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The best of edward abbey, p.1
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       The Best of Edward Abbey, p.1

           Edward Abbey
The Best of Edward Abbey

  The Best of Edward Abbey

  Edward Abbey

  The Best of Edward Abbey

  Edited by Edward Abbey

  with his own illustrations


  The Best of Edward Abbey

  Copyright © 1984 by Edward Abbey

  Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.

  ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795317453


  Acknowledgments for previously published material included in the first edition:

  The selection from Jonathan Troy first appeared in Jonathan Troy, Dodd, Mead, 1954.

  The selection from The Brave Cowboy first appeared in The Brave Cowboy, Dodd, Mead, 1956.

  The selection from Fire on the Mountain first appeared in Fire on the Mountain, Dial Press, 1962.

  The selection from Black Sun first appeared in Black Sun, Simon & Schuster, 1971.

  The selection from The Monkey Wrench Gang first appeared in The Monkey Wrench Gang, Avon Books, 1976.

  The selection from Good News first appeared in Good News, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1980.

  “Cowboys,” “The Moon-Eyed Horse,” “Havasu,” “The Dead Man at Grandview Point,” and “Bedrock and Paradox” first appeared in Desert Solitaire, McGraw-Hill, 1968.

  “The Great American Desert,” “Death Valley,” “Manhattan Twilight, Hoboken Night,” and “Telluride Blues—A Hatchet Job” first appeared in The Journey Home, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1977.

  “Anna Creek,” “The Outback,” “A Desert Isle,” “Sierra Madre,” “Down There in the Rocks,” “Science with a Human Face,” “In Defense of the Redneck,” “Fire Lookout,” and “The Sorrows of Travel” first appeared in Abbey’s Road, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1979.

  “Down the River with Henry Thoreau,” “Watching the Birds: The Windhover,” “Of Protest,” “My Friend Debris,” and “Floating” first appeared in Down the River, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1982.

  Selection from Appalachian Wilderness first appeared in Appalachian Wilderness, E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1973.

  The publisher gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint additional selections from the following copyrighted sources:

  “Bonnie’s Return” from Hay duke Lives! by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1989 by The Estate of Edward Abbey. By permission of Little, Brown and Company, Inc.

  “Down to the Sea of Cortez” in Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1984, by Edward Abbey. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

  Pages 437 to 440 in The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1988, 1990 by Edward Abbey. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

  Three poems from Earth Apples: Collected Poems by Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1994 by Clarke C. Abbey. Excerpts from Confessions of a Barbarian: Selections from the Journals of Edward Abbey. Copyright © 1994 by Clarke Abbey. Reprinted by permission of Clarke Abbey and Don Congdon Associates, Inc.


  The Author’s Preface to His Own Book

  From Jonathan Troy (1954)

  From The Brave Cowboy (1956)

  From Fire on the Mountain (1962)

  From Desert Solitaire (1968)


  The Moon-Eyed Horse


  The Dead Man at Grandview Point

  Bedrock and Paradox

  From Appalachian Wilderness (1970)


  From Black Sun (1971)

  From The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975)

  Seldom Seen at Home

  From The Journey Home (1977)

  The Great American Desert

  Death Valley

  Manhattan Twilight, Hoboken Night

  Telluride Blues—A Hatchet Job

  From Abbey’s Road (1979)

  Anna Creek

  The Outback

  A Desert Isle

  Sierra Madre

  Down There in the Rocks

  Science with a Human Face

  In Defense of the Redneck

  Fire Lookout

  The Sorrows of Travel

  From Good News (1980)

  From Down the River (1982)

  Down the River with Henry Thoreau

  Watching the Birds: The Windhover

  Of Protest

  My Friend Debris


  From The Rites of Spring (novel in progress)

  From Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside (1984)

  Down to the Sea of Cortez

  From The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel (1989)

  To the Mississippi

  From Hayduke Lives! (1990)

  Bonnie’s Return

  From Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey (1994)

  Flash Flood

  Down the River

  A Sonnet for Everett Ruess

  From Confessions of a Barbarian (1994)

  Selections from the Journals

  The Author’s Preface

  to His Own Book

  The Reader as literary object has two useful functions: it can serve as a convenient one-volume introduction to a writer’s work for those not previously acquainted with it, leading to deeper intimacies; or the Reader may suffice to confirm one’s doubts and suspended contempt, thus sparing the critic the bother of looking further. I trust that my book will satisfy the expectations of both types of Reader readers.

