Though dead now 23 years, Edward Abbey still clears my head --- and I got to wondering yesterday what he'd have to say about the way things are going these days had he not passed at 62 due to esophageal bleeding back in '89, mortal remains stuffed unceremoneously into a sleeping bag and buried anonymously in the Arizona desert to "help fertilize the growth of a cactus" with assistance from four friends, five cases of beer --- and a bottle of whiskey to pour on the grave.
John Harlan once described Abbey as arrogant, self-centered and bigoted," which he probably was. But he wrote sublimely about the wilderness, commencing in 1968 with "Desert Solitaire." No one's matched him. He was an iconoclast, an anarchist --- and by no means always right. But I doubt there ever will be anything again like his collections of essays.
Anyhow, I picked up Abbey's final book again yesterday, "A Voice Crying in the Wilderness," written as he was dying, small, containing mostly one-liners plucked from his journals as a way of summation --- by no means his greatest work.
On Philosophy, Religion and So Forth: "Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God; this saves much wear and tear on the brain tissues," and "Belief? What do I believe in? I believe in sun. In rock. In the dogma of the sun and the doctrine of the rock. I believe in blood, fire, woman, rivers, eagles, storms, drums, flutes, banjos, and broom-tailed horses ...."
Good manners: "We should restore the practice of dueling. It might improve manners around here."
Government and politics: "What's the difference between a whore and a congressman? A congressman makes more money."
Life and Death and All That: "Men have never loved one another much, for reasons we can readily understand: Man is not a lovable animal" and "Life is unfair. And it's not fair that life is unfair."
On Writing, Etc.: "Our suicidal poets (Plath, Berryman, Lowell, Jarrell, et al.) spent too much of their lives inside rooms and classrooms when they should have been trudging up mountains, slogging through swamps, rowing down rivers. The indoor life is the next best thing to premature burial."
Music: "The best argument for Christianity is the Gregorian chant. Listening to that music, one can believe anything --- while the music lasts."
Of Women, Live, Sex, Etc: "The purpose of love, sex, and marriage is the production and raising of children. But look about you: Most people have no business having children. They are unqualified, either genetically or culturally or both, to reproduce such sorry specimens as themselves. Of all our privileges, the license to breed is the one most grossly abused."
On Nature: "I come more and more to the conclusion that wilderness, in America or anywhere else, is the only thing left that is worth saving."
Meditating on the latter pronouncement, I navigated the Web to Dan O'Brien's latest Cheyenne River writing, which references Abbey and recounts a trip by two of O'Brien's older friends, Gervase and Erney, to Yellowstone. It's worth a read.
And finally, now that I'm reasonably sure of survival and considering the wonders of wilderness, I need to acknowledge chiggers --- and the mediculously arranged two-inch row of bites that appeared at the waist band of my shorts shortly after I unwisely scooted on my butt through the grass at Salem Cemetery last week while photographing a tombstone. I know better than to sit in the grass at Salem in the spring. This has happened before.
I blame it on the aggressively poisoned farm fields that now surround Salem's island of unsprayed green. If I were a chigger, I'd take up residence there, too. It's amazing how much misery such a small cirtter can cause. But I don't recall that Edward Abbey ever wrote about chiggers.