Remembering Edward Paul Abbey: The Real EPA …by Bonnie Abbzug

Few readers of The Monkey Wrench Gang know that Bonnie Abbzug was based on a real woman–a real dancer from the Bronx. She and Ed were a couple when Ed began writing the book and they remained friends until his death in 1989. She is our guest author here; this piece is her own take on Ed, his philosophies, his legacy, and on “political correctness” (that Ed would never have indulged in).

Two score and five years ago, Edward Abbey brought forth upon this continent environmental activism. Now we are met on a great battlefield against witless policymakers, deceitful poison-spewing enterprises, great land masses afire, extirpated flora and fauna, and exploding human populations, testing whether this nation or any nation can long endure. It is for us today to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us.

Ed Abbey, March 1988. Photo by Jim Stiles
Ed Abbey, March 1988. Photo by Jim Stiles

Ed is long since departed to that special part of heaven reserved for atheists, celebrating eternity in the company of passenger pigeons, Javan tigers, and joyful Lonesome George with his many offspring. In Desert Solitaire Ed observes, “Time passes slowly, but not slowly enough.” True. It’s 52 years now since Desert Solitaire was published, 45 years since The Monkey Wrench Gang roiled off press, and 31 years since Ed left this weary world behind.

He did not, however, leave it very far behind. In fact, he’s not actually gone: In just the past few years five new books have been added to the pile already written about him — yet another scheduled for this coming April — along with dozens of recent anthologies that include his works, and print and website articles mention him every week.

I am always happy to see that he lives on and that most of the writing about him welcomes the memory of his insight, wit, articulate crankiness and, occasionally, charm. And his launch of the environmental activist movement. That said, there is also chronic background noise that I am grown weary of. No, Ed was not a bigot. No, he was not a misogynist. And, no, Ed did not throw beer cans out of car windows.

The frequent references to his beer can flings come from a sentence he once wrote about doing that, followed by the justification: “Beer cans are beautiful. It’s the highway that’s ugly.” As to the person or two who witnessed this misbehavior, Ed was just being cute. Actually, he was much more likely to pull over to pick up beer cans left roadside than toss them there … depending on the road.

It is unclear that anything can be done any more to save the Utah desert that Ed so loved –particularly as the current administration savagely assaults it on a huge scale — or for that matter save the rest of the world, In time, climate change or some other natural, or unnatural, disaster will reduce the world’s soaring population. When that time comes cities will go up in flames and nuclear power plants will melt down, or explode, but at least cockroaches and scorpions have demonstrated some ability to survive nuclear radiation. And maybe a few H. sapiens to start over again. And do a better job.

Ed live-captures rattler. Why would anyone want to kill a rattler at his front door? Photo by the author. Tuscon, 1971
Ed live-captures rattler. (Why would anyone want to kill a rattler at his front door?) Photo by the Author. Tuscon, 1971.

Prejudiced? No

With some exceptions involving low IQs blathering on social media and in newspapers, prejudices held by Americans are not about skin color but about recidivist criminals, illegitimate parents, drug gangs and their addicts, and chronic welfare recipients of all races. While there are those who accuse Ed of racial bigotry, I certainly never saw, nor heard about nor read about anyone claiming to have seen him act hostilely toward anyone based on race, an actual Homo sapiens in his company, the true test of prejudice. Just like most of us — with this exception of stupid people — over the years Ed had friends who were black, Hispanic, native American, even Jewish. It’s true that he was, however, interested in closing our borders to immigrants to our overdeveloped country — today, as he feared, with grave environmental concerns or outright crises in every state of the union — and, due simply to our geography, he was particularly concerned about refugees from South American countries who had way too many children then, and today are often the impoverished victims of collapsed economies, terrorist plagues, corrupt regimes — and education systems that fail to accommodate the poor (who still have the most children) — and leave them hardly able to read. As here.

Ed’s concern was that the more people seeking escape from foundering countries that we admit, the more who will come, which is, to say the least, proven true. “Help them at home” was Ed’s philosophy these decades ago, not abandonment. Today the problem is the same in Europe, increasingly turning away desperate foreigners seeking food, shelter and safety. Yes, they should be helped by all stable countries working together to make their homelands safe and sustainable for them; and distribute birth control. Is there still time? Unclear, but our indefinitely maintaining open doors to tens of millions of tempest tossed is no longer possible as the climate change disaster escalates and violated, previously undisturbed ancient environments release new viruses. Just since 1929 when Ed was born the world population has increased from 2 billion to 7.8 billion, this growth now overwhelmingly in failed states, while rich countries poison the earth and sky and violent men in conflict zones murder each other, babies, their mommies and unarmed men. As always.