  In compiling this one-man show I have endeavored, as an author naturally does, to present what I think is both the best and the most representative of my writing—so far. The emphasis falls on the latter term. Most of my writing has been in the field of the novel, explorations in certain aspects of the human comedy, especially the traditional conflict between our instinctive urge toward fraternity, community, and freedom, and the opposing demands of discipline and the state. The human versus human institutions—a conflict as old as the development of agriculture, urbanism, militarism, and hierarchy. That theme, like a scarlet thread, runs through everything I have written, binding it together into whatever unity it may have. Seeking to develop this theme in dramatic form, the best and most deeply felt of my writing flows toward fiction, toward the creation of symbolic structures, the telling and retelling (always trying to get it right) of one of our oldest stories.

  Excerpts from novels, however, make poor material for an anthology. At least in the kind of fiction I have been writing, few of my excerpts or chapters make much sense in isolation; none have the independent coherence of a good short story. Nevertheless, I chose to insert in this Reader one episode from each of my novels, not to please or amuse, but in hope of tickling enough interest to lure the potential reader into the ambuscade of the originals. But these episodes are brief and there are only seven of them.

  The bulk of the book consists of chapters from four collections of informal, personal (sometimes highly personal) accounts of travel, ideas, people, nature, places, adventures—Desert Solitaire, The Journey Home, Abbey’s Road, and Down the River. I like to call such writing personal history. Most of the selections qualify, I think, as essays, another adequately vast, vague, and self-defining label. We know that in this world there are actually only two kinds of books: (1) good books, and (2) the others. But books require finer labels so that librarians, in a culture built on the babble of numbers and words, may not go clinically insane.

  My first book (Troy) was published
in 1954. According to the calendar on the wall, I am writing these words in the year 1984. Thirty years in the book-writing business—appalling! For so prolonged an effort my output has been small, about a dozen volumes worthy of the title “book” plus the texts for four or five scenic-photography coffee-table compendiums, which I do not count as legitimate books and which in any case nobody reads. (One of those things, if you attached legs to it, would do as a coffee-table in itself.) Of the eleven or twelve legitimate books only one, The Monkey Wrench Gang, goes beyond 300 pages. Hardly enough to gain my union card.

  Where have the years gone? Why, into the usual vices of the romantic realist: into sloth and melancholy, each feeding upon and reinforcing the other, into love and marriage and the begetting of children, into the strenuous maneuvers of earning a living without living to earn, into travel and play and music and drink and talk and laughter, into saving the world—but saving the world was only a hobby. Into watching cloud formations float across our planetary skies. But mostly into sloth and melancholy and I don’t regret a moment of it.

  If I had stayed in Hoboken when I had the chance, holed up in the urban hive while acid rain pattered on the roof and drug-crazed killers stalked the alleyways, I would now be the Dostoyevsky of Hudson County, New Jersey. Two of my American heroes are Nelson Algren and Dr. William Carlos Williams. But I left after one year.

  Nothing can be more fatuous than a writer writing about his own writing and the serious reader is advised to skip what follows; I intend to go on probing this same vein for several pages more. It may be of interest to other essayists and novelists. I know that I like to read such stuff, up to a point, if there is one.

  Despite the meagre production (so far), I have been able to earn my keep at writing for nearly fifteen years. I know that it’s vulgar and offensive to talk about money—most authors would far prefer to describe their latest sadomasochistic daydreams—but the grim truth is that I have been well rewarded for my plodding work at the typewriter, with an average income in the period referred to of about 20,000 dollars per year. A handsome sum, more than sufficient for a comfortable life in the country. After centuries of dogged striving at least one member of the Abbey clan (Allegheny Mountain branch) has succeeded in climbing to the uppermost rungs of the lower class.

  How did this come about?

  Not through institutional assistance. My books are never reviewed in Time or Newsweek or New York or The New Yorker or the New York Review or Esquire or Harper’s or Atlantic or Village Voice or National Review or Partisan Review or Commentary or TV Guide or Ms. or Mother Jones or Rolling Stone or Ladies’ Home Journal or Vogue or Sewanee Review or The Wall Street Journal. Each of my books, each defenseless child, has been met with a sublime, monumental, crashing silence—a freezing silence. (Some did receive friendly notices in the Sunday New York Times and other regional newspapers.)

