“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Location: SF Bay Area, work
Working in retail I am surrounded daily by people who have a drive to rush for their purchases, complain about the substandards of my working environment and assume I am another robot drone there for a paycheck ready to do my part of buying into the concept of more acquisitions as they are. The clientele often compare the company to other places and how the experience is not up to their snobby standards.
I hear a variety of self righteous lines:
“I can buy this book cheaper online.” :Usually a ploy to get me to change the price of the book in store.
“I don’t usually shop at corporations, I prefer to shop local. I happen to be here today, so I am willing to spend the money.”: After I ask if they want to join a member program and they want to make me feel bad about doing my job.
“What do you mean you do not have this book? I need it by tomorrow! I will just have to go else where.” : The threat that I am, in fact, hiding the book they want somewhere in the store and am withholding it for a game of hide and seek.
“Are you sure you don’t have it in the back?”: The client assumes I have a cave of wonders style stock room
That is not to say that everyone who walks through the doors of my store demeans me. I have had pleasant experiences with people. However, it is the busy days when the masses are in a rush and they seem blinded to everyone around them that I crave nature. The raw deals consume them and with a placated smile I ask the questions I am programmed with, “Do you want to buy a gift card? What is your email for coupons and updates? Did you know that you could save 10% on that book by switching your car insurance?” I have difficultly being human on these days.
The memories of the desert, the waste land to some seem so far away as I am locked in a battle to help people find their specific item and bring myself home to the mountains rising in the Eastern Sierras down, sloping through to the blanketed hot peaks of the Alabama Hills, registering the gasping streaks of sun that last on the eye.
In one the slow early mornings, just as the bustle of birds fleeing from the honking street traffic had begun to sing, I had a customer approach my counter. With two books already in his hand I assumed he was ready to check out.
“I can get you at this register.” I said slowly as I walked to my register preparing for the transaction, the automatic responses already underway.
“Oh, I’m not ready.” He was an older gentleman with a sharp smile, “I actually needed help finding a particular author.”
“I apologise let me call someone up to help you with that and when you are ready to pay I can assist you.” I picked up the phone to call Roulette to assist him.
“If you can point me in the direction. It’s no problem. I am looking for where you might have Edward Abbey.” The works flowed from his lips.
I immediately slammed the phone down. “You are shitting me, right?”
He stared at me, stunned, “No…I’d like to know where his books would be—”
“Seriously, You’re kidding me, right?!” I laughed, the programmed vernacular melting away.
By my register I have a copy of my favorite book, Desert Solitaire, by Abbey, himself. He was the author who spoke to me as I began this journey of writing and breaching into the grasps of wilderness culture. And of all the bookstores in all of the town of all the world this guy walks into mine and asks about Edward Abbey.
“This really must be the universe messing with me.” I laughed as I looked at him.
He looked at me and then noticed the copy of Desert Solitaire sitting on my counter. Then the light bulb finally clicked on.
“Oh, you are a fan. My name is Steve.” He started to laugh.
Introducting myself I finally managed to ask him, “So exactly which book are you looking for?” At this point I didn’t really care that it was not my job to help Steve find a book. I was eager to speak on volumes to him about Edward Abbey.
“I read Desert Solitaire about a month ago and was just mesmerized by his stories. His life. He had such a ferocious way describing his ventures and views. Not caring about what other would think, he just spoke as is was.” He placed his hand on his cheek, “There was one where he was rafting down river and I had just come back from a trip and it really just…stuck with me.” Steve smiled remembering his own adventures.
“Abbey does that. His words are an explosive concophany of experiences and each reader, no matter where they are in their life, will gain something. My belief anyway. Because of his influence I have gone on my own journey of travel and writing. I have been many places, but none as the first epic escape I took three years ago with Arizona.” I paused remembering my own start. “But, in answer to your question I actually don’t have a lot of his books in stock. Most of them are out of print or difficult to get from the warehouse. The only two I can always guarantee are Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang.”
“Oh! What’s that one?
“That is one of his fictional works which actually was the drive to create the conservationist group Earth First.”
“That’s the one about the damn?”
“I’ll take it!”
“I sold my only copy a few days ago.”
He looked at me sadly.
“However, I can easily order it for you and if you are open to a book on Abbey I reccommend All the Wild That Remains by David Gessner. It’s a book on Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. Both Truly amazing authors and naturalists.”
He nodded with a smile as I called Roulette to see if she could show Steve the nature writing section.
He returned within a few minutes ordering The Monkey Wrench Gang and buying All the Wild that Remains.
“What is the greatest thing you have learned since you have started exploring the wilderness on your trips?” Steve asked me as I handed him his bag.
I paused a moment,”Two things: Never take a blow dryer into the woods. What I learned about two years ago on my first real camping trip.” We both laughed, “And take each moment at a time. Things will never wind up the way you plan it. So why worry? Go with the flow on travels.”
Steve nodded, “I’ll see you again in a few days.” And he waltzed out the door, into the busy world reminding me that I still carry my vision each day even on Abbey’s Road.