Naturalist, author and wilderness warrior Doug Peacock is probably best known as the man who inspired Edward Abbey’s iconic character George Washington Hayduke, a beer-swilling, monkey-wrenching, ex-Green Beret explosives expert with aspirations to blow up dams.
In reality, though, Peacock is a much more complex, multidimensional and, frankly, intelligent individual than Hayduke. He lays out the differences in blunt terms.
“Hayduke’s a dolt,” Peacock said. “I don’t think I’m exactly a dolt.”
Despite those distinctions, Peacock and Hayduke share one important quality: Both have been lighting the fire of inspiration in environmentalists for decades through written words and intense passion for America’s wild places.
Peacock will be in Durango this week for two events that mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. He will give a lecture, “Wilderness Under Siege,” Thursday at the Durango Arts Center and will host a screening of the documentary “Wrenched” Friday at the Powerhouse Science Center along with filmmaker ML Lincoln.
Peacock said his presentation will center around the crucial role wilderness plays and its threats.
While the Wilderness Act was an important beginning for the preservation of wild places, he said, “The battle for everything is never done. Certain wilderness advocates say this is a battle you have to win many times, but you lose it once, and it’s gone.”
Peacock knows first-hand the healing powers of wild places.
When he returned to the United States after serving three consecutive tours of duty as a Green Beret in Vietnam, a young Peacock bought a Jeep and drove West, where he struck out alone to heal the wounds of war.
“When I came back from Vietnam and couldn’t talk to anyone, was out of sorts ... I went to where I was most comfortable, and that’s wilderness,” he said. “I camped out for, hell, over a decade.”
In places like Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, Peacock found solace in grizzly bears, an experience that moved him to become a lifelong advocate for their protection and survival. And in the deserts of the West, Peacock – who had become involved in the New Left movement in college – met Edward Abbey, with whom he would share a lifelong friendship.
Peacock went on to write several books, including Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness and Walking It Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness. He co-founded Round River Conservation Studies, which he said has helped to conserve nearly 25 million acres of wilderness worldwide, and was the subject of the documentary “Peacock’s War.” These days, he’s been working with veterans groups to get servicemen into wilderness.
His cause is never over; when he was reached last week at his home in Montana, Peacock was in the middle of penning what he called a “manifesto” to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections of grizzlies.
Peacock said the challenges facing wilderness – like climate change, population growth and political pressure – are immense. But wild places are vital.
“To me, wilderness is whatever it takes to bring out the wildness that indeed lives in every man, woman and child,” he said. “The point is, we need to protect all those places where people can find that wildness.”
Peacock’s Durango events came about through a partnership of the Durango Arts Center and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, which has organized a string of events to celebrate the wilderness anniversary.
“He is a passionate, articulate, authentic advocate for wilderness for its own sake, for wilderness, for sanity’s sake,” said Rose Chilcoat, associate director of GOBW. “We hope that people will come and learn and experience and be inspired to do their small piece in making sure that we have wilderness in the future.”