In the story Desert Solitaire, written by Edward Abbey, Abbey writes about his adventure as a park ranger and love for nature. He deeply describes the vast amount of creatures that live near his trailer. In the chapter "The Serpents of Paradise", Abbey explains his first interaction with a gopher snake. He describes it as he was very fearful but he could not build up the mental strength to kill the snake; "There's a revolver inside the trailer [...] [but] it would be like murder," (Abbey 17). He explains his reasoning for not killing the snake as it is his responsibility as a park ranger "to protect and defend all living things," (Abbey 17). My problem with this statement is that in the chapter "Cliffrose and Bayonets", Abbey viciously kills an innocent rabbit while patrolling the park areas.My main confusion to Abbey's action is why he would kill an innocent rabbit, which shows no harm to him in any way, but keep a deadly snake alive. Abbey writes, "[...] the stone flies true and knock the cottontail head over tincups, clear out from under the budding blackbush. he crumples, there's the usual gushing of blood, etc., a brief spasm, and then no mare. The wicked rabbit is dead," (Abbey 33-34). I do not understand how Abbey can viciously kill this innocent rabbit without any hesitation or remourse. After Abbey has killed the rabbit, he describes himself as not feeling a trace of guilt and feeling rather cheerful. My question is, how can someone with so much passion for nature and his job as a park ranger, not have any guilt about violently killing a guiltless rabbit?
Transcendentalism is a word spoken in whispers and taught sparingly in the industrial world. In transcendentalism, nature and man's connection to it on a spiritual level are sacred and exist in the solitude of a single soul, the lone adventurer of the wild. One such adventurer, Edward Abbey poses many questions to the societal, industrial world in Desert Solitaire, both explicitly and implicitly. Wherever humanity shows its seemingly quixotic desires or even pitches a tent, Abbey is there in question of mankind. He describes how one man's uranium wealth (something Abbey sees as exploited by this man, from innocent nature) slowly leads him to ruin on page 63. Abbey shows Charles Steen as a "beleaguered millionaire," from Abbey’s fiscally unconcerned point of view (p. 63). Then sentences later the wealthy (but mysteriously “beleaguered”) Steen the prospector becomes a transitory, meek man who "moved elsewhere; came back; moved again" (p. 63) Steen’s mining wealth is depicted as his demise by Abbey. Another instance where mankind impinges upon Abbey's solitude is on page 13, when he must endure his own habitation, the trailer that cooks his food, keeps him warm, and stores his vital equipment. Abbey is suddenly, "sealed up, encapsulated, in a box of artificial light and tyrannical noise," which seems like a nightmare if I did not know the box was a trailer (p. 13). Automobiles are referred to in a similar way by Abbey as boxes or "bloody tyrants" as well (p.52). But there is a counterpoint to all the subtle undermining Abbey employs when faced with society. Is nature not made of atoms, just like the trailer he hates is made of? Is the sunlight (albeit more gentle) not just as illuminatory as a light bulb? Is a man to be blamed for mining specific minerals from the ground to profit and become wealthy? I do not refute that nature is sacred, in fact some of the most beautiful sights I have seen are natural. But why in his transcendental quest to unite with nature does Abbey feel it vital, even righteous to sever all ties with his fellow man and his modern advancements that dictate survival?
