Abbey's Road.
Edward Abbey.
1979. Plume, New York. ISBN 0-452-26564-9


The writer puts the best of himself, not the whole, into the work; the author as seen in the pages of his own book is largely a fictional creation. Often the author's best creation.

You can bet on it: No writer is ever willing - even if able - to portray himself as seen by others or as he really is. Writers are shameless liars. In fact, we pride ourselves on the subtlety and grandeur of our lies. Salome had only seven veils; the author has a thousand.

As always in this country, they only laugh at you when you tell the truth.

Alone, we are close to nothing. In prolonged solitude, as I've discovered, we come very close to nothingness. Too close for comfort.

What we have accomplished through jet-engine aircraft is the abolition of the journey.

Australia seemed to me not so much another country as my own country in another time.

like most professional beer drinkers in Australia - and in Australia most of the men are professional beer drinkers; theirs is the national religion - he was proud of his big gut.

When the situation is hopeless, there is nothing to worry about.

Where the land is so flat the horizon, as at sea, must be generally no more that twelve miles away from the viewpoint of a man on the ground.

Like many Australians, he was proud of his shady heritage. The convicts, transported from England, were mostly rebels, troublemakers, men (and sometimes women) who could not accept their subordinate place in the elaborate hierarchy of English society. La morgue anglais.

But all that, I maintain, is merely information. It is not knowledge; even less is it understanding. Knowledge and understanding, though based on information as an essential component, require more, namely feeling, intuition, physical contact - touching, and sympathy, and love. It is possible for a man and woman to know and understand one another, in this complete sense. It is possible to know, though to lesser degree, other living things - birds, animals, plants. It is even possible to know, through love, a place, a certain landscape, a river, canyon, mesa, mountain. (Nobody ever fell in love with a rock, you say? Non-sense. Bullshit. Many of us have fallen in love with rocks. You don't think I lived for so long in the American Southwest because I wanted to be near Phoenix, or Barry Goldwater, or Glen Canyon dam, do you?) But knowledge - I insist - is not possible through science alone.

The whales, the dolphins - do they feel a sense of loss, of longing, exiled forever from the land, the open air, sunlight? Or - the obvious counterthought - do they feel pity for us? After all, theirs is the larger world, perhaps the more rich and strange.

Though its rude to stare, I cannot help but look again at his weathered face, the map of his soul. The expression there is attractive and appealing - serene, far-seeing eyes; a calm and easeful smile. Where have I seen that kind of face before? And I remember: yes, among old folk in Appalachia, in west Texas, in Norway, in Calabria. The sing of honor, an interior victory of some kind that cannot be won in less than seventy years - the Biblical threescore and ten. The faces of beautiful old men and women around the world.

Turismo is always and everywhere a dubious, fraudulent, distasteful, and in the long run, degrading business, enriching the few, doing the rest more harm than good.

"What is it?" we ask, meaning what is its name? This odd quirk of the human mind: Unless we can name things, they remain for us only half-real. Or less than half-real: nonexistent. A man without a name is nobody A man's name can become more important than his person. A plant, an animal, a thing without a name is no thing - nothing. No wonder we humans like to think that in the beginning was - the Word. What word? Any word. Any word at all, anything rather than the silence and terror of the nameless.

Alas, occult visions seem to come only to those who believe in them beforehand. First the faith, then the hairy little miracle. First the pill, the tab, the wafer, the space capsule - then come the ruby-eyed, six-legged alligators swimming through you psychedelic dome. To hell with mysticism.

We are not making much progress, I suspect, and God only knows where the Rio Urique and the Big Barranca are; but it doesn't matter. There's plenty to look at and feel, plenty of time to think about where we are. The growing consensus among the four of us is, "If we get there we get there and if we don't we don't." To hell with science too. Thus the ambience of Mexico infects our nervous systems: Montezuma's revenge in its subtler form.

A few miles up the canyon we go ashore in a cove without a name. Others have been here before, as the human dung and toilet paper, the tinfoil, plastic plates, abandoned underwear, rusty fishhooks, tangled lines, discarded socks, empty Coors cans, and broken glass clearly attest. But on the shores of Lake Powell, Jewel of the Colorado and National Recreational Slum, you have no choice. All possible campsites look like this one. There is no lower life form know to zoological science than the motorboat fisherman, the speedboat sightseer.

In the shallow pond at our side are hundreds of tadpole shrimp, the grotesque, helmet-headed Apus longicaudatus, swimming back and forth, pursuing one another, the large capturing and devouring the small. They look like tiny horseshoe crabs - or like miniature trilobites from the earliest seas of all, come back to haunt us with the memory of the earth's long, strange, splendid, and meaningless history. The spiral of time. The circle of time. The vanity of death. The black hole of space.

The hot radiance of the sun, pouring on our prone bodies, suffusing our flesh, melting our bones, lulls us toward sleep. Over the desert and the canyons, down there in the rocks, a hug vibration of light and stillness and solitude shapes itself into the form of hovering wings spread out across the sky from the world's rim to the world's end. Not God - the term seems insufficient - but something unnameable, and more beautiful, and far greater, and more terrible.

