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.”
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).
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