I grew up in the outdoors. I remember many camping trips as a child. The majority of these were car camping excursions except for those with my father when he was a scoutmaster and later as a scout where they were more backpacking related. Several spring breaks and other holidays were spent headed to southern Utah for warmer weather. My grandparents had a love for the desert. It must have been their years spent in Monticello, Utah while my grandfather was teaching school there. I am a mountain lover at heart, but there is still a special place for me in the desert.
So often I forget how wonderful the desert is until I go back. I long for the green pines that are overwhelmed with wildlife on nearly every hillside. I love long excursions to mountain lakes and snow-covered peaks. But with all of this passion for the alpine terrain, I do have an appreciation for the contrast and struggle that goes on in the desert. This fragile ecosystem is something to appreciate and bring a sense of wonder.
With this sense of wonder, it is that I approach my review of Amy Irvine’s book, Desert Cabal. It is a worthwhile read. You will at least increase your sense of awareness for the fragile ecosystems that are in the desert and an appreciation for wild spaces.
Contrasting Edward Abbey
In her book, Irvine takes a literary approach to Edward Abbey’s classic Desert Solitaire. Her primary approach is to show the importance of inclusion and a community coming together to protect the natural and wild places that we love. Many have come to explore and fall in love with the outdoors, and particularly the desert, from Abbey. This, Irvine both appreciates and criticizes in her book. Through looking inside current political changes, population expansion, and increasing outdoor recreation, Irvine explores the need for a new generation of thought around our public lands.
As a rebuttal and response to Desert Solitaire on the fiftieth anniversary of Abbey’s classic. Irvine points out some nuances and concerns with Abbey’s book and how many have responded to it and approached current environmental and political issues that are facing National Parks and the environment as a whole. She argues for a Cabal instead of seeking for solitaire as a way to approach the wild outdoors and recreation and conservation.
The Benefit of Wild Places
Despite what seems like increasingly dark times for the planet, these wild places persist. Places that exfoliate our neuroses. That refuse to coddle our compulsions. That remind us, in these times of profound greed, what we really need. (Amy Irvine, Desert Cabal, 6)
As Irvine points out, we need these wild places. There is a natural attraction to these places. We see this by the numbers that flock to national parks and the many remote destinations each and every year. It seems to be something that is ingrained deep in our DNA. To further express this Irvine states,
Going to the outer limits of oneself, even if we don’t return with all our parts, even if we don’t survive, is what puts us in touch with our animal selves, the place in which physical hungers sharpen but material longings lesson. At last we are in the moment where every breath, every bead of sweat, matters. (Irvine, 59)
As A Cabal
Abbey calls for Solitaire. He proclaimed a deep sense of aloneness in wild places and the need to keep them entirely wild. Irvine wants a more balanced approach to this. Together, we unite to work and preserve the beauty and tranquility that is to be had on this earth. We need each other. She calls for us to work as a group to preserve and protect without relying on corporations or governments to do it for us.
By nature, we are a cabal. A group gathered around a panoramic vision. A group gathered to conspire, to resist. This is vital to our survival, as institutions fail and tyranny threatens. (Irvine, 78)
We are part of this greater whole. We are a cog in this great wheel. I think her thoughts of escaping solitude and seeking the connection not only with nature but with one another is a great way for us to work to preserve what is sacred and magnificent on this earth. We call it “Mother Nature” but do we treat it like we treat our own mother? Do we respect it as something that we are a part of? Are we doing our part to keep it a place that will be something wild and free for generations after we are assimilated back into the earth?
It’s the rough country, after all, that’s in possession of us and not the other way around. (Irvine, 10)
We need nature. We need to connect with it. However, with this connection, we need to make it a mutually beneficial relationship. We cannot be the only ones to take. We must give back to these beautiful places and help to preserve them. There should be a sense of wonder and excitement in enjoying these wild spaces. It is my belief that the earth was created for our joy. This, however, does not mean that we have the right to abuse it. We need to care for it and respect it. We need a cabal to come together and keep it wild and beautiful.
Our most precious resource now is wonder. What we wonder about ignites our imagination, unleashes our empathy, fuels our ferocity. We fold in on ourselves, a thunderous, galloping gathering, a passionate, peopled storm, nearly indistinguishable from the ground on which it rains, on which it sprinkles seeds. This is how hope takes root. What springs forth are monolithic possibilities. (Irvine, 78-9)
Let us continue to ignite our sense of wonder and work together to keep this world a marvelous place.