Edward Abbey: Action outdoorsman and author of Desert Solitaire, *The Monkey
Wrench Gang and 17 other popular novels and essay collections, was one of America’s most powerful and relentless spokesmen for the environment and certainly its most uninhibited. Here, at Abbey’s curmudgeonly bat, is his introduction to The Backcountry Handbook, of which I thought I’d post the first half. I doubt many fans of Edward Abbey would find this little gem, buried in an outdoor handbook.
There’s one thing that gripes me in my lurching about in America’s blessed but overcrowded backcountry, it’s those androids from the moronic inferno of contemporary techno culture who apparently
Learned outdoors etiquette from The Boy Scout Handbook of I928.I mean the cretins who build their campfires with green logs laboriously chewed from living trees with dull hatchets. And then erect a corral of rocks to enclose a fire about l0 times bigger than even a White Man needs. And then,
upon departure from the scene of their felonies, pile all their garbage upon the smoldering remains-including such non-combustibles as tinfoil and wet tin cans, wet condoms and Pampers-let it smoke and black- en and stink for while and conclude the infamy by heaping this mess with a pile of mud and stones. Everywhere we go in what’s left of natural America, we find these miniature trash dumps. The intention, no doubt, was to prevent forest fires, as Smokey the Bore has been instructing us for 50 years. But fires are natural, inevitable and good for the forest; Any Native American can tell you that, if you can find one. (The true terror of the modern forest is not the wildfire but the logger with his chain saw, the road builder with his bulldozer, the cowboy with his cow. These types wreak far more destruction upon our forests than any wildfire ever did or could. And wreak it at our expense, financed by our tax dollars.) Why do these Ralph Lauren he-man Campfire Girls build giant fire rings filled with half-baked rubbish? I don’t know. No one knows. They are the product not of thought but of ritual, spastic reflex, ancient ideologies conceived in sin and whelped by bureaucrats. One discovers such mementos even in the sand and rock of the desert, where the nearest tree may be a scrubby juniper four feet tall, l0 feet away. Mysteries of the Wild. But irksome. There are many things that irk, actually, not only me but you, but this is not the place for a complete listing.
Editor’s Note: Did you know that The Monkey Wrench Gang was blacklisted from the east coast booksellers during its first printing? Maybe the east coast establishment didn’t want to disturb the goings-on, as this book surely tends to do. I have a well-read family member, that has an incredible breadth of education and reading behind him. What’s more he was a hut ranger in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He had never heard of Edward Abbey. I’m not sure if he’s read him yet. I’ll have to loan him my tattered copy of The Gang.