The Place Where My Heart Dwells

heartdwells-1

“The desert lies beneath and soars beyond any possible human qualification. Therefore, sublime.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

 

Everyone has a place, their place. The corner of the earth that reminds us we are living animals, the sweet spot of subliminal bliss. You know that place. When our piece of peace becomes more than an annual week vacation, more than a location, when it is the place our heart dwells; then we will be compelled to act when our place is threatened.

For me Eden is the sandstone of Southern Utah. When I bring my mind to stillness amongst the big box realtors, four lane highways and rectangular prisms that most of us call home, I see the immense red cliffs, arches, and precariously balanced hoodoos of the desert where my heart resides. Our wild desert is under siege, what seems to be the last of wilderness in our urban world. Fear that the dwelling place of my heart will be demolished has inspired my voice of stewardship.

Perhaps the desert would say her strongest supporter and most passionate admirer was the poet and author Edward Abbey. Half a century ago, Abbey illuminated his love and desire to preserve Utah South with poems, novels, and a wild sense of abandon. Even in Abbey’s time, the desert was threatened by “development” and destruction for the sake of generating money for the “right” people. In response to these threats, Abbey wrote and persuaded stewardship with eloquence of words.

Abbey fell for the desert his first morning on the job as a park ranger, when the sun rose over what was then known as Arches National Monument. His memoir of the initial glimpse into what we now call Abbey Country illustrates love at first sight:

This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home… For myself I’ll take Moab, Utah. I don’t mean the town itself, of course, but the country which surrounds it – the canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the roads.” D.S.

Red Breaks, Harris Wash

 

Love grew into a deep devotion exemplified in desert adoring characters, dedicated to revealing the beauty of our national treasure, the wild desert west. My favorite written admiration is from the furry hero of The Monkey Wrench Gang:

“Hayduke, by the window, gazed out at the scenery, that routine canyon country landscape – grandiose, desolate, shamelessly spectacular. Among those faraway buttes and pinnacles, rosy red against the sky lay the promise of something intimate – the intimate in the remote. A secret, a revelation.”

Like Abbey I fell for the desert in the morning light. Ready for the irony, on top of a houseboat, rocking gently on the placid waters of Lake Powell. Our home was parked in Seven Mile Canyon and in the soft morning sun, the vast cliffs glowed hues of orange and red. The blushing sandstone is forever imprinted on my mind, gazing up I felt insignificant and in the same moment part of the life force that connects us all. This moment was long before I knew of the atrocities committed with the creation of Glen Canyon Dam. As I read Abbey’s accounts, he paints an image that surpasses the beauty of Seven Mile Canyon reflecting the rising suns rays. Through his words I see the splendor that Lake Powell now smothers: “Once it was different there [Glen Canyon]. I know, for I was one of the lucky few (there could have been thousands more) who saw Glen Canyon before it was drowned. In fact, I saw only a part of it, but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise.” D.S.

The Place My Heart Resides

 

Despite the loss of Eden, the loss of Native American culture, and wanting to loathe Lake Powell the way our dear friends Seldom Seen, Doc Sarvis and Hayduke do, I can’t. I have spent one joyous week a year, for two decades, surrounded by my family and friends on “the blue death” as Seldom Seen calls it, floating beneath the walls of Glen Canyon. Regardless of the desire to despise, Lake Powell was the first spot where I was captivated by the desert’s quiet beauty. Since that first sight of slickrock, my world is constructed around the way to return to my hearts home. Lake Powell was an introduction, through the stagnant waters beneath glorious canyon walls I have searched and found remote corners of the “most beautiful place on earth.”

When your heart dwells in the wilderness, an inevitable transformation awaits. It is deep in the desert where we loose the constructs of society and begin to think in a way that challenges existing social systems. In the wilderness I am freed of the need to continuously purchase and consume the excess of material items that bombard our world. It is there, far away from sparling suburbia I am brave enough to challenge those who seek to destroy our land. The desert is inspiration to think, feel, and be a spiritual being. In our wilderness, our public wilderness, we become individuals. Individuals are dangerous and hard to control because we challenge the systems in place. The systems that serve those in power and trample all who get in the way of financial gain.

