I returned East in the fall of 1989 to finish school, I kept reading your books.  They were a constant reminder of the joy I found in the desert.  After MonkeyWrench, I read Desert Solitaire, in which you captured the beauty of the sparseness of the desert over time, from morning to night, spring to fall.  When I read Dark Sun (the closest you came to writing “chic-lit”) I realized that although you had numerous failed marriages and affairs, you had also experienced heartache.  I kept reading.  My personal favorite is the book published right before your death, A Fool’s Progress. Again, you struck a personal cord as Henry Lightcap, like me, would bake bread when unsure of what to do next.  Twenty-five years later, I find myself still pondering Henry’s journey and wondering if, when writing this novel, you knew your own end was close at hand.   
          Ed, thank you for leaving behind stories that express your love of life and all things wild.  Thank you for encouraging your readers to stand in awe of creation and to realize that once a wild place is lost, there will be no returning to its former glory.  Thank you for reminding us of the freedom of the journey and that we should savor every moment.  Thank you, for by sharing your dreams, we, too, can dream. 

Sage

54 comments:

  1. Now that's a beautiful bit of writing.

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    1. Thanks--I've told the story of the Haw River before, but that's what drew me into his writings.

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  2. The Monkey Wrench Gang was my first by him as well. What a wonderful book.

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    1. Don't you think that chase scene at the end would make an incredible movie!

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  3. My progression was similar to yours. I first read Monkey Wrench Gang and then Desert Solitaire and also fell in love with A Fool's Progress. Although I probably would choose Desert Solitaire to read again (for the 100th time) if I had a one book limit to eternity, two of my sentimental favorites are The Brave Cowboy and Fire On the Mountain. I have all his books with the exception of Jonathan Troy.

    I'm still waiting for the movie with Jack Nickolson and Matthew McConaughey but I'm not holding my breath that it will go further anytime soon. Until then, I would like to see the documentary Wrenched which is out. I need to check on Netflix while I'm thinking about it and see if they have a copy to rent.

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    1. Let me know what you find out about Wreched--I would like to see that, too.

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    2. My research has found that you can see it one of three ways. Attend a screening of it if one happens to be nearby. Rent it for $95 or buy it for $295 through the website. I think I'll wait awhile and see what happens.

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  5. Sometime in the early '80's I was in the Bay Area, driving while listening to KPFA...a young woman (by the sound of her voice) was interviewing Ed, asking the questions you'd expect from Pacifica Radio. Then I realized she was also probably fending him off. "Mr. Abbey, when you were writing Mr. Abbey! Stop that! did you know..." etc.

    Also, have you ever read the blog site of the guy who he modeled Hayduke after? A real life ex-green beret environmental activist? Doug Peacock, lives near Yellowstone.

    Nice bit of writing.

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    1. I have read one of Peacock's books, Walking If Off, and reviewed it in this blog back in November 2006 (has it been that long ago?)

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  6. That's a really wonderful assignment. Nice work!

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  7. Now that's some lovely writing. You really have talent, sage, and I'm so happy you share it.

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    1. Thank you, Cherdo, for your kind comments!

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  8. That was a very lovely, heartfelt letter.

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    1. Thank you, Mary, he's one of a few authors that I've read most everything he's published.

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  9. What a perfect letter to him! The creativity of that assignment is wonderful.

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  10. Nice letter! I'm sure Cactus Ed would have enjoyed reading it.

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    1. Maybe, he seemed to have a thing for pretty women and beer!

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  11. That was a heart-felt letter. Thanks. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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  12. Hey Sage:)

    Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I agree with everyone else - and I'd never heard of Cactus Ed, but he definitely sounds like someone who lived life to the full.

    Thanks for sharing some powerful words (and thoughts:)

    PS: If you're on Twitter, I'd like to follow you... I'm markjkoopmans.

    Cheers!

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    1. Thanks Mark. I followed you on twitter but I am not very active there.

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  13. Thank you for sharing this, Sage. Cactus Ed has clearly had an impact on your own journey.

