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I Woke Up Thinking of an Edward Abbey Quote

July 20, 2014

Sometimes I wake up with a song in my head. This morning I woke up trying to remember a quote about dying of thirst in the desert, looking to the sky and contemplating your fate as the buzzards begin to circle. I thought it was from Edward Abbey.

Abbey, that classic crank, could turn a phrase that was simultaneously beautiful and a thumb right in the eye. Doing a little reading today, I came across this nice essay from Jim Stiles, a friend of Abbey’s.

I’ve been tooling around with a novel for years, searching for a model for the narrator’s Uncle Samuel. I think I’ve got him in Abbey.

This afternoon, I finally found the quote about the buzzards. It’s in Desert Solitaire. After rejecting the conventional wisdom that one can survive in the desert by cutting open barrel cacti, which supposedly hold water inside, Abbey says that the sweat you would expel trying to squeeze “a few drops of bitter liquid” from the soft pulp of the cactus “will cost you dearly.” He continues:

When you reach this point, you are doomed. Far better to have stayed at home with the TV and a case of beer. If the happy thought arrives too late, crawl into the shade and contemplate the lonely sky. See those big black scrawny wings far above, waiting? Comfort yourself with the reflection that within a few hours, if all goes as planned, your human flesh will be working its way through the gizzard of a buzzard, your essence transfigured into the fierce greedy eyes and unimaginable consciousness of a turkey vulture. Whereupon you, too, will soar on motionless wings high over the ruck and rack of human suffering. For most of us a promotion in grade, for some the realization of an ideal.

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