I first met Ed Abbey more than 20 years ago. As a publisher and chairman of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, I had the honor and pleasure of spending time with him on several occasions over the years. The sudden, shocking news of his death prompted a few memories.
Once, in Tucson, we met in a small cafe. Ed dressed casually, as always, in a denim, western-style shirt. We sat in a corner, unnoticed, and talked. The conversation ranged over many topics: the joy of hiking in the Sonoran Desert, the pleasures of classical music and the mystery of growing old. As we parted, we shook hands and I put my arm around him. I remember being struck by how powerfully lean and fit his arms and shoulders were. It was hard to imagine Ed ever growingold.A few years later I visited Ed at a ranch near Moab owned by his close friend Ken Sleight. Ed was busy putting the finishing touches on his latest manuscript. At the ranch Ed worked in a small, spartan cabin built of split logs. The windows were open, allowing him to gaze on his beloved LaSal Mountains. He wore a T-shirt and typed on an ancient, manual typewriter perched on a small kitchen table. We talked that day of writing, the labor of revision, the sheer mental and emotional labor the work required, and the necessity and rejuvenating power of physical activity. The next day, in the late afternoon autumn light, I watched as Ed, walking stick in hand, set off briskly up a desert trail in a light rain.
Recalling these vivid images, it's hard to believe Ed is gone. Like most people, I almost believed he would always be there, the first one on the trail, showing us the way, inspiring, prodding us to do more, to more passionately love the land he loved, to be more courageous in our actions in defense of the last remaining fragments of wilderness.
Ed Abbey had a fierce love for the canyons and plateaus of southern Utah. He expressed this love and a determined commitment to defend these lands in several books and numerous essays. It was through Ed Abbey's writing that millions of people all over the world got their first taste of this fragile and powerful land. Through his work, Ed has done much to show the way toward a new future of well-being and harmony between man and the land in southern Utah. He encouraged the people who lived there to take pride in and protect the priceless beauty of the wilderness that surrounded them and to derive economic strength by providing services for the millions of people all over the world who are drawn to this land every year.
Ed has done much to help forge a new land ethic for Utah and a new aesthetic in land appreciation for a whole generation of Americans. His message: leave it alone, take pride in knowing the wilderness is still there.
Ed's message was a welcome one to environmentalists everywhere. But I am very proud to say that Ed Abbey was a special friend of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and set a fine example for its members. He could always be counted on to send a cash donation for special causes or to send a personal note to buoy the spirits of a discouraged activist. All he asked in return was for us to measure up to our responsibility to defend wilderness in Utah.
The last time I saw Ed was in January 1988. The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club had invited him to deliver its annual Arch Druid lecture, the chapter's major fund-raising event. Ed graciously assented to our request without accepting an honorarium. The crowd that night in the East High School auditorium swelled to standing room only, the largest ever to attend an Arch Druid program.
The event must have been a little more than bittersweet for Ed, for it coincided with the 21st anniversary of the flooding of Glen Canyon. As we sat in the front row of the auditorium watching a movie depicting what was lost under the water of Lake Powell, he seemed a little restless to me. Finally, he leaned over and said he would rather be going on a hike. With that he stood up in the darkness, went outside and took a little walk.
In 1980 I asked Ed to write an essay on Henry David Thoreau to accompany a new edition of "Walden" that we were publishing. Ed concluded with, "Henry Thoreau, if only you were with us now! He should be; he is. Wherever there are deer and hawks, wherever there is risk and liberty, wherever there is wilderness, Henry Thoreau will find his home."
Now we will find Edward Abbey there, too.
Memorial plaque planned
Gibbs Smith Publisher is commissioning the creation of a bronze plaque bearing the likeness of Edward Abbey in bas relief and an inscription from Abbey relating to the southern Utah wilderness he loved.
The plaque will be sculpted by noted artist Edward J. Fraughton and will be placed in southern Utah in memory of a great author and defender of Utah's wilderness.
Anyone wishing to help defray the costs of this memorial may do so by sending donations to Ed Abbey Plaque Fund, c/o Gibbs Smith Publisher, P.O. Box 667, Layton, UT 84041. All donors will be invited to help place the plaque this May.