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Chapter #368: Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 1 - September 21, 2019


"Edward Abbey & Friends" topper sign from Back of Beyond Bookstore, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Edward Abbey & Friends, University of New Mexico (1954-1955) Ch. 1

“Long live literature and reading!” – Jimbo Forrest
“I’m not afraid to die!” – Ralph Newcomb
“Sure a lot of noise here!” – Edward Abbey

Author’s Note –
In October 2008, I attended Confluence, a Celebration of Reading and Writing in Moab, Utah. As mentors and teachers, Amy Irvine, Craig Childs and Jack Loeffler represented a triumvirate of writing expertise unparalleled in the Four Corners Region. Jack makes New Mexico his home. Amy hails from Utah. Craig has Arizona, and Colorado well covered. For three days, the famous authors shepherded a group of twenty-five budding or wannabe authors through classroom and field studies.

Plush Kokopelli hides out in the back of the Back of Beyond Bookstore with Seldom Seen Smith - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Bard of Moab, twentieth century author Edward Abbey (1927-1989) was not the supposed focus of the conference. Still, the mystique of “Cactus Ed” hung heavily in Moab’s radioactive air. Craig Child’s 2008 book, “House of Rain” has received favorable contrast to Abbey’s 1968 classic, “Desert Solitaire”. Amy Irvine’s 2008 debut book, “Trespass” was then fresh on the shelves at Moab’s Back of Beyond Book Store. In her 2018 long-form essay titled  “Desert Cabal” (Torrey House 2018), Irvine took on and wrestled with the “privileged white man” legacy of one Edward Abbey.

For his part, Jack Loeffler had been the longtime best friend and chronicler of Edward Abbey’s life. In 2003, fourteen years after Abbey’s death, Loeffler published  “adventures with ED, (a portrait of Abbey)” (UNM 2003). Like ghost stories around a desert campfire, Jack Loeffler’s Confluence stories seemed to rouse the restless spirit of Edward Abbey himself. For the next three days, someone or something kept bringing the subject of Edward Abbey and his writing to the fore. Looking back, Edward Abbey figures in seventeen of my own blog articles, beginning prior to the 2008 Confluence Conference.

Aural historian and author, Jack Loeffler enters the Moab Confluence Conference in 2008 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In October 2019, eleven years after the original Confluence Conference, I will make my annual trek to Moab, mainly to attend “Book Week”, as I now call it. On October 18, both Amy Irvine and Craig Childs will participate in a panel discussion at Star Hall. On October 22, Jack Loeffler will be signing his new book, “Headed Into the Wind: A Memoir” at the famed Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab. In the spirit of their generous teaching and encouragement to write, I hope to put a copy of this brief saga in each of their hands.

Like most novice readers, I loved the “naturalist” passages in Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” (1968). The classic book tells of Abbey’s two seasons spent in the mid-1950s as a ranger at then little-known Arches National Monument. In 2018, over 1.5 million people swarmed over the now Arches National Park. Despite his cranky, bigoted, anachronistic and anarchistic tendencies, Edward Abbey did get at least one thing right. He decried the nascent destruction of wilderness and the creeping industrialization of the Desert Southwest. Now, more than thirty years after his death, rapacious development, mineral extraction and illicit off-road vehicle use have more than made their mark. They have changed, and in many cases, destroyed much of the natural landscape Abbey vainly tried to protect.

Amy Irvine, author of 'Trespass' and 'Desert Cabal' at the 2008 Confluence Conference in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Later in life, Abbey denied that he was ever was, acted, thought or wrote like a “naturalist”. In fact, he decried the characterization. He did not deny being a naturist and an anarchist. In 2010, I read Abbey’s most famous novel, “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, for the first time. That was thirty-five years after its original publication. At that time, I accepted its “radical eco-manifesto vibe” as a reflection of the writer and the 20th century, in which he lived. According to my beliefs, consciousness is everlasting, but orneriness in all of its human manifestations is not. The Edward Abbey we knew in life or from his many books is not the beneficent spirit of Moab Abbey we might encounter today.