Privileged white male? No

Ed unambiguously aimed his disparagement at stupid, corporate whites who are permanently destroying this country’s natural environments to make a buck for themselves, their shareholders and create — temporary — jobs, and to lazy “industrial tourists,” also overwhelmingly white, who do not get out of their cars to actually take a walk through our parks and forests; what’s left of them.

The author of the book most recently published about Ed — I will not name it — was written by a woman who speaks of “white male privilege.” Well, I don’t know what rock she’s living under, but anyone looking for a job today that pays a living will very often see a paragraph about “diversity” at the bottom of each job description in companies large and small. If privileged whites looking for jobs find themselves competing with qualified minorities, if the company lives in the 21st century the odds are goodbye job. As to ESL migrants who seek work as assembly line workers, farm workers, cleaning staff, consider that these jobs often will not support a family and robots are speedily developing those skills. Nor is it a secret that U.S. universities long since ease admission standards to favor underprivileged and privileged blacks over privileged and underprivileged whites and Asians, to settle past debts.

Misogynist? No.

Ed found women to be “morally superior” to men, which is true. Most men are jerks. Indeed, if all the men in the world disappeared tonight there would be peace in the world at breakfast time tomorrow. Everywhere. In our time together, however, Ed did have the traditional idea that my job was to run the household and his job was to provide, change flat tires and do the heavy lifting as he explained in his 1973 letter to MS Magazine, “Dear Sirs.” In fact, however, Ed knew how to scramble eggs sort of, and I could manage a power drill and countersink, so we thrived, then.

Author's Copy of Abbey's "Dear Sirs" Letter to the Editors of Ms Magazine. (c) Edward Abbey. All Rights Reserved.
Author’s Copy of Abbey’s “Dear Sirs” Letter to the Editors of Ms Magazine. (c) Edward Abbey. All Rights Reserved.

Stupid? Um…

No, Ed was not a misogynist, but yes he was a promiscuous male. Consider however that as his fame grew, so did the number of women prepared to fling themselves at him, knowing full well he was married, as he was most of his life, to a bunch of different women. So, his complicity in his promiscuity was merely 50 percent, nor is he the only man who behaves this way in the same circumstances. Most men are jerks. Ed dropped me a line when his fourth wife dumped him, reassuring me that he was well. “We Abbeys are tough, if stupid.”

But, stupid is as stupid does. Ed was often vulgar in the journals he kept — now published — and, as time passed, in his books. This did not, however, reflect how Ed really acted around people, men or women. He was polite and actually rather shy as he himself and his friends frequently observed. Indeed, his conversations with people he did not know well were often awkward. More than once someone walked up to us when we were taking a stroll or at an event and greeted him with “Hello Ed. How you doing?” Ed would stare at the ground and shuffle his feet as he contemplated his answer. Eventually I would say, “Ed’s fine, thank you.”

Author takes a break in her Ponderosa at North Rim, Grand Canyon, 1972. (c) Edward Abbey. All Rights Reserved.
Bonnie Abbzug, Grand Canyon, by Edward Abbey (c) 1971. All Rights Reserved.

In the months before he died we were at a party in New York City where Russia’s poet laureate, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, was a surprise guest. As soon as we were introduced I started reciting a lovely poem he had written many years before and after expressing his delight that I had committed it to memory he informed me this love poem was about his third wife. Before long these two men, both 6’2″, were standing with an arm around each other’s shoulders singing a song they knew in common. I no longer recall what the song was but I remember looking at them thinking these two men between them had 10 wives and ten children. Yes, they were both geniuses, but also jerks. Most men are jerks.

The First Pass

In the rich passage of time, among the many memories I carry of life with Ed is the original first chapter of The Monkey Wrench Gang, a book I read page by page as it was coming out of his typewriter. It opened gloriously with the blowing up of the Glenn Canyon Dam as chunks of cement flew high into the air and the mighty Colorado River was mighty once again as it flooded joyously, free at last, through the Grand Canyon. Alas, Ed tossed that scenario because he thought it was “too unbelievable.” Not for me. I believe it, I believe in it. I hope for it, and await the glory of that day. May it come soon.


Ed Abbey March 1988. Photo by Jim Stiles
Ed Abbey, March 1988. Photo by Jim Stiles

Discussion with Edward Abbey, February 2020:

“I don’t give a dam. I take them. When no one’s looking.”

