Few environmental activists are as venerated as Ed Abbey, author of The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire. His stories about the landscapes, wildlife, and people of the Southwest have inspired countless numbers of visitors to explore the region’s national parks, monuments, and wild places – ironically, one of his biggest fears. But now, as Desert Solitaire turns 50 years old, local writer and sixth-generation Utahn, Amy Irvine, takes issue with some of Abbey’s views in a new book from Torrey House Press.
"The thing about that original manuscript," she said. "When I looked through it, very early on in the book he mentions his wife and children and there’s a big fat line drawn through it. He omitted that line. And I was like, ‘Oh, my God’, so solitude was a literary device here.
"We know he had many women visit the trailer, we know he drank at the bar with the Uranium miners, cowboyed with local ranchers- but he also had a wife and children. Why did he choose to do that and how has that shaped our lens on wild places. The impulse to seek solitude, can that become an exclusive sort of thing? Can it become a sort of gesture of intolerance in a world where people do have to get along and share resources?"
While Irvine acknowledges Abbey’s importance to many environmentalists and even to her own career, she says self-examination is necessary before the green movement has the right to call out others.
"I feel like we have to look at our own choices and behavior before we can even point our fingers at the right," she said. "I think we’re in denial about our high carbon footprint. We’ve got a lot of people along the Wasatch Front, a lot of upper-middle-class people who have the time, means, availability to get to Utah public lands and recreate …and they are pretty down on grazing cattle on public lands. And yet, they’re all on the Paleo diet.
"I think the only hope we have to save the natural world is by breaking out of these old constructs and assumptions and forming new relationships," she says.
Desert Cabal is available from Torrey House Press.