The following excerpt from Edward Abbey: A Life, by James M. Cahalan, to be published in Fall 2001 by the University of Arizona Press. Copyright © 2001 Arizona Board of Regents is reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

During the mid to late 1970s, Ed Abbey attracted new fame and notoriety as author of The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), the book in which he successfully synthesized his serious politics, his comic fiction-writing abilities, and his friendships. The notion that politics is personal had grown out of such movements as feminism and Black Power--thus developed in contexts quite different from Abbey's point of view--but he made politics personal in his own inimitable way. The Monkey Wrench Gang was a very timely book. In the years following its appearance, it was read by large numbers of readers, some of whom were wilderness activists who were becoming increasingly disenchanted with mainstream politics and looking for new kinds of environmental activism.

Dave Foreman, who had not yet met Abbey but whose activism had been spurred, beginning in 1971, by his work in Santa Fe for the Black Mesa Defense Fund (begun by Jack Loeffler), would go to Washington in the late 1970s as a lobbyist for the Wilderness Society. But there he would find himself frustrated by how comparatively few acres of western wilderness were designated for protection by such conventional legislative measures as RARE II, the U. S. Forest Service's Roadless Area Review and Evaluation project.

Having read Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang with escalating admiration for Abbey and anger against business as usual, by 1980 Foreman would resign his Wilderness Society job and begin Earth First!, a radical action group inspired by Abbey's books.

For Abbey himself, The Monkey Wrench Gang not only articulated his politics and brought him heightened attention as a writer, but also turned him into a cult figure in ways that had significant effects on his personal life. Having lost his Aravaipa ranger job, he retreated to the scenic and congenial Utah town of Moab....At first, life in Moab was great. Abbey felt comfortable there not only because he loved the canyon country, but also since he already had a number of friends in the area, dating from his 1956, 1957, and 1965 ranger seasons in the area and many other visits. Ken Sleight had moved to nearby Green River in 1969....

In summer 1974 he and his young fourth wife, Renéée, bought twenty acres near Green River for $3,000--a "watermelon and gopher ranch"--and he and Sleight acquired some additional ranchland nearby at Willow Bend. They socialized and played poker with Sleight's fellow river-runners in Green River, the Quist brothers, Bob and Clair. Abbey and Sleight liked the idea of getting back to the land, returning to farm settings like where they had grown up, but by November 1974 Abbey had decided that he had actually been "swindled" for the land that he had earlier thought a bargain, and eventually he and Sleight had to sell their land because they both traveled too much to be able to take adequate care of it.

Abbey also joined a circle of newer friends in Moab during this period, including Bill Benge, whom he had met at the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park in fall 1971 and who became his attorney in Moab; Tom Arnold, whose "Volkswagen museum" he had first visited for repairs in 1972; Bob Greenspan, a musician who had journeyed to Aravaipa in April 1973 to meet him; and Roger Grette, a fellow wilderness wanderer who first encountered him in the company of Abbey's close friend John De Puy, while hiking around Navajo Mountain, on the Utah-Arizona border, in May 1973. After settling in Moab, Ed and Renéée also befriended Marilyn and Karilyn McElheney, twin sisters living nearby who dated (respectively) Greenspan and Grette, and whose phone Abbey regularly used because he didn't want to have one himself; Jim Stiles, a park ranger, writer, and illustrator from Kentucky; Owen Severance, a crusty park worker and wilderness activist; Gil Preston, a doctor and part-time writer from the East who had fallen in love with the West; and (after her move there in March 1977) Laura Lee Houck, their next-door neighbor, who often babysat Susie.

Many of Abbey's friends in Moab, and later in Tucson, were the proud possessors of books that he gave them, both his own and others'; he read continually and delighted in sharing what he read. He remained attached enough to his Moab friends that he made a point of putting most of them into his books, even years after he had moved away from Moab. For example, in Desert Images (1979) he described how Tom Arnold, who regularly flew him around the Southwest during the 1970s, let him steer his plane all the way to Las Vegas in 1978 while Arnold read Playboy. In April 1979 Bob Greenspan was surprised to hear that he and his song "Big Tits, Braces, and Zits," which Abbey described as "a song of adolescent passion," were highlighted in that month's issue of Penthouse, and he rushed out to discover "In Defense of the Redneck." Abbey claimed that Greenspan had drunkenly insulted the police in "Glob" (Globe), Arizona, thereby shutting down the bar, but in fact Greenspan had never played in Globe; Abbey had heard him in Moab (where he did once swear at some rangers, in 1975, but the bar was not closed). Greenspan--who reappears as "Singing Bob" in Good News--did not at all mind Abbey's poetic license, however, because the Penthouse article attracted a lot of gigs for him...

