I have a couple questions from the chapter "The Moon-Eyed Horse". My first question is was Abbey hallucinating or actually seeing the Moon-Eyed Horse? Abbey writes how hot the day was and how he "was having visions of iced drinks. waterfalls, shade trees, clear deep emerald pools,". Was he really hallucinating or was he just over heating? He basically describes the Moon-Eyed Horse as following every move he makes, "I hurried; the horse moved faster. I slowed to a walk; he did the same. I stopped and he stopped,". I cannot tell if he is imagining everything or if the horse is actually real.My other question is why does Abbey say such hurtful things to the horse. Why does he say "Damned old idiot" and "What are you doing out here, you old fool?" Is he saying these things because he could not see the size of the horse so he felt more powerful and superior? Because as soon as he sees the size of the horse he says "Take it easy, old buddy" and starts to become intimidated and frightened. Abbey just really confuses me in this chapter because in previous chapters he respects the animals he encounters, but in this chapter he seems to degrade this rare and extravagant horse.
Abbey continues to have an interesting perspective on death. I would call it irreverent, given his casual attitude towards it, that's not exactly the case. He seems almost eager to die, or at least dying in the wilderness, where "it sounds like a decent, clean way of taking off, surely better than the slow rot in a hospital oxygen tent..." (83). This alone isn't truly shocking, but this attitude towards death also extends to others, where he shows what seems to be an 'apathy' towards their life or death. In the same example above, he doesn't seem to regard death as something Roy should fear, though he's tactful enough not to voice his opinion. A more concerning example of this disregard comes up when he considers abandoning his partner in the quicksand, out of morbid curiosity (124). Of course, there's the question of whether or not this disregard (or familiarity?) for death is or isn't tongue-in-cheek. I could see it being hyperbole, but I could just as easily seeing him being serious, a reverence for nature taken to an extreme.
In the chapter entitled “Down the River,” in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, an interesting contrast between water and land is expressed. Although both the Colorado River and the surrounding canyons seem to fit Abbey’s idea of a vast and unyielding nature, Abbey behaves differently while experiencing both. While riding on the river, Abbey writes that he and Ralph are “abandoning [themselves] once more to the noiseless effortless powerful slide of the Colorado through its burnished chute of stone” (page 173, Abbey). There is no grand speculation or deep thoughts about the nature of the Earth, only the running water and the instincts of the men. In contrast, while the men are on land to camp and explore, Abbey does a great deal of pondering over past life and the future of nature. He wonders about “a Mormon cowboy fifty years ago” and “an Indian eight hundred years ago” (page 177, Abbey), who could have been walking the same land and exploring the same mounds of rock as himself. Abbey also repeatedly wonders about the place of God in nature. Why does Abbey feel more connected to nature while on the river but more connected to mankind while on land? Perhaps it is because he finds that the water of the river is constantly moving and therefore cannot be connected to any one man, unlike certain structures, such as Rainbow Bridge, that can be attributed to founders or explorers. However, Abbey argues that water is essential earlier in the chapter “Water” (page 112, Abbey), and that all men, animals and nature alike are dependent on water, and therefore have a connection. What else could account for the differences in Abbey’s thought processes when he is on the water versus when he is on land?
Abbey’s perspective on nature seems to be changing as the novel progresses. Once in awe of his pure and flawless surroundings, Abbey’s change in attitude becomes most apparent in Cowboys and Indians (part I). The title of this chapter suggests its strong theme of conquering and power; an age-old rivalry between “cowboys” and “indians,” more than simply a young boy’s play, implies Abbey’s newfound abuse of power over animals. Furthermore, the lifestyle of a “cowboy,” including herding animals, taming and riding horses, and an ultimate goal of control over the wild elements of nature, is also relevant as the interactions between man and beast become increasingly violent. Abbey “beat her with the club, kicked her in the ribs, yanked at her tail” (Abbey 91)--does this make Abbey, a self-considered reverent of natural beauty, a hypocrite? What does this shocking and disturbing contradiction mean? Why such a sudden burst of anger? Does this further hint at the corruption of mankind? I found this chapter, set in a different tone than previous chapters thusfar, especially confusing and thought-provoking.
