Saturday, December 5, 2015


Says the voice of Edward Abbey playing on a compact disk yesterday evening:  Perhaps the severest test of a marriage is to assign a man and a woman to a fire lookout.  

It's an interesting enough idea, two people, alone and together, day in, day out, accepting and welcoming of each other, a nation of two.

The writer tells about living alone in a 60-foot fire lookout tower deep in a forest on the remote North Rim of the Grand Canyon,* far from "the traveling American public."

It would seem unlikely that the eminently permissive Ed Abbey would find any snuggle-worthy warm body in the vicinity of his lookout-keeper's cabin; but, improbably enough, the unreasonable universe brought the self-proclaimed sexual pervert an educated, high-spirited woman with a sense of humor.  His Bonnie H. was a park ranger who made sweet summers together with him before "the deepest grief of [his] life" set in.  Abbey and his nervous system fell in love with her.

Who knows what Bonnie H. actually kept of Ed Abbey in her own heart-mind after moving back to her home state of California, far from the wood smoke and the calls of the hermit thrush.**  Abbey writes that she married a man with all the fixings, a man who was "not a fire lookout, not by a long shot."  Stating this, his voice sounds perhaps a note of contempt and stubbornness.  

A "fingernail moon"
Writer-persons, go the wisdom, can be difficult candidates for intimate pair bonding.  The North Rim lookout and its keeper (or "operator"), I'd like to imagine, did not make the necessary impression upon Bonnie at that moment in time.  If she had then possessed a greater amount of Inner Ed, she may have carried his Utopian heart with her for a while longer, and possibly until her or his expiration somewhere in the canyon country. Bonnie may have not been ripe for that attachment.

It would have to be a story on a different CD set which tells the tale of a different Bonnie—call her Bonnie the Second—whose sea change begins while she mentally replays her years as a young city girl afraid of fires and spending many childhood night minutes arranging her bathroom and slippers (to facilitate escape).  

The different story would tell of Bonnie's many-years endurance of her gross error in lifetime judgment and her awakening.  It would tell of how she loves her own version of Ed Abbey—his name is James Walsh—and then sets out to find him again years later, believing that it is her fate to stake her claim to him. By this time Walsh is married with children.

Bonnie is unswerving.  For an unreasonable number of years, she played her California role impeccably, all the while knowingly and unknowingly carrying (eecummingsly) James deep in her under-mind and mind-heart.  Then she realized that she was stubborn as a Utopian writer-person, after all.

Driving along Highway 145 and listening to KSUT announcers deliver the blood-soaked news in soothing professional tones, Bonnie thinks about how she married the man with all the fixings because he and his family supported her false selves; in his presence she felt secure.  She was secure; he had money.  He was practical and she was not.  However, she rarely felt alive; mostly she was dying a life, day by day. Driving in the car, she wishes James were in the front seat with her to discuss the so-called news. 

Is it worth it to feel alive once again? she wonders. Travelling solo in all senses of the word, she feels vulnerable and threatened, but it's not an entirely unwelcome feeling.  [Cliché Alert] The heart wants what it wants. 

There came a moment in California when there was simply no where else to go.  Getting a purchase on reality meant acknowledging that there were only two nations remaining in the world:  where James Walsh lived and everywhere else.  She needed to be next to him, to talk with him.  She packed her belongings and left.

When Bonnie locates Walsh in a volunteer fire department in the West, a thousand fears bloom anew.  She feels as if the traveling American public can see, at a clicking glance, thoughts broadcast on the screen of her forehead, about how her husband made her feel secure and how James Walsh made her feel capable, adequate, and her Best Self.


She is also irrationally afraid that a bear or a mountain lion will eat her before she can speak alone with James.

Yes, her quest is foolhardy; but hey: so is storming a castle gate guarded by sixty men.  Movie logic wins the day.

Walsh does not know Bonnie is trying to make contact with him, but seemingly everybody else does. His wife, their children, his wife's family, his fellow fire fighters, the small-town neighbors intercept Bonnie's letters and phone calls. To them Bonnie is a city strumpet, a growth maniac, cold to the bone, and much too pretty. She also seems far too expensive to be worth the man's time.

The story takes its final turn when the unreasonable universe brings James and Bonnie together again. They spend their first two hours holding hands and listening to songs spun on an old record player from James's father's house.  Bonnie allows herself to smile but no longer to laugh (the years of falseness have exacted their price). 

Walsh is a bit flattered and a bit skeptical she has come back to him, since this is something that happens mainly in film treatments and sappy pop songs.

He is amused she still subscribes to what they shared. They talk and talk and drink whiskey flavored with juniper syrup.  The words they recall saying to each other from summers past are considered as music selections, not verbal weapons.  Bonnie the Second tells James Walsh the falsehood stories, which alleviate some of his grief over losing her.  He tells her his stories. They talk about their spouses, his family.  They publish none of it on social media.

Bonnie's small ears hear James Walsh say, "I see who you are," and because Walsh actually means what he says, his trust in her uncovers once and for all her almost-suffocated Best Self.  It is still whole and readable, a codex that can be cracked, after all.

Schmaltzy but true.

Paradox Valley

And now: to re-enter reality.

I'm reading the Harriet Fish Backus memoir Tomboy Bride, and so must consider whether a greater test than the fire lookout wouldn't perhaps be a year-round life in a mining manager's cabin above Telluride, Colorado, in the year 1906.

What sports these mining people were.  Gales, slides, ice, frostbite, lack of roughage, few neighbors, overworked horses and mules, many miners, and snow, snow, snow.  Also: explosives.

Newlywed Backus self-reportedly takes in stride everything about her mountain redoubt except perhaps the altitude problems.  She cannot cook properly, since heat at 11,800 feet has a mind of its own.  For example, the boiled eggs remain frozen.  Backus also serves a business dinner disaster involving rancid turkey.  Cakes, too, confound. 

She writes:  At home in California I had made delicious cakes and decided to use one of my mother's recipes.  I mixed the batter with great care and put it in the oven for the required time to bake. The result—it remained battery!

Until now, I've not read or heard of battery being used as an adjective.  How strange for the word to simultaneously conjure thoughts of assault, electricity, and uncooked baked goods.  How odd its spelling is not batter-y.

Bridal Veil Falls, in Telluride

*   [Author's note: Originally this post situated the North Rim Lookout on the rim of the Colorado Plateau, not the rim of Grand Canyon. This may make some sense but not really.  After a tutorial at Outdoor Pursuits, I have corrected the error.]

** [Author's second note:  Beyond Abbey's story on the CD, which is titled "Fire Lookout" (from Abbey's Road), I have no idea about the relation between him and Bonnie H.   Obviously.]