Letter to Edward Abbey from Earth: A Review

  • Ed Abbey in 1984

    HCN file photo
  Dear Ed,

You won't, or probably you will, believe what's currently happening in the West: Too many of us, a commercialized landscape "- all your worst predictions have come true. We've finally caught up with your predictions, your "good news."

Armed militias call the West their home - white-guy losers in Montana and Idaho who collect automatic weapons and hoard far-fetched religious and constitutional views. They have some odd idea the government is out to get them.

We've got gangsters, too, not Al Capone types or the Army Corps of Engineers. These are bored teenagers, like the Native American kids on the reservations who spray-paint graffiti on Window Rock. Then there are the Crips and Bloods, who have moved up into Spokane and other mid-sized Western cities from Los Angeles to ply their crack-cocaine trade. Scary-looking boy-men who wear their baseball caps backwards and make twisted gestures with their fingers (and you were afraid of immigration).

No surprise! Cattle still wallow in Idaho's Salmon River, dropping their steaming pies in the current, and when the government tried to raise the grazing fees crocodile tears flowed like cheap wine in Gallup. All over the West you could hear about "losing a way of life" and "hurting the little guy." I gave up beef because of the whining. Remember when you were almost run out of Missoula, Mont., for your speech about "The cowboy and his cow?" "Let those cowboys and ranchers find some harder way to make a living, like the rest of us have to do," you said. "There's no reason why we should subsidize them forever."

Oh well, it was damned nice out here while it lasted - when we had all this land to ourselves. Twenty years ago, Moab was just another redneck Utah town with bad coffee and uranium cowboys. You should see it now. You'd like all the exposed tanned skin of the female trust-funders pedaling around on their mountain bikes, looking like characters out of the "Jetsons," with their wrap-around sunglasses and bike shorts that make everyone look one-month pregnant. Coffee is called a dozen different prefixes attached to the words mocha and latte, the beer is imported (from Mexico!) and served with fruit (lime!). Now, hundreds of people stomp around Delicate Arch during the full moon, acting like coyotes on steroids. We're loving this country to death, Ed.

You predicted in "Industrial Tourism and the National Parks' the whole mess "- how chamber of commerce types would "look into red canyons and see only green, stand among flowers snorting out the smell of money and hear, while thunderstorms rumble over mountains, the fall of the dollar on motel carpeting."

Some good things have happened in the last six years, like this book I've been quoting from, edited by your old friend, John Macrea. Four hundred pages of pure Abbey. Sections of most of your novels, essays, and even a journal entry remind us that you were a fine writer, the best at interpreting human motives and capitalistic machinations, in my knee-jerk opinion, and that you were a naturalist to rival the best of them.

You loved the West, and Macrea's carefully edited book reminds us how much your humor is missed, and that more than ever we could use a dose of your politically incorrect rage. Ed, you checked out just at the time when this whole shebang is getting interesting, just when the inmates overpowered the jailer and discovered he didn't have a key. Just when we need you the most "- as always..

Stephen J. Lyons acknowledges his debt to the late poet Richard Hugo for the form of this review. The Serpents of Paradise, an Edward Abbey reader was edited by John Macrea; Henry Holt, publisher, 1995, $25. Lyons' book, Landscape of the Heart, will be published this year by Washington State University Press.

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