November, 2016. He leaned on the counter next to the cash register, gave me a sparkling white- toothed grin and asked in the friendliest of middle-aged grandfatherly tones, “Any Hayduke sightings lately?”
What was left of his hair was more salt than pepper. The exposed pate, hair and beard were well trimmed. That coupled with the blue jeans and plaid shirt reminded me strongly of my younger brother (who turned 60 last month). The man waited. I smiled my best customer service smile. But I was young – at least in terms of my knowledge of Eastern Utah. Though past 60, I had only been at the park six weeks and I knew little of the history and legendary men and women who haunted the desert.
“Do you know who Hayduke is?” he urged. I shook my head.
“Do you not have a copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang?” he persisted.
“Doug, let it go,” cautioned the younger woman at his side.
“Let me show you the Edward Abbey books I have,” I said, leading the way. “Desert Solitaire, of course; Edward Abbey, a Life; Serpent’s of Paradise; but no, I don’t carry any novels.”
Blithely I continued, “Have you seen the new book, All the Wild that Remains, by David Gessner? It’s a wonderful collection of the writings of Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner.”
The man went away disappointed in my level of intelligence and exposure. I am not used to disappointing folks. I stayed in Utah four more months. I hiked. I listened. I got to know more of the flavor of the area.
Over the winter, while living at the end of a highway, off Highway 90, several miles west of Comb Ridge, I read The Monkey Wrench Gang. The bridges and canyons in the book were very real to me. During that time at Natural Bridges, Bears Ears was declared a national monument. I took a hike in honor of my brother’s 59th birthday. I emailed him a picture of The Bears Ears themselves, which I took right out my store window.
In the earliest of spring, I moved to Northern Arizona and became intimately acquainted with ever more National Parks and Monuments. I made a grand tour of Scenic Highway 12. With my boss, I inadvertently crashed a backyard BBQ in Escalante. My boss was there in search of the host. Two other guests sat on the patio. The man rose and stepped off the deck, “Hi, I’m Douglas,” he said without pretense. We were invited to stay for wine and desert. Content to listen to the conversation, I soon learned this genial and balding man was none other than Douglas Peacock, wilderness champion extraordinaire and the model for Hayduke of The Monkey Wrench Gang. The female half of this couple was Andrea Peacock, conservation writer. They were visiting, they said, after squatting for some of the winter in Arizona.
A few days later, I told my brother about the chance meeting. “You know,” he said, “If I could spend a day talking and hiking with any one person, it would be Douglas Peacock.”
December 28, 2017 I found myself in Escalante taking inventory. A woman came in the store with two books to exchange. “I got them for my son for Christmas,” she said, “but he doesn’t like them. Do you think he would like that book you are holding? He doesn’t like books by conservationists.”
“Don’t say that too loudly,” I thought, “Hayduke Lives! (and actually lurks around here), you never know what surprises may be in store.”
And besides, it is my brother’s birthday, last year on this day we got a monument. Amazing what you can learn in a year. Happy 2018!