A LETTER TO ED ABBEY
(Recently found in one of my journals)
May 21, 1989
Dear Ed Abbey:
Just a few hours ago I returned from a fine three day trip to Moab and its environs, some of your favorite desert land. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about you, your work, your thought, what you meant to me and others and many things about—you—since you died two months ago. That’s not really unusual. I thought a lot about you, and of you, over the years. I even got to tell you something about it in the few exchanges of letters we had several years ago. I’m glad I initiated that exchange and told you how much you helped me and that I was able to recognize and appreciate it. I am grateful that you took the time to reply. I’m sorry we never met and had the chance to get to know each other. I suspect we would not have been in agreement on all things, but I always felt we would have liked each other quite a lot.
What is unusual is that I didn’t know until driving back to Aspen this afternoon that I was going to write this.
I went to Moab on the night of the 18th with my friend Marilyn, who is reading “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, her first Abbey book, which I gave her a couple of weeks ago. She’s a very sexy woman and a great traveling companion and I thought she could use some time in the vast, open desert that you loved and wrote about so well. She’s a divorce case, and you and I know that one all too well, and we both know how a perspective of wide open spaces can be healing to the perspective of the inner spaces. We slept by the Colorado River at Big Bend and the moon was bright.
The morning of the 19th Marilyn and my young climbing friend Joel and I hiked up to Castleton Tower. Joel and I climbed the North Chimney and it was a beautiful climb on a lovely day. The 19th is my youngest son Jason’s birthday. He was 18 and in California and though you are gone and I am going Jason is still coming, and I often wonder about the sort and quality of life that will be his. After the climb Joel, Marilyn and I went to the Pizza Hut in Moab for the salad bar and garlic bread after showering under the leak in the water pipe just off the Castle Valley Road. When we got back to the camp at Big Bend the Mormons had invaded. About 200 BYU students, the rudest, most brain dead, spiritless people sort of alive on earth. The same thing happened to us last year and I wrote a column about them that I called “Locusts in the Desert.” I wish you could have read it. I think you would have laughed and I certainly owe you a few of those. We broke camp and slept on a road near the bridge over the Colorado just north of town. We could hear the trucks and other traffic and it was not a restful night.
Still, we got up early and made it to the May 20th sunrise memorial for Ed Abbey held north of town up a dirt road. I don’t have to tell you what went on there. You were there. I’d never heard of Terry Tempest Williams before, but she is very impressive and her love for you and grief at losing you were powerful reminders of the durability, fragility and uniqueness of each human. She drew up to the surface some deep grief and sorrows and lost loves of my own. She reminded us of the importance of keeping in touch with one another, with those we love and care about. She got that from you and passed it on to us at a memorial gathering for you. Keep in touch.
Ken Slight and Doug Peacock must have been wonderful friends for you to have. They were lucky men to be your friends and they knew it. You were lucky too, and I bet you knew it.
Dave Foreman says Earth First the same way Adolph Hitler said “Lebensraum.” Germany First. I met Foreman a few summers ago up Trail Creek outside Sun Valley in Idaho at an Earth First gathering. He was talking about how his friend Ed Abbey might show up for the meeting, but I didn’t believe him and you never showed up. I don’t know if Foreman and you were friends. I don’t think Earth First represents your spirit or thoughts, but Foreman tried to make of the memorial service for you a rallying call for Earth First. I did not like it, a discordant note to a fitting morning in memory of Ed Abbey. But maybe any proper and loving memorial to you needs to include a discordant note. A part of you enjoyed the fart in polite company. Foreman filled that role, but he smells bad to me.
Ann Zwinger was sweet and bright.
Wendell Berry, like you, is a man of honesty and integrity. He is a model and great artist.
Barry Lopez said it best and I think you would have approved. He has been out and about in the world, listening, observing and talking to people. He said, “The news is heavy, but we are heavier.”
My friend, Burnie Arndt, was there, stopping by on his way back from California where he had buried his sister. After the memorial he said that a lot of feelings were still real close to the surface and the morning was hard for him. Humans can only take so much grief and pain, as you know. I haven’t lost anyone lately, but I had to wipe tears from my eyes and hold back many more (for reasons that are for another writing another time) and the memorial for Ed Abbey was hard, poignant and moving for me as well.
While driving back to Colorado today Marilyn asked me why the memorial service for you touched me so deeply. I didn’t know until she asked me but I knew when she did, and I told her I have a lot of old sorrows that are still in there, and Ed Abbey was a bigger influence and closer to my thought and heart and work than I had realized. I didn’t really feel your death and how much I have lost in your passing until the gathering of your friends and admirers north of Moab yesterday. I know you understand the interconnectedness of all love, all joy, all sorrow. You were a big man, Ed Abbey. Thanks for what I will miss. Thanks for what remains.
Go in peace.