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Desert Solitaire

Meaning of Life

Meaning of Life
Man Meets Nature
Arches National Park

"Away with the old, in with the new."

            In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey introduces many ideas of life and death not only in the sense of plants and animals but also that of a human nature.  The chapter entitled “The Dead Man at Grandview Point” echoes Abbey’s personal ideas of life and death.  It even provides foreshadow for Abbey’s death and burial.  Through Abbey’s account of the man’s death in this chapter, it is understandable why Abbey chose to be buried out in the desert.  “I envy him in the manner of his going: to die alone, on a rock under sun at the brink of the unknown, like a wolf, like a great bird…” (p 212).  To die alone is a scary thought to many people but to Abbey it is satisfying.  He draws an illustration of the man’s death showing the natural beauty of the events through the eyes of nature; however, the truth of the death only casts a dark shadow on what Abbey describes.  

            When Abbey died, he left instructions for how he wished his funeral to be conducted.  He speaks of mourning someone who meant anything to you, and celebrating the ones you love.  “For under the shadow of death what can be wiser than love, to make love, to make children?” (p 214).  These ideas are unheard of when it comes to death; people are no longer expected to dress in black for periods of time to show their respects, but it is believed that they should respect those who have passed on in a manner of honor.  Abbey feels there is no better way to honor the dead than with “fun for all at the funeral.”

His departure makes room for the living.  Away with the old, in with the new.  He is gone –we remain, others come.  The plow of mortality drives through the stubble, turns over rocks and sod and weeds to cover the old worn-out, the husks, shells, empty seedpods and sapless roots, clearing the field for the next crop.  A ruthless, brutal process-but clean and beautiful (p 214).

Abbey sees death as a renovation for the living.  Without the demise of those living, there will not be room or reason for new to come into the world.  Is the old saying true that when someone dies there will be someone also born?  Abbey’s thoughts seem to prove this theory.  For there to be death, there must be life, and according to Abbey for there to be life there must be death.

      What is so beautiful about the awful process of death?  Is it that death will bring new life?  Abbey wanted to be buried in the desert so that he could nourish the lands that he so loved.  The dead man died beneath the shade of a juniper tree beneath the open sky and was carried off to be buried somewhere.  Abbey speaks of the inevitability of death and the essential nature of life on earth for with a man’s death he is not weakened nor is he strengthened. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 


by Vanessa Hitchcock

“We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.”