Desert Solitaire, a phenomenal book by Edward Abbey starts at the Canyonlands National Park, located in Utah. In this desert, there lies Abbey’s home base where he lived for three different seasons travelling and relishing the expanse land together with other activities like scouting, cleaning the environment and generally taking part in almost every activity that happened in the world surrounding him.
However, taking a scrutiny into the book, one realizes that Abbey is not talking of desert; no, he is only using it as a medium rather than a material.
For instance, Abbey says, “Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here in the desert by the comparative scarcity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in sparseness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock.
The extreme clarity of the desert light is equalled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom” (26).
In this context, desert simplifies the life that a coterie of some people live in America today. In the society today, we have different classes of people and they live different lifestyles. For instance, there is the affluent class, the middle class and the poor class. In this case, desert simplifies the affluent class.
This fragment from page 26 of Abbeys work opens up by emphasizing on the unfamiliarity and marvel of life in the affluent habitations. What strikes the writer most about this life is the scarcity of life in this area. Apparently, life in this region is not herded as in other places.
True to Abbey’s observation, there are no many people in the flush areas. This comes from the fact that, not many people are wealthy. The rich form only a small group of people compared to the whole population of a place. In ghettos and shanties where the poor languish in poverty, people are many and crowded. The simplicity and scattered nature that Abbey observes in this desert, is conspicuously lacking in ghettos. This may explain why Abbey uses the word “comparative” in the excerpt quoted above.
In addition, Abbey notes the gift of space that the rich enjoy in this ‘desert’ such that each of the people “stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock” (26). The lifeless sand and barren rock here simplifies the common person and the poor who have no ‘produce’ in terms of wealth.
Towards the end of this excerpt, Abbey says that “love flowers best in openness and freedom” (26). For sure in crowded regions, there is no openness therefore restricting people’s freedom. However, in the ‘desert’, freedom and openness are paramount and this comes with wealth. Therefore, it is clearly now that, Abbey uses desert not as a material but as a medium.
He uses desert figuratively to signify the affluence that some people enjoy in this life. Literary, desert is a place set apart and only few plants and animal life can survive the harsh conditions that thrive there. Likewise, affluence is a life set apart for few people where not everyone can live the life that they live.
To cap it all, in the introductory part Abbey says, “…what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast” (xiv). These things are happening right now in the American society.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. McGraw-Hill Book Company: New York, 1968.