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Fire on the Mountain by Edward Abbey

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When the United States Air Force attempts to take possession of his ranch to extend its missile range at White Sands, John Vogelin undertakes a life of defiance

Reviews (7)
In the fictional "Fire on the Mountain," published in 1962, it's pretty clear that Edward Abbey's ideas about individual liberty and wilderness preservation are pretty well developed, but not yet completely evolved. That philosophical evolution comes to it's glorious apex in "The Monkeywrench Gang," a dozen or so years down the road, but nevertheless, "Fire on the Mountain," is vintage Abbey of his "Desert Solitaire" period and well worth reading.

The way I read Abbey, it's clear he inserts himself into his fictional characters. Fire on the Mountain is no exception and you can see Abbey in all three of the heroes of the book. The book itself is about an aging, but very spirited and independent small rancher, John Vogelin, who's ranch property in New Mexico unfortunately butts up against the White Sands Missile Range, which for purposes of "national security," is being expanded in area. Vogelin's ranch will become part of the WSMR and Vogelin won't have a choice in the matter. Vogelin then fights back.

The other heroes are Vogelin's junior-high age grandson, Billy Starr (Billy's from the East and he's on summer vacation -- he visits his grandpa every summer) and his onetime ranch hand-turned-real estate entrepeneur (and idol of young Billy), Lee Mackie.

The story is about Vogelin's bitter struggle with the US government and the bureaucrats working for the "G" in charge of getting Vogelin to accept the government's terms (generous for those days) and get Vogelin "resettled." Vogelin won't leave his ranch and indicates he'll shoot and kill "the first man that touches my ranch house" and that he'll have to be killed by the US Marshals in order to leave. Billy loves the land as much as his grandpa and would stay to the death with him if he could. Mackie is torn between sticking with the old man and persuading him to accept the reality -- and inevitability -- of the situation and leave peacefully with his life and a fattened bank account. Vogelin won't take the government's money and he refuses to leave.

Abbey's utter contempt for a governmental institution that would take away our personal liberty while destroying wilderness is expressed in the resolute John Vogelin as he struggles against all odds to keep his ranch and his land. The impersonal, yet slick bureaucrats in charge of trying to get him off his land and their less-than-bright operatives providing the muscle are both treated with equal disdain by Abbey in the book.

Vogelin's ranch land is part of a wild, rugged, spectacular high desert landscape and with Abbey describing Vogelin's, Billy's and Lee's various sojourns into the surrounding land and mountains, it's clear he's traveled those roads and trails on horseback as did his heroes. In my opinion, Abbey is almost peerless in his ability to describe the often overlooked subtleties in a wilderness landscape -- especially of a desert wilderness. Sometimes, it's those little points of observation by Abbey that helps us to see even more in what is already stunning beyond imagination. I digress, but the fun part is to walk those same trails, ride those same rivers and trails and put one's own powers of observation to work....

There are a number of twists and turns in the plot, but in general, it's a pretty straightforward and credible story. I'm not going to give away the ending, but it's a good one and one I think an Abbey reader would like. I think Ed saw himself in all three of his main characters at that point (and throughout the book -- even in the conflicted Lee Mackie) and in some way, it was a bit prophetic too, as he faced his own mortality in the late 80s.

I'll give it 5 stars, with the caveat that while it's probably not his best work -- it's still really good.
In his novel FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN, naturalist, intellectual anarchist, and environmentalist author Edward Abbey (1927-1989) brings young Billy Vogelin Starr out from Pittsburgh to New Mexico for his annual summer visit with his 70-year old maternal grandfather, cattle ranch owner John Vogelin.

Having previously read Abbey's Desert Solitaire, this book is apparently an illustration of the author's deeply-held, personal beliefs in two parts. The first is a tribute to Edward's beloved American Southwest, a church in which he worships and which, he believes, is under constant threat of misuse, if not outright desecration, by the central government's public land use policies. The second part is Abbey's conviction that such federal encroachment on the pristine wilderness (and, indeed, on one's personal liberties) needs to be resisted by the rugged individualist.

As in DESERT SOLITAIRE, the author here strives to word-paint a vivid picture of the sights, smells and sounds of his idolized landscape. As an example, from Billy's perspective on horseback:

"The vegetation changed as we gained elevation, the brush of the desert yielding place to parks of pinyon pine and juniper and thickets of shiny green scrub oak. I could smell the sweet scent of resin and pine needles, and heard, from somewhere up ahead, the excited clamor of flocks of pinyon jays. I saw a redheaded woodpecker dart through the air and land on a dead and lightning-blasted jackpine. Some of the juniper tress stood decked out in showers of tiny berries the color of turquoise; I plucked a berry and bit into it - hard, bitter, the flavor of turpentine - or gin."

The conflict portion of the story is John Vogelin's resistance to the military's confiscatory takeover of his ranch in order to expand the White Sands Missile Range testing grounds. It's here that the narrative is perhaps laden with nuances; I don't know enough about the author to say with certainty. One might argue that Abbey is remembering his young self in the character of Billie, who's roughly 13 years of age, and envisioning his eventual old self in the character of the grizzled, unyielding rancher. The transitional persona between the two, perhaps reflecting the author's internal debate over his philosophical beliefs at the time of the book's writing, is Lee Mackie, John's middle-aged, long-time friend and Billie's hero. Knowing that the elder Vogelin can't prevail against the government, Lee tries to steer his friend towards a compromise using carefully reasoned and totally reasonable arguments.

Purely as an entertainment vehicle, FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN is not without flaw. The lead-up to the eventual confrontation between John and the authorities is prolonged almost to the point of tedium. And the conclusion of events is anticlimactic (as real life ofttimes is). However, as a window on Edward Abbey's core beliefs, the book should be indispensable to any of the controversial author's fans.
furious ox
Although the premise of Fire on the Mountain isn't much different from Abbey's first book, The Brave Cowboy, his delivery of the material is superb. A delicate mixture of nature writing, political and philosophical musing, and witty prose makes for a combination that can be visited over and over again. Like The Brave Cowboy, we're introduced to two characters, one is a stubborn cowboy born too late and the other a reluctant participant of modern society, who's friendship hinges on similar principles. Add an overbearing governmental presence and you have classic Edward Abbey. The reader is dropped into the desert, into this relationship, and into a heated debate over the rights of a man and the rightful place of a government. Abbey brings this to us through the eyes of an adolescent boy visiting his grandfather's desert farm during his summer vacation.

Abbey hooks the audience with the character of his protagonists' and brings them to life with his quintessential descriptive narrative. Never does he overload the reader with too much or irrelevant information. His plot is tight and continuous. If you're any Abbey fan, this is a must read.
If you've ever been to New Mexico, especially the southern part, Abbey's writing captures the essence and feel of the area in this book, as he does in some of the other novels he's written. "Fire on the Mountain" makes the reader think not only about childhood memories but also about eminent domain and government vs. private ownership. A good read!
Great condition when arrived love this book had already read it. Got it so my husband would read it. Edward Abbey is an amazing author, the story is captivating. This is hands down one of my most favorite books.

ISBN: 0380595192

Rating: 4.6/5

Votes: 994

Other Formats: mobi mbr lrf docx

ISBN13: 978-0380595198

Publisher: Avon Books; First Edition edition (June 1, 1982)

Language: English

Subcategory: Genre Fiction

Fire on the Mountain
Literature & Fiction
Author: Edward Abbey
Title: Fire on the Mountain