My Dinner with Ed Abbey, or, How to Blow Up a Dinner Party

Edward Abbey in 1987. Photo: LA Times/Getty

One of the guests had a first edition that I could see had passages underlined on many pages, and he knew some of them by heart. He wondered if Ed could expand on his idea that There are no vacant lots in nature. Better yet, could Ed tell the table what he was thinking when he first saw the flaming globe, blazing on the pinnacles and minarets and balanced rocks. It was impressive, but Ed just shrugged and said, yes, that’s what he had written. Someone else suggested that Ed had become a “philosopher of nature,” but it was clear to me when I caught his eye that Ed wasn’t feeling very philosophical.

Finally, in response to an achingly long question about the importance of saving the beauty of the desert canyons, Ed asked about what he had heard to be excessive drinking, drug use and sexual promiscuity among the Buddhists at their nearby Naropa Institute. It was a question to silence any dinner party, especially one with Naropa connections to some of the guests. But then, as several people finally pointed out in a low-key but surprisingly aggressive chorus, there really wasn’t much to all those rumors. The young Buddhist in the hiking boots said he could vouch for that, but his voice broke when he tried to say something about being misunderstood himself.

“Well, then, just kidding,” Ed said, to everyone’s relief, but he was not smiling.

Read the excerpt in Outside magazine.