Edward Abbey (1927-1989) was, at least in my experience, the first genuine and outspoken environmentalist I ever had the pleasure of discovering. I was a college student in Arizona in the early sixties when the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon was under construction. Popular opinion on the matter was pretty much unanimous in the state that the dam was going to be an immense benefit in virtually every imaginable fashion. Edward Abbey, on the other hand, was the near singular voice of opposition. He opposed the project because of the damage it was doing and would continue to do to the terrain and the ecology that had long defined Glen Canyon. He thought the dam and its future impact(s) were nothing other than environmental atrocities of undefinable magnitude. It took several years before I finally came to agree with him — mainly, I suppose, because his grand little masterpiece Desert Solitaire wasn’t published until 1968, and it wasn’t until the early seventies that I finally snagged a copy and read it for the first time (but not the last by any stretch).
Following are a dozen or so Edward Abbey quotes, most of which I snagged and recorded during that first read of Desert Solitaire. Each of them amply demonstrates his passion for the natural world as well as his distaste for humans and what they are (and have long been) doing to it.
“Wilderness. The Word itself is music. Wilderness, wilderness . . . We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination. . . . [for] the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us — if only we were worthy of it.”
“If a man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernal. He would learn to perceive in water, leaves and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of the ancient dreams.”
“God? … who the hell is He? . . . Why confuse the issue by dragging in a superfluous entity? Occam’s razor. Beyond atheism, nontheism. I am not an atheist but an eartheist. Be true to the earth.”
“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear — the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break. Turning Plato and Hegel on their heads I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, though an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.”
“I discovered that I was not opposed to mankind but only to man-centeredness, anthropocentricity, the opinion that the world exists solely for the sake of man; not to science, which means simply knowledge, but to science misapplied, to the worship of technique and technology, and to that perversion of science properly called scientism; and not to civilization but to culture.”
“[W]hen a man must be afraid to drink freely from his country’s rivers and streams that country is no longer fit to live in. Time then, to move on, to find another country or — in the name of Jefferson — to make another country. ‘The tree of liberty is nourished by the blood of tyrants.'”
“The developers . . . the politicians, businessmen, bankers, administrators, engineers … cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness … They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.”
“No wonder the Authorities are so anxious to smother the wilderness under asphalt and reservoirs. They know what they’re doing; their lives depend on it, and all their rotten institutions.”
“The rancher strings barbed wire across the range, drills wells and bulldozes stock ponds everywhere, drives off the elk and antelope and bighorn sheep, poisons coyotes and prairie dogs, shoots eagle and bear and cougar on sight, supplants the native bluestem and grama grass with tumbleweed, cow shit, cheat grass, snakeweed, anthills, poverty weed, mud and dust and flies–and then leans back and smiles broadly at the Tee Vee cameras and tells us how much he loves the West.”
“The sheepmen complain that coyotes eat some of their lambs. This is true but do they eat enough? … enough lambs to keep the coyotes sleek, healthy and well fed? That is my concern.”
“They [the animals] do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins . . . “
Next up, a quick peek at the other side of the Abbey coin, the side upon which is displayed the abject stupidity, the vapid cloak of hatred and fear worn by far too many “sportsmen” these days. The following quotes were included in a recent communication by the Center For Biological Diversity (Tucson AZ) which, in the Center’s words, is “targeted every day by the rabid haters of predator species. It’s hard to even express how poisonous these sentiments are . . .” Here is their list of “the 10 worst anti-wolf quotes” their organizers have received in recent weeks.
10. “Wolves are wildlife terrorists.” — Ron Gillett of the Central Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition
9. “Shoot, shovel and shut up!” — Zachery H. via Facebook
8. “They need to send these Mexican wolves back to Mexico!” — Unknown, screamed at our Southwest Conservation Advocate
7. “We think they should be shot on sight.” — Marcia Armstrong, chair of the Siskiyou County, Calif., Board of Supervisors
6. “Whatever liberal idiots did this to us should be tarred and feathered. Dead wolves are good wolves.” — Wiley S. via Facebook
5. “Last week Hondurans, this week wolves.” — Michael A. in response to a story about the expansion of the Mexican gray wolf habitat
4. “I LOVE wolves. I try to smoke a pack a day.” — Jason D. via Facebook
3. “I’d put the tanned hide right on the wall nest [sic] to my bobcat, coyote, skunk, red fox, gray fox, beaver, deer, alligator, prairie dog, brown trout and field mouse.” — Ty B. via email
2. “Your wake-up call just got a donation from me… to the National Rifle Assocation [sic]” — Joe C. via email
1. “The introduction of Canadian wolves into the Northwest was a criminal conspiracy by a bunch of pot-smoking, wine-sucking, vegetarian lawyers to end blood sports and ranching on public land… I want to see these people in prison for the rest of their lives.” — Montana gubernatorial candidate Bob Fanning
And a bonus: “I hope the plane goes down.” — Doug S. responding to a story about orphaned Alaskan wolf pups being adopted by the Minnesota Zoo.
Personally, I find myself in total and complete agreement with Edward Abbey’s 1968 summation of each and all such idiots. He wrote, in Desert Solitaire,
“Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and aesthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one.”
Amen and yea verily.
“Be true to the earth.”