BURNED-OVER DISTRICT, NY–Edward Abbey died twenty years ago today. A product of the perfectly named Home, Pennsylvania, son of the conjugation of a Woman’s Christian Temperance Unionist and a Wobbly farmer, Abbey was a hillbilly intellectual park ranger and fire lookout who wrote novels suffused with high spirits and sweet anarchy (The Brave Cowboy, The Monkey Wrench Gang, The Fool’s Progress) and a stark, beautiful, angry book about the despoiling of the Southwest, Desert Solitaire.
He was one of American lit’s great iconoclasts. At Abbey’s raucous wake in Utah’s Arches National Park, Wendell Berry spoke of him as an intransigent patriot, an authentic American hero. Said Berry, “Patriotism is not the love of air conditioning or the interstate highway system or the government or the flag or power or money or munitions. It is the love of country.”
Or as Ed Abbey used to say, “America: Love it or Leave it Alone.” (He also remarked that if a man can’t piss off his own front porch he’s living too close to town, so you all might want to back up a bit.)
In “A Writer’s Credo,” Abbey declared, “I write to entertain my friends and to exasperate our enemies. To oppose, resist, and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a global technocratic police state, whatever its ideological coloration…I write for the joy and exultation of writing itself. To tell my story.” Words to scrawl across the top of a porch, I’d say.
P.S. Some Abbey apothegms from A Voice Crying in the Wilderness:
–Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.
–A true conservative must necessarily be a conservationist.
–One day in Dipstick, Nebraska, or Landfill, Oklahoma, is worth more to me than an eternity in Dante’s plastic Paradiso, or Yeats’s gold-plated Byzantium.
–Government: If you refuse to pay unjust taxes, your property will be confiscated. If you attempt to defend your property, you will be arrested. If you resist arrest, you will be clubbed. If you defend yourself against clubbing, you will be shot dead. These procedures are known as the Rule of Law.
–Our “neoconservatives” are neither new nor conservative, but old as Babylon and evil as Hell.
–The distrust of wit is the beginning of tyranny.
And while we’re at it…Check out Tom Russell’s “The Ballad of Edward Abbey” on his album “Indians, Cowboys, Horses, Dogs” (2004). Thanks to Brian Frizzell for introducing me to Russell, among the best American singer-songwriters.