Ed is alive and well. He lives in a cave in a location I will not name.

It’s high summer on this starlit night as I’m walking toward a familiar shadowy silhouette sitting cliffside, his legs dangling over an 8,000-foot drop into the red rock. It is a quiet night, just the sound of crickets and the shadow’s flute gently singing, a million stars sparkling overhead. 

“Ahoy Swabby,” I yell into the starlight, “t’is Princess Bonnie, your best beloved. How art thou?” 

“O, shut up” Ed says. “You sound like a jerk.”

“You’re the jerk,” I inform him, “living in a cave here for 30 years when you could live with me in midtown Manhattan.”

“Yes, Genius, you know how I love those 100-story skyrapers, noise, filth, and what if someone recognizes me?,” Ed replies. “I’m supposed to be dead.” 

“Fear not,” I respond, “No one in New York has ever heard of you.” 

“I’m hungry. Did you bring any food?”

I reply in the affirmative and start unpacking the food basket I brought, a bunch of bananas at the top. “I read at the National Institutes of Health web site that people have 50 percent of their DNA in common with bananas.”

“Well I would have no problem believing that because I have definitely met bananas that are smarter than people,” Ed says as he chows down, adding “What’s a web site?”

Before I can answer he changes subjects. “So, let’s get on with it and damn the dam. Tomorrow we will rappel down into the Canyon and befriend the lonely river as it trickles to the sea, sadly missing its silt load. And its humpback chub load. And razorback suckers.”

“O, alright already, let’s finally get this done. What’s the plan, like, how will we rappel down carrying a few hundred pounds of dynamite,” I query, “and caps?”

“No problem. We’ll work that out in a dry run in the morning and after that set a future date. How’s Valentine’s Day?”

“Sounds lovely. Are Ken and Dougie going to help us?,” I enquire.

“Of course,” Ed replies. “Doug is taking helicopter piloting lessons right now and Ken will stand by with a raft for after he crashes it.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Wish us well.

The author, the "Dancer From the Bronx." 1964.
The author, the “Dancer From the Bronx.” Logan, Utah. 1964.

Political Correctness is Incorrect

PCness hurts no one more than the minorities that bobblehead reporters, news anchors and opinionators claim to speak for as they pull down a shade on the actual facts, blocking the sunshine needed for honest discussion about how to move forward.

Ed predated this “political correctness” now swamping American media, nor, obviously, would he have ever indulged in it. Ed was happy to end the invited talks he would give on college campuses and at public events with, “Is there anyone I have neglected to offend?”

What is the “wealth gap”?

Clearly, this is a stupid way to use the word wealth even though it gets ink daily. The basis of “income inequality” in the US is between high school dropouts, high school graduates and college graduates, of all races. It is in large part a self-sustaining problem as undereducated parents, of all races, are much more likely to live in wealth-gap households and raise income inequality children.

Fact: Not all children are academically inclined, or enabled. With a sunshine discussion, the wage gap for them could be substantially diminished with an aggressive return to vocational high schools coast to coast — schools like the one I went to, for example, for students who heard the call of the performing arts: dance, music, drama. I have friends who never went to college, a few who did not even graduate from our high school, who went on to successful careers in their chosen vocations. Thus, in the village where my house is you can get a same-day appointment with a doctor, but heaven help you if you need a plumber, roofer, electrician, or a landscaper to bring down a dying giant sequoia leaning toward your house. Get in line.

More sunshine: Much of the problem originates with children who suffer from insufficient adult attention, more of a problem in single-parent households — conversation, reading, visiting dinosaur skeletons in museums — during the most important years of neurological wiring of the brain, and culling: birth to age three. An online search will reveal that this is supported by a substantial body of research. This early-onset developmental deficit can never be corrected. It is rarely mentioned in discussion of the $180 billion controversy about the Head Start program for children in poverty, with numerous studies finding that its benefits often fade by the middle of grade school years. Head Start starts too late.

According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2013, 71% of blacks and 53% of Hispanics gave birth out of wedlock, of course dooming many of those children to poverty and some to outright hunger. Same for whites, who are always a larger such population but a smaller percentage at 29%, and Asians at 17% in this study. A CDC 2018 publication, National Vital Statistics Report, found that births to unmarried mothers per 1,000 population in 2016 were 58 for blacks, 68 for Hispanics, 30 for whites and 16 for Asians. Some other studies find these numbers are showing signs of going down, but the racial gaps remain.