Abbey did have some good platonic women friends in Moab: Laura Lee Houck and the McElheney sisters. An interesting example of how he transformed his friends into fictional characters is "Loralee Croissant" in The Fool's Progress, a San Francisco hippie with whom Henry Lightcap has an affair after she greets him with a banner hanging outside her apartment: "WELCOME, HENRY LIGHTCAP." Abbey and Laura Lee Houck never had any affair, though he expressed his interest, and asked her about her old San Francisco days. In Moab she once hung out a butcher-paper banner saying "WELCOME HOME, KARILYN" for her friend after she had been away. During 1977-78, when Renéée returned to Tucson to study at the University of Arizona, Laura Lee regularly took care of nine-year-old Susie when Ed was away, delighting in how clever she was with words and becoming almost her temporary surrogate mother.

Abbey shared many good times with his new friends, such as a giddy drive in his Volkswagen van through the desert at breakneck speed in the company of Susie and Karilyn and Marilyn McElheney while they sang happily about "clear cool water." Karilyn was immortalized in his essay "A Walk in the Park," in which he remembered Utah Senator Frank Moss telling her, "Miss McElhenny [sic], you're much too pretty to be an environmentalist." As for Marilyn, who had come to Utah in 1973 to work as the first female seasonal ranger at Natural Bridges, in his "Preliminary Notes" to Down the River, Abbey fulfilled his promise to "put her and her dog in a book. Here they are."

Abbey was regularly visited in Moab by his best out-of-town friends, such as John De Puy, Doug Peacock, and Jack Loeffler...By this time Abbey and his beer-drinking friends had established the tradition of measuring mileage in six-packs, at the rate of one per hour per passenger...This practice was followed by Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang: "He and his friends measured highway distances in per-capita six-packs of beer. L.A. to Phoenix, four six-packs; Tucson to Flagstaff, three six-packs." And Abbey confounded environmentalist proprieties about "littering" by tossing his beer cans out the window onto roads he hated, such as the new paved road to the Bullfrog Marina at the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. As he explained in "The Second Rape of the West," "Of course I litter the public highway. Every chance I get. After all, it's not the beer cans that are ugly; it's the highway that is ugly."

Upon first moving to Moab, Ed and Renéée lived in an apartment on Main Street, where Abbey bumped into Roger Grette on June 28, 1974 and told him that they were settling in the area. By September Abbey noted that they had bought a "crumbly old house" that summer, at 2240 Spanish Valley Road, for $26,000. In contrast to his previous, unusual stone house outside Tucson, this one was a much more conventional frame house with a picket fence and a metal barn behind it. But it afforded views just as dazzling as the ones in Esperero Canyon, off into the redrock vistas surrounding Moab...Abbey considered buying back his Esperero house a year later, but with the Tucson area growing rapidly, its price had already doubled by then.

Thus had begun the tug of war between the Utah canyon country and the Arizona cactus country that dominated the rest of Abbey's life. It was reflected in his writing--as in a satiric essay in which an angel descends from heaven and carries a redneck rancher on a wild flight above the countryside, revealing development projects that God wants him to stop. The voice of this narrator, called "Big Ed" in the first version, is similar to that of his December 1973 "Cactus Ed" letter to Ms. magazine. This essay first appeared in Arizona magazine in March 1974 (when Abbey was still working at Aravaipa) as "A State Plan from Upstairs: It May Have Come From God, Or a Sharp Blow on the Head." It opens with its narrator on horseback near Aravaipa Canyon, as if Abbey imagined what would happen if his rancher friend Cliff Wood were visited by God.