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  14. What a beautiful tribute! Cactus Ed sounds like an inspiration. Thanks for sharing. :)
    ~Jess

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  15. I agree with everyone. Your words are beautiful and heartfelt.
    It's great to see a handsome young Sage in that photo, too.

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    1. More chocolates for you, Robyn. Keep the compliments coming (that was back in my hair on head days and a beard that wasn't gray)

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  16. Beautiful letter and one that if he could read would warm his heart but might break it a little, too, after learning about the changes in our country and how politically correct it's become. I miss the 80s. The Monkey Wrench Gang sounds interesting but I'd be more into the chic lit. ;)

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    1. You should read it, I'd wonder what a woman might think of Black Sun

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  17. He left quite an impression on you and this is one powerful letter.

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  18. I haven't read anything by him but I have heard of The Monkey Wrench Gang. It's great that he influenced you so. I wish he could read this letter. He'd love it.

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    1. You should read the Monkey Wrench Gang, it is funny, kind of like Carl Haissen, except he's in the desert and not South Florida

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  19. I haven't read anything by him but I have heard of The Monkey Wrench Gang. It's great that he influenced you so. I wish he could read this letter. He'd love it.

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  20. What a lovely post, Sage! I wanted to join you on that imaginary sit by the woodstove at Union Brewery. I've only read one of Edward Abbey's books: Desert Solitare. I should read more, certainly reread DS. Geologic time will undo the Glenwood Canyon damage, but it is irrevocably changed. I too love the desert, especially in the Four Corners region. I don't get there often, but I've seen a lot of the area, and I carry it in my heart always. Have a great week!

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    1. I meant to ask if you felt taking a memoir class helped you with your writing. I'm in the process of writing a memoir, so I was curious. Have a good one!

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    2. You are right, Glen Canyon is filling up with so much silt that the dam in time will be a waterfall! As for the memoir class, it was okay. It forced me to do six writings (over six weeks) but it was mostly about short pieces 500-750 words and not about doing a longer work like a book. I would recommend the book Zinisser wrote on Memoirs (I think it is "Writing about your LIfe)

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  21. It's amazing to write to someone you admire and also of that person to share later. I've been fortunate to write about my mentors and blessed to have spent time with them as well. A nice post!

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    1. I have written about a number of mentors of whom I knew, but this was fun because I didn't know him except through his published work and what other people have said about him.

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  22. Very well written, deeply heartfelt too! I like your old photo and Virginia City is one of my favorite places to visit. Take care!

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  23. Worked at the Cosmic Aeroplane Bookstore in SLC, UT when Sanders and I cooked up the idea of the Western Wilderness Calendar based in large measure on Abbey's writings. We got him to endorse it as a fund raiser for the Utah Wilderness Assoc. that was 82. Sold well enough that Sanders sold his portion of the store to Jones and Roberts and went full time with his nascent Dream Garden press to do more calendars. I left the following year and went to work at Dream Garden. In 85 we published a 10th anniversary edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang and got R. Crumb to illustrate it. Lot's of great stories from that era as we were players in Earth First! Since I mentioned Ken Brewer to you the other day you'll be tickled to hear that Sanders, Abbey and I stayed with Ken and Bobbie in Logan one night on our way to a Round River Rendezvous in Wyoming. Glad to hear your fond memories of Ed. With your nom de plume you need to check out The Earth First! Li'L Green Songbook by Johnny Sagebrush and friends.

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    1. It was a pleasure meeting you last week, to learn of your work with the Cosmic Areoplane, and discussing our shared interest in the inter-mountain west and those who fight to save it

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  24. Sage this a really nice letter, what amazing a friend say all these things about other :)
    Beautiful.

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  25. I definitely need to read more by Edward Abbey

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  26. Wow! You've got me interested in Cactus Ed. I'll have to look up his books on Amazon.

    On a related note, there is a great documentary on Netflix call Damnation, and it a history of damn building in this country and the efforts to remove obsolete damns.

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    1. I have not seen Damnation, but know of the effort of removing obsolete dams (there was some of this going on in Michigan when I lived there). Unfortunately, some dams probably won't be removed any time soon and the Glen Canyon one will probably just fill up with silt and become a waterfall.

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