I found this quote long ago, within a long-time favorite essay called "A walk in the woods to Alum Cave" which I discovered in an out-of-print coffee table book that I own, produced by photographer Eliot Porter, who collaborated with Edward Abbey, who wrote all of the text, who transformed it from a picture book to something much more profound. Antithetical to the saying, Abbey's words have the potential to say even more than pictures. 1000 of his words may beat a lifetime of clicking and take us to a deeper place than can our sense of sight. Genius writing supported by nice pictures is even better; however, my point is that these essays, with their thread of continuity provided by Porter's theme, stand alone. Appalachian Wilderness was written during or right after the time that Abbey taught at the small university where both Sloan and I teach and work with college students today.
Here, I copied it from a review of this intriguing book, which is now on my list:
But here's the original book, which I highly recommend:
I inherited my copy from my grandparents, Jack and Peggy, who had received it as a gift from her brother, my Great Uncle Leroy, then dean of the medical school in Wisconsin. They were socially conservative people, self-made for sure but also from a socioeconomically fortunate family, members of the greatest generation. Unlike Abbey, they were not so influenced by Kerouac, or even Steinbeck. There is a note written in Uncle Leroy's doctor's script that says, "the pictures are wonderful but the text is somewhat controversial." You got that right, Uncle Leroy.
Gulayihi writes about Abbey's time at Western here. A friend and colleague, a retired English prof who goes to our church, Newt Smith, is actually mentioned in the last pages of Appalachian Wilderness. Sugar noticed the reference first, about when we moved here from Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2002: "Hey, I think I met him at new faculty orientation!"
In the book, Abbey describes his return home from some hike, or from a writing binge (I don't recall), to "drink beer" with "old Newt Smith" in his "corn crib" -- what better tribute could one want? Abbey captured their association for posterity, better than Newt's masterful storytelling ever could. We should all be so worthy, or lucky.
Newt can tell a story or two. When asked about the probability that with them being young, like-minded men there could have been some monkey wrenching during his time spent with Abbey, he's a wee bit evasive. And his eyes twinkle too much much for innocence, although he could be guilty only of feeding your imagination. I did hear third-hand from a forgotten source that there was some story involving one of those ugly billboards that Abbey hated and lambasted in several of his books. Newt does tell a great story about his wife and Abbey's, and of course the two of them, pioneering the Lamaze method of childbirth, together with their first children, when such things were way ahead of their time in Jackson County. So much for my perception that Abbey would be cigar-in-the-waiting-room kind of guy.
If I could entertain any guest, living or dead, in my log cabin, it might be Abbey. Maybe, in his place, Newt would come sometime to drink a beer and tell some tales.