Quotes: Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey, Touchstone, 1968
Lavender clouds sail like a fleet of ships across the pale green dawn; each cloud, planed flat on the wind, has a base of fiery gold.
… clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus….
Above the mesa the sun hangs behind streaks and streamers of wind-whipped clouds. More storms coming.
But for the time being, around my place at least, the air is untroubled, and I become aware for the first time today of the immense silence in which I am lost. Not a silence so much as a great stillness – for there are few sounds: the creak of some bird in a juniper tree, an eddy of wind which passes and fades like a sigh, the ticking of the watch on my wrist – slight noises which break the sensation of absolute silence but at the same time exaggerate my sense of the surrounding, overwhelming peace.
Afterwards I put on hat and coat and go outside again, sit on the table, and watch the sky and the desert dissolves slowly into mystery under the chemistry of twilight.
A wisp of bluish smoke goes up and the wood, arid as the rock from which it came blossoms out in fire.
… instead of loneliness I feel loveliness.
The wind blows sand in my teeth but also brings the scent of flowering cliffrose and a hint of mountain snow, more than adequate compensation.
Because of its clouds of flowers the cliffrose is the showiest plant in the canyon country….
The cactus of the high desert is a small, grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it in the wrong way. Yet from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born once each year a splendid flower. It is unpluckable and except to an insect almost unapproachable….
But there is still too much to see and marvel at, the world very much alive in the bright light and wind, exultant with the fever of spring, the delight of morning.
We must concede that science is nothing new, that research, empirical logic, the courage to experiment are as old as humanity.
If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of the ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful – that which is full of wonder.
… blue with blasphemy.
An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.
We are preoccupied with time. If we could learn to love space as deeply as we are now obsessed with time, we might discover a new meaning in the phrase to live like men.
A treasure not in money but in beauty.
Darkness is coming on; but the waves are rolling with crests of foam so white they almost give a light of their own.
What do old men who don’t believe in Heaven think about? I used to wonder. Now we know: they think about their blood pressure, their bladders, their aortas, their lower intestines, ice on the doorstep, too much sun at noon.
When the sun burst out above the canyon rim, flaring like a white scream, and it’s hot breath burned my neck, I knew what he was thinking about.
… fire dies to a twist of smoke and a heap of rubies….
Unequipped to hold their own in the ferociously competitive world of White America, in which even the language is foreign to them, the Navajos sink ever deeper into the culture of poverty, exhibiting all of the usual and well-known symptoms… and various forms of mental illness, including evangelical Protestantism.
While the actual working cowboy disappears, along with the genuine nonworking Indian, the make-believe cowboys flourish and multiply like flies on a pecan pie. … From the rear many of them look like women; many of them are woman.
Torture by tantalizing, hope without fulfillment. And the clouds disperse and dissipate into nothingness.
The massive forms jostle and grate, ions collide, and the sound of thunder is heard above the sun-drenched land. More clouds emerge from the empty sky, and anvil-headed giants with glints of lightning in their depths.
They are windbags: with each croak the pouch under the frogs chin swells like a bubble, then collapses.
They cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.
I listen for signals from the sun – but that distant music is too high and pure for the human ear.
Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around – – if only we were worthy of it.
No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. The civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.
Long ago the cliff dwellings were abandoned. Were the inhabitants actually destroyed by the enemies they had always dreaded? Or were they reduced and driven out by disease, by something as undramatic as bad sanitation, pollution of the water and air? Or could it have been, finally, simply their own fears which poisoned their lives beyond hope of recovery and drove them into exile and extinction?
The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break.
Whirlwinds dance across the salt flats, a pillar of dust by day; the thornbush breaks into flame at night.
The trail led across a stream wide, blue and deep….
… a sinister element pervaded the flow of time.
There was a serpent, a red racer, living in the rocks of the spring where I filled my canteens; he was always there, slipping among the stones or pausing to mesmerize me with his suggestive tongue and cloudy haunted primeval eyes. Damn his eyes. We got to know each other rather too well I think. I agonized over the girls I had known and over those I hoped were yet to come.
I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.
something private, something Edenic
… spokes of light radiating across the sky all the way from the western to the eastern horizon.
At first I think it is still night but looking east I see a premonition of day in the greenish streaks of light spreading out along the rim.
Gaze not too long into the abyss, less the abyss gaze into thee.
…q Indian ricegrass,grama grass – which flourished after the summer rains have ripened to a tawny brown; in the slanting light of morning and evening the far-off fields in Salt Valley, where these grasses are most abundant, shine like golden velvet.
Why the tourists complain so much about this road I cannot understand; every foot of it offers some kind of challenge to nerve and skill and the drive as a whole is nothing less than a small adventure for man and machine. With brilliant scenery all the way, coming or going – what more could they want?
… through the blaring traffic and under the nervous neon….
The longer you rest the harder it is to get up and go on. The steady oxlike plod is best.
Then why climbTukuhnikivats? Because I prefer to. Because no one else will if I don’t – and somebody has to do it.
Silently I dedicate the flower to a girl I know and in honor both of her and the columbine open my knife and carve something appropriate in the soft white bark of the nearest aspen.
There is no way out of these difficulties – you might as well try running Cataract Canyon without hitting a rock.
Even after years of intimate contact and search this quality of strangeness in the desert remains undiminished. Transparent and intangible as sunlight, yet always and everywhere present, it lures a man on and on, from the red-walled canyons to the smoke-blue ranges beyond, in a futile but fascinating quest for the great, unimaginable treasure which the desert seems to promise.
The holiday is over and a strange sweet stillness, better than any music, soars above the Arches.
… the tremendous silence flows back, sealing the canyon country beneath a transparent dome of timelessness. The sun comes up, a resounding fire, the great golden gong of the dawn…
… cloud transformations, the metamorphosis of sunlight….
I even knotted the tie around my neck and tightened it in the proper style – adjusting the garrotte for fit. A grim business, returning to civilization.
Something like a yellow rash has broken out upon the mountain sides – the aspen forests in their autumn splendor.
Grateful for our departure? One more expression of human vanity. The finest quality of the stone, these plants and animals, this desert landscape is the indifference manifest to our presence, our absence, our coming, our staying or our going. Whether we live or die is a matter of absolutely no concern whatsoever to the desert. Let men in the madness blast every city on earth into black rubble….