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Have you read: ‘Walking it Off’ shows the need for the wild

Eric Winford

“Walking it Off” by Doug Peacock

Rarely does a title sum up so accurately the contents of an entire book. But this is such a title; it is the essence of this book, and it shows the emotion that drives the reader through it, eagerly turning pages.

“Walking it Off,” Doug Peacock’s second book, details his search for healing after a close friend’s death and recurring bouts of depression. A veteran of the Vietnam War, Peacock returned to the United States as damaged goods, dealing with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder that left him unable to fit into a normal role in society.

So, he turned away from society and sought solace in the barren lands of the Southwestern desert and among the sharp peaks of the Rockies.

It was during these years that he first met Edward Abbey, the famed author of “Desert Solitaire” and “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” who became a close friend and mentor. They didn’t have much in common except their love of wilderness and an intense desire to protect it. This shows in Peacock’s work, which is rooted to the land; his sense of place leaps out of the pages and fills the imagination.

Peacock’s first book, “Grizzly Years,” is about his passion for the solitude of Glacier National Park and the company of its most dangerous occupant (other than man), the grizzly bear. Dominant members of the landscape, the grizzlies forced Peacock to anchor his attention to the present. Using wilderness as a purgative for the soul, Peacock began scrubbing away the lasting effects of the Vietnam War. But the wound didn’t go away.

Abbey’s death in 1989 shook Peacock to the core, and shortly afterward his marriage fell apart; the soldier, the war, the anger were too much for domestic life. Soon after the divorce, Peacock’s father died. Intense flashbacks to Vietnam occurred, where he would wake up clutching a pistol, not knowing where he was. Severe bouts of depression only made things worse. To deal with this he turns, not to counseling or pills (at least so far as he admits to the reader), but to canyons and peaks, to lonely places where vultures soar.

These walks are not what we would call recreation, they are dangerous and difficult forays into the heart of what it means to be human – in this case, to return to the natural world from which we came.

The story Peacock tells does not mince over difficult subjects, he charges straight into them, and it is one of the best things of this book. But there is more here than just a human tragedy, there is the story of a need. This is the need for wilderness, for wild places to disappear into and forget yourself. That is ultimately the goal of Peacock’s writing, to convince us that wilderness has an intrinsic value beyond whatever dollar amount we could assign to it. Personally, I agree with him.

So, if you don’t know who Edward Abbey is, and are wondering if this story will hold your attention, stop wondering. Go out and get a copy of “Desert Solitaire” and read it. Afterward, read this book. Then you will understand.

Peacock has passion, anger fueled by a love for things wild. To walk is to reconnect with the most essential aspect of being human. Instead of telling us why we should protect wilderness areas, he does what all good writers do and shows us what these areas have meant to him and to his sanity.

Peacock needed the wilderness to explore the trauma of his Vietnam experience, and later to deal with the death of a friend and a divorce. To walk in isolation, to bare the wound, to strip the layers off and view the source of his anger was his goal.

Humans emerged from the wilderness, and it is back there that we must return in our search for home. Peacock, and I must admit, myself as well, believe that our human genome requires something that wilderness provides. This is a human story, with mistakes and tragedies, but also with second chances.

– Eric Winford is a freelance writer who lives and works in the Lake Tahoe Basin.


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