Over the years, I have read many, but not all of Edward Abbey’s novels and essays. Reflective of his times, his characters often bear an overtly strong resemblance to the man, himself or to his few stalwart friends. By his own admission, Abbey rather “missed it” on the fictional part. This was especially true of the few female characters that he included. Ed may have incorporated them as homage or an apology for his real life interactions with the opposite sex.

In his later books, much of Abbey’s rhetoric stemmed from the fraught environmental politics of the 1970s. Repeatedly, Abbey assailed corporate greed and complicit government in their assault on the natural environment. As he predicted, that unholy alliance has only accelerated the destruction of public lands since his death. Often, Abbey’s polemics were thinly disguised appeals for active “monkey wrenching” of any machinery, infrastructure or development he disagreed with.

Author and environmentalist Craig Childs signing books in 2012 at Star Hall, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Edward Abbey hated reviewers, but always read his own reviews. If he is reading this review, it is from the “Far Side”, I hope he will forgive me my peccadilloes, as I forgive him for using almost every word in his vast vocabulary somewhere in his writing. To read Abbey thoroughly, one needs a dictionary and a thesaurus nearby.

OK. That is it for criticism. Now for the story…





Our Cast of Characters:
• Edward Abbey (1927-89), author, essayist, radical environmentalist.
• Jim “Jimbo” Forrest (1932-present), teacher, radio/TV announcer, photographer.
• Ralph W. Newcomb (1925-2011) cowboy, bronco rider, artist, sculptor.
• Malcolm Brown (1925-2003) artist, sculptor, architect, landscape artist.
• Amy Irvine (1953-present) author, feminist, iconoclast, environmentalist.
• Craig Childs (1967-present) author, naturalist, environmentalist.
• John “Jack” Loeffler Jr. (1936-present), aural historian, jazz musician, biographer.
• Kirk Douglas (1916-present) actor, filmmaker, author.
• Edward Lewis (1919-2019) film producer (Lonely are the Brave 1962).
• Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976), blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter (Lonely are the Brave 1962).
Jim McGillis (1948-present) teacher, writer, photographer (“Author” of this chronicle).

Author’s Note –
Jim (Jimbo) Forrest with his two sisters, Cheri and Martie and his 1929 Model-A Ford pictured in 1948 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Jim Forrest (now Jimbo to me), first met Edward Abbey in 1954, when Jimbo was twenty-two and Ed was a war (and peace) weary World War II veteran, twenty-seven years old. By fate alone, both men had enrolled as graduate students in philosophy at the University of New Mexico (UNM), in Albuquerque. In fact, they were the only two graduate students of philosophy attending UNM that year.

Edward Abbey has been gone from this Earth since March 1989. Jimbo Forrest is alive and well, now living in Southern California. Jimbo recently reconnected with Edward Abbey, the author. Via an internet search, he also discovered my internet ramblings about Edward Abbey, and thus connected with me. From here on out, this will be Jimbo and Ed’s story, with occasional help from their “crazy friend”, Ralph Newcomb. I am just the auto-didactic who types the words.

Jimbo Forrest -
In 1954, Jimbo Forrest traveled Old Route 66 from California to the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“I am Jim Forrest. When I was sixteen, in 1948, I worked in a “malt shop” in LA, and got 50c/hour. I managed to get in 40-hours, by working on Saturdays. After working five weeks, I had $100, and bought a 1929 Model-A Ford. They told me that the car was older than I was. (So were my parents.) It was a good car. Let me pause here and see if I can find that photo.

I graduated from San Jose State College in June 1954. I spent the summer working at the American Can Company at night, taking a couple more courses, and then working at a used car lot during the day. In September of 1954, I drove my 1947 Plymouth (which I bought from the car lot where I worked) to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I found a cheap, old, small apartment on Edith Street, at the bottom of the hill leading up to the University of New Mexico. It was good exercise pedaling up the hill every morning on my bike, sometimes through the snow.

