It is not death or dying that is tragic, but rather to have existed without fully participating in life-that is the deepest personal tragedy.
~ Edward Abbey
Today is the 32nd anniversary of the passing of Edward Abbey. In my book, More Than a Rock, I mention the role that Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire played in my life—in no small part, the reason I am here today, having found a home (in every sense of the word) living in this beautiful desert.
A recent conversation with a friend while camping in the desert, reminded me specifically of the moment Abbey’s words entered my consciousness. As a conscripted soldier in another life, books helped me maintain my sanity, giving me a more worthwhile use for each passing moment than whatever duty I was assigned. This is how Desert Solitaire came into my life—by accident. I happened to have picked it from a stack of used books because it had the word “desert” in it. I have always loved deserts even when I did not live in one.
I didn’t know anything about the man who wrote the book. At that time I have never been to the United States, could not have found the state of Utah on a map, and the only place I knew named Moab was the original biblical Moab (ironically, not too far from where I was when I first opened the book).
That night, shortly after 2am, alone on a guard tower watching over an ammunition bunker, I opened the book. I read the first sentence and stopped. I set the book down to fully savor and assimilate the shock of the words: “This is the most beautiful place on earth.”
There was little in my life then I considered beautiful. During my time in uniform I often wondered if whatever life I was destined for was even worth enduring. About the closest thing I could feel then that resembled hope was the knowledge that I was still young, that my “service” would soon be over, and that if I survived it there was at least the chance that I, too, may someday find a place, and a life, I might consider beautiful.
So, thank you, Ed. And I agree: this is the most beautiful place on earth.