During his time as a Green Beret medic in the Vietnam War, eco-warrior and author Doug Peacock looked at a map of the Montana and Wyoming wilderness for comfort. He vowed that if he got out alive, he would go see those wild places for himself. Peacock not only visited, but spent years in solitude there, filming his only companions — grizzly bears. The man who inspired The Monkey Wrench Gang’s iconic character George Washington Hayduke has made it his life’s work to save the habitat of these majestic animals, who remind us that humans’ place is not at the top of the food chain.
Author, naturalist and Vietnam veteran Doug Peacock is probably best known as the man who inspired Edward Abbey’s iconic character George Washington Hayduke — the monkey-wrenching ex-Green Beret with a proclivity for explosives. In reality, though, Peacock is far more complex and, frankly, thoughtful than Hayduke, with a life’s purpose well beyond aspirations to blow up dams.
As a young man returning from serving in Vietnam, Peacock was broken. So he went to the wilderness of Wyoming and Montana, the only place he felt comfortable, where he found solace in the humbling company of grizzly bears. “Those bears,” he says, “saved my life.”
To return the debt, Peacock has devoted his life to observing, writing about and fighting for the protection of the animals and their habitat. He has authored several books, including Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness and Walking it Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness. He also co-founded Round River Conservation Studies, which has helped to conserve millions of acres of wilderness around the globe, and he’s worked extensively with veterans' groups to get servicemen into wilderness.
He is, after all, living proof that nature heals. “It’s the best cure I know for the metaphysical icky-poos,” he says.
In this conversation with longtime NPR contributor and friend Scott Carrier, Peacock — the subject of the 2019 film Grizzly Country — will discuss his work with grizzlies, his experience with wilderness and his relationship with Ed Abbey on the 50th anniversary of Abbey’s seminal book, Desert Solitaire.