Subsequently, however, Abbey revised this piece as "God's Plan for the State of Utah: A Revelation," for a May 1975 reading in Salt Lake City, and subsequently published it in the Mountain Gazette in March 1977 and in The Journey Home. Here he substituted a Utah setting for Aravaipa in order to hit home to his new audience: "We're riding along the rimrock above Pucker Pass Canyon, me and this red dun horse, minding our own business and generally at peace with the world, such as it is." Similarly, in "Dust: A Movie," a short impressionistic "script" describing the end of the world, he changed the setting from Wolf Hole, Arizona in its original September 1975 Not Man Apart version to "Pariah," just across the line in Utah, in The Journey Home. Both "God's Plan" and "Dust" show Abbey experimenting more with fantastic rather than realistic storylines, as he would do more extensively in his 1980 novel Good News, a futuristic western that he began outlining in late 1975 and writing during 1976.

As Abbey declared in his essay "Come On In": "The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is something special. Something else. Something strange, marvelous, full of wonders. So far as I know there is no other region on earth much like it, or even remotely like it. Nowhere else have we this lucky combination of vast sedimentary rock formations exposed to a desert climate, of a great plateau carved by major rivers--the Green, the San Juan, the Colorado--into such a wonderland of form and color." He loved both the canyons and the desert, but preferred Utah in summer and Arizona in winter, as he never liked cold weather. By the mid-1980s he would summer in Moab and spend the rest of the year in Tucson, but in the mid-1970s he was not yet able to do that. By fall 1974 he wished he'd stayed in Tucson, and on September 11 he wrote to his friend Bill Eastlake, the novelist, in Tucson, "I need a tennis partner. Come back to Moab!"

Abbey did find plenty of tennis partners in Moab, however: Roger Grette, who recorded in his diary their many tennis dates between 1975 and 1977; Ken Sleight, who remembered that Abbey regularly "took him to the cleaners" when they played; and Bill Benge, who recalled Abbey deliberately trying to hit cracks in the court with a shot he called the "crevacer," and Peacock once playing with them while taking regular drinks from a canteen of bourbon strapped to his side. Abbey also enjoyed regular poker sessions, often on Wednesday nights and frequently at "Tom Tom" Arnold's, involving friends such as Grette, Severance, Greenspan, and Preston.

Abbey would linger at the poker table, drinking and laconically exclaiming, "Baby needs new shoes!."

For Susie Abbey, six years old at the end of summer 1974, this was the most stable phase of her otherwise scattered childhood with (and often without) her father. She went to school in Moab, and settled in with Ed and Renéée in the early, domestic phase of their marriage...Ed and Renéée did for a time settle into "domestic bliss." After awhile Renéée went to work at the River Rocks flower shop, in the main part of town, spending a lot of time with her co-workers Marilyn and Karilyn McElheney and later Laura Lee Houck. Though at this point she was only a high-school graduate, Renéée was very bright and shared Abbey's passion for environmental issues. Often he wrote statements for public hearings and--convinced that attenders would pay more attention to an attractive young woman than to him--he had Renéée read them. Abbey soon became one of the most regular and certainly the best known and most notorious letter-writer to Sam Taylor's Moab Times-Independent, from 1974 until 1987.

In a letter printed on September 19, 1974, for example, he attacked motorboats on the Colorado, assuring Taylor and his readers that John Wesley Powell and many others had made it down the river without the aid of motors. Paul Abbey could have been speaking for his son when he wrote him on December 3 of that year from Home, "I just finished a `letter to the editor'...It's a masterpiece of Iknowbetterness."

From the position of his new home in Moab, Abbey set himself up in opposition to the East Coast. He disdained urbanized eastern novelists such as Tom Wolfe and John Updike. In the September 1976 Harper's he attacked Wolfe--whom he always distinguished from "the real Thomas Wolfe," author of the Appalachian novels he so admired--as "a sycophant to the wealthy and powerful." A month earlier in an article called "Nothing to Do," he explained to readers of the New York Times Magazine that "we live in a place called Spanish Valley, not too far from the ghost town of Wolf Hole, Ariz." He described the earlier "squalor of our surroundings" when he had lived in Hoboken to be near to Manhattan and his second wife, Rita (identified here only as a "painter" of "Esso gas stations"). Responding to a visitor who asks him what there is to do, by contrast, in Spanish Valley, Abbey looks out at his breathtaking surroundings, including mountain peaks clearly visible ten miles away, sighs, and replies, "I can't tell you."

In 1996 Jim Cahalan sponsored the Pennsylvania state historical marker for Edward Abbey in Home. Edward Abbey: A Life will be available from the University of Arizona Press early this fall and can be ordered (or pre-ordered) directly from the Press at1-800-426-3797.