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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

Most of my wandering in the desert I've done alone. Not so much from choice as from necessity—I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others...

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Most of my wandering in the desert I've done alone. Not so much from choice as from necessity—I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.

As the title of his book indicates, Abbey is drawn to the desert as a place of solitude. Part of the attraction of the southwest wilderness for Abbey is its indifference to the humankind, its ability to endure on its own in stoic strength despite what people do. In contrast to a relentlessly social and noise-filled society that shouts constantly of its own importance, the desert offers a countercultural alternative. Listen in the above passage to the echoes of Thoreau's Walden; like Thoreau, Abbey explains why he has spent so much time alone in a wilderness setting. If Thoreau goes to Walden Pond from choice, to confront life, and to feel he has truly lived before he dies, Abbey insists his journey is from necessity—he doesn't seek solitude so much as an experience of nature that requires solitude. As some critics have noted, too, there is irony in the way Abbey's eloquence about solitude has brought ever more crowds to his southwest deserts.

If industrial man continues to multiply his numbers and expand his operations he will succeed in his apparent intention, to seal himself off from the natural and isolate himself within a synthetic prison of his own making.

If Abbey's book is a song in praise of the natural world as he experiences it in the desert—stark, raw, and vital—the enemy to the desert is the industrial world "man" has built. Abbey is unabashed in establishing his binary: nature good (even when violent and tooth and claw); industrial society bad. We reclaim ourselves as we return to nature.

Late in August the lure of the mountains becomes irresistible. Seared by the everlasting sunfire, I want to see running water again, embrace a pine tree, cut my initials in the bark of an aspen, get bit by a mosquito, see a mountain bluebird, find a big blue columbine, get lost in the firs . . .

Beyond being an argument, sometimes angry, against industrial society, Abbey's book celebrates the joy he experiences in nature and the sheer beauty of nature in the desert. The above passage shows his love of nature for itself. Much of what make the book compelling is not its argument but its passages about the loveliness of the natural world. Note, too, however, in this book published half a century ago, his desire to leave his mark in the tree bark—an urge which might be condemned today.

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