categories: Cocktail Hour
During my research on the Abbey-Stegner book, I became fascinated with an episode of the old TV show, “American Sportsman,” in which Doug Peacock spends a week in backcountry of Yellowstone looking for grizzly bears with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is a younger more innocent Arnold, fresh off his early “Pumping Iron” fame, and one of the pleasures of the show is the odd couple factor. There is Peacock, who was the real Grizzly Man and retains that title in my book despite the Herzog documentary, in archetypal Wildman mode, spouting his radical enviro-philosophy—including some great lines about his goal “preserving an element of risk in wilderness” by keeping an animal around that can kill humans—and there is Arnold, kind of stiff and silly at first, but then getting more and more into it. The two only see tracks the first day but that night they stand in the smoke of the fire to disguise their “foul human scent,” after which Arnold says: “I hope the whole week is going to be as strange as the first night.” When they finally do see grizzlies, a sow and its yearling, Arnold’s whole face lights up with a goofy enthusiasm and he keeps muttering things like “This is fantastic.” In a way he perfectly embodies Peacock’s main point: that we feel more alive when the threat of death is near.
To add yet another surreal element to the video, you gradually notice that the show is being narrated by a voice you have known forever: Curt Gowdy’s. I’m interested in this confluence of wildness and celebrity, like the three nights that Teddy Roosevelt, while in office, spent camping in the Yosemite backcountry with John Muir. And I’m interested in this as the first of many Arnolds:megastar, eco warrior, scandal fodder’.
P.S. More on Peacock:
DP, as I said above, is the real Grizzly Man. Not the over-the-top, aspiring actor from L.A., Timothy Treadwell, who was the subject of the Werner Herzog documentary, and who was eventually killed with his girlfriend when he got too close to the bears he claimed to love. No, the real Grizzly Man.
Part II of American Sportsman:
For most people, Doug Peacock is best known as the character, or caricature, that the writer Edward Abbey created out of the raw materials of the man’s life. Peacock grew up in Alma, Michigan, but during his three tours as a Green Beret medic in Viet Nam he dreamed of the American West, clinging to a map of Montana like a secret and a promise. When he finally got home, he headed out into the western bakcountry to try to make something out of the remains of his life. Shaken by all he had seen, numb but at the same time full of unnamed rage, he turned to a new hobby, to monkeywrenching, or environmental sabotage, cutting down billboards, putting sugar in the tanks of bulldozers, and using more explosive means to disarm the machines that were despoiling the land he loved. It was a hobby that he shared with a new friend named Ed Abbey, who would eventually transform Peacock into a fictional character, the heroic but primitive George Washington Hayduke, the central figure and driving force in Abbey’s novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang.
But Peacock’s own life would take a turn that Hayduke’s did not. He would come to spend time deep in the Wyoming and Montana wildernesses, passing months living with grizzly bears. A gun-lover, he refused to carry firearms when among the bears. He didn’t study the animals so much at first as get to know them, learning their ways. Meanwhile his fictional alter ego was growing into a legend around the West. That legend still grows. During my trip, looking out at Monument Valley from the Muley Point overlook in Utah, I had seen, painted in big black letters on the concrete barrier, the words “Hayduke Lives!”