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by Laramie Boyd
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Did you happen to read the book "Desert Solitaire?" It's about a man who, among other ventures, spent many years as a ranger for the National Park Service in the Arches National Monument near Moab, Utah. He relates how his salary for the NPS was $1.95 per hour, and his main functions were "emptying garbage cans, reading discarded newspapers, sweeping out the outhouses. picking discarded kleenex from the clutches of cliffrose and cactus", and putting in cans all the trash left by uncaring Park visitors. And when time allowed from these chores, he would "haul firewood, distribute toilet paper, and deal with the influx of weekend visitors and campers, answering questions, pulling cars out of the sand, lowering children down off of the rocks, tracking lost grandfathers and investigating picnics." But, he felt his fringe benefits were well worth the time spent on the mundane responsibilities of the job. These included, "clean air to breathe, stillness, solitude and space, an unobstructed view every day and every night of sun, sky, stars, mountains, moon, cliff rock and canyon." Some days he spent relaxing outside the trailer where he lived, which he shared with a number of mice. But they didn't disturb him while he drank beer and watched cloud formations and chased desert rattlesnakes away. These were the author Edward Abbey's callings, and he loved every minute and every day he spent in the vast wilderness he called home.
Edward spent a lot of time thinking about "the incredible shit we put up with most of our lives - the domestic routine, the stupid and useless degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and slimy advertising of the businessmen, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back home in the capital, the foul, diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and TV machines and telephones." Abbey strongly felt that visitors to the national parks should not be allowed to ride cars sightseeing, that they couldn't see anything from a car. Rather they should "get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus" to get the best view of the wilderness, where you can "see the lightning play and hear the thunder roll."
Furthermore, "Get out of them there machines, take off those f.........g glasses, look around, throw away those goddamned idiotic cameras. Take off your shoes for awhile, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and tugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood!"
Abbey was adept at identifying and naming the flora of the parks. He could identify and rattle off names like cliffrose, buckbrush, hedgehog, prickly pear, juniper, sand sage, pinyon pine, Russian thistle, primrose, beeplant, and most every other growing plant he came across when he surveyed his territory. And as well he was equally conversant with the fauna of the area. Like whip snakes, vinegaroons, centipedes, mites, kissing bugs, solpugids, Jerusalem crickets, chinch bugs, and Giant Hairy Desert Scorpions, all in a days travels in his neck of the woods. And rocks. He knew them all. Chalcedony, carnelian, agate, sardonyx, quartsite, garnet, malachite, obsidian, pyrope, porphyry, arkose, basalt, limestone, sandsrtone, marble, slate, shale and more, all equally identifiable.
Edward Abbey believed that the Reclamation Bureau of the National Park Service ruined the natural beauty and ecological purity of much of the Southwest as a result of the dams on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon that formed Lake Powell and the huge Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam) that formed Lake Mead, resulting in "enormous silt traps and evaporation tanks that do not irrigate a single square foot of land." He abhored the fact that "Where he and his brave men once lined the rapids and glided through silent canyons in the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon, the motorboats now smoke and whine, scumming the water with cigarette butts, beer cans, and oil, dragging water skiers on their endless rounds, clockwise." Let alone campers on the lakes and river leaving their vacation trash lining the campgrounds and shore lines.
His accounts of various conversations while calling on the camps of visitors to Arches National monument dressed as a ranger are eye openers. Here are some samples: "Where are the Coke machines?"
" Sorry lady, we have no coke machines out here. Would you like a drink of water?" She's not sure.
"Say ranger, that's a godawful road you got in here, when the hell they going to pave it?" (They gather around, listenng.)
"The day before I leave." (I say it with a smile, they laugh.)
"Well how the hell do we get out of here?"
"You just got here, sir."
"I know but how do we get out?"
"Same way you got in. It's a dead-end road."
"So we see the same scenery twice?"
"It looks better going out."
"Oh ranger, do you live in that little house down there?"
"Yes madam, part of the time. Mostly I live out of it."
"You must get awfully lonesome living way out here."
"No, I have good company."
"No, myself." (They laugh; they think I'm kidding.)
"Well me, what do you do for amusement?"
"Talk with the tourists." (General laughter.)
"Don't you even have a TV?"
"Listen lady...if I saw a TV out here I'd get out my cannon and shoot it like it was a mad dog, right in the eye."
"Goodness, why do you say that?"
"What's the principle of the TV madam?"
"Goodness, I don't know."
"The vacuum tube, madam. And do you know what happens if you stick your head in a vacuum tube?"
"If you stick your head...?"
"I'll tell you: you get your brains sucked out." (Laughter!)
"Hey ole buddy, how far from Lubbock?"
"Where's Lubbock, sir?"
"Texas, ole buddy. Lubbock, Texas."
"Well sir, I don't know exactly how far that is but I'd guess it's not nearly far enough."
"Any dangerous animals out here, ranger?"
"Just tourists." (Laughter: tell the truth, they never believe you.)
"Where you keep these arches here, anyway?"
"What arches? All I see around here are fallen arches."
"Does it ever rain in this country, ranger?"
"I don't know. I've only been here eleven years."
"You work out here year round?"
"No sir, just for the summer."
"What do you do in the winter?"
"How much do you get paid for this kind of work?"
"Too much. But I give part of it back April 15th."
Read the book, "Desert Solitaire." His description of his boat ride down the rapids of the mighty Colorado, before the dams above it were built, is a classic.