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Ed Abbey in the 21st Century…by Jim Stiles

In the second decade of the 21st Century, Abbey Lives.

He lives in his books. He lives on YouTube and on Facebook. His fans adore him, or who they think he is. But is this the world and the West that he cherished and loved?  Is the New West compatible with his vision of wilderness and wide open spaces?

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey offered a unique reason for establishing wilderness. “We may need wilderness someday,” he proposed, “not only as a refuge from excessive industrialism but also as a refuge from authoritarian government, from political oppression. He warned that “technology adds a new dimension to the process,” and believed (then) that the wilderness would provide escape from those kinds of Big Brother controls.  For Abbey, wilderness was meant to be the one vast “blank spot on the map,” as Aldo Leopold longed for.

He also wrote, “A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it.”

In 2018, he would not recognize the  wilderness he sought to protect (though in his journals, in 1987, he had already complained, “Too many tourists in the backcountry now.”)

Environmental groups, once dedicated to saving the wilderness that Abbey envisioned, now look at wilderness as a commodity to be marketed. What is the economic value of wilderness? Environmentalists promote the notion of a swarming tourist economy. They’ve taken a favorite Abbey line: “The idea of wilderness needs no defense; it needs more defenders,” and turned it into a Chamber of Commerce promo….the more money that can be made from the product, the greater the chance, in their estimation, of passing wilderness legislation. Nevermind what gets destroyed in the process.

Even grassroots groups, who once worked for the protection of the land and the satisfaction that they were honest participants in “the good fight,” now parse their battle cries and make a $100K a year. Their boards of directors are filled with wealthy fat cat industrialists that would have had Abbey deported if they could have found a way. Together, they support a massive recreation/amenities economy that brings millions of tourists to the once remote rural West and with it, untold quantities of money and environmental devastation.

Adrenaline junkies from the far corners of the planet descend on the canyon country to string slacklines, and rock climb and ride bikes off cliffs and BASE jump and ‘do’ the river..

Abbey used to talk about “a loveliness and quiet exultation.” Nowadays exultation makes a lot of noise.

When Abbey talked about seeking wilderness, he admonished us, “to walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”  When he talked about riding bicycles, he imagined them as a replacement for cars, not feet. He did not envision luxury “adventure tours” and hand-held guided hikes to “remote locations,” barely a mile from their cars.

Abbey wrote, “We don’t go into the wilderness to exhibit our skills at gourmet cooking. We go into the wilderness to get away from the kind of people who think gourmet cooking is important.”

And he didn’t envision a wilderness experience that included cell phones, smart phones, GPS units, or daily uploads to Facebook (“Here’s what our sunset looked like tonight! Here in the WILDERNESS!” —–126 ‘LIKES’)

Yet, many of these recreationists convince themselves  they are the latter day disciples of a man they know practically nothing about, or bother to know.

About a year ago, an essay appeared in High Country News called, “What Would Edward Abbey Do?” The author and a group of friends had come across a huge boulder, perched on the rim of a mountain valley. Michael Branch felt an urge to knock the rock from its resting place and send it flying from its rim-side perch to the tranquil scene below. It was an absurd notion and the damage it would cause was incalculable. But one member of the group spoke up.

“Whenever I am uncertain,” replied Francois in a thick French accent so utterly authentic that it sounded hilariously fake, “I abide by this principle: WWEAD.” When he had finished pronouncing each letter with meticulous emphasis, the three of us looked at him quizzically. “What would Edward Abbey do?” he explained coolly.

(The link: http://www.hcn.org/blogs/range/rants-from-the-hill-what-would-edward-abbey-do)

What would Edward Abbey do? Based on that rhetorical question and, I guess,  the vague recollection that Abbey claimed he rolled something into the Grand Canyon—an old tire—more than 50 years ago, the guys decided it was a good idea. Branch exclaimed, “I was Sisyphus unbound, and I had a Frenchman’s love of Cactus Ed to thank for it.”

I doubt Abbey would have felt comfortable being an accomplice from the grave, but he shouldn’t have felt responsible either for their vandalism. Clearly, they’d learned nothing at all from Cactus Ed.

What Abbey always hoped we’d take away from his writing and from his life was a sense of ourselves as individuals, as men and women who could take control of our own lives and our own destinies. Abbey spoke of a “nation of bleeting sheep and braying jackasses.” He longed for a people with dignity and courage and he loathed the mindless “bleeting” that he found even in his own readers.

He once said, “ If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule. That was the American Dream.”  Most New Westerners love Ed Abbey and have no idea what that means. They’ve read all his books and they follow and “LIKE” his quotes on Facebook, but they understand far less than they realize.

Recently, I saw a string of comments about Abbey on the Facebook page devoted to his life.

A debate broke out of sorts—another one of those tedious comment threads— as to whether Abbey would have liked the internet. One man was sure he’d have nothing to do with it; another wrote, “He would have found much to admire in the expression of democracy it affords.”  That was a fair point.