  When not ignored, my books are greeted with what I must recognize as a coolness verging on outright frigidity, particularly by the doctrinaire buzzsaws of chickenshit liberalism: “The author of this book,” said one reviewer about The Monkey Wrench Gang, “should be neutered and locked away forever.” A Miss “S. C.,” reviewing Abbey’s Road for The New Republic, attacked me as “smug” and “graceless” because of a careless remark I let drop about Annie Dillard’s theological nature writing; the reviewer was so infuriated by that slip that she even ridiculed the publisher’s jacket copy. In the moldy, angst-ridden pages of The Nation one Denise Drabelle, identified as an “environmental lawyer,” whatever that is, described the author of Down the River as “puerile, arrogant, xenophobic and dopey.” Why? Because I had foolishly confessed, in a casual aside, to sharing in the popular belief that mass immigration from the Latin South (or from any other source) is not a good thing for the working people and material well-being of the United States. And one more critic, in a survey of Western American writers for the New York Times Magazine, called me a “smirking pessimist,” apparently in response to my novel Good News, in which I foresee the collapse of our military-industrial civilization. I could cite other examples but this is enough to indicate the general tenor of the resistance.

  A near unanimous indifference sprinkled with peppery pockets of abuse—such has been the overall critical reception of my thirty years of part-time literary travail. No help at all. Am I complaining or boasting? A little of both, but my essential point is this: a serious writer writing what are meant as serious books can survive and even flourish in the face of official indifference and hostility if he has something to say and says it well, something which interests a sufficient number of his fellow citizens. Except for that first and highly forgotten novel, not one of my books has failed to sell at least 10,000 copies in its original trade edition and some, like the hated Abbey’s Road and Down the River,; are approaching the 40,000 mark and still selling at a modest but steady annual rate. In one form or another, every one of my books (again with the sole and welcome exception of Jonathan Troy) has remained in print and available. My smug pride in this fact is self-evident but more importantly I offer my experience to other writers, especially the new, the young, the struggling, as proof that the author need not subserve a mass market or pander to the East Coast literati in order to enjoy a satisfactory audience. There is a middle way, a strait, tricky, but feasible channel between the rocks on the swift river of Mod Am Lit. That should be good news indeed. Be of good cheer, my fellow scriveners! Ignore the critics. Disregard those best-selling paperbacks with embossed covers in the supermarkets and the supermarket bookstores. And waste no time applying for gifts and grants—when we want money from the rich we’ll take it by force. The honorable way.

  Death before dishonor, as it were.

  Live free or die.

  That about sums up (and may well conclude) my literary career. Which is not and never was a career anyway, but rather a passion. A passion! Fueled in equal parts by anger and love. How can you feel one without the other? Each implies the other. A writer without passion is like a body without a soul. Or even more grotesque, like a soul without a body.

  Yes, I am aware that what I have written above requires certain qualifications. I am happy to acknowledge that some of the American writers I most admire—Doctorow, Vonnegut, Heller, Pynchon, for example—have won an enormous audience. I only wish it were far bigger. And others whom I respect—Gaddis, for example, and Wendell Berry, Joan Didion, Peter Matthiessen, Edward Hoagland, Alan Harrington, William Eastlake, Robert Coover, Barry Lopez, Thomas McGuane, Gary Snyder, Galway Kinnell, Annie Dillard, Robert Creeley, Diane Wakowski, to name but a few—have received the official critical acclaim but not (so far) the number of readers they deserve. Never mind. I stand by and upon the central meaning of my words. There is a middle way. You do not have to write endless disquisitions about suburban hanky-panky, Toyota dealers, self-hating intellectuals, male mutilation, lesbians in bearskins, to live and live happily as a writer in America, God bless her.

  You do not even need to be psychoanalyzed, Rolfed, estered, altered, gelded, neutered, spayed, fixed, Mooned, acupunctured, meditated, Zenned, massaged, Cayced, yogied, New Aged, astrocharted, holisticized, computerized, megatrended, therapized, androgynized, evangelized, converted, or even, last and least, to be reborn. One life at a time, please.

  What is both necessary and sufficient—for honest work—is to have faith in the evidence of your senses and in your common sense. To be true to your innate sense of justice. To be loyal to your family, your clan, your friends, and your community. (Let the nation-state go hang itself.) Stand up for the stupid and crazy. Love the earth and the sun and the animals. Read Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Henry Thoreau, Jack London, B. Traven, Thomas Wolfe (the real Tom Wolfe, not that other one), John Steinbeck, Nelson Algren, and Dr. William Carlos Williams. When you are appointed to the Nobel Prize Committee, vote for Lewis Mumford for literature, Noam Chomsky for truth, and David Brower for peace. And that about covers it. So far.

