Friday, November 10, 2006

Book Review: Walking It Off

Doug Peacock, Walking It Off: A Veteran’ Chronicle of War and Wilderness (Eastern Washington University Press, 2005)

Doug Peacock lost his in innocence in Vietnam. As a Green Beret medic, he held a dead baby and cursed God. Haunted by death, he comes back from the war and hangs out in the American West, developing a contentious friendship with author Edward Abbey. Walking It Off is Peacock’s attempt to understand life in light of the death of Abbey, the breakup of his marriage, and his experiences in Vietnam. In the book, Peacock tells us about a number of his hikes right before and following Abbey’s death and what each hike taught him. One hike in particular, through Nepal, serves as the unifying thread throughout the book. Peacock tells about a near death experience he has in Nepal, where he has this great desire to live