What Ed would have loathed is the idea that his most loyal fans might spend their days in front of a laptop computer, week after week, clicking the “like” button each time one of his EA crowd-pleaser quotes got posted, when they could be outside, chopping down a billboard or taking a good long walk, or just watching a nice sunset.

Abbey may have hoped, when he left this world, that his time and effort here might make a small difference, might alter the future for the better in some way. But probably not. More than likely, he saw all this coming, just as he predicted so much that has already, sadly, come to pass.

But whether the world really does go to hell or not, or whether it’s already there, for godsake remember who Ed Abbey was. Who he REALLY was. And don’t just sit there, staring at your screen.

As Cactus Ed pleaded, “Throw a rock at something big and glassy..what have you got to lose?”

Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.

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INDIAN CREEK, UTAH. 1973. When the walls weren’t covered with climbers.

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MOAB, UTAH. Summer 1980. 400 East near its junction with Main Street

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HORSESHOE CANYON. March 1977

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(SPACE.COM) ‘Slaughterbots’ Video Depicts a Dystopian Future of Autonomous Killer Drones

From the article:

A graphic new video posits a very scary future in which swarms of killer microdrones are dispatched to kill political activists and US lawmakers. Armed with explosive charges, the palm-sized quadcopters use real-time data mining and artificial intelligence to find and kill their targets.

 

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(KSL) California couple gets married on space net suspended over Moab canyon

Excerpt:

MOAB — Suspended 400 feet over the stark beauty of a Moab canyon, California couple Ryan Jenks and Kimberly Weglin tied the knot and said “I do.”

The adventurous couple fell in love surrounded by the red rocks of the Utah desert and thought it only proper to seal the deal in the same place after getting engaged on a space net in Moab the year before, according to their wedding photographer’s Instagram post.

 

To read more, click HERE

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ZEPHYR IS NOW A “PARROT FOR THE OIL INDUSTRY?”

So…this is what happens when I try to post some basic information. And I offer this as just one example…

The other day, the Deseret News printed a short essay of mine called “Bears Ears: Facts & Misconceptions.” It was a summary of the 30,000 words I’ve written on the issue of Bears Ears NM.

https://www.deseretnews.com/…/Op-ed-Bears-Ears-2-missing-fa…

The fact is, long before the idea of a monument took hold, long before SUWA’s “Greater Canyonlands Monument” idea that went nowhere, long before the Bears Ears concept, and long before the Age of Trump, I worried about the exploitation of the area via designations like this. I have been concerned since 1989 that someday all of Southeast Utah would be overrun by an overblown, out-of-control tourist industry and amenities economy, with all the nightmares that go with it.

And in 1989, every environmentalist I knew agreed with me. Almost everybody else thought I was overreacting.

Have you been to Moab lately?

So I wrote the short essay and it was published. No one has challenged a single word in it.

BUT..instead of an honest discussion, I get messages and comments like this. Patrick Donnelly is the “Nevada State Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.” He writes:

Patrick Donnelly

“Stiles, you’ve officially crossed the bridge and are now giving comfort to Trump and Zinke and Hatch and the corporate swindlers who would rob us of our natural heritage. You don’t like Monuments because you don’t like industrial tourism, and I don’t disagree with you. But now you are parroting oil industry talking points and the same absurd rhetoric we hear from Lyman and co. Sad.”

So, for expressing views and stating facts regarding the ongoing debate, I’m now a parrot for the oil industry and a shill for Trump, Zinke and Hatch?

When was the last time the oil industry used the argument that there was “no commercially recoverable oil under Bears Ears” as a talking point?

Is the fact that ARPA supercedes the Antiquities Act an “oil industry talking point?”

Is the fact that Native Americans do NOT have any legal authority over the monument an “oil industry talking point?”

Is the fact that the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition inexplicably supports rock climbing in the monument an “oil industry talking point?” (other tribes across the West fight a never ending battle to protect sacred sites against the rock climbing community. Somehow at Bears Ears, it’s not an issue)

I find it hard to believe that ANY of the facts I raised in my article were “oil industry talking points.” But that was the best Mr. Donnelly could come up with.

And finally, Mr. Donnelly tried to shame me by suggesting I’m parroting the “absurd rhetoric of Lyman & Co.” I assume he’s talking about San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman.

Well, I have had some conversations with Phil and he and I disagree on many issues, and we agree on others. But we both took the time to hear what the other had to say, and we did it with mutual respect and civility. We both listened to each other and I found that refreshing. He is a decent man with a loving family and I admire him for that.

If that somehow makes me the Devil himself, then someone bring me my horns and my bifurcated tail.

As for all those good environmentalists who in 1989 worried about the effects of Industrial Tourism, before the Outdoor Industry took over their agenda and their souls, I wonder if their collective consciences ever talk to them…JS

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Early evening above 10,000 feet. Summer 2009

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FRY CANYON STORE. 1975

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GLEN CANYON DAM, under construction. 1959. by CHARLES KREISCHER

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