  So far as America is c
oncerned. As for the remainder of the earthly world, we know what’s going on out there. The best of our brother novelists and sister poets are in prison or in hiding or in exile, are being “disappeared,” tortured, murdered, from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico, from Siberia and Peking to Prague, from Cairo to Capetown, from Hanoi to Istanbul. What should we do about that? I don’t know.

  In such a world, why write? How justify this mad itch for scribbling? Speaking for myself, I write to entertain my friends and exasperate our enemies. I write to record the truth of our time, as best as I can see it. To investigate the comedy and tragedy of human relationships. To resist and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a technocratic, militaristic totalitarianism, whatever its ideological coloration. To oppose injustice, defy the powerful, and speak for the voiceless.

  I write to make a difference. “It is always a writer’s duty to make the world better,” said Samuel Johnson. Distrusting all answers, to raise more questions. To give pleasure and promote esthetic bliss. To honor life and praise the divine beauty of the world. For the joy and exultation of writing itself. To tell my story.

  Well now, says the old wolf, vox clamantis in deserto, that should keep him busy for a while.

  Edward Abbey

  March 1984

  Oracle, Arizona


  Jonathan Troy


  He was awakened, hearing laughter, in the dark tunnel of the night, caught between frayed dreams, and sat up and stared into the blackness, hearing from the other end of the room now, weaving through the dark, not the wild trill of leaves in laughter which had awakened him, but only the dismal whine, the dim and melancholy wind (like the song of a ghost in the black and ruined farmhouse which rose, shaking and creaking with misery and age, from dark tangles of bramble-briar and hawthorn, hedged in by plum trees grown wild and apple trees grown tall and shaggy and barren, fronting a yard of Queen Anne’s Lace and waist-high witch grass, trailing across its black eyes a hairy skein of Virginia Creeper and volunteer columbine, facing the narrow rutty rocky road that once was and in flood-time still is the bed of a creek, pushing up above its sagging walls and black splintered boards a sway-backed roof as cracked and open as a trellis, with the soft-moulded remains of a red-brick chimney where a catbird family nested in the spring and early summer, where a whippoorwill haunted himself in the autumn, beyond the last farm beyond Falling Rock Cabin way up the hollow in the vine-covered hills behind Tanomee, the old farm which nobody wanted any more and which nearly everybody had forgotten except the boy and (in the fall) the red-jacketed hunters from town with their clean shotguns and pipes and wrinkled eyes on the lookout for rabbits, squirrels, Ringnecks, wild turkeys) of his father, old Nat Troy, rolled asleep in his stolen Army blankets and turning in a nightmare, creaking the broken springs, the oboe sound of his father’s snores, a sound too familiar and elemental and old, too interveined with the bedrock of his being and existence, with the stream of his history from its black beginning to its gray present, to be more than simply noticed, an awareness indicated, its real and fundamental message already buried in the chamber of his dreams; he could forget and at once did forget the ancestral nightchant, remembering only the vivid and in memory still-immediate skirl of laughter, feeling the deep and thrilled commotion of his heart, the tingling of his hair, the shaking and trembling of his sweating hands, still hearing, in the black vault of silence, the silent echo of the wind in leaves, and sitting up in bed, stiff with shock and surprise, he turned his head toward the open window, searching for something, and saw, framed in the gray rectangle, a diffusion of undersea light—of light shining through a curtain of falling rain—an unexpected vision which drew him out of his bed, naked, and across the littered floor to the window, where he leaned out head and shoulders, shivering slightly, the wild churning in his mind and heart heating his blood, opening his mouth, exciting his loins, and remembered the green sources and the swing of steel blades over a moon-meadow of frozen moonlight and the slim body of the girl—her knees, the grave level gaze of her eyes, the whirling skirt, the wind of speed lifting her hair—and the flight, the trail of laughter and the taunt or dare or challenge coming back to him over the blue ice and through the air—find me!—and he smiled as he remembered, his hands tightening on the window-frame’s edge, and leaned farther out, seeing the dead neon of the Blue Bell Bar, the streetlamps glowing through the soft rain, the street empty and wet-shining and earless, and the silent town abandoned to sleep and night, and he thought of the girl waiting for him a mile or so away through the wet air, past all the steel and concrete and bare-limbed urban trees, somewhere on the other side of the hill beyond the Fair; enthralled by the green joy of love and the urgent delight of sex, he thought of her, and watched, from where he was, a little past the end of the first hour in April, the wordless tireless falling of the rain….

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