Alas, the PC bobbleheads do find their way around. A few years ago the editor-in-chief of American Scientist, Jamie Vernon, cited a study at Rice University, where 5 percent of 7,123 students were black in 2018: “A study by Rice University found that 90 percent of African Americans are most likely to value a post-secondary education.” Here the word “value” has no assigned meaning, nor did he clarify if black PhDs were surveyed or high school freshman, and he failed to mention that blacks also have the highest college drop out rate. Vernon goes on to quote a 2008 paper that says “46 percent of science papers analyzed were published by authors with only Anglo last names.” Well, did you ever meet a black man named White? Or an Asian named Lee? Or a Caucasian woman who used her married last name? And of course he goes on to discuss income inequality without finding any tie to single-parent households. No sunshine.

Underprivileged

Here is another stupid word. If everyone is privileged, no one is privileged. Look it up.

Much of our underprivileged problem is of course also due to undereducation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 blacks dropped out of high school at a rate of 22%, Hispanics at 20%, whites 11%, Asians 9%.

As above, such numbers vary depending on the source, and the numbers vary by state. Still, with 60% of the US population white, there are more whites doomed to underpriviligedness than minorities, but that gets no press. A GED offers no lifetime income benefits compared to a four-year high school degree and is not included in the study above. A GED does however enable enrollment in community college, which is dirt cheap in most states, and with $120 billion in loans and grants available annually for higher education federally, by state, from corporations and NGOs.

In the US, it’s time for school administrators and politicians, and the press that gives them leash, to shut up about skin color and listen to the children of all races who are not academically inclined about where their interests lie — after they have been exposed to different careers in vocational high schools — and before they wind up in jail. Unsurprisingly, up to 75% of the US state jail population is functionally illiterate, thus doomed in majority to a lifelong unemployment struggle.

Press coverage

A CBS/New York Times poll in 2015, “The State of Race Relations in the U.S.,” got lots of coverage about how bad things are here. Deeply buried amid all the negativity — the last of 42 questions — the poll asked whites “Are any of your close friends black?,” and asked blacks “Are any of your close friends white?” Positive responses were 69% and 77% respectively. The positive answers to “race relations in your community” were even higher. Had the word close not been added, obviously the positive responses would also have been even higher, but anyway these responses make questionable more than a little of the poll’s negativity that came before. The poll did not address this disparity in its discussion of the results. Further, had these two questions been first instead of buried, perhaps the scandal-seeking press would not have dived on it. So, this again raises the question, how much of today’s negative assessment of race relations is traceable to believers in the constantly negative, politically correct press coverage?

With one sheepdog I could herd 90% of America’s reporters.

Done. Is there anyone I have neglected to offend?

Author in Logan, Utah, 1967

BONNIE ABBZUG is a dancer from the Bronx .

(Photo of the author in Logan, Utah. 1967)

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9 comments for “Remembering Edward Paul Abbey: The Real EPA …by Bonnie Abbzug

  1. Martha
    April 4, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    This is Ingrid Eisenstadter right? I remember reading something you wrote about Ed years ago. I think it was for the Sierra Club. And since I’ve read Ed’s journals about 10 times now, I bet I’m right. Controversial stuff, but I think you’re right on!

  2. Joseph Day
    April 20, 2020 at 9:26 am

    What a delightful and refreshing reality based contrast to Amy Irvine’s “political correct” and theory laden, “Desert Cabal”.

  3. Owen Hoffman
    April 20, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Could Bonnie (aka Ingrid?) have been the young lady with Ed when Ed visited Yosemite in early Spring of 1971? I had just finished my evening ranger-naturalist program at Yosemite Lodge when I ran into Ed. He was visiting the park, doing research on Yosemite in the aftermath of the July 4th, 1970 Stoneman Meadow riot.

    I invited Ed out for an evening walk to the base of the Lower Yosemite Falls to view and experience moonbows. A most beautiful young lady, in his company at the time, resembled Bonnie. (She remained back at their room at the Lodge as we proceeded on our night hike to the falls).

  4. Donna Brownell
    April 20, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Nice job Ingrid!

  5. Kevin Flicker
    April 27, 2020 at 9:22 am

    I`m sorry but I think after reading a lot of history, that privilege is a real thing. Namely class privilege. Think England.
    How did our president acquire 8 million dollars at the age of 11 ? How did Amazon make 11 billion in profits last year and not pay any income tax ? To say there are no structural impediments to upward mobility in this country is just not true. Case in point, it is verified statistically that the vast majority of people in the United States remain exactly where their parents were socio-economically. Upward mobility is a factor of earning versus expenses. How can this generation of young people save a down payment for a house when they are saddled with debt for their college education? My generation was lucky, a public college in Massachusetts in 1974 was $300.00 a year tuition. I know some people are not college material, but what happens when the college educated end up becoming your roofers and plumbers.? Thanks for a well written article. I did enjoy it.