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Slavery in The Voyage of the BeagleThough clearly not a central theme, the issues of race and slavery present themselves in numerous places throughout the text. Darwin’s era naturally shapes his perspective of race, and this much is obvious in how he describes the black inhabitants of the Cape Verde archipelago, as well as the slaves of Brazil. However, in the second chapter of The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin bears witness to the brutality and depravity inflicted upon the blacks of the Brazilian fazendas, and this fundamentally changes Darwin’s view on the institution of slavery.In the beginning of Chapter II, Darwin and his party are travelling on horseback inland, to visit a couple fazendas along the river. On their way they happen upon a spot where a runaway slave had thrown herself from a mountain to her demise in order to escape slavery. Darwin comments that “In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom; in a poor negress it is mere obstinacy.” (19) This line exemplifies Darwin’s inability to empathize with blacks, whom he views as being so fundamentally different from himself. Another instance in which Darwin expresses compliance with the institution of slavery takes place in the fazenda of a friend of a member of Darwin’s party. Here Darwin describes the arrangements as somewhat idyllic, as the slaves are allotted two days out of the week to work for themselves and provide for their families. He asserts that there is “no doubt the slaves pass happy and contented lives.”When Darwin arrives at the next fazenda, however, his opinion is changed. He witnesses a slave master threatening to sell half of his slaves, thereby severing some thirty families. Upon witnessing this, Darwin writes: “there exists no limit to the blindness of interest and selfish habit.” (23) In another instance, Darwin is aboard a ferry with a slave. Darwin is gesticulating in an effort to communicate with the slave, and in doing so accidentally waves his hand close to the slave’s face. The slave is terrified and expects a blow. Darwin writes: “I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame,” regarding the slave’s deference to abuse, having been “trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal.” (23)At the onset of this chapter, Darwin views the institution of slavery as an agreeable arrangement. Midway through, however, his view is transformed radically, to the point of being ashamed and disgusted. This particular transformation exemplifies Darwin’s capacity for adaptation and open-mindedness, which certainly, I anticipate, will resurface as Darwin comes to his ultimate realization and his development of the theory of evolution.
On pages 14-15 of Desert Solitaire, Abbey talks about going on a walk in the dark. He takes a flashlight with him, but will only use it to investigate wildlife. Abbey states, “Like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am Isolated” (15). This statement struck me because items such as a flashlight are viewed as consistently useful, yet Abbey views it as the exact opposite. When I thought about Abbey’s statement further, I began to agree with it more. I pictured several accounts on which I used a flashlight. Constantly following the light and seeing only what shone in its path. This led me to one question: what other gadgets in our lives are believed to help us but could actually be separating us from the world around us?
Abbey has many interesting insights in his book, most of which arise from his unusual perspective. Of the author's various nature-related commentaries, one of the most interesting (and long-winded) was his rant on the state of national parks, especially considering the "extremeness" of some of his statements, like how he calls his opponents insane, and his extreme hatred of automobiles. But the example that stood out the most to me is when he lists "bury a body" (53) as one of the things newcomers may need assistance with. The implications of this statement are clear.While normally these things would have him dismissed as a raving lunatic, many of his arguments are quite logical and rather convincing. Admittedly, I'm no engineer or politician, so I have no clue what the scale of his proposal would have been, nor will I know whether or not if it was reasonable in terms of budget, labor, and so on. To the casual reader, or at the very least me, his argument seems perfectly reasonable. Of those arguments, the most compelling one that I can relate and somewhat understand is the one about automobiles detracting from the enjoyment of nature (52-53). The understanding doesn't come from any specific, momentous experience, just a mundane observation: when we traveled to new places, it was always hard to see much from the seat of a car.
In the chapter "Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks" we see Abbey begin to speak about his relationship with nature in a voice that perhaps only someone in his position could state. He has been virtually isolated, with spurts of human contact, and as a result of this shows a profound love for his surroundings. So much so, that he begins his book with the statement "This is the most beautiful place on earth," in reference to Moab, Utah (Abbey 1). He then follows this by rejecting other places that may to another, be considered a favorite locale. Through reading even the first few chapters, we begin to understand Abbey's perspective on Moab. However, if one were to read the Industrial Tourism chapter, they may be tempted to refute this argument, or at least feel more strongly about it than someone who understands Abbey's point of view. As we continue to read, we see that Abbey is essentially becoming one with nature, befriending snakes, taking morning walks, etc. In a way, he is almost experiencing nature in a way quite similar to how Darwin did (or as much as one can, considering the generation gap). He is exploring lands untouched by the human hand, and making discoveries just as his predecessor Darwin. These parallels, as well as Abbey's experiences in his somewhat solitary environment therefore help us to at least understand Abbey's unique yet justified perspective.
