Doug Peacock, the real-life inspiration for the character George Hayduke in Edward Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” discussed his work studying and filming grizzly bears with the sophomore humanities class Friday at Animas High School.
Peacock told students in Shane Nelson’s class that an accidental encounter with a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs in the Wind River Mountain Range in Wyoming changed his life.
Peacock said he carried a map of Wyoming and Montana while serving as a Green Beret medic in Vietnam. After working 14-hour days with the sick and wounded in Vietnam, Peacock would study the map, and his intention after discharge was to hike and explore “the blank spaces” on his map.
The chance encounter with the bears came as Peacock sought solitude to heal spiritually and emotionally from Vietnam. The encounter, he said, led him to a fascination for the large ursines and an appreciation for the beauty and power of nature and what it imparts to the human spirit.
The encounter with the bear and her two cubs on the heels a malaria attack helped solidify for Peacock the value of preserving wild spaces, not only for the species that inhabit the ecosystems but for humanity, too.
“Human consciousness didn’t evolve on farms or towns or cities,” Peacock said. “It evolved when we were hunter-gatherers. It evolved in the wild, and that which evolves doesn’t survive without saving the habitat from which it came.”
Meeting Abbey, who was following a similar path, gave Peacock a mentor.
Hayduke, Peacock said, was a character that simplified aspects of both Peacock’s and Abbey’s lives.
“I buried most of Hayduke when I buried Ed Abbey,” Peacock said. “What’s left of Hayduke is feebly pounding the ground. I accept that.”
Sam Atchison, 16, whose parents are Scott and Cindy Atchison, said he was impressed by Peacock’s account of how his strong attraction to nature growing up in Michigan influenced his life.
Like Peacock – who was fascinated by the wonders he discovered exploring around his grandfather’s house in rural Michigan, a Boy Scout camp and a swamp near his hometown – Atchison said he, too, began his love for nature during fishing trips to a pond near his grandfather’s house and through long hikes highlighted by watching elk herds.
“It’s fascinating how much of your life is influenced by those things,” he said.