The Reef

“What we have accomplished through jet-engine aircraft is the abolition of the journey.  Next time I’ll go by sea – or not go at all.  Why I’ve seen more of the world in a subway train from Hoboken to Brooklyn than I saw in the aerial shuttle through the Pacific night.”

Anna Creek

“I tried to imagine Gloria Steinem explaining women’s rights to Connie Nunn.  Connie would laugh her all the way to Adelaide.  Connie was born liberated.”

“One man wears a condemned sport coat that looks exactly like the one a girl friend of mine stuffed in a garbage can back in Tucson fifteen years ago; the one she called my “wino jacket.”

“They stare at me; I stare at them.  No one speaks.  Their dark faces with the luminous eyes, with the cast of features made from a genetic mold more ancient than that of any other race on earth, seem to withdraw before me as I look at them, receding into the twilight and darkness under the tree.  They are a people hard to perceive, even in the sunlight.  The losers in one more among a thousand routine historical tragedies.  They are the unwanted guests, the uninvited in their own country.  They look at me across a gulf of 10,000 years.  I turn away, start back to the pub.  As I go I hear their voices begin again, the laughter resume.”

“I stared at Penny, then again at Jean and Sheila and Lily Billy.  The warm autumn sunlight lay on their bodies and faces.  The air was clear and fresh.  They had nothing important to do and nothing at all to fret over.  When the situation is hopeless, there is nothing to worry about.  I watched their lively hands, their active searching faces, and saw something like gaiety in those irrepressible gestures.  Why quit, they were saying.  Why quit?”

“They could, if they ever felt like it, tell the whole world to go to hell.  And probably get away with it.  I am all for them.  If I ever have to, I thought, I could live here myself.  It’s my kind of bloody country.”

The Outback

“Few of us would be willing to exchange our place in European industrial culture for a place in that ancient and primitive society.  We feel our world is more open, vast, and free than that of primitive man.  Perhaps it is.  But what we have gained in depth and breadth we may have lost in immediacy and intensity.  For the savage hunter, every day and every night must have been an adventure on the edge of exaltation or despair.  We don’t know.  How can we know?  We do know what life has become most of the time for most Europeans-Aussies-Americans.  It has become soap opera.  Tragic but tedious.”

Back of Beyond

“A man could live here, perhaps.  How?  Sell boomerangs – made in Hong Kong – to the tourists.  Raise a few beef cows, maybe.  Meditate.  Starve – like Wills and Burke.  You can always do something, anywhere.”

“The train crept on.  Wheels roll, you say, they do not and cannot creep.  What do you know, insolent reader?  Eh, what do you know, you crass whelp of a dingo bitch, you foal of a hunchback camel, you sore-eyed, scab-covered noseless dropping of a syphilitic two-dollar Baton Rouge, Louisiana whore?  I ask you.  The train crept on, I say.”

“And I realized, walking on, that anything Americans do badly the Aussies can do worse.”

“I fooled around for an hour on top of Ayers Rock.  In the logbook at the summit some Aussie slob had written:  Yank Go Home.  I wrote after it my name and address and added:  “Citizen (not subject) of the Greatest Nation on Earth:  Fuck the Queen.”  Always a temptation to bait the poor blighters.  I wrote more.  “Ayers Rock is big but we make them bigger in Arizona.”

“But all that, I maintain, is merely information.  It is not knowledge; even less is it understanding.  Knowledge and understanding, though based on information as an essential component, require more, namely, feeling, intuition, physical contact – touching, and sympathy, and love.  It is possible for a man and woman to know and understand one another, in this complete sense.  It is possible to know, though to a lesser degree, other living things – birds, animals, plants.  It is even possible to know, through love, a place, a certain landscape, a river, canyon, mesa, mountain.  (Nobody ever fell in love with a rock, you say?  Nonsense.  Bullshit.  Many of us have fallen in love with rocks.  You don’t think I lived for so long in the American Southwest because I wanted to be near Phoenix, or Barry Goldwater, or Glen Canyon Dam, do you?)  But knowledge – I insist – is not possible through science alone.”

“I placed my blackened billycan on the fire and boiling some water, made magic tea.  Magic tea?  Here’s the receipt, as the melancholic Robert Burton would say:  Take one large mug of hot tea, add two or three liberal splashes of bourbon, then consume, at a leisurely, reflective pace, until mug is empty.  Repeat, as often as desired, until satisfaction is obtained, or oblivion achieved, or both.  Begin the next day with the same, or with magic coffee, until the oblivion becomes final.  If such is your desire.”

A Desert Isle

“And besides, as everyone knows, desert rats such as ourselves, sweaty and greasy, do not go paddling about in what may be the next man’s drinking water.  This pond might last for several months, before evaporation took it all.”

“The beans were ready.  Neither of us thought of cooking meals, for chrissake.  We ate our beans and smoked our smokes and drank some more Ronrico and were content.”

“God damn it.  Really a mistake to come to a perfect place like la Sombra without a good woman.  If for no other reason than this:  Having a woman along helps keep a man’s mind off sex.”

“Sitting on a hill above our camp, listening to the doves calling far out there, I feel again the old sick romantic urge to fade away into those mountains, to disappear, to merge and meld with the ultimate, the unnameable, the bedrock of being.  Face to face with the absolute – whatever it is.  Sweet oblivion, final revelation.  Easy now.  What’s the hurry?  I light a cigar instead.”

“Old moon in the morning, worn and pale as a beggar’s last peso, hangs above the western skyline.”

“Unspeakable beauty, unbearable seasick loneliness.  Murmur of the shore, distant cries.”

Sierra Madre

“…ah, that Nuevo cuisine – perturbs the imagination.  Peculiar looking vegetables, unidentifiable.  Stringy bits of flesh, obscure in origin, wrapped in limp and greasy folds of dough.  Everything disguised, the flavor – if any – buried beneath a mucous membrane of melted cheese and last week’s tomato sauce.  You can always count on the tomato sauce:  Every dish comes immersed in it.”

Turismo is always and everywhere a dubious, fraudulent, distasteful, and in the long run, degrading business, enriching a few, doing the rest more harm than good.”

“The one thing we could do for these people, I am thinking as I trudge along at the rear of the column, the one and only decent thing we could do for them…is leave them alone.”

“Birdwatchers are a fussy, eccentric lot, especially perpetual beginners like myself, who seem condemned never to find a bird, anywhere, that corresponds precisely to its description and illustration in the bird books.  A failing, on the part of the bird, difficult to forgive.”

“What is it?”  we ask, meaning what is its name?  This odd quirk of the human mind:  Unless we can name things, they remain for us only half-real.  Or less than half-real:  nonexistent.  A man without a name is nobody.  A man’s name can become more important than his person.  A plant, an animal, a thing without a name is no thing – nothing.  No wonder we humans like to think that in the beginning was – the Word.  What word?  Any word.  Any word at all, anything rather than the silence and terror of the nameless.”

“The growing consensus among the four of us is, “If we get there we get there and if we don’t we don’t.”  To hell with science too.  Thus the ambience of Mexico infects our nervous systems:  Montezuma’s revenge in its subtler form.”


copyright:  1979 by Edward Abbey
author bio:
my thoughts on EA:
photo:  E.P. Dutton edition

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