Term Paper: Wildland Recreation

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Desert Solitaire

Wildland Recreation as Represented in Abbey's Desert Solitaire

The American West has always been a locale of mythical proportions, with its sheer expanse, exoticness and diversity making it a historically rich point of inflection for natural scientists, adventurers and philosophers to better understand the country as a whole. By immersing himself deep into the heart of the desert, Edward Abbey, committed to all three aformentioned professions by way of his experiences there, paints a gritty and down-to-Earth portrait of the Arches National Park that succeeds in representing the mysterious allure of the West. Particularly, Abbey's gruff authority gives voice to the frustrations of a great many Americans during the time in which he authored this journal, published in 1968. Serving over one summer in an aluminum government trailer just a step away from his ranger station, Abbey's time spent submerged in the mountains, gorges and canyons of the park pointedly reflects the wedge driven between what the author's own American values and the violent thrust of modernity. Amid an unseen backdrop of cultural, international and ecological turmoil, Desert Solitaire is most primarily a testament to the ability which each individual has to reclaim his nativism from the corrupting impact of consumerism, war and social conformity. In this statement, Abbey also records an insightful if slightly skewed document to the era as it pertains to environmental history. In his sentiment and his experiences, he illustrates the 1960's to be an era of transitional importance in terms of America's future direction regarding conservation, resource management and environmental sensitivity, divided sharply by a domestic clash of cultures.

The author's sense of humor sustains a work throughout which could otherwise come off as pedantic and preachy. Indeed, Abbey does not shy away from making explicit statements of purpose regarding his views on all manner of pertinent topic. This is hardly surprising for the man's whose activism preceded his authorship of the book. His prominence began in earnest in 1962, when he fought in vain against proposals to build a damn in Arizona's Glen Canyon. The author "had made two raft trips through Glen Canyon before the gates of the dam were closed" and viewed its now flooded passes as a bastion to American nature now lost forever to the energy demands of modernity. (Duryee, 2) Immediately, we see that Abbey's interest in preservation comes from the life-affirming experiences which Wildland Recreation has shown him. His rafting trips had shown him a route that, after the industrialization described above, could no longer be seen by the eyes of man. This reinforces the crucial relationship between man and wildlife.

Of most evident importance in his work is the overarching principle of naturalism as embodied by his time spent apart from the vagaries of Western capitalism and engaging Wildland Recreation without the disruption of modernity. This is a contrast which he represents with a juxtaposed panorama of his surroundings from his mountain post:

Along the foot of those cliffs, maybe thirty miles off, invisible from where I stand, runs U.S. 6-50, a major east-west artery of commerce, traffic and rubbish, and the main line of the Denver-Rio Grande Railroad. To the east, under the spreading sunrise, are more mesas, more canyons, league on league of red cliff and arid tablelands, extending through purple haze over the bulging curve of the planet to the rages of Colorado -- a sea of desert." (Abbey, 5)

Here, Abbey first makes apparent his distaste for the items which popular hegemonic language tends to characterize as the appendages of progress. The highways and their implied connection between the earth itself and one of America's singular vices are here dismissed with low regard by the author, especially as they are described within the sweeping contextual expanse of the desert valley. His perspective on traffic is spoken to throughout the work as he appreciates the contrast in his experiences from the lifestyle practiced by Americans. In a manner, this is illustrative of the perspective taken toward Wildland Recreation as a lost humanities discipline, undermined by recreation through vehicular travel or consumerism.

This is truly one of the most crucial themes throughout the work, made more so even in retrospect, where today the balance is even further tilted away from communion with wildlife. The connection between America's dependence on the automobile and the simultaneous degradation of its environment and international relations is given concrete articulation in Abbey's work, even as it predates many of the exponential increases in abuse thereof as they have since concurred with 'modernity.' This is a space in time which holds great relevance in the discourse of Abbey's work though, as it seems self-consciously to stand on the threshold of a choice which America must make. As we know in retrospect, its choice was a full and, as Abbey would certainly argue, foolish embrace of a lifestyle of commercial and recreational excess. To this end, Abbey maintained a lifelong involvement in the environmental activism group, the Sierra Club. During a 1982 interview, he articulated the organization's view as it corresponds with his own, explaining that "progress. Development, Growth, Industry -- everything that the politicians and the chamber of commerce loves, I'm against.... I think we're using up our resource base, especially water, much faster than it can ever be replaced."(Temple, 1) His consistency of indignation, even years after his tenure at Arches, imbues the work with a greater significance now, as it seems almost prophetic of the inevitable results of a lifestyle which revolves around ownership, competition and power acquisition. In a conversation with a traveling companion, Bob Waterman, whose role in the story is crucial beyond simple ecological questions, Abbey discusses these values as they relate to the desert. In an early observation, Abbey had mentioned of the desert that, contrary to land in the city, "there's nothing else, no one human, to dispute possession with me." (Abbey, 6)

The fundamental importance of Wildland Recreation in reaffirming one's humanity separate from the distractions of the modern world is conveyed most poignantly here.

In this regard, Abbey has developed a sense of intimate protectiveness of the desert which at times he had inhabited in complete solitude. It takes on greater meaning when he and Waterman come upon a set of four uniquely bizarre rock formations just at the mouth of the Maze, a location of great inspiration to the travelers. Here, Abbey suggests to his companion that they consider names befitting of the rocks' individuality. Waterman disagrees with the author's sentiment and equates the notion of naming with the desire to express power, extend ownership and represent the lordship of man over nature. Though they discuss the matter from a philosophical frame of reference for some length, Abbey admits himself ultimately incapable of providing justification beyond his own ego for applying a name to said forms. In this exchange, Waterman delivers a sentiment which perhaps goes the farthest to cut to the center of Abbey's work. When Abbey suggests to him that failing to name such formations would only leave them to be named by somebody else, Waterman quite simply urges him to let such an act be the disgrace of some other individual. Perhaps another important note to the premise of Wildland Recreation, this suggests a motive of harmonious equality with rather than assumed superiority over nature.

Abbey, at this discussion with Waterman, concedes the point. The conversation is rife with implications beyond simply the application of manmade names to naturally forged objects. More, Waterman's words are informed by the cultural divisions which had so stretched thin the unity of American patriotism. A draft-dodger who had left his home in Aspen to find refuge from a forced tour in Vietnam, Waterman's ethicality regarding free will and the disgrace of moral concession is equal both in his perspective on nature and violence.

In their remoteness from the supposed identifying hallmarks of the United States, such as the suburban residential neighborhood, the automobile manufacturing plant and the urban ghetto, Abbey and Waterman are incurably aware of the absurdity and distance of its war:

It seems that the U.S. Government - what country is that? - has got another war going somewhere, I forget exactly where, on another continent as usual, and they want Waterman to go over there and fight for them. For it, I mean - when did a government ever consist of human beings? And Waterman doesn't want to go, he might get killed. And for what?" (Abbey, 262)

It is within this principle that Abbey makes his most convincing case against modernity. Though the dogmatism with which Abbey approached the topics of natural conservation, and especially the popularity of the automobile as a symbol of American posterity, were at first off-putting, he skillfully weaves such issues through the lens of the war and the destruction of America's natural Wildlands and their inherent opportunities for health recreation. Abbey's take on the inherent societal sickness suggested by such conceits as our collective cultural obsession with recreation through materialism is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Wildland Recreation.  (2008, June 16).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/wildland-recreation/2366

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/wildland-recreation/2366.