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
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.”)