March 6, 2012
Advertised as "R. Crumb meets the Monkey Wrench Gang: Edward Abbey and the Modern Environmental Movement from Earth First! to Tim DeChristopher," this particular Ken Sanders-inspired gathering of redrock-hugging eco-warriors and climate-justice activists proved entirely too alluring to pass up.
Just a glance around the Gould auditorium of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah and you could easily spot many of the usual suspects with a history of environmental activism in the long-ongoing war to keep the most pristine of western lands in the hands of the people rather than those of the resource-extractive corporations and their wholly-owned politicians.
An equally important sidebar to the day and the reason the tribe came to powwow among the hallowed halls of academia had to do with the recent, highly-impressive, donation of Edward Abbey first editions and assorted other materials to the Marriott Library by San Francisco book collector Eric Hvolboll.
Coupling the opening of the resultant rare-book exhibit, entitled "Brave Cowboy: An Edward Abbey Retrospective," with Sanders’ profound yet often hilarious anecdotes brought forth both roaring and contemplative reactions from the standing room only crowd. Ken, as always, serves as vortex-manager for our radically-dissident tendencies.
And it’s not any great stretch to see his energies reaching out to encourage the youth component of the movement in their attempts to right spaceship earth before it’s too late for them to live out their days on a planet not totally sold down the road by their elders. Good luck, there!
Ken, who runs both Ken Sanders Rare Books and Dreamgarden Press out of his spectacularly-singular 2d East location in downtown " Great Salt Lake City," had published Abbey’s now-fabled 10th-anniversary edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang, which gained cachet and notoriety with its accompanying illustrations by famed ’60s cartoonist Robert Crumb.
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Which brings us to Tim DeChristopher who now resides in federal prison for acting upon his realization that, if any real change were to be effected within the environmental movement, monkey wrenching as we have known it would need to undergo a quantum leap.
When Tim infiltrated the opposition and found himself as "bidder 70" in an auction of oil leases on public lands and then went on to actually win a few of the leases in order to stop the government’s "giveaway" of same, it was a total game changer. He understood that the chances of him doing hard time in a federal joint were rather high.
No longer could activists who had heretofore only burned down billboards or sabotaged bulldozers continue to fool themselves into thinking that those actions would prove anything more than a speed-bump to a government and energy industry set on raping and pillaging the land for profit. Not that the Hayduke vibe doesn’t have its place.
Protesters would have to put their bodies and freedom where there mouths were if meaningful changes were gonna come. The mindset would have to be like that of the "Freedom Riders" who 50-years ago, by filling one bus after another, traveled to their impending arrests in Jackson, Mississippi in an attempt to fill "Parchman Farm" prison to overflow in order to make their point.
So, by utilizing a bit of ingenuity and incorporating Abbey, DeChristopher, and Crumb into the title of his presentation, the desired effect of attracting a wider demographic of activists than usual seems to have worked its magic. At least three generations crowded the auditorium to reflect in the aura of Ken Sanders and Edward Abbey.
Not that the recent antics of Republican lawmakers in the Utah legislature didn’t also have a galvanizing effect. Nothing rallies wilderness devotees like a bunch of land grabbers who really believe that God grants them custody of an earth that, by divine decree, is theirs to plunder as they see fit.
Browsing the library’s recently acquired Abbey rare book exhibit provides an immediate time-traveler sensibility to the long-time reader and, for those new to his creatively cantankerous canon, an eye-opening glimpse of the sheer breadth of his non-fiction and novels alike. Ornery has never looked better.
Although it was from his prose that the redrock renaissance emerged, Abbey knew that words wouldn’t be enough. Or as he himself put it: "The artist’s job? To be a miracle worker: to make the blind see, the dull feel, and the dead to live."
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.