Book Club

I am part of a goofy little impromptu book club. We choose whatever book somebody has suggested and normally take a month or so between meetings. Last month was my turn to choose the book. Desert Solitaire was my choice, as I had just reread it and I had two copies to lend out. (75 cents? what a bargain)

Now, I will not pontificate on the book or Abbey, because it’s not needed. Thousands of other people have written far better, more poignant and more articulated reviews of the Abbey words. I suggest you check out Wendell Berry’s essay A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey if you want enlightenment on that front. I am writing for another reason.

The turn out for this month was small, and in an effort to keep up with the style of the book we met at a local tavern. This is my favorite bar within an hours drive, in fact it is close enough I did some pre-gaming(drinking beer) before and rode my bike. It’s always a little fun to get tipsy and ride like a madman, but beware kids, it’s just as illegal if not as immoral. Dangerous too, check out the huge patch of skin missing from my arm.

I grabbed a hoptastic IPA and picked up the tab on a friends stout. She is a crazy diamond, and I like her that way. She listens to my rambles and rants and only complains when I get too misogynistic. She is frightfully intelligent and a wonder to listen to. We also met up with a few midwesterners, twenty something enviro-hippy kids with a penchant for rebellion within the margins.

We all enjoyed the book to different levels, but all members seemed happy to have read it. One comment was made that bugged me though. It was made by the crazy diamond, but I don’t fault her for it. I’ll explain that latter too.

“He complains about all these things, but he never really did anything...”

What was he supposed to do? Lay down in the middle of the road while the pavers came into Arches Monument?(Hippy Scum!) Become a lawyer?(The paperwork, oh damn the paperwork!) Become a Lawman?(Lobotomy? anybody?)

I posed that question and got a number of blank stares. We no longer live in a world where the public acts of a single man can stop the machine, in this case the handicap accesabilitizing of the american landscape.

Charles Bowden said it best in Blood Orchid-

“True, the fine days are long gone when one could draw down on a single man, pull the trigger, and right some wrong. Now no one can imagine any useful act that does not entail changing entire systems and the systems are so huge that no one can even describe them.”

It is childish and naive to assume that Abbey could “do” anything in that so literal sense of going out and acting physical. We live in a marketplace of ideas, not a land of heroic actions. Abbey did do something though, he spread the ideas.

Abbey spread the gospel. Wait, strike that. The gospel is a slew of dogmatic irrationalities, he spread rational dogma. Dogma to live by god damned it!

Direct action is dead, ideas live on. He could have stopped the road to Arches with action. He tried in his own way, puling survey stakes and flagging wherever he walked. But that is not enough to really stop a public works project. He could have done something physical(Fire!) but it would have only slowed the beast. And he would have ended as a martyr, and nobody wants the reality of a martyr.

Martyrs don’t win, martyrs die.

We, as hominids, are programmed to think the only action worth respecting is the physical. The intellectual, the written, the painted, the musical will always be second rank to the perfect pitch, tackle, sprint, pedal, or paddle. This was true in the days a man clubbed a woman and drug her to his cave an property, but the world has changed a lot since then and out little ape brains are having a hard time keeping up. The physical is near useless now, and in no arena more so than that of government.

So he did what he was good at. he wrote. He made thousands upon thousands, if not millions, of americans hate what we are doing to our land. He let the lawmakers be lawmakers, the engineers be engineers, and the students be students, but he made some of them give a flying fuck.

A physical act of contribution? no. A heroic show of will? more so than most.

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