In the chapter “Cowboys and Indians II,” Abbey goes off on a tangent about the American economic and political systems, claiming a mishandling of poverty. First off, I find that any argument he has on money and politics is just out of place in this book. This story is based on how he decided to abandon populated society to venture off into nature, why must he stray unto the topic of poverty? At this point into the story, I believe it is implied that he embarked on this step of his life to avoid the stress of these problems, not to criticize them. Abbey displays great ignorance in claiming that poverty is based off of two things “too many children” (pg. 108, Abbey) and “too little money” (pg. 108, Abbey) but the only solution he gives is birth control. Look, the economy is a natural flowing essence of society, growth and recession is one big cycle, professionals are paid to guess when they occur, not to fix them. One cannot simply fix the economy, if someone could, then I bet they could make pigs fly too. Basically, Abbey, you make a weak argument to a topic that does not belong in your story in the first place.
As I was reading the chapter "Water", I became increasingly confused and questioned what the purpose of the chapter is. What role does a chapter dedicated to water play in the grand scheme of the story, which seems to be Abbey's escape from the industrial world. He dedicates an entire chapter to talk about water, and readily admits that it is quite rare that it ever rains. According to him, "The air is so dry here I can hardly shave in the mornings. The water and soap dry on my face as I reach for the razor: aridity. It is the driest season of a dry country. In the afternoons of July and August we may get thundershowers but an hour after the storms pass the surface of the desert is again bone dry. It seldom rains." (Abbey 142). If rain plays such a minor role in the desert, and words such as "wetness" and "humidity" hold no meaning or relevance in comparison to "heat", "arid", and "dry", then what is the relevance of the chapter "Water"? Abbey rambles on about a rare occurrence, when he could instead discuss other appropriate topics of the desert and his life in it. What purpose does "Water" serve?
Although this piece of literature is considered a memoir, Abbey uses poetry quite often throughout Desert Solitaire. I believe Abbey uses poetry to paint a picture for the reader. He feels as though the only way to understand the true beauty of the desert is to personally experience it. Since this is not an option for every reader, Abbey uses poetry to enhance our vision of Arches National Monument. One instance of this is in the chapter Water. Abbey writes a poem depicting a flash flood. The first stanza reads, “A flick of lightening to the north/ where dun clouds grumble-/ while here in the middle of the wash/ black beetles tumble/ and horned toads fumble/ over sand as dry as bone/ and hard-baked mud and glaring stone” (151). He could have simply stated the event occurring, but instead he uses poetry to get the mind of the reader fully involved in the event. Although the use of poetry is sometimes helpful, it almost gives the book a surreal feeling. Abbey is balancing on the line of autobiography and fictional literature. Because Abbey nearly crosses this line, do you feel as though he is an unreliable narrator?
I was slightly confused by the chapter "The Moon-Eyed Horse." Throughout the entire book Abbey professes his love for the environment and its purity. He wants the National Parks to be untouched by the hands of the Park Service, roadways and the like. Why then, is Abbey so determined to catch Moon-Eye? At one point on page 143 he even makes a reference to having him like a pet dog. Wouldn't Abbey advocate for the horse to stay the wild mystery that it is? Is there some form of symbolism to Moon-Eye and Abbey's actions? It obviously must be of some significance if he spent so long withstanding heat and thirst and dedicated a whole chapter to the story. It could possibly relate to when he caught the snake to keep in his trailer. However the snake served a purpose for him by catching the mice and I fail to see what purpose Moon-Eye would serve Abbey.
