43: My favorite author

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.


  1. Found this from BT. Very nice. Thanks for sharing...any hints on that cigarette ash insect?


  2. Thanks!

    My friend Tobias Miller, Trails Facility Manager with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, thinks it is a pinhole borer or ambrosia borer.
    he said, "Not to worry for structural issues."

    So I'm feeling OK about it. The boric acid will probably get 'em, or at least interrupt their gestation cycle and prevent another infestation.

  3. Yep, there are a lot of stories. Some probably ought not be told. Ed was a dear friend while he was here and we kept up for a while. Then life got in the way. He was here in 1968, Fall. Left before the semester was quite over. Gave his students the grade they asked for. Went to Organ Pipe Cactus national monument. Left a trail behind for a lot of us to follow.

  4. Newt, I'd love to hear about that trail sometime. It's great to receive a comment on my little blog from a guy who could write a book about it.


  5. Ed did come here in the fall of 1968 at the invitation of Mabel Crum, Department Head of the English Department. He heard about it from his friend, Al Sarvis, another New Mexico friend (Doc in Monkey Wrench is partially based on Al) who was in the Art Department then. Ed was not as miserable as he indicates. He hated teaching composition to students who could not write and who were not motivated to learn to write. Grading papers is a dull affair in that arena. But his biggest issue was that the teaching and grading and a new daughter took away from his writing. He had been a part-time temporary ranger before and it gave him more time to write. When the permanent part-time opportunity came up, he jumped on it because it would take him back west and give him more time to write. Organ Pipe National Monument is a winter post, so he would be warm there during winter months at a place not too busy. But Ed loved the mountains here and we partied a lot during those days. Intense walks in the woods talking about ecology, writing, and women. He came back several times. Al Sarvis had taken a art museum job in Virginia a few years after Ed left. He was a wild man too. Al and Ed died the same day, like a rebel versions of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They left a trail worth following if you can stand being out on the edge.

  6. Great entry and great follow-up comment by Newt. Just promise me that if Newt comes up to tell Abbey stories, that I can come along. I still remember you showing me that passage the first time I came to your house. From that, I figured Newt must be a pretty cool guy and this must be a pretty cool place. Guess I was right on both accounts.


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I use this blog to chronicle certain aspects of my life near the Smokies. I'm building a cabin. I kayak. Sometimes I bike.