Seminar in Compsition
September 24, 2014
Mysticism in "Desert Solitaire"
Abbey showed us his rather unique ideals and beliefs throughout Desert Solitaire. His innate love of the environment showed us his apparent mystic outlook and draws us to question if this is truly his demeanor. A mystic is one who is absorbed with something almost foreign to the majority. It is a devotion that may be comparable to that of a religion. Abbey’s clear devotion to the wilderness is made exceptionally clear to us in his chapters. At times he even addresses other religions almost mockingly. I believe that Abbey is his own form of a mystic in the way he views the world and his life, as well as others’.
Simple aspects of Abbey’s character in the first few chapters began to pave the way for the questioning of his beliefs. One such moment occurs when he discusses the disadvantages of the flashlight, “like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him” (Abbey 13). He appreciates the isolated feeling like most people would not. Being closer and more at one with his surroundings is almost a form of peace. However, when he turns the generator on for the trailer, he says he feels “shut off from the natural world and sealed up, encapsulated” (Abbey 13).
Further on in the “Polemic,” Abbey expresses more of his deep-seated devotion to the wilderness and its protection:
Wilderness preservation, like a hundred other good causes, will be forgotten under the overwhelming pressure of a struggle for mere survival and sanity in a completely urbanized, completely industrialized, ever more crowded environment. For my own part I would rather take my chances in a thermonuclear war than live in such a world. (52)
From this passage we, yet again, see the devotion to his beliefs. He has begun creating for himself an almost religious-like appearance for his way of life. On page 236 Abbey, almost mockingly, shares his opinion on Mormons, Baptists, Christians, Roman Catholics, Hindus, and even atheists leaving us to conclude that he does not follow any of their practices.
In the chapter “The Moon-Eyed Horse” we are told the story of Moon-Eye, a free-spirited horse living in the desert. He embodies the life Abbey wants for himself to the point where he is virtually envious of the horse. He speaks to the horse in an angry tone, showing his frustration as he tries to wrangle him to have for himself. Moon-Eye lives at on in the world which, to him, will always be as it is; the pristine, unspoiled desert. It is possible that Abbey is fully aware of what the future holds for the wilderness and wishes he could either escape it or be oblivious to it if he cannot stop it. To be at one with the world he loves like Moon-Eye.
Abbey’s final words to us echo the fear that has been the basis of this book. “When I return will it be the same? Will I be the same? Will anything ever be quite the same again? If I return” (269). It can be debated as to why Abbey questions if he will return. It could be possible that Abbey would not want to come back to see any further changes take place in the place he loves. It would be corrupted and soiled to him. It is more valuable to him in his memory as the unaltered land that he adored.But how does this make him a mystic? His unmoving adoration for the desert and other outfits of the
wilderness is one of almost religious proportions. It is the foundation of Desert Solitaire. He yearns to be as
one with the wilderness as Moon-Eye, to be fully absorbed in the world he loves. Abbey’s visions for the
National Parks and outdoors is one with such passion that it has opened the eyes of countless readers and
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990