There are numerous contradictions Abbey makes, but one of the most theological of these is his relationship with God. These contrasting thoughts were especially apparent in the chapter “Down The River.” Abbey is an “earthiest” not an atheist, believing people need to “Be true to the earth” (p184). Abbey’s earthiest tendencies are not absolute however; he may not be a solely nature minded spirit. Abbey dabbles in mysticism and even Christianity at some points. He describes Billy Joe, the unfortunate survivor of Mr. Graham’s rampage, as another Jesus, crucified on an uprooted tree flowing downstream. Abbey also says of Rainbow Bridge that one looking upon it is seeing “Through God’s window into eternity” (p192). How do these ideas coexist? Atheism and monotheism, a rough, deep mysticism and an objective, surface view, a juniper tree and the essence of a juniper tree; all exist but on different pages and times of the book. How does Abbey’s theology of the wild coexist with the theology of God? Who would he say created the earth if God does not exist in his mind?
I am extremely surprised at just how much Abbey's attitudes towards nature and society are changing. Instead of a feeling of reverence towards the natural environment in which he lives, Abbey describes and projects a sense of anger, almost to the point of palpability, simply due to the way that he now acts around animals and nature as a whole. This is seen when he “beat her with the club, kicked her in the ribs” and “yanked at her tail” (91). I think that this anger he feels is in part related to his frustration with his job. This is because he seems to fluctuate between feelings about being alone, and provides reasons as to why or why he does not enjoy isolation. At first, Abbey enjoys the task of being a park ranger because it allows him to be surrounded by nature while only having contact with people a few times a week. However, he changes his ideas about being alone when he says “alone-ness became loneliness … the one thing better than solitude, the only thing better than solitude, is society” as well as when he says that the game of solitaire becomes a game of solitude. Abbey understandably feels alone in his new job and in his surrounding environment, but he turns his utter solitude into an opportunity to connect to the “larger world … and exhilarating feeling which leads to equanimity” (97). In this way, he returns to thinking that nature has a somewhat therapeutic benefit to his being alone. What intrigues me though, is that he changes his mind completely and reinforces his beliefs that “a man can never find or need a better companionship than that of himself” (97). Abbey seems to be contradicting himself while trying to understand what he feels. Will he develop concrete opinions on society and nature or will he change his philosophies continuously?
The chapter “The Moon Eyed Horse”, is not merely about Abbey’s encounter with a horse but Abbey’s desire to escape society. Abbeys description of the horse was confusing, because it isn’t what I expected. He describes the Moon-Eyed horse’s life as tragic, an undesirable one: ““Are you crazy, maybe? You don’t want to die out here, do you, all alone like a hermit? In this awful place...” But as the chapter progresses Abbey becomes increasingly interested in the horse. Abbey’s interest with old Moon-Eyed is based on something more than the horse itself, a symbol of the commitment to freedom and his dream to one day have the freedom that the horse possesses. It is apparent that the horse is a symbol of independence, solitude and rebellion against society. The Moon-Eyed Horse is the ultimate goal that Abbey desires for himself, absolute freedom and solitude from society. Through his language I saw that Abbey was secretly jealous of the horse and his ability to be alone. Abbey is never truly alone. The Moon-Eyed Horse is what Abbey wishes he could be, it’s a symbol of this separation that many transcendentalists try to portray. The Moon-Eyed Horse escaped society and went into the desert with nothing. He left a home where he was fed, given plenty of water and a place to sleep at night. The question is when did the horse decided that enough was enough. This chapter depicts the struggle for individuals to have freedom from society. In the end the question I had was, Is the freedom of isolation worth the risk?
