CHURCH OF TWAIN: Rev. Abbey visits St. Mark’s Cathedral

  Imagine my surprise to awaken Sunday morning and find St. Mark of Missouri away on business and replaced by a bearded, unkempt fellow in a floppy, broad-brimmed hat. He called himself the Rev. Ed Abbey of Wolf Hole, Ariz.

  The Reverend started his sermon with a few bawdy stories no doubt cribbed somewhere between Chaucer and Balzac, but each featured a desert setting. I began to understand it was that sense of place that would provide the lesson.

  He waxed unkind about desert development.

  The Reverend said of all the dangerous deserts of America, “And which of these deserts is the worst? I find it hard to judge. They are all bad — not half bad but all bad. In the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix will get you if the sun, snakes, bugs, and anthropods don’t. In the Mojave Desert, it’s Las Vegas, more sickening by far than the Glauber’s salt in the Death Valley sinkholes. Go to Chihuahua and you’re liable to get busted in El Paso and sandbagged in Ciudad Juarez — where all old whores go to die. Up north in the Great Basin Desert, on the Plateau Province, in the canyon country, your heart will break, seeing the strip mines open up and the power plants rise where only cowboys and Indians and J. Wesley Powell ever roamed before.”

  With this, several of the occasional parishioners rose and harrumphed out of church without finishing their beer. Their disgust with the visiting reverend was palpable.

  Which, I suppose, is just the way he liked it.

  (Excerpt is from Abbey’s “The Great American Desert” and collected in “The Journey Home.”)