Dust jacket photo of the Jack Loeffler book, 'adventures with ED, A Portrait of Abbey' - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Why am I writing this now? I met Ed Abbey in 1954. After 1956, I never read even one of his books until 2019. Recently, for reasons unknown, I ordered Jack Loeffler’s book, “adventures with ED, (a portrait of Abbey)”. Many things in those first pages reminded me of Ed. There were the classes we took, the people we knew, and the adventures we shared, I started wondering who the author, Jack Loeffler really was.

He describes so many things about Ed, including our mutual friends and the places we went. I do not remember ever hearing about Jack Loeffler, much less meeting him. Jack must have had a photographic memory, or maybe he took copious notes each time the two met. I doubt this, as Jack writes about the enormous amount of beer they both would consume during their many adventures.

In Loeffler’s book, there are several pages of photos of Ed, his family and his friends. There is a copy of a theater poster for the movie, “Lonely are the Brave”. When I first met Ed, he was beginning to write his 1956 novel, “The Brave Cowboy”, which later became that movie. When Ed and I first met in 1954, he had a manuscript with him, made up of the yellow 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper that we all used in our typewriters for its cheapness. I remember Ed, clutching that sheaf of paper telling me all about Ralph Newcomb and the Albuquerque Jail Episode”.


The inimitable and ineffable Ralph Newcomb, playing guitar at a UNM beer party in Albuquerque, New Mexico 1954 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Author’s Note –
According to legend, Edward Abbey, after being arrested in Albuquerque for an unknown offense, landed in the Bernalillo County Jail. There he met a somewhat frequent resident of the jail, Ralph Newcomb. Although neither man broke out of jail that night, Ralph became the inspiration for Jack Burns, the protagonist of Abbey’s 1956 novel, “The Brave Cowboy”. In the novel, protagonist Jack Burns commits a crime and lands in jail, with intentions of helping a friend already incarcerated there. Upon discovering that he faces a long prison sentence, Jack breaks out jail. From there, he saddles his trusty horse and goes on the lam, heading for potential freedom in Mexico.

Jimbo Forrest –
“Visions are going through my head (but not of sugar plum fairies or the like) of experiences in New Mexico from 1954 to 1963. I’m wondering where to start. In Jack Loeffler’s 2002 book, adventures with ED (a portrait of Abbey), there is a photo section. On the second page of pictures, there is a photo of three men standing under a leafless tree (Albuquerque can get very cold in the winter, as I discovered). From left to right, wearing jackets: Julian (Jerry) Palley, Prof. Alfredo Roggiano, and Ed Abbey.

From left to right, Julian Palley, Prof. Alfredo Roggiano and Edward Abbey in January 1955 at the University of New Mexico, taken by Jim Forrest - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In January 1955, I took that photograph. Then, I handed my camera to Jerry, and he took a similar photo, but with me on the left. Each of these three men helped me learn more about life than I was to learn in the philosophy classes I was taking. Jerry Palley was a graduate student and instructor in the language department. He later became a professor at the newly formed University of California at Irvine. Dr. Alfredo Roggiano, from Argentina, came to Albuquerque as a visiting professor of Spanish literature. On the right is Ed, later known worldwide as the author of many essays and novels.

I have no idea where Jack Loeffler got that picture. Maybe I gave Ed a copy after I had the film developed. As mentioned earlier, I handed my camera to Jerry, and he took the second picture. In the second photo, I’m the one on the left. Juxtaposing those photos brings back memories of the experiences, thoughts, and adventures I had concerning Ed during my years in The Land of Enchantment.

The above is an explanation of how I came to Albuquerque. I’d like to continue with a mention of our mutual philosophy instructor, Archie Bahm, and our relation to him, and to each other. After that, I will tell when, where and why Ed and I slept together.”


End Part One - To read Part Two, Click HERE.

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