I really enjoyed the Cowboys and Indians chapters. It reminded me of an article I read in my pop culture class. The article was talking about popular culture and how it relates to the forces of commerce through the example of blue jeans. Basically ripped jeans started as a statement against consumerism because people wouldn’t spend money on new jeans when the old ones wore out, but businesses took advantage of it and started producing and advertising ripped jeans. Anyways the moral of the story is change comes from the bottom, the only way to survive is to conform and adopt ideas of popular culture, and that trends don’t fade, but are actually pushed out by people who don’t benefit from the trend.These concepts are embodied by “Cowboys and Indians” both part one and two. Both Cowboys and Indians were once the popular culture of America. Abby is able to transform these cowboys and Indians into corporations by describing them not only culturally, but discussing the worth of the cows and the cheap cowboy Roy, and describing the rough financial situation of the Indian’s. By the end of part two, Abby explains that they are both “dying off or transforming them selves by tortuous degrees into something quite different. The originals are nearly gone and will soon be lost forever in the overwhelming crowd” (Abby 111). Both disappear being pushed out by new popular cultures. The Cowboys will have to give into the new “mechanized and automated”(109) food market, and Indians will have to give into tourism if either wishes to survive.
In "Down the River" I think Abbey is almost trying too hard to sound engrossed in nature. The chapter is 45 pages of him commenting on the trip he takes, where he makes out his company (Newcomb) to be aloof and disconnected. Their conversations are empty, and it makes the reader wonder if this is all a bit of an exaggeration. Newcomb is also portrayed as sort of empty-headed, for lack of better words. All we really know of him is that he responds to questions with few words and forgets his boots but still goes fishing. Perhaps Abbey portrays him this way to highlight his own very lengthy thoughts about nature with little distraction from a secondary character, or perhaps that was truly all there was to Newcomb. In this chapter, Abbey also says things like, "I'm not an atheist but an earthiest." (Abbey 184). This statement obviously makes a lot of sense to us by now, and is one of the copious adorations Abbey states here. I personally found it a bit unnecessary, and was perhaps missing a deeper meaning, however, by the very end of the chapter when Abbey includes the sign that was posted I felt that I had already gotten the picture long ago that Abbey is in fact always a rebel when it comes to nature. We see it in "Moon-Eyed Horse" and we surely that he is completely engrossed in his trip and his passion about leaving the environment untouched.
In "Cowboys and Indians" part II chapter Abbey brings up birth control as "essential but not efficient" which really threw me off. Abbey is clearly against the growing population of mankind but why then is birth control not efficient for lessening the "poor" population. The main ideals of birth control is to stop birth- growth in population; so in order to do this for the lower class wouldn't birth control be the main solution at least in Abbey's point of view? Also, Abbey acts as if the Navajo traditions and morals are against birth control and insinuates that he is for the use of birth control by stating "the Navajo people may have as much to teach the white man as the white man has to teach the Navajo people". With such a statement why then not support the solution of birth control further and give sensible reasons why this could be a very plausible and effective resource to slow the growth in the lower class population that Abbey feels is so necessary.
Throughout "The Moon-Eyed Horse," Abbey continues his contrast of personifying animals and speaking about them as inferior beings. While in an earlier chapter, Abbey speaks of animals having their own thoughts and emotions and infers equality among all things and beings, throughout this chapter he goes back and forth between reinforcing that idea and dumbing down the horse Moon-Eye. When Abbey learns about the horse living up the canyon he says, “I want that horse,” and when asked why, he responds, “I don’t know,” implying that the horse is inferior and a possession to a superior human being rather than an equal (Abbey, 139). He goes on to talk about the, “ignorant cows,” being, “branded, castrated, ear-marked, [and] dehorned,” supporting the common human ideal that other animals are not of such high rank as humans (Abbey, 141). Toward the end of the chapter when Abbey is attempting to capture Moon-Eye, he refers to him as an, “old fool,” and a, “damned old idiot,” knocking the horses worth and intelligence solely on the fact that he is a four legged animal. In contrast, at other points in the chapter, Abbey compares the horse to a human saying, “the horse is a gregarious beast, a herd animal, like the cow, like the human. It’s not natural for a horse to live alone (Abbey, 140).” He plans to approach the horse with, “sympathy and understanding,” acknowledging what’s within and beyond it’s physical structure (Abbey,142).
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