When I am asked what we like to publish at THP I often respond I am looking for the next Edward Abbey. I was in college in the 1970’s at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City when I first read The Monkey Wrench Gang. It didn’t make me want to go out and blow up a dam but it was probably the first time I thought about Glen Canyon drowning and that there might be a downside to that huge reservoir in such a beautiful place. Much later I read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear and I had the idea of starting Torrey House Press. Crichton was simply using his ability to write a page turner and using it as a platform to deny man made climate change. Why couldn’t we use the same device to help promote the natural conservation values of the fragile Colorado Plateau? Like Ed Abbey did?
And man, did Abbey ever create a page turner that took us on an intimate tour of the Colorado Plateau in what the National Observer called a “sad, hilarious, exuberant, vulgar fairy tale.” A beautiful woman from New York, a Vietnam vet from New Mexico, an aging surgeon from Albuquerque, and a Jack Mormon polygamist from Utah team up on a river trip with a vague goal to one day blow up the Glen Canyon Dam, using “three jumbo sized houseboats and some dolphins . . .” They decide they need to learn the anarchy trade as they go and set out pell mell wrecking heavy earthmoving machinery, trains and bridges as they come across them all while evading the San Juan County Search and Rescue volunteers. It’s the Keystone Cops chasing The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight. While caught up in the conflict and waiting to see what comes next we are introduced to the two polar sides in the story, the rural locals who are there to extract from the land whatever they can think to take as their God given right, and the radical environmentalist set on stopping the desecration of land they consider sacred, no matter what the means. No one in the story escapes Abbey’s sarcasm and humor, not the ranchers exposed for their greed and hypocritical sense of personal entitlement to public land, and not the anarchists, bumbling, cursing, getting in each other’s way, loving each other and always paranoid of each other. Only the land comes out on top and in a way that can only be described by someone, like Abbey, who is an expert in it and has spent serious time there, out of his car and in the canyons. I liked a passage that is set on familiar ground to us at Torrey House Press just east and south of Torrey.
From Back to Work, Chapter 11
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey
It seemed wiser to leave Utah for a while. When Smith had completed his Henry Mountain trip, he and Hay-duke sped west by night from Hanksville, around the west side of the mountains, and south down a dirt road along the Waterpocket Fold. Nobody lives there. They reached Burr Pass and climbed the switchbacks, fifteen hundred feet, to the top of the Fold. Halfway to the summit they found a defenseless Highway Dept Bulldozer, Cat D-7, parked on the shoulder of the road. They paused for rest and refreshment.
It only took a few minutes. The work was developing into a smooth routine. While Smith stood watch from the top of the hill, Hayduke performed the drill perfected in Comb Wash, adding a last step: Siphon fuel from fuel tank into can; pour fuel over engine block, track carriage and operator’s compartment; set machine on fire.
Smith didn’t entirely approve of the last step. “That there’s just likely to catch the eye of some sonofabitch up in the sky in an airyplane,” he complained.
He looked up; the kindly stars looked down. One space capsule jam-packed with astronauts and other filler material glided across the field of stars, entered earth’s shadow and disappeared. One TWA jetliner at 29,000 feet, L.A. to Chicago, passed across the southern sky, visible only by its running/lights. No one else was mucking about this time of night. The nearest town was Boulder, Utah, pop. 150, thirty-five miles to the west Nobody lived any nearer.
“Besides,” Smith went on, “it don’t do much good. All you’re doing is burning the paint off.”
“Well, shit,” Hayduke gasped, too winded for debate. “Shit . . . whew! … I just like … bah! … to sort of … hah! . . . clean things up good.” The pyromaniac.
From within the fiery glow of the dying machine, a terminal case, came the muffled report of a small explosion. Followed by another. A fountain of sparks and gobs of burning grease lofted into the night.
Smith shrugged, “Let’s get out of here.”
They passed through the village of Boulder in the middle of the night. Sleepers stirred at the sound of the truck but no one saw them. They turned south and followed the ridge road between forks of the Escalante River, dropped down into the canyon, up the yonder side, among the pale domes—hundreds of feet high—of cross-bedded sandstone. The ancient dunes that turned to rock some years previous. Five miles east of the town of Escalante, Smith hung a left onto the Hole-in-the-Rock road. . “Where we going?”
“A shortcut to Glen Canyon City. We’re gonna go up over the middle of the Kaiparowits Plateau.”
“I didn’t know there was any road up there.”
“You might call it that.”
The lights of drill-rig towers glimmered in the distance, far off across the uninhabited immensities of the Escalante benchlands. They passed, from time to time, familiar names on little metal signs at turnoffs along the road: Conoco, Arco, Texaco, Gulf, Exxon, Cities Service.
“The bastards are everywhere,” Hayduke grumbled. “Let’s go get those rigs.”
“There’s men out there a-workin’. Out there in the cold at four in the morning slaving away to provide us with oil and gas for this here truck so we can help sabotage the world planetary maggot-machine. Show a little gratitude.”
The light of dawn found them rolling southeast under the facade of the Fifty Mile Cliffs. Hole-in-the-Rock was a dead end (for motor vehicles) but their route lay another way up a connecting jeep trail over the plateau.
Hayduke spotted geophones along the road. “Stop!”
Smith stopped Hayduke jumped out and tore the nearest geophone out of the dirt along with the cable that connected ft to a series. Geophones mean seismic exploration, the search for mineral deposits by means of analysis of vibrations created by explosive charges set off in the bottom of drill holes. Hayduke wrapped a loop of the cable around the rear bumper of the truck and got back in the cab. .
“Okay.” He opened a beer. “Christ, I’m hungry.”
Smith drove forward. Behind them, as the cable tightened, the geophones began popping from the ground and scuttling along behind the truck, dancing in the dust. Dozens of them, expensive little instruments, ripped untimely from the earth. As they proceeded the truck yanked still more out of the ground—the whole lot.
“Soon as the sun comes up,” Smith promised, “we’ll fix some breakfast. Soon as we get out of the open and up in the woods.”