"Death is every man's final critic.
To die well you must live bravely."
Edward Abbey died March 14 at his home in "Fort Llatikcuf
" (read that backwards if you dare...) near Tucson, Arizona
from complications from surgery. He was 62. He left behind a
wife, Clarke Cartwright, five children, a father and more than a
dozen pretty damn good books.
Abbey's burial was different from all others, as requested by
himself. There are some rumors and misinformation flying around
so here is an attempt to an "Abbey's Death FAQ"...
- How did he go?
- Ed died in March 1989 after four days of esophageal
hemorrhaging. He had a recurrent problem with one group
of veins. His stubborn disposition and his contempt for
the abstrusities of medical "life-support"
technology were factors. Decades of hard living and a
touch of sheer physiological bad luck may also have been
He was in and out of hospital several times during the
last couple of months; finally he submitted to an
operation, which might have saved him; but he was
weakened, and he kept bleeding. He died at home among
family and friends.
- Did he leave a message?
- Yes. "No comments"...
- Abbey also wrote a messagedirected to his wife and
pertained to what Ed Abbey wanted done for him, and not
to him, after his death. A bit of it was published in
Outside Magazine in June 1989:
He wanted his body transported in the bed of a pickup
truck. He wanted to be buried as soon as possible. He
wanted no undertakers. No embalming, for Godsake. No
coffin. Just an old sleeping bag... Disregard all state
laws concerning burial. "I want my body to help
fertilize the growth of a cactus or cliff rose or
sagebrush or tree." said the message.
As for graveside ceremony: He wanted gunfire, and a
little music. "No formal speeches desired, thoug
h the deceased will not interfere if someone feels the
urge. But keep it all simple and brief." And
then a big happy raucous wake. He wanted more music, gay
and lively music. He wanted bagpipes. "And a
flood of beer and booze! Lots of singing, dancing,
talking, hollering, laughing, and lovemaking."
said the message. And meat! Beans and chilis! And corn on
the cob. Only a man deeply in love with life and
hopelessly soft on humanity would specify, from beyond
the grave, that his mourners receive corn on the cob.
- So, was he really buried in the desert?
- Yes, probably somewhere in the Cabeza Prieta
desert in southern Arizona.
- And did that wake happen?
- In late March around 200 people gathered in Saguaro
National Monument, just over the mountains from
Tucson, for a "celebration" of the late Ed
Abbey. There were great tubs of a hot desert stew,
concocted from meat of mysterious provenance
("poached slow elk", in the terms of this
recipe) by Doug Peacock. Another close friend blew taps
on a trumpet. There were grief and booze and chilies.
There were bagpipes. There was joy at the privilege of
having known this man, at having heard his inimitable
- Can we go there and pay homage?
- If you can find it... In the Backpacker magazine
of September 1993 there is a nice article by David
Peterson (editor of Confessions of a Barbarian)
about his recent trip to visit Ed Abbey's grave. And Doug
Peacock, who was with Ed when he died and later buried
him, wrote the moving article Chasing
Abbey in the August 1997 issue of
Outside Magazine. This is as close you and me will get to
it. What we can do is to read him and leave his bones in
peace, and keep an eye on that large buzzard circling
- So it is an unmarked grave?
Yes, but apparently there is a rock at
the place bearing a chiseled inscription that says:
EDWARD PAUL ABBEY
January 29, 1927-March 14, 1989
You will not find it.
"If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots
of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture - that is
immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone
More Abbey books!
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