Seen through 21st century eyes, this book is clearly a blog. Abbey spins yarns about his colorful day-to-day, plus his friends who come to visit, his trips on his days off (such as whitewatering down the first leg of the Powell Expedition with a one-legged friend), and random rants about cars, the Park Service, people in wheelchairs, and women (roughly in that order).
I’d give it 5 stars if it stayed as strong as it starts. The beginning makes me drool a little: Edward Abbey shows up for a year of park rangering at Arches National Park and lives alone in the glorious desert. He removes a dead rat from the toilet of his little trailer and remarks that a gas cookstove and an indoor toilet are pleasingly luxurious. His mother raised 5 children without either. Soon he’s telling rattlesnakes to get the fuck off his property and taking a wild gopher snake home as a pet to keep rattlesnakes away. Before you know it he’s moonlighting as a cowboy, vandalizing trees, pulling a friend out of quicksand, and retrieving dead hikers from the canyonlands.
I like Abbey because he’s infected with crazed desert-love. He’s an old-school naturalist, meaning he’s a botanist and biologist and geologist and poet and philosopher and damned reckless in the field. Abbey can literally look out his back door and give the common and Latin names of every plant in sight, along with detailed descriptions of plant lore, quoting appropriate classic poetry all the while. Where did this guy go to school? My favorite chapter is “Cliffrose and Bayonets,” where Abbey declares, “Time to inspect the garden.” Abbey sees every speck of life, and there’s a freakin’ lot of it even in the hoodoo land of redrock sandstone. I have to agree — I’ve seen more life in the Sonoran desert than anywhere outside of a zoo. There’s enough there to support mountain lions (which several of my friends sighted, but neither Abbey nor I ever did).
The weirdest thing about Abbey’s blog is that his sandstone desert is full of invisible water. He wanders around on foot or horseback with one canteen of water, and somehow he always finds a tiny seep before his meager daily ration runs out. I have never, ever in my whole life found water in the desert, but maybe I just don’t know how to look.