Edward Abbey is one of my favorite authors. His books, both fiction and non-fiction always feature a genuine sense of wonderment about the world. Abbey will lead you on a journey for enlightenment with a sense of adventure and awareness. Through his excellent storytelling abilities and well developed fictional characters sometimes this enlightenment comes as a physical adventure that you share with the characters. Other times this enlightenment is discovered through his own personal growth and experiences conveyed through his non-fiction narratives. But always these discoveries are directly derived from his observations about the world around him. And the world that Abbey lives in happens to be my favorite place on the Earth, the desert Southwest.
Not only does Abbey write about wilderness and share a lot of the same values in regards to the natural world that I do but he’s also a cranky old SOB that evokes emotion through his writing style. This aspect of his personality really shines through in his books. He is the master of descriptive writing, sometimes even to a fault. In arguably his most popular book, Desert Solitaire, he occasionally rambles on for page after page describing every minuscule detail about the plants, animals, weather, geology and even pebbles or dirt that he can see from the porch of his National Park trailer. Honestly these parts of his books drove me mad and I most likely skipped past the majority of the descriptive word vomit spewing from the page.
I never understood his intemperance in needing to catalog every minute detail about his surroundings and quite frankly found it to be self-indulgence or just plain overkill. That is until recently when we visited Saguaro National park in the hills surrounding Tucson Arizona. The Sonoran desert, where the park is located and the only place in the world where the intimidating Saguaro Cactus resides, is captivating even in it’s most seemingly insignificant detail. The variety of cacti, yucca, shrubs and flowers are astounding for a place that is suppose to be barren by definition. Under the blistering midday sun on the hiking trails we marched along and I observed myself getting lost among the diversity in flora. I then found myself trying to define the term desert, and found that this remarkable environment resembles little of the commonly excepted definition of a desert. Yes it is an arid region with stereotypical plant and animal life like cacti and lizards, but the similarities diverge significantly from there.