As Darwin’s trip carries on in his novel, The Voyage of the Beagle, he makes careful observations about the plant life, animals, and geography he encounters. Those observations include many comparisons, most pairing his newfound sources of interest with ones he previously studied or heard of in England. From the amount of spiders in the new land, which when “..compared with England [is] very much larger,” (page 33, Darwin), to a tree, which is “…so thick that it would never have been penetrated by common English rain” (page 12, Darwin), Darwin can’t seem to shake the influence of his home country. Do these observations seem like the unbiased remarks of a scientist? When one thinks of the qualities that define a person of science, unprejudiced and concise come to mind. Darwin doesn’t seem to embody these traits. Instead of using scientific language, he describes plants and animals by employing personal connections. This does not enable others who are unfamiliar with England to understand his work to the fullest extent. Scientists are meant to open up the world to the truth about what is happening all around them, so why doesn’t Darwin change his diction to make his findings more accessible and easier for a variety of people to understand?
In the first chapter of desert solitaire Abbey begins to describe the “most beautiful place on earth”(page 1, Abbey). I completely agree with his assumption that every person has their own special place. His use of common nature writing techniques, enhances the description of his experience. However I had a problem with the fact that his most valued place on Earth allowed him to kill an innocent animal and let a dangerous one live. How can one’s beautiful place cause such a violent act? Abbey’s scientific accounts of nature allowed me to obtain a clear mental image of the landscape, but I still couldn’t understand Abbey’s willingness to end the life of an innocent creature and make friends with an animal that could harm him. The scientific accounts of nature enhanced Abbey’s account of solitude and loneliness. Abbey effectively uses the animals to emphasize his feelings of solitude and loneliness. His joy with the snakes their companionship highlights a major theme in this work, solitude.
During Abbey’s argument of “sensible proposals” (pg.52, Abbey) of tourism in National Parks, he points out “the parks, they say, are for the people” (pg.57, Abbey) and should be used for ‘joyous adventures.’ This brings up a logical point that as a society, we set aside these parks purposely for the entertainment of the people yet like many other public services offered in this country, they become tools for corporations to generate revenue. While Abbey brings up a valid opinion, he seems to be more of the voice for the parks than the people. Not to say that he is wrong, in fact I do agree with some of his opinions but the whole book is caused by the fact that he left the civilized world to seclude himself in the park. At the very beginning of this same chapter, “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks,” Abbey describes a night in Moab in which he seemed passive and judgmental towards the people. All in all, I am trying to make a claim that while his claim on page 57 seems to be correct, he does not seemingly fight on the side of the people as much as the side for the parks themselves. Perhaps this is because it is nature he loves most.
In the beginning chapters of Desert Solitaire, Abbey crowds the pages with anthropomorphism, where he attributes human-like behaviors and characteristics to animals, plants and objects that surround his trailer in the 33,000 acres of Arches National Park. Early on, Abbey expresses his feeling of possessiveness toward the desert and his deep desires to communicate with and understand the living and non-living around him, the way most would like to get to know another human being (pg.5, Abbey). While standing outside his trailer and staring out at the motionless monstrous sculpture forms scattered all around him, he says, “In color…tones…change with the time of day and the moods of the light, the weather, the sky,” giving the red, brown and pinkish rocks human-like emotions mirroring the common mood swing (pg.5, Abbey). Later on, Abbey decides to invite a wild gopher snake into his place of shelter; he refers to it as his companion, or even his friend insinuating an equal relationship of symbiosis (pg.19, Abbey). Although he defends himself saying, “I recognize that when and where they serve purposes of mine they do so for beautifully selfish reasons of their own,” he continues, asserting that human kind would be ignorant to refuse to recognize that it is probable that animals have emotions (pg.21, Abbey.) By expressing the commonly overlooked complexities of plants and animals throughout his writing, Abbey intends to relay to the reader that without endless electronics and man-made gadgets to enhance productivity, humans are not quite as superior to other life form as commonly believed.
One important topic point in "Desert Solitaire" that should be addressed is the idea of an expansive landscape as the setting. There have been several times already in the book in which Abbey has gone to great pains to depict just how vast and open the area is. For example, "...most of the surface of the land, at least three-quarters of it, is sand or sandstone, naked, monolithic, austere and unadorned as the sculpture of the moon. It is undoubtedly a desert place, clean, pure, totally useless, quite unprofitable" (Abbey 35). Another instance is when Abbey writes "...the mighty stillness embraces and includes me; I can see the stars again and the world of starlight. I am twenty miles or more from the nearest fellow human, but instead of loneliness I feel loveliness. Loveliness and quiet exultation" (Abbey 16). He does an impressive job of illustrating the solitude, and the enormous expanse of open land. It is interesting how he takes a landscape that most would consider dull and describes it in a way that make readers think of it as beautiful and simple.
