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Anniversary of Arches Pilgrimage
by Vicki Barker

Ken Sleight delivers eulogy at Ed Abbey's memorial
Ken Sleight delivered the eulogy at Ed Abbey's Memorial May 20, 1989.

A pilgramage to say a final farewell to author Edward Abbey 20 years ago drew an estimated 500 fans of the internationally renowned author, along with family and friends -- all willing to walk more than a mile on a dirt path to the memorial site in Arches National Park.

The memorial to Ed Abbey, who died at age 62 on March 14, 1989, took place May 20 on the western edge of Arches National Park, where Abbey had served as the park’s first seasonal ranger. He also penned the book, Desert Solitaire, while living in the park -- a book that has been purchased by more than one million readers around the world, and published in three languages.

After tributes, music, readings, group singing and eulogies delivered by the “Who’s Who” of naturalists and activists of Abbey’s day -- including a personal letter from Wallace Stegner -- the American flag and a hand-made flag bearing the image of a monkey wrench were unfurled atop the slickrock and triumphantly waved in the air by two men who were forerunners of the environmental movement: Doug Peacock and Dave Foreman.

A fan of Abbey’s who managed The Flag Store in San Francisco, James Ferrigan, recalled afterward that he had “lied through his teeth” to be included in a “wild and scenic” river trip with Abbey down the Green River in 1980-81, during which the two new, custom-made monkey-wrench flags were flown. He remembers that after the trip, at Ray’s Tavern in Green River, Abbey wrapped himself in one of the flags, then signed both of them. Foreman displayed one of the flags at the memorial, and saluted his friend Peacock as he waved the American flag.

Abbey had modeled his most rebellious saboteur, George Hayduke, after Peacock, who spoke at the ceremony. Hayduke was a rough-and-tumble PTSD type of character defending nature against developers in Abbey’s notorious book, The Monkey Wrench Gang, which at last report in early 2007 was being made into a movie at sites in New Mexico. Others whom Abbey developed as members of “the Gang” were also at the memorial: Ken Sleight, aka the polygamous “Seldom Seen Smith”; and Ingrid Eisenstadter, aka the voluptuous “Bonnie Abzug” and girlfriend of “Doc Sarvis.” Despite the long, hot walk, she’d attended the memorial in high heels, a black taffeta dress and a black hat with a veil.

Abbey had said in an interview in Moab in the spring of 1985 that he’d made illustrator R. Crumb re-do the depiction of Abzug that ran in the illustrated edition of Monkey Wrench Gang. “I asked that she be more good-looking. I want my heroines to be beautiful and real sexy.”

Dave Foreman displays Monkey Wrench flag
Dave Foreman displayed the Monkey Wrench flag at Abbey’s Memorial in Arches National Park 20 years ago.

Abbey also noted that the new edition contained a heretofore missing chapter, which the publisher had inadvertently left out of the first edition -- a chapter titled “Seldom Seen At Home,” which the author said “was an essential four-to-five pages.”

“Seldom Seen” Ken Sleight, a ranch owner at Pack Creek south of Moab, said a few people have stepped forward over the years claiming that Abbey based the Doc character on them. But he and Andy Nettle, a Moab bookstore owner, said Doc Sarvis was most likely Abbey himself.

As Abbey stated, “There’s something of me in all the characters, but they’re inspired by actual people I knew. I borrowed mannerisms and aspects of appearance, vocations…but I didn‘t attempt to do a portrait of anybody. It‘s difficult to describe a human being as he or she really is.”

Abbey also said he was inspired while in Moab to use the Holyoak surname in the “partly autobiographical” book he was completing at that time -- later titled The Fool’s Progress -- as part of his character’s name, Henry Holyoak Lightcap. “I always liked that name,” he said.

The Holyoaks were early settlers in Moab.

As for the Monkey Wrench film, Sleight said director Catherine Hardwicke was still working on the project over the past year, and that the cast had been selected. The screenplay, adapted by William Goldman and Christian Forte, follows Hayduke, an ex-Green Beret and Vietnam vet, as he joins forces with Abzug, Sarvis and Seldom Seen to wage war on industrial development in the Southwestern desert.

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