Behind us, back at the canyon's head, the sun blazes down on the shallow pool. The hooded grope things swim writhing through the water. One thousand feet beneath, the spring continues to flow and the little stream to snake its shining way through canyon jungle toward the hidden river. The hawk soars, the ravens quarrel. And no man sees. And no woman hears. No one is there. Everything is there.

What is perhaps most sinister of all is the fact that in this worldwide drive to reduce al life, human and otherwise, to the limits of a technetronic system, there is not even a mind at work. Many brains, but no mind. Nor heart nor soul. There is no intelligence directing this enormous and enormously complex process; merely the cumulative efforts of thousands of specialists, experts, each sequestered in his tiny niche in the technological apparatus, each unaware of or indifferent to the investigations of all but his closest colleagues, each man in his way an innocent.

Don't talk to me about other worlds, separate realities, lost continents, or invisible realms - I know where I belong. Heaven is home. Utopia is here. Nirvana is now.

I stopped to look. And what I saw was the moon - the moon itself, nothing else; and the tree, alive and conscious in its own spiral of time; and my hands, palms upward, raised toward the sky. We were there. We are. That is what we know. This is all we can know. And each such moment holds more magic and miracle and mystery than we - so long as we are less than gods - shall ever be able to understand. Holds all that we could possibly need - if only we can see. There are no further words.

The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. Not for nothing was the revolver called an "equalizer". Egalite' implies liberte'. And always will. Let us hope our weapons are never needed - but do not forget what the common people of this nation knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny.

Any Utopia, any Golden Age of Unlimited Power and Plenty, whether mythical, pastoral, or technological, where the needs and pleasures of life can be obtained without effort, would be a world of insufferable boredom, downgrading humans to the sloth and torpor of swine in a luxury sty; unworthy of us, the death of our nature.

I've never known a serious policeman who had much respect for the law; in any well-organized society the police constitute the most lawless element. Policemen are not legalists; they are moralists, stern believers in good and bad, right and wrong. I too am a moralist, not a legalist, and thus fulfill the basic qualification for cophood.

Each time I sold a tourist his admission ticket, I would remind him to keep that piece of paper in plain view at all times, verifying his right to be in the park. (Really. For Petrified Forest, like Grand Canyon or Yosemite, is a national park - not a people's park.)

Finishing my second health drink, it occurred to me that more and more we communicate with one another as indirectly as possible. Through wall placards. Through graffiti. Through bumper stickers, headgear, lapel buttons, T-shirts anything but face-to-face exchange. Perhaps this has been obvious to everyone else for a long time. Perhaps I've been living too long in the mountains. Perhaps I should rejoin what they call civilization. If there is one. I'm willing to listen to reason. If I hear any.

The natural redneck comes from the country, from small towns, and id generally too dumb or too stubborn to leave. The instant redneck comes from the city or the affluent suburbs, where his father has made a lot of money. Cushioned by a nice trust fund or comfortable inheritance, the instant redneck migrates west, buys himself a little hobby ranch, a pair of tight jeans, a snap-button shirt, one of those funny hats with the rolled brim like the male models wear in Marlboro ads, and a ninety-dollar pair of tolled leather boots with pointy toes (for kicking snakes in the ass) like those you'll see on the feet of the pretty young me walking their poodles in Greenwich Village. Now in full cowboy costume, he buys his first pickup truck, a huge lumbering four-by-four tractorlike gas hog of a deus machine loaded with roll bars, mag rims, lug tires, KC road lights, gun rack, spotlight, AM-FM cassette player, Kleenex dispenser, gyroscopic beer can holder, CB (Cretin Broadcasting) radio, and Tampax slot. He buys a gun for the gun rack, pops the top from his first can of Coors (a sweet, green provincial brew mass-produced from reprocessed sewage water near Denver), and roars off in all directions to tear up the back country and blast away at the wildlife. The instant redneck. A real man at last.

Something in our human consciousness seems to make us forever spectators of the world we live in. Maybe some of my crackpot, occultist friends are right; maybe we really are aliens here on earth, our spirits born on some other, simpler, more human planet. But why then were we sent here? What is our mission, comrades, and when do we get paid?

A writer's epitaph: He fell in love with the planet earth, but the affair was never consummated.

There comes a day when a man must hide. Must slip away from the human world and its clutching, insane, insatiable demands.

Right now I want no one, least of all myself. All my life a loner, an outsider, a barbarian from the steppes, the wolf on the snow-covered hill looking down at the lights of the village, I think I've never been accepted by my fellow men, fellow women, never been a bona fide member of the club. And looking back at the human race, feeling I never belonged, my first thought, right now, is - thank God. Or Whatever.

The desert world accepts my homage with its customary silence. The grand indifference. As any man of sense would want it. If a voice from the clouds suddenly addressed me, speaking my name in trombone tones, or some angel in an aura of blue flame came floating toward me along the canyon rim, I think I would be more embarrassed than frightened - embarrassed by the vulgarity of such display. That is what depresses me in the mysticism of Carlos Castaneda and his like: their poverty of imagination. As any honest magician knows, true magic inheres in the ordinary, the common place, the everyday, the mystery of the obvious. Only petty minds and trivial souls year for supernatural events, incapable of perceiving that everything - everything! - within and around them is pure miracle.


Henry Miller
The newspaper lies, the radio lies, the TV lies, the streets howl with truth.

Tennessee Williams
Once a woman leaves a man, she never returns.