As is true of any worthwhile novel, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire is rich with contrast. Throughout the first chapters of the novel, Abbey assumes an accusatory tone, assigning guilt to “industrial tourists” ignoring their responsibility to preserve an “intact and undiminished” (Abbey 47) wilderness and falling prey to the convenient yet damaging promises of progressing technology. Specifically, the park ranger protagonist expresses his frustration towards the use of automobiles and the increasing demand for roads within the national park. Herein lies an inescapable clash between the raw beauty of wilderness in its most elemental form and the selfish, looming threat of human innovation casting a shadow over the treasured “red wasteland” (Abbey 4). Just as man struggles to balance modernization with the conservation of nature’s wholesomeness, the protagonist faces an internal conflict between his craving for isolation and innate desire for acceptance and inclusion. Finding comfort in the “lonely sky” and the “one-man station some twenty miles back in the interior” (Abbey 2), he contrastingly searches for emotion behind the behaviors of various animals he encounters at the park, finding offense in their occasional rejection, and constantly seeking their approval. Upon befriending and “hoping to domesticate” (Abbey 19) a gopher snake, Abbey is devastated by the snake’s later abandonment as it goes back into the wild and finds a mate. Admitting that it is “possible, even probable, that many of the nonhuman undomesticated animals experience emotions unknown to us,” (Abbey 20), a man consumed with loneliness by choice exposes his yearning for the company of specifically human qualities. His later attempted interaction with a doe and her fawn, resulting in their quick escape, leads the park ranger to demand they “’come back here’” (Abbey 32) and talk to him, bringing to light his (perhaps unconscious) longing for human-like camaraderie in an unfamiliar and seclusive environment. Even in these first few chapters, Desert Solitaire is wrought with juxtaposing themes. Whether it is the capabilities of man versus the beauty of nature or the protagonist’s struggle between the comfort of isolation and the comfort of social acceptance, does the presence of opposites create insurmountable conflict? Or does it promote a harmonious balance?
I find that Edward Abby is very insecure on his feeling both toward humanity and nature. To be honest I find his writing very vexing. His personification of nature directly conflicts with his wish to suck humanity out of nature. One of the first points he makes is, “The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good… I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities” (Abby 6). He makes it clear he wants to see nature without humanity. Yet he seems content with creating human trait for it throughout the whole book. I see two different personalities he describes within nature. One that is “lonely” and doesn’t give a shit about anyone – which, although personified, is a person who has been drained of all its human traits – the second is one that he is friends with who shares his both affection and dependence. The second is the one I have the most issues with. I realize that separating humanity and nature is something we all struggle with. He realizes he struggles with the distinction and wants to improve on it, but I find it incredibly naïve of him to view nature as a friend. He describes mice as needy friends, and seems to think he is in cahoots with many other animals when in actuality they were doing just fine without him. He sometimes also tries to domesticate the wild for example when he takes a snake in as a pet in the chapter The Serpents of Paradise. Not only does he say the snake is his friend, but he has taken it out of the wild to live in his trailer. I would have thought he would be against interfering that drastically with nature. In this process he is domesticating the wild. He also uses some vocabulary that I feel domesticates nature too much. He often calls the park his garden. It is silly for him to compare wild open spaces to a man made garden. Although he criticizes is so harshly, Abby seems to miss humanity. He takes the human qualities he misses most and displaces them onto nature. This makes it impossible for him to view it void of personality and made up connections.This could just be the city girl in me trying to discredit the nature man. He could just be doing it for the readers’ sake so we can identify with his writing better, or to send the message that it is impossible for people to separate themselves entirely when viewing nature objectively. Never the less he should have made his intentions clearer for us thickheaded city girls.
