Where Is Edward Abbey?
The search for an environmental hero's final resting place
Toward the end of his meditative quest tale/memoir, Finding Abbey: The Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave (UNM Press; paperback; $21.95), Sean Prentiss makes a particularly telling remark. “There is only so much of a burial story that can be told at one time. These stories must be told slowly and at the correct time.” It's a good way to summarize the author's whole measured approach.
At the age of 39, Prentiss set out to find the secret desert grave of Edward Abbey, the anarchic environmentalist, UNM alumnus and author of more than 20 books including The Monkey Wrench Gang. When Abbey died in 1989, his friends laid his body to rest somewhere in the desert around Tucson, Ariz. Illegally, of course. “We know when Abbey died,” explains Prentiss. “We know where he died. We know how he died. But no one but those closest to Abbey know where he is buried.”
But something in him needed to unshroud the mystery. “This journey is … because a person like me, who has been sated on the wrong kinds of food (security and home ownership and a steady paycheck in the city), becomes hungry for something nourishing, something healthy, something real. Or maybe we are pulled by mystery like we are pulled by wilderness—that desire to enter self-willed lands.”
Prentiss' story begins its unfolding in Home, Penn., Abbey's home town, but wanders mightily. Layer by layer, even as he's outwardly searching, interviewing, hiking and camping, the significance of Abbey in Prentiss' own life is revealed through precise but emotional prose. The effect is both grounding and electrifying.