Shamelessly Specatculor

Only a few hours on the river and Abbey is already challenging, “What incredible shit we put up with most of our lives – the domestic routine, the stupid and useless and degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and the 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 –! ah” This type of thinking is dangerous for the select few who gather most of the world’s wealth. We, the general population are easiest to control when we remain products of the media. We are easier to control, when we remain complacent. “That’s what the first taste of the wild does to a man, after having been too long penned up in the city. No wonder the Authorities are so anxious to smother the wilderness under asphalt and reservoirs. They know what they’re doing; their lives depend on it…” D.S.

What is wilderness? For me it is the place of solitude in nature, away from the hum of industrial life. Doc Sarvis most accurately describes my relationship with the desert: “The wilderness once offered men a plausible way of life. Now it functions as a psychiatric refuge.” The psychiatric refuge is where my heart lays. My heart stays in the desert, because without the desolate open space there, my mind would burst amongst the speed and chaos of our daily world. As the good Doc goes on, he illuminates my greatest fears, “Soon there will be no wilderness. Soon there will be no place to go. Then the madness becomes universal. And the universe goes mad.” TMWG

Walking in Red Breaks, Harris Wash

 

For Abbey, “ Wilderness. The word itself is music. Wilderness, wilderness… We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for the profit of domination.” D.S.

The scramble for profit and domination has threatened to un-wild our wildest places for decades. Abbey faced the same hungry “developers” who seek profit in exchange for destruction that we face today. In an instant of empathy he writes, “Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehumen to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the antehuman, the other world which frightens not through danger or hostility but in something far worse – its implacable indifference.” D.S.

I cannot fathom wanting to destroy or diminish a place so perfect for fear of its contrast to our urban homes. In our age, in our situation, the desert faces mounting attacks, not just by small fries like Bishop Dudley Love. No, in the new millennium, wilderness is facing the strength and influence of those who hold legitimate power.

The Golden Cathedral

Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us – if only we were worthy of it.” D.S.

Decades have allowed the extortion of our wilderness to become more extreme. Hayduke’s grim observation of his beloved landscape mirrors the horror that continues to be committed today; “ The open desert was being scraped bare of all vegetation, all life, by giant D-9 bulldozers reminding him of the Rome plows leveling Vietnam.” It really is that gruesome, the war we are facing, war waged on the land. “Even the sky, that dome of delirious blue which he once had thought was out of reach, was becoming a dump for gaseous garbage of the copper smelters, the filth that Kennecott, Anaconda, Phelps-Dodge and American Smelting & Refining Co. were dumping through stacks into the public sky. A smudge of poisoned air overhung his homeland.” TMWG. Sound all too familiar?

Abbey fought “development” and destruction in his time with words. He urged stewardship with fantastic “fictional” stories with heroes and heroines who fearlessly faced machines with dynamite. His desert devotees fought for the desert as developers and extractors waged war. They attacked the machines of desecration with their own methods of destruction. The group of four fierce stewards caused a ruckus to be admired for generations to come.

In our age, the age of Big Brother, satellites, government monitoring our emails, text messages, and calls, the first sign of Monkey Wrench Gang sabotage would land us in jail. Is it even possible to hide amongst the rocks anymore, if they seek to find you, they will with more ease than Dudley Love and his search and rescue crew. How can we shield the precious desert from the insistent attacks?

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

We can speak. We can speak and fight the machine with their own weapons. We can infiltrate social media with evidence that our sacred public lands are the real jewels of our country. We can cause so much noise it will be impossible to ignore us and our voices will reach the capital with resounding force. Our message is clear: America is great because of our public lands, take away our public lands and America is stripped of her grandeur. She becomes an indistinguishable suburbia of asphalt, consumption, and speed.

We are the voice of the desert; we are voice of the land. We are the shields against the war waged upon our open spaces. We are the individuals who challenge the system. We are the ones who know,

“No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroy what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” D.S.

 

 

 

 

Quotations taken from Edward Abbey books:

Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang

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