The following excerpt from Edward Abbey: A
Life, by James M. Cahalan, published in
fall 2001 by the University
of Arizona Press (copyright © 2001 Arizona Board of Regents) is reprinted by
permission of the University of Arizona Press. www.uapress.arizona.edu.
Another excerpt, the beginning
of the first chapter, is published at University of Arizona Press website.
From "Conclusion: Waking a
Abbey and his ideas continue to live on in the public consciousness, often
in surprising contexts. In 1995, a set of elaborate web pages and an
increasingly active e-mail discussion list, called respectively
"Abbey's Web" and "Abbeyweb," sprang up---hosted in
Stockholm, Sweden.58 This development might
have horrified Abbey, who quipped (with a pen) that "my computer tells
me that in twenty-five years there will be no computers."59
Yet some participants were convinced that Abbey actually would have approved
of the anarchistic, democratic nature of the Internet. In any event,
Abbeyweb prospered as a very busy forum for discussions about Abbey,
wilderness, and politics. Unusually enough for a predominately nonacademic
discussion list, "Abbeywebbers" also began annual gatherings, the
first held in Bluff, Utah, in October 1997, the second in Death Valley in
November 1998, the third in the Moab area in October 1999, and the fourth at
Lee's Ferry in October 2000. One participant arrived at the Death Valley
gathering in Abbey's old, battered 1973 Ford pickup truck, which she bought
for $26,500 at a May 1998 fundraising auction for the Southern Utah
In September 1996, a Pennsylvania state historical marker about Abbey was
dedicated at Home, across the road on Route 119 from Paul Abbey's old rock
shop and Paul and Mildred's little house. Paul Abbey had died on May 7,
1992, but Bill, Nancy, Howard, and Iva Abbey and nearly 100 others attended
this 1996 dedication. After a local news report mentioned that Robert
Redford had written a letter in support of the marker, the Associated Press
wire picked up the story, which ran as far away as Honolulu, under the
headline "Redford Honors Activist."61
Yet The Monkey Wrench Gang
continued to be kept from the big screen (or even the little screen). In the
spring of 1998, a wire story circulated about Dennis Hopper's forthcoming
film of Abbey's novel, but at the novel's twenty-fifth anniversary at the
turn of the century (though the book was reprinted then), once again no such
movie had been made.
In March 1999, a "Remembering Ed
Abbey" week was held in Phoenix and Tempe, organized by Dick
Kirkpatrick, and culminating on March 14 with remembrances by two of the
best writers in Abbey's tradition, Charles Bowden and Terry Tempest
Williams. As Williams had stressed in Outside
in October 1997, Abbey "loved to be in our faces. Still does, no
doubt."62 Various commemorative articles
appeared in March 1999 in the Tucson and Phoenix newspapers, and a week-long
radio series ran on Tucson's KUAT/KUAZ radio station.63
When Grace Lichtenstein of the New York Times had accused Abbey of being
"thirty years behind the times" in 1976, Abbey had boasted to her,
"I'm a hundred years behind the times!" (254). Yet at the
end of the millennium, a decade after his death, he was still very much in
true even of some of Abbey's least popular positions. His argument that cars
should be kept out of national parks fell on deaf ears when he made it the
centerpiece of Desert Solitaire,
but, three decades later, Grand Canyon National Park was preparing to
implement a modified version of his proposal. Light rail will now transport
most visitors to the South Rim from parking lots several miles away.
Yosemite is moving ahead with a similar plan. When one writer ruminated in
the New York Times in May 1997 about possible compromises for Yosemite, she
described how Abbey's ghost had come back to haunt her, telling her to
"go the whole hog" and ban cars entirely in Yosemite Valley.64
President Clinton outraged many Utahns when he designated the huge Grand
Staircase National Monument in September 1996 in order to protect it from
threatened development---but he gratified a great many wilderness activists
who think more like Abbey. Even Abbey's by far least popular
proposition---that immigration from Mexico be stopped---could be seen
reflected in the April 1998 Sierra Club referendum proposing stricter limits
on immigration. This proposal was defeated, but the very notion that the
Sierra Club membership was seriously considering such an idea would have
been unimaginable in earlier times. In the year 2000, proposals about
limiting cattle grazing on public lands---such an outrageous idea when Abbey
advanced it in 1985---were now mainstream.65
58. In late 2000, the
"Abbeyweb" listserv was busily posting at firstname.lastname@example.org, and
the elaborate "Abbey's Web" site was at http://www.abbeyweb.net.
See Christer Lindh, "Weaving Abbey's Web," which appeared in Arid
Lands Newsletter 38, and then at http://www.abbeyweb.net/articles/weaving-aw/index.html.
59. Abbey, A
Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1990), 6. Originally published as Vox
Clamantis in Deserto (1989).
60. "Ed Abbey's Truck Auctioned at SUWA Fund
Raiser," Abbey's Web, accessed in Sept. 2000 at http://www.abbeyweb.net/edtruck/index.html.
61. "Redford Honors Activist," Honolulu
Star-Bulletin, Oct. 1, 1996, n.p. The Abbey historical marker subsequently
appeared on the World Wide Web at http://www.abbeyweb.net/marker.html.
62. Terry Tempest Williams "Edward Abbey," Outside,
Oct. 1997, 140.
63. See Jerry Ignasewski, "Abbey Gave Us Words to
Live By," Arizona Republic, Mar. 4, 1999, The Rep magazine, 2; Julie
Newberg, "Abbey's Road," Arizona Republic, Mar. 4, 1999, The
Rep magazine, 54--55; Steve Yozwiak, "Legacy on the Land:
Environmentalists Still Follow Author Abbey's Call to Action," Arizona
Republic, Mar. 7, 1999, E1--E4; Tricia Wasbotten Parker, "The Famous
Mr. Ed," New Times (Phoenix), Mar. 11--17, 1999, 42; and Rhonda
Bodfield, "Controversial Environmentalist Abbey Stirs Emotions 10 Years
After His Death," Arizona Daily Star, Mar. 13, 1999, 1B--2B.
64. Lesley Hazleton, "Arguing with a Ghost in
Yosemite," New York Times, May 11, 1997, 37.
65. See, for example, Todd Wilkinson, "In a
Battle over Cattle, Both Sides Await Grazing Ruling," Christian
Science Monitor, May 1, 2000, 2.
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