Sunday, April 29, 2012

BC2012: Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey

In one chapter of Another Shot, Joe Kita decides he wants to learn to be a "real man" and takes a wilderness survival course. After a few days of instruction, he is on his own:
I'm left in a stunning red-rock canyon, a private parlor for my game of desert solitaire.
This line is, of course, a nod to the classic book about the deserts of the American Southwest, Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire.

Whenever I told someone how much I love the desert, they would say, "Oh, then you should read Desert Solitaire." I cannot recall when or where I purchased it -- at least seven years ago, probably more -- but whenever I attempted to read Desert Solitaire, I couldn't maintain interest for more than a chapter or two. I made a bit of progress over time -- when I picked it up this week, I found the bookmark tucked in at page 108. But after so many years of starts and stops, the remaining 160 pages looked daunting at best.

In the spirit of both Another Shot (doing things to right one's regrets) and Book Challenge 2012, I vowed to finally finish Desert Solitaire. Flipping the pages ahead, I figured that if I managed one chapter per day, I could get through it by the end of April.

The first couple of chapters weren't easy. Like previous chapters, these were largely introspective: a little ranting, a lot of description, and not much action. But something unexpected happened in the next chapter, a vignette about attempting to capture an independent (but not wild) horse -- I started to really enjoy it. The following chapter was an intimidating 45 pages. It detailed a raft trip Abbey and a friend took through Glen Canyon before the damn dam flooded it, and it was riveting.

Instead of slogging through a chapter per day for a week, I read the final 60% of the book in just a couple of days! A few chapters dragged a bit, but overall I think the second half of the book was simply better than the first half. Whatever. The important thing is that I finally finished it and even enjoyed a significant portion. I no longer have to look at that lovely cover photo of Arches National Park* and be reminded of my failure to complete the book. Now I really want to go back to Utah ASAP. There are four other parks I haven't seen yet.

* It was merely a monument when Abbey worked there in 1957-58 and when Desert Solitaire was published in 1968. I visited that park in 2003 on the way to riding the Las Vegas Century, but I can't remember whether I bought the book before or after that visit.

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