The following excerpt from Adventures with
Ed - A portrait of Abbey, by Jack Loeffler, to be published in February
2002 by the University
of New Mexico Press (copyright © Jack Loeffler), is reprinted by
permission of the University of New Mexico Press. http://unmpress.unm.edu/
It is a snowy day in Santa Fe, a good day to begin this book I have been
entrusted to write. This is a book about Edward Paul Abbey, my best friend of
a lifetime, who honored friendship and truth above all else. He was born in
Home, Pennsylvania, on January 29, 1927, and he died in the Sonoran Desert on
March 14, 1989. Ed was not only a great friend; he was also a great man. There
are many of us who know this to be true.
Living a creative self-directed
life is like running a wild river; you don't deny the current its due, but you
work your own way through the rapids, camp where you will, explore side
canyons that intrigue you, and relish the danger, heeding no higher authority
than the truth. Few men have the strength of character to follow the truth no
matter where it leads. Edward Abbey was such a man.
He was an adventurer in both deeds
and ideas; he was a great naturalist, although he abhorred the epithet; he was
a lover of women, married five times, and took dozens of paramours; he was a
gifted writer with twenty-one books and scores of articles to his credit; he
was an avid reader of literature and connoisseur of fine music; he placed
profound value on friendship; he detested bureaucracy and regarded it as a
disease fatal to the human spirit; he fearlessly defended both the right of
the individual and the rights of other species to coexist equally within the
biotic community; he melded anarchism and environmentalism into a system of
thought that will continue to affect western culture for generations.
For more than two decades Abbey and
I were compañeros. We shared hundreds of campfires and hiked thousands
of miles together. Little by little, we revealed to each other the details
that make a human lifetime. These revelations took no chronological form;
rather, they occurred by association as happens in conversation. Ed was given
to philosophical speculation, and we spent endless hours pondering any
possible meaning to existence. Much of the time we kidded and razzed each
other. When we disagreed, we mostly debated, rarely argued, and fought only a
couple of times.
We created our own history, some of
which appears in this book. It seems appropriate that it should, inasmuch as
it reveals the way Edward Abbey was as a fellow human being, or at least the
way he was when we were together.
On a few occasions in the 1980s Ed
suggested that I be his "chronicler." But this book is not so much a
biography as a biographical memoir divided into two parts. In order to write
it, I lived with Abbey's journals and papers, reread all of his books, and
spoke with friends, enemies, and relatives. I have relied greatly on my own
memory of our myriad conversations and experiences. I revisited many of our
old campsites and hiked alone many of our old trails.
Every now and then, I visit Ed's
grave and pour him a beer while I drink one myself. The timbre of his voice is
clear as a bell in my mind's ear. Other books about Edward Abbey may reveal
other facets of this extraordinary man. But I have done my level best to
follow Ed's own motto: "Follow the truth no matter where it leads."
I first heard mention of Edward Abbey's name in the summer of 1964. At that
time I was living in an old forked-stick hogan at the base of Navajo Mountain,
Utah, in the remotest part of the Navajo Reservation. It was fifty-seven miles
of rough dirt road to the nearest pavement and a good hundred miles beyond
that to the nearest town of any consequence. My friend John DePuy, an artist,
had come to stay with me for a while. It was "Debris," as we later
called him, who had told me about Navajo Mountain in the first place. After
recuperating in a naval hospital from wounds he received during the Korean
War, DePuy had traveled to Navajo. He had apprenticed himself to a Navajo
medicine man when the naval constabulary tracked him down and took him back to
Annapolis. He was discharged with a modest pension.
During his visit to my hogan, DePuy
and I hiked many miles through that windswept red desert broken up by the most
beautiful canyons in the world. It was during one of our hikes that he said,
"You and Abbey must meet."
"Who's Abbey, and why should
"Abbey is a friend of mine.
He's a writer and a loner and he loves the desert and beautiful women,"
"He sounds like a good man to
me, DePuy," I responded, inventing an image of someone sitting in a high
place, his back to a rock, a million empty miles before him, a long-legged,
languorous naked lady lying spent by his side.
Time passed, and I negotiated with the U.S. Forest Service for a job as a
fire lookout atop Carracas Mesa in northwestern New Mexico. There was no tower
there and no cabin-just a two-acre expanse of uneven Navajo sandstone. I could
just barely get my pickup truck to the top of "The Rock," as my
lookout was known, and with a little jockeying, I could even get it level.
That is where I lived for months at a time. At night I could see no light
other than starlight and moonlight. Except for an occasional airplane, or if
the wind were just right, the occasional chug-a-chug of the distant
narrow-gauge railway, I could hear no sound of human provenance. I was utterly
at home in the high ponderosa with the mule deer, black bear, wild turkeys,
golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, bobcats, coyotes, elk, mountain lions,
Stellar's jays, l.b.j.'s (little brown jobbies), ground squirrels, porcupines,
rock rattlesnakes, lizards, tarantulas, tarantula hawks, ticks, ants, and wild
horses running side by side.
