Chapter #371: Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 4 - September 23, 2019

From left to right, Jim (Jimbo) Forrest, Prof. Alfredo Roggiano, Edward Abbey at the UNM Campus, January 1955 - Photo Credit Julian Palley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Edward Abbey & Friends, University of New Mexico (1956-1957) Ch. 4

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

Jimbo Forrest –
“When I knew Ed Abbey, talked with him, walked with him, and drank with him, he didn’t talk very much. He was always listening, I was sure, and thinking, but I cannot remember really having a conversation with him. Reading Jack Loeffler’s book “adventures with Ed (a portrait of Abbey)”, I can see that Ed was a serious introvert, and a very shy, deep thinker. (By contrast, I have been a talker, teacher, radio announcer, TV newscaster, narrator, master of ceremonies, interpreter [Spanish-English], etc.) Ed was tall. I short. As the only two graduate students of philosophy at University of New Mexico in 1954-1956, there was so much contrast between us.

Like a billboard on Old-66, Edward Abbey seems to appear everywhere in Four Corners regional history - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After skimming through parts of Ed’s journals, titled “
Confessions of a Barbarian”, I am now reading the book, slowly, in proper order, underlining countless passages. One sentence after the other informs me now that Ed really was a deep thinker. He put his thoughts into his journals, and later into his many published works. I first met Ed in September 1954. Exactly fifty-five years later, in September 2019, I’m beginning to understand who he was.”

Author’s Note –
According to his friend and biographer, Jack Loeffler, Ed was hard of hearing, which progressed with age. People who cannot hear well often pretend that they can and just listen. No one wants to act the fool (Ed’s book, “Fool's Progress”?). Showing some simple attention to another human can make one look more intelligent. As we know, Ed was an avid reader. He preferred solitude, which did not require listening or speaking, except to “himself”.

Jimbo Forrest –
A 1955 Sears Christmas Catalog, filled with Bullet holes, as Jimbo Forrest oncedid - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“I was at the University of New Mexico philosophy department with Ed for only two years, from 1954-55. After that, we went separate ways to different places, but we did run into each other by chance a couple of times after that.

In the school year 1957-58, I taught English at Española High School, in Espanola, New Mexico, 25 miles or so north of Santa Fe. Being extremely frustrated with the principal of the school while there, I took up shooting a .22 rifle almost every day after school. I put an old Sears catalogue next to the house (we were in a rural area), and filled it full of .22 bullets.

Hunting season came, and I heard my students talking about getting “their” deer. One kid told me he had a 30-30. Well, I went to the general store and bought one, on credit. That made a louder bang, and tore up the catalogs faster.

I went to a hunting area with an old friend, and we trudged along. Before too long, a deer ran across a ravine below me. After all of the practice shooting catalogs, I made a kill. (I still feel guilty about that, and would never do it again.) Ralph Newcomb had told me before that if I killed a deer, he would
Female Mule Deer, standing alert in a meadow - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)help me cut it up, if he could have part of it. Deal made. Both of our families had venison for some time.

Jump ahead a year or two (I have no idea when it was), I was at the UNM campus (can’t remember why) and Ed Abbey walked by me. I hadn’t seen him for some time. We chatted awhile, and I asked him if he was interested in a deer hunt. He said he could probably borrow a deer rifle from a friend, and we could meet the next day.

We met, and drove to a hunting area. He went one way, I another, and we agreed to meet back at the same spot in an hour or two. My hunt showed no tracks, no scat, and no deer. I returned to our meeting spot. Ed had not yet returned. We had bought a 6-pack of beer, and left it there before we went on our hunt.

This photo of Edward Abbey, by Mike Essig is a classic, displaying Ed's feelings about electronic technology and TV, in particular - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Waiting for Ed, I had a beer. (Maybe two?) What to do with the can(s)? Throw them as far ahead as possible. What to do next? Shoot at the cans, of course. A few minutes later Ed dragged in, bereft of any venison. His first comment was, “Sure a lot of noise!” reminded me of actor James Stewart, who would also speak in a laconic manner.

We sat awhile, finished off the beer, said nothing important, and parted. I believe I saw Ed two more times: once by chance, once by design.

Jimbo Forrest – Regarding Ralph Newcomb
Now back to my memories of Ralph Newcomb. When my first wife was pregnant with our first child, drunken Ralph came to our house in North Albuquerque. For reference, our child was born August 2, 1957.

Ralph saw LIFE magazines on our coffee table. He grew angry, resentful, loud, claiming that was ‘NOT LIFE’, or some such thing, and swiped them off the table strongly with his arm. I knew then he was trouble, with a “capital T”. I motioned my wife into the bedroom right next to the living room, told her to keep the door closed and not to say anything. Maybe that is when I grabbed my camera and took the photo of Ralph in the chair, pointing his finger of accusation at me. He announced something about his polio crippling him, and that he was going to overcome it, or he would kill himself… something like that.

Ralph Newcomb raises his finger in accusation to photographer Jim (Jimbo) Forrest at Jimbo's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico ca. 1956 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) Shortly after that, he stood up, removed his jacket and rolled up his left sleeve. He then took out his buck knife, opened it, and declared that he was not afraid to die (or some such thing). With a large swing, he sliced open his forearm. A large spurt of blood shot out, up, and down onto the (used) light gray carpet I had recently installed.

Later, he went outside, backed up against the wall, and shot his head back against the window. The second time it worked, breaking one of the panes. The windows were behind the curtains you see behind Ralph when he was seated. Ralph had brought a friend with him (seen partially in the image) whom I had never seen before, and seemed incapable of doing anything. In that photo of Ralph and friend, there are two liquor bottles. He said that they had been drinking all day, either tequila or mescal, as I remember. Eventually the two departed.

Much like Edward Abbey and Ralph Newcomb did in 1959, this family enjoys rafting the spring flood of the Colorado River near Moab, Utah in 2006 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Somehow, I had a phone number (not clear to me now), and called the person who had been with Ralph. He said that they had called the Bernalillo County Sheriff. I asked if maybe someone could knock Ralph out before he killed himself, or someone else. (This person was fairly big and strong.) He said he had tried, but nothing fazed Ralph.

I remember this vividly, including the season of the year, but not what happened subsequent, and whether I ever saw Ralph again. The idea of Ralph & Ed floating down the Colorado in 1959, as stated earlier makes me shake my head in wonderment. Of course, I didn’t keep up with Ed or Ralph very much after I got married in August 1956 and had three children between 1957 and 1965.”

End Part Four - To read Part Five, Click HERE. To return to Part One, click HERE.

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