Letters from a Desert Prophet

Ed Abbey's prescient voice rings out again

| July / August 2006


Edward Abbey contained multitudes. Born in 1927 in rural Pennsylvania, 'Cactus Ed' lived most of his life in the desert West, a magical place he first saw as a boy riding the rails, land he loved and honored in such books as Desert Solitaire (McGraw-Hill, 1968). Though he was eventually known as a nature writer, Abbey rebelled against pigeonholing. Novelist, poet, diarist, saboteur, and political philosopher, Abbey also worked seasonally at more than a dozen national parks, monuments, and forests from the mid '50s through the late '70s, as a ranger and fire lookout. More than anything, though, Abbey was a lover. 'Love can defeat that nameless terror,' he once wrote. 'Loving one another, we take the sting from death. Loving our mysterious blue planet, we resolve riddles and dissolve all enigmas in contingent bliss.'

Since his death in Arizona in 1989, Abbey's writings-urging that cars be forbidden in national parks, advocating removal of dams, forecasting the erosion of civil liberties, and decrying unchecked growth-seem more prophetic than ever. His range is apparent in Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast, edited by David Petersen and due out from Milkweed Editions in September. These missives to friends, family, politicians, editors, publishers, and others, dating from 1949 to 1989, show that Abbey was cantankerous and passionate, but also wanted to engage in real and respectful debate about politics, literature, and life itself. We've selected the letters that follow from more than 230 that will appear in Postcards from Ed.
-The Editors

 

Abbey seemed to revel in railing against the devastation of wild lands, almost as much as he hated the destruction itself. Postcards from Ed includes several letters of this type, one suggesting that every 4x4 on earth be driven into the Marianas Trench and parked there 'for the duration.'



To Esquire magazine,
New York City

(September 11, 1976)

Dear Sirs:



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