In The Voyage of the Beagle Darwin immediately displays causes of irony which continues throughout the text. On page 5 Darwin describes black children with little detail commenting on nothing but their action of “carrying bundles of firewood half as big as their own bodies” which is obviously an incredible feat. (Darwin 5). However, right after this scene is a fully detailed description of guinea-fowl with in depth emotional character analysis “they avoided us, like partridges on a rainy day in September, running with their heads cocked up; and if pursued they readily took to the wing” (Darwin 5). This juxtaposition of complete dissociation from blacks to his inherent interest with animals shows the irony in Darwin’s views. How can Darwin research, observe and analysis with such passion animals and organisms on earth yet have complete inconsideration for other humans? Another example appears on page 7 when Darwin is examining marine animals he insinuates similarities of an Aplysia (sea-slug) to an Octopus, or cuttle-fish. He so easily finds their subtle connection of being predator and prey such as color secretion or change, this however is extremely ironic because he can connect animals but blacks as his own species. On page 14, Darwin learns of Diodon eating through shark’s bellies, surviving while killing the shark and is completely astonished. “Who would ever have imagined that a little soft fish could have destroyed the great and savage shark?” (Darwin 14). It’s not surprising that Darwin is so overwhelmed that the Diodon- the weaker being was the victor. Into chapter 2, Darwin continues to emotionally connect with animals oppose to slaves. “I never ceased, during the whole journey, to be surprised at the amount of labor which the horses were capable of enduring” (Darwin 21). Was it not amazing when the black children carried the heavy logs earlier in the text? Lastly, even when Darwin is confronted with the evils of slavery, he never completely dissolves the irony seen throughout this text. He simply realizes certain injustices like, “I do not believe the inhumanity of separating thirty families, who have lived together for many years” (Darwin 23). However he connects this with fault of humanity and in no way reconnects animals he has been previously doing. Throughout the text, The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin displays constant ironic disconnect between his emotional attachment to animals and not towards slaves.
Edward Abbey has an almost reverential feeling towards the natural environment and its preservation. In his novel Desert Solitaire, he delves into excruciatingly detailed descriptions of what surrounds him. Abbey depicts everything from the extreme variety of plant life that he sees, the different rock formations he encounters, and even his interactions with the wildlife like the deer and snakes. His deep connection for nature is seen when he refuses to use the flashlight because it detracts from what he is ultimately trying to see. He says that "if i switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am isolated" (Abbey, 13). By leaving the flashlight in his pocket, Abbey believes he is remaining a part of the environment. In addition, he believes that modernization destroyed the "old magic" of nature (Abbey, 46). However, I feel like his desire to stay in touch with the environment seems to be confusing. Abbey seems to be keen on becoming friends with the wildlife, almost like developing a trustful companionship. He believes that he "succeeded in demonstrating ... friendship and good will" to the doe and her fawn (Abbey, 32). Unfortunately, the companionship he is trying to build with the animals seems very unimportant to him when he experiments with the rabbit by trying to kill it. This completely and utterly goes against everything that he argued for while contemplating whether or not to kill the snake. While persuading himself not to kill the snake, Abbey said that his main job is to protect the wildlife. By killing the snake, he would feel as if he committed murder. Abbey admits that he would "rather kill a man than a snake" due to his own personal convictions (Abbey, 17). However, he completely goes against his own morals and duties as a park ranger by killing the rabbit and feeling elated about it. This seems a little odd to me, but his reasonings are well put for both arguments as to why he decided to act both times, and I felt swayed in both situations.
Abbey establishes his opinion of the National Park Service (among other government agencies) prominently throughout the first section of reading in Desert Solitaire. He holds an ironic view of the agencies in that he blatantly despises them. On page 46, Abbey takes a jab at the Park Service by asking who will protect Lee's Ferry from the program that's goal is to take care of it. He accuses the Wildlife Service of the tainted population distribution and states that the Wildlife Preservation Act provides illusory protection. The exert that spoke loudest of all to me however; was when Abbey refers to his beloved Arches National Monument as "Arches National Money-Mint" on page 45 after the development of paved road systems in the park. His obvious deep-seated despise of these programs definitely sets a tone for the rest of the novel. His being an employee of a national park makes his view ever more interesting and forces the constant question of his logic. He does pose concrete and rational ideas, but he also seems to contradict his own seemingly radical beliefs at times. I think that his view point will become more apparent with further reading and explanation.
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