Sheryl Cunningham
Book review
4-19-99
Journeys Beyond the Wall

Abbey, Edward. Beyond the Wall. New York, NY. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
1984, 203 p. $14.95
 
Is it possible to yearn for miles upon miles of sand, rock, and temperatures
that soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit? According to the gruff naturalist
and angry conservationist Edward Abbey the answer is yes. In his book of
essays, Beyond the Wall, he takes the reader on a journey through what some
might consider no-man's land- the desert of the American southwest.

Abbey most definitely takes the reader beyond walls and into his life and
explorations as a self-proclaimed "desert rat". He walks through the
canyonlands of Utah, hikes across the dunes of Northern Mexico, rafts the
Colorado River through Glen Canyon and also rafts through the Alaskan
wilderness. Abbey's tone throughout these ten essays is one of wonder at the
harsh beauty of nature and a contained rage at those who destroy it with
technological "progress".

In his essay, "The Damnation of a Canyon", Abbey remembers a past when
nature was for everyone, not limited to the affluent who can afford the now
necessary expensive equipment or pre-packaged tours. Abbey's sarcasm makes
his point clearly:
        If Rainbow Bridge is worth seeing at all, then by God it should be
easily and readily available to everybody with the money to buy a big
powerboat. Why should a trip to such a place be the privilege only of
those who are willing to walk six miles? Or if Pikes Peak is worth
getting to, then why not build a highway to the top of it so that anyone
can get there? Anytime? Without effort?
Abbey's longing for these places before technology does not overwhelm or
seem too excessive. His view of the present and future of the canyonlands is
dim, but he seems to come by it honestly in his appreciation for nature.
Throughout the essays Abbey's tirades against a technological society become
somewhat predictable, but not so intrusive that the reader can't enjoy his
writing. His coarse sense of humor and sarcastic tone will most likely leave
many readers nodding in agreement, and smiling at Abbey's sometimes comical
rage.

Somewhat of a naturalist, Abbey's descriptions of flora and fauna seem to be
a fairly even mix of scientific information and plain old observation. For
any amateur nature admirer, like myself, these descriptions are enough. He
avoids sounding too technical, but still sounds knowledgeable- at least
enough so that I believe what he says. The heart of each essay comes through
in these descriptions of the desert environment that he immerses himself in
again and again. Abbey has the ability to come off as a sincere lover of
wild things and places without seeming sentimental or sappy. His passion for
nature is evident in his essay "Desert Images". He begins the essay; "Of all
natural forms the sand dunes are the most elegant- so simple, severe, bare.
Nature in the nude." Abbey is able to find perfection and peace where others
see miles of what seems like nothing. In fact, this seems to be what appeals
to him the most: "Life is gaunt and spare in the desert; that's what old
time desert rats like best about it."

This collection of essays appeals to me on many levels. I have the feeling
it will do the same for anyone who appreciates nature, the humor of sarcasm,
and the peace of solitude. I find myself in agreement with Abbey on the
downward spiral of the natural world due to the greed and laziness of a
technological society. He saw disregard and destruction of nature happening
in his lifetime and anyone who cares enough to pay attention can see the
direct effect of "progress" on wild places now. Beyond the Wall is worth the
read, but let me make a small disclaimer. These essays may trigger a desire
to get outside and see the world that Abbey has seen and love it as he loved
it. Abbey's true purpose seems to be to inspire the reader. In his preface
he writes:
        Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences
topped           mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the
air, there is         another world waiting for you. It is the old true
world of the deserts,         the mountains, the forests, the islands, the
shores, the open plains. Go         there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly
deep within it.
        May your trails be dim, lonesome, stony, narrow, winding, and only
slightly uphill. May the wind bring rain for the slickrock potholes
fourteen miles on the other side of yonder blue ridge. May God's dog
serenade your campfire, may the rattlesnake and the screech owl amuse
your reverie, may the Great Sun dazzle your eyes by day and the Great
Bear watch over you by night.