Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey -A Book Review

There are more than five wall hangings in my room and only one is associated with United States. It is a framed photograph of a landscape depicting Balanced Rock, a natural sandstone formation located near Moab, Utah. It is funny that, I am not even the photographer of the image.(I can’t properly make out the name of the photographer from the signature of his in the photograph.)  It is even more funny that, of my life in Montana and my limitless love to the mountains across Rockies, the image I chose to adorn my wall is of a desert. A lifeless desert.

To see a selection of photos from my travels across Utah, follow the Link.

If you ask me whether you want cold feet or sand in ears, I would say cold feet. If you ask me mountains or ‘anything’, whether that be beach or desert, my reply is mountains. But.. but.. you need to know that there are ghosts living in the desert that lure you like mirages and leave you thirsty every single time…

Side note: The most colourful state in India is Rajasthan, a desert state.

Check out my earlier post from 2013 about Colours of Rajasthan (Link)

Coming to the book, I wonder why I hadn’t read this earlier. There are adherent fans of this eccentric ranger from Arches NP. Then there are repulsive haters who call him selfish, contradictory and imbecile.

desert solitaire cover

Plot: The book evolves from his journal notes during his first season as a ranger in the Arches NP. It was published during late 60’s, six years after Rachel Carson’s Silent spring. He is also among the pioneers of early environmental movement. Also, he is accused of being anti-technology, anarchist and of reaping the fruits of technology. He is not entirely anti-technology but he just wants to preserve the wilderness the way it is, wild. There are glimpses of his feeling towards wrecking development projects which is the basis of his novel, Monkey wrench gang (I haven’t read it yet).

So in the book, he tackles the desert, the loneliness, different personalities that come looking for something or the other in his desert (He calls it Abbey’s land) in this classic treatise on desert. His survival tactics, his disdain for automobile tourists, friendship with snakes all are covered in chapters in no particular order. There is also a detailed tour of his journey in a raft along the Grand Canyon before one of the great dams that was built across the Colorado River.

Style: Individual chapters deal with various events during his time there. The only underlying theme being the desert. He romanticises the life in the harsh land and takes all the readers along with him in the journey as he cruises along canyons and climbs mountains and empties trash cans.

Verdict: It is a beautiful read for anyone who have experienced the SouthWest United States. I had placed the book in the ‘Non-fiction’ section before I read it, now it occupies the ‘Travelogue’ section. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to read his novel.


Quotable Quote:Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the antihuman, the other world which frightens not through danger or hostility but something far worse– its implacable indifference.”