  6. Theld
    May 5, 2020 at 11:11 pm

    No comment………….

  7. Evan Cantor
    May 13, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    “Indeed, if all the men in the world disappeared tonight there would be peace in the world at breakfast time tomorrow.” Wishful thinking and we hear it a lot from dedicated uberfeminists. As much as I appreciate Ms. ‘Abbzug’s insights into Mr. Abbey, I’ve got to disagree with this assertion. “Most men are jerks” That one, I do agree with. I think most of humanity is God’s mistake on planet Earth, be they male or female. While there may be a higher percentage of assholism amongst men, I believe that is a result of patriarchal socio-economic evolution. I think women, given the same privileges as men have had, would be just as bad. I’ve worked for some of those women over the years…it ain’t a peaceful breakfast!

  8. Jerry Kaufman
    June 5, 2020 at 10:54 am

    I met Ed Abbey in April 1961. He was living in a 1 bedroom trailer in the Painted Desert part of the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert National Park near Holbrook AZ. I was assigned to the very same trailer and Ed had the bedroom and I used the couch which made out into a bed. Therefore the living room was my bedroom, we shared the kitchen and the bathroom. We were roommates until Ed went to work on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in July 1961. Then I moved into the bedroom, and a recent university graduate moved into the living room. At the time Ed was typing the book Fire On The Mountain and he had no car. He was married, he told me his wife had the car. Ed did not talk about wife or family. Ed did not like to own things like a car. His main possession? His gray manual typewriter. He was not argumentative, took a while before he really opened up to me, but after that we would talk. We talked, he slapped his legs, got up, went into his bedroom and began typing. Then he quit, came back and resumed our conversion like he had not left. Strange? Damn right. But you see, Ed and I were a lot alike in our life. He was a writer. I became a writer. He was obstinate, I am obstinate. He was old school, I am old school. He liked lunch meat and beer and coffee made in an old coffee can. He filled it with water, grabbed a handful of coffee, threw it into the can, set the can on a space heater, and drank it black and full of coffee grounds. I had one cup and it was the last cup of Ed’s coffee I drank. He did not like to cook. Neither do I. I write like I speak. I have no use for proper English. We differed on English Composition. He did it, I did not. But my books are popular. They bring big money in rare book stores. I sell them myself, I use no book stores. I even printed them myself. If I like someone, I give them away free. I do not like jerks. Ed was never a jerk to me. We both grew up poor on farms. Only once or twice we were in the park ticket booth at the same time. Otherwise he worked, I relaxed. I worked, he typed his book. When we off the same days, I would go exploring, Ed typed his book. I was into fun, Ed was into his book. I took him to Holbrook his last day at the park, he cleaned out his bank account, bought a bus ticket to his new job location and off we went to a Holbrook tavern. Ed liked me. I liked Ed. We never had an argument. Kirk Douglas was making a movie from Ed’s book south of Albuquerque at the time. I was going to go and watch the filming, but never made it there. I still have the note Ed wrote asking the director to admit me to the filming. Written on the back of that banks blank check. And I have a copy of the movie notice that was in the newspaper back then.

  9. Kirk Knighton
    June 13, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    This is great, just great. When I first read MWG I really really liked Bonnie ( and all the Gang, but especially Bonnie ), and for years I wondered about her real-life inspiration to Ed.
    Though they never married – and I wonder if Ed ever proposed or if such good friends even discussed it – Ingrid was huge in Ed Abbey’s life. And for good reason. She sounds as beautiful and brilliant as I imagined.
    So glad to finally “meet” Ingrid in the film Wrenched, and then just recently reading her interview in ML Lincoln’s new book.
    I’d love to read more about Ingrid’s life with Ed, and then her life post-Ed. She married someone else I presume? And had children?
    So much of the New York versus Out West worlds in Ed’s life, especially captured in his wonderful Fat Masterpiece The Fool’s Progress. Ed/Henry Lightcap so deeply divided between his love for Myra ( Rita ) and his love/need to live out West. But Ingrid is at heart a New Yorker too, and she spent a good amount of time out West before returning to her native habitat. How did that east/west dynamic play out in her life?
    This article is excellent, so glad to hear from Bonnie after all these years. More is always welcome!

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