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Core Samples

It’s not that George Washington Hayduke got an "extreme make-over" or anything. It’s just that the cantankerous anti-hero of Ed Abbey’s classic novel "The Monkey Wrench Gang" has always been a fictional character and not the exact embodiment of ex-Green Beret radical-conservationist and author Doug Peacock – the man Abbey most modeled him after. Hayduke, on paper, is still the same loveable guy he’s always been – sort of a "get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed" misogynistic bulldozer-bashing, rabble-rousing, misfit with a chip on his shoulder and the grudge-carrying capacity of an avenging angel. The character touched a now nearly 30-year old nerve. "Hayduke lives" bumper stickers continue to abound. As Peacock takes pains to explain in his new memoir "Walking It Off," however, he is not now nor has he ever been of such limited stature. Possibly he doesn’t consider himself loveable& or maybe the chip fell off his shoulder. Initially he and Abbey had a falling out over the "Hayduke" parody, but time took care of that. Peacock became an underground hero, of course, in the aftermath of the best-selling saga that featured four highly committed protagonists taking on what they saw as a desert-raping establishment hell-bent on resource development at the expense of "their" sacred earth. Equally well known as a highly-vocal defender of grizzly bears and a crusader to open up their historical habitat and ranging corridors, Peacock "tends to like animals that can kill and eat him." Encountering and living among the large carnivores became part of his healing process once he returned from Vietnam. As he wrote in his brilliant paean "Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness," he "retreated to the woods and pushed (his) mind toward sleep and cheap wine." His envelope of passion would soon encompass the grizzlies of Yellowstone and Glacier National parks and beyond. "Walking It Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness" is a climb through time on a search for personal catharsis in Peacock’s journey, both before and after he bonded with Abbey. It is about route-finding upon scree-laden talus slopes deep within the slippery escarpments of one’s character. Debts owed to family, friends, self and assorted other wild creatures populate his dreams. Flashbacks from Tiburon Island in the Sea of Cortez blur with those from Dhaulagiri high in the Nepalese Himalayas. Abbey is seldom more than a paragraph away. He is tired of this joint. He wants to blow this pop stand& and he wants Peacock to help him bring down the curtain. Looming large over his love and commitment to Abbey is the Cabeza Prieta, a desert wilderness in southern Arizona where both men found solace and haven. The two became one while plotting destruction and reparation on camping forays where they would get wildly drunk around campfires under the influence of full moons and empty bottles. This would also be the setting of Abbey’s final resting place. That was another promise — Peacock would bury Abbey. To both, the National Wildlife Refuge was the spiritual heart of the Sonora Desert. This was a place of sanctuary to many rare and endangered species. Abbey would end up well within his element. Peacock long believed that "the notion of following your passion is a cheap instinct and a good instinct and it’s worth indulging." He also espoused the view that "you should never bow down to anything but those you love and respect. Ever! For anything!" Well, somewhere along the line, Abbey got a notion that many of his wild and cranky friend’s fireside sentiments would look good draped around the hairy shoulders of a particular character in "The Monkey Wrench Gang" – namely, Hayduke. Believing it to be grand way in which to advance the action of what was then a work-in-progress, he followed Peacock’s credo and indulged his notion. Although, as mentioned previously, publication of the novel would make Doug Peacock and George Washington Hayduke household names, it did not do Ed and Doug’s friendship any favors. Withdrawing from the cachet associated with being a cause celebre within the radical environmental community, Peacock attempted to heal himself with "long walks." They would take place before and after the passing of "Cactus Ed" Abbey. They would take him across the Cabeza Prieta and Isla Tiburon and to the Grizzly Hilton and Dhaulagiri. During these vision quests he would revisit his time as a Green Beret medic among the Montanyards in the Vietnamese highlands. He would remember returning from the horror of that war to find the wilderness he left desecrated by greed. He would have none of it. Heading to the desert southwest, he encountered like souls. They were, for the most part, seekers of varied persuasions who had found their war right here at home. They would make their stand in canyon country. They would take on the BLM and the Forest Service and the cattle grazers and the hated Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) who had constructed Glen Canyon Dam while deconstructing Glen Canyon. They would monkey wrench their way through forests of billboards and bulldozers. Abbey would write a novel and the like-minded of the world would vicariously join the conspiracy. And the fictional Hayduke and the very much flesh-and-blood Peacock would become icons of a movement. Abbey wanted to have his carcass nourish a cactus or tree and he wanted to come back as a turkey buzzard. He didn’t see the scattering of ashes as part of any rejuvinative process he was familiar with. Peacock, along with other friends and family, were loyal caregivers to the end. When Doug whispered to Ed the exact location of his final resting place, a smile displaced the usual smirk. He was ready to go. And, after many a false start, he finally did. They toted him off to the Cabeza Prieta and laid him to rest. Seemingly, nothing went easy with Ed& or Doug. But that’s another story – one that very well might come to light as Doug Peacock brings his much-heralded book tour to Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City this weekend. The musty old antiquarian bookshop has hosted many historic gatherings and readings over the years and this one, no doubt, will become the stuff of legend. The saga continues. Peacock lives!


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