To call Edward Abbey simply an “environmentalist” would be inaccurate. Although his writing focused primarily on environmental issues, Abbey seemed to be constantly criticizing the culture around him. His works ranged from fictional writing to hard-hitting and sometimes derogatory essays. much of his writing was so controversial that even some environmental groups criticized his stance. Abbey was known for throwing beer cans out of his car because the road he was traveling on had already ruined the scenery around him. he wrote essays in which he demeaned western farming and ranching methods and yet was a supporter of the national rifle association. his writing suggests that he was not comfortable with environmental activists or activism in general. Abbey was not concerned with holding a liberal or a conservative point of view; His views were directed by nature and his love of the American West.
Originally from home eastern Pennsylvania, Abbey spent most of her life in the southwestern United States. His parents, Paul and Mildred Abbey, were considered liberals for their views on homosexuality and their vocation for socialism. there were five children of the abbey, edward being the eldest. Abbey grew up during the depression era and moved east with his family; they spent time in small camps around pennsylvania and lived in new jersey. Abbey often wrote about his parents, and through this writing it is obvious that they had shaped the man he would become. Abbey’s first notions of the West were from his father, a love they would both share.
His spirit of freedom took him down many paths, first hitchhiking across the Southwest at age 17 and then spending two years (1945-1947) in the military where he received two promotions and two demotions (for refusing to salute). he used much of his experience working as a park ranger, for nearly 15 years, in his later writings (in the 1950s). He returned west to study philosophy at the University of New Mexico (as well as Indiana University in Pennsylvania and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland). Abbey finished with a BA in English and Philosophy (received in 1951) and an MA in Philosophy (1956). his thesis was titled “anarchism and the morality of violence “. this title proved to be indicative of the type of movement that abbey would start in the environmental community. Abbey’s first novel, Jonathon Troy, (published in 1956) has been called almost autobiographical. The main character is a loner and a social outcast, traits also possessed by the protagonist in Abbey’s second work of fiction. This novel, The Brave Cowboy, would eventually be turned into a screenplay in 1962, titled “Lonely Are the Brave”. It was after these first two novels that Abbey wrote a non-fiction work, Lonely Desert. In this novel, he writes of the beauty of the Southwest (primarily Utah, where he worked as a game warden) in a bitter tone, calling the finished work a “compliment.” Desert Solitaire became a cult classic (a work that may not gain mainstream popularity, but it has a deep and solid fan base) almost immediately. however, his next novel would spark the most well-known controversy. the wrench gang actually launched a whole new branch of the environmental movement: sabotage (not violence) as a means of protest. Abbey once said “if nature is forbidden, only outlaws can save nature”. This idea of sabotage was welcomed by some conservationists, illustrated by the group earthfirst! when asked about the sabotage, abbey replied:
“well, I’m not going to publicly advocate sabotage on the federal airwaves here. but I think there will probably be more if the conflict between conservation and development becomes more intense, and if politicians don’t follow the popular will by I think a lot of people are going to get very angry and resort to illegal methods to try to stop the destruction of our national resources, our wilderness, our forests, mountains, deserts, what will that lead to, I hate to think, if the conflict gets violent and physical then i’m pretty sure most environmentalists will end up in prison or shot dead on their way so i hope we can salvage whatever we get out of arizona and the united states by legal means and politicians and i still think we can. i still vote in elections… although there doesn’t seem to be much to vote for or against, when there is. there aren’t many options. i think if enough people nas care enough, why can we still make changes…necessary changes in this country by political methods…god I hope so. (From a kaet-tv [phoenix, arizona] interview, given December 1982.)
first on earth! it was a non-governmental organization formed in 1979, and although abbey was never a formal member of the association, he was well known to the group. some earthfirst! Those proposed were taken directly from Abbey’s writings, most notably from the Wrench Gang. even today, the earthfirst website uses the term “monkey callers” which indicates: “while there is a wide diversity within earthfirst!, from vegan animal rights advocates to guides hunting in the wild, from monkey-breakers to careful followers of gandhi, from whiskey-drinking backwoods riffraff to no-nonsense philosophers, from misanthropes to humanists, there is agreement on one thing, the need for action!” Abbey was accused of harrowing crimes, but no evidence of such crimes has ever been produced.
abbey was not a big supporter of anti-monkeys, and his involvement in the movement seemed to have been merely initiating a simple idea. other, more mainstream environmental groups have not embraced the kind of gonzo environmentalism that some of abbey’s fans swear by. Green Peace makes no mention of Abbey in its archives, and a May 1, 1982 article in Dennis Drabelle’s “The Nations” casts Abbey’s writings as arrogant and elitist, saying that the “immense popularity among environmentalists [ of abbey ] is baffling.” abbey was truly a man loved or hated by those who knew him and his work; he kept his supporters and cynics speculating about his next move, which was often a move no one expected. his fan base is and was solid and uncompromising, including a solid base of women. details about the number and intimate nature of the abbey’s relationships with such women were typically a matter of conjecture. Abbey was married and divorced several times, and in the book “Edward Abbey: A Life” (Cahalans, 2001) it is suggested that Abbey was something of a womanizer. He fathered five children during his lifetime, supporting himself and his offspring through a large number of jobs, holding degrees as social worker (1960), teacher (1956, 1962, and 1970), bus driver (1966, and 1967), and technical writer (1962). a large number of abbey’s works reflect his passion: the outdoors. Abbey was a ranger in Los Arcos (now a National Park) from 1956 to 1957, Casa Grande from 1958 to 1959, Canyonlands in 1965, Everglades from 1965 to 1966, Lee’s Ferry in 1967, and Araviapa from 1972 to 1974. he was also a fire ranger on the north rim, the numa range and the aztec peaks in arizona, where the trail that climbs to the top of the peak is called abbey trail number 151. abbey’s love of the west is demonstrated in many of her books, journals, and interviews, but no thought sums up Abbey’s approach more than this quote, from when she originally discovered the West: “For the first time, I felt I was approaching the West of my deepest imaginations. , the place where the tangible and the mythical became the same.” while abbey strove to be close to the west in life, he also wished to be close to the west, the desert and nature, in death. On March 14, 1989, Abbey passed away from what was determined to be an oesophageal hemorrhage. he was 62 years old. he died in his own home, fort llatikcuf (named after the abbey) and was survived by his last wife, five children and his father. His five children are still alive. The abbey’s final resting place is believed to be in the southern Arizona desert. Accounts of his burial vary widely, but the common thread connecting all the myths is a tombstone believed to bear the name of the abbey, dates of birth and death, and a simple sentence: “no comment” .
The myth of Edward’s Abbey continues in an account of his burial and final resting place. it is said that he did not wish to be embalmed, but rather to be transported (postmortem) in the bed of a truck to his grave, wrapped only in a sleeping bag and buried without concern for burial laws. he allegedly left a note stating that his last wish was to fertilize the growth of a tree, shrub or other desert plant. with our knowledge of the abbey, this tale is easy to believe and may even satisfy the need for a boisterous end to his colorful life. the man and the myth; Both contributed to Edward Abbey’s name, but it remains a question which he was more encouraged.