I ate beans, cornmeal cakes,
onions, and venison jerky that I prepared myself from meat of deer I had
hunted, and I hauled water out of the San Juan River, which meandered through
its canyon eight miles to the north, a river still pure enough in those days
to drink straight from the current without fear.
I've never been less lonely and in
better health on all counts.
About once a month I'd drive sixty
or so miles into Durango to buy supplies, quaff some beer, and visit the
bookstore, for one of the great features of life as a fire lookout is the time
it allows for reading. During a typical fire season I would read about sixty
One day a new book was featured at
the bookstore. The name of the author caught my eye. Edward Abbey, the guy
DePuy had told me about a few years back. I picked up the book and examined
it. Hardback. Expensive at $5.95. There was a picture of a familiar-looking
Abbey on the inside of the dust jacket. Bearded, smiling, and possibly
intelligent. Alive. What the hell. I coughed up the money and bought Desert
Solitaire. Support your local author.
When I finally got back to my fire
lookout from Durango, it was too dark to read. Sometimes at night I would fire
up a kerosene lamp and read in the back of my homemade camper, but more often
I would lie on my back on the sandstone, which still held the heat from the
sun, and watch the night sky while listening to distant owls or coyotes or
wind passing through the high timber. I lived in a paradise little known by
most of my species, in whom I took little interest.
The next morning, after I had
scanned the canyons and ridgelines for wisps of smoke and listened to the
sounds of the wild, I radioed the ranger to let him know that I was on the job
and that the forest was safe-from fire at least. In those days I was naive
enough to think that I was protecting the trees in the forest from fire for
their own sake. I had yet to witness clear-cutting from timber sales or
chaining down of trees to make way for cattle or gas well drillers.
I brewed up a fresh pot of coffee
on my Coleman stove, rummaged through my purchases of the day before, and
settled down under the lone pine tree that had somehow rooted itself to soil
hidden in a crevasse in the sandstone. I looked at my new book. It had a good
feel to it and a good smell. I experienced the excitement I always feel when I
crack a new book full of promise. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the
Wilderness! I had spent many seasons in the wilderness. The title of this
book thrilled me in a fashion that is difficult to express. I started reading,
tentatively at first, then with increasing interest. Near the end of the first
chapter, Abbey had written concerning his stint as a backcountry ranger at
Arches National Monument, "I am here not only to evade for awhile the
clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront,
immediately and directly if it's possible, the bare bones of existence, the
elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I dream of a hard
and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world
and yet survives still intact, individual, separate." Tears blurred my
vision, and I shouted out some weird primal yell.
"Ah, Abbey, you bastard! You
know, don't you! You know the truth! The same truth that I know! Except you
maybe know it better than I do!" I laughed and cried and then I read
More time passed. I spent a final
season as a fire lookout atop The Rock-long enough to witness man-made mayhem
committed against trees whose souls expired in some wooden agony that I could
feel empathetically deep within my own bones. I watched a pair of Caterpillar
tractors, umbilicated to each other by a behemoth anchor chain, dragging down
trees, uprooting piñones and junipers to make way for heavy equipment
designed to drill for natural gas.
That last sad season on the fire
lookout, I watched the air thicken to the west. The strip-mined-coal-burning
Four Corners Power Plant, between Farmington and Shiprock, New Mexico, was a
presence that was killing the American Southwest. I had no idea how many other
presences were planned for this land that I love. How frustrating to watch the
Southwest fall prey to greed. I remember Glen Canyon before it was befouled by
Lake Powell. I remember the howls of wolves in the wild. I remember when the
air was pristine and the electric kachinas had as yet to hoist power lines
across the landscape.
I remembered having read Desert
Solitaire and wondered about the man who had written it, that friend of
DePuy's who brandished such a mighty pen. I decided to look up Edward Abbey.
If you study the map of North
America and find Arcata on the north coast of California, then draw an azimuth
due east until you reach the eastern aspect of the Rocky Mountains, and from
that point draw yet another azimuth south to the point of confluence of the
Rio Pecos and the Rio Grande, you have a general picture of what I regard as
the American Southwest. I figured that Edward Abbey was somewhere in that
general region. It took a while, but I found him on the North Rim of the Grand
Canyon. DePuy was there. They were eating beans, drinking beer.
"Joaquín!" says DePuy.
He has always called me Joaquín.
I turned to the other man.
"Howdy. I'm Loeffler."
"I figured. I'm Abbey."
He stood up. He was tall. He had a good two or three inches on me. We shook
hands. He had a curious way of standing in reserve. Clear green eyes on either
side of his raptor's beak of a nose. He already bore the scar of a frown that
would deepen as the years passed. Good teeth. Good beard. Stood square on the
"How 'bout some beans?"
"Don't mind if I do. Can I
offer you guys some beer?"
They both grinned at me. The ice
was broken. I went back over to my pickup, pulled a cold six-pack out of my
cooler, and returned to the campfire. Abbey handed me a plate of beans. I
handed him the six-pack. He handed me back a beer, gave one to DePuy, took one
for himself. We passed around the church key and opened our beers.
"Salud!" "Salud!" "Salud!"
We ate our beans, mostly in
silence. Although I had intruded, they were both gracious with that quiet
etiquette that some outdoorsmen possess who have spent a lot of time alone.
After supper we cleaned our utensils. Then we sat down again around the fire.
DePuy filled and lighted his pipe. Abbey lighted a cigar. I rolled a Bull
Durham. We opened our second round of beers.
"Well, Joaquín," says
DePuy. "What brings you to this part of the world? I thought you would be
up on Carracas Mesa this time of year."
"I didn't take my lookout this
year," says I. "Too depressing."
"What do you mean,
'depressing'?" says Abbey.
"Too much smog. Too many
timber sales. Too many gas-drilling rigs. I didn't have the heart for it this
year." I took a long pull on my beer.
"Where's Carracas Mesa?"
Abbey looked me in the eye.
"It's east of here. Over in
the Jicarilla country."
"Over near Four Corners?"
Silence. We all drank our beer and
stared into the fire. After a while I got up and went over to my pickup. I
returned to the campfire with a couple more six-packs.
"For chrissake, Loeffler. Are
you trying to get us drunk?" asks Abbey.
We all three laughed and hunkered
in around the campfire and started the process of getting comfortable with
each other. We told lies and ruminated on the devastating beauty of Nature. We
listened as dusk turned into night and existence fit within the glow of the
There is always a certain shyness
between people who have heard of each other for years and then finally meet.
There was a shyness between Abbey and me. For a while he wasn't particularly
talkative, but as the stars eased through the night sky and we sipped our
beers, a camaraderie began to grow. DePuy, a good friend to both Abbey and me,
philosophized as only DePuy knows how. Little by little, our attention turned
to the state of the American Southwest, a landscape dear to all three of us.
"It's not like it was,"
"It was pristine. It was the
pupil in the eye of God . . . the supreme moment when cosmic imagination
crystallized into perfect form," says DePuy.
"It's the best place I know
where a good man can get beyond anthropomorphism," says Abbey.
"And now the Gaseous
Vertebrate has farted," says DePuy.
"Do you refer to the Four
Corners Power Plant?" says I.
"I do," says DePuy.
"I remember Glen Canyon,"
"So do I," says DePuy.
"Me too," says I.
"And now they've put in that
goddamn concrete plug above Lee's Ferry," says Abbey. "I hate that
"I wonder how hard it would be
to blow it up," says I.
"You sound like an
anarchist," says Abbey.
"Well, what the hell. Don't we
have the right to preserve the face of God from politicians?" says I.
"It's not just our right. It's
our duty!" says Abbey.
"Hear, hear!" says DePuy.
"Salud!" says I. "I
think there's another two six-packs in my pickup. If you're interested, that
"If I give the impression that
my interest is waning, I apologize," says DePuy.
"When it wanes, it
pours," says I.
"Oh, Christ," says Abbey,
grinning. "Go get the fucking beer and shut up!"
And so it went. Abbey pointed out
that we were only renting the beer long enough for it to pass through our
bodies before we selected to redistribute it to the worthy vegetation. Or to
the dismay of a community of red ants. It turned out that Abbey felt great
antipathy for red ants. Maybe that's why he pissed on red ant hills. I know
that twice in his life when he was out camping, ants crawled into his ears. If
he had to sleep on the ground, he stuffed cotton in his ears. He hated red
ants. Red ants hated Abbey. Abbey hated uniformity that denied the spirit of
That night, with DePuy's help, Ed
Abbey and I began to become friends. When the fire had burned low and DePuy
had turned his attention inward, Ed and I took our first walk together, both
of us needing to work off some beer before turning in for the night. And
because we were curious about each other. Our conversation wasn't particularly
profound, but we let each other know that our respective campfires would
always be open to each other. We walked a few miles that night at an easy
pace. The first of thousands of miles we were to walk together.
Many years later, just before Ed
was to head down a trail only he could follow, we figured we had hiked the
equivalent of the breadth of the continent together, involved in conversation
that was utterly without limits. We were compañeros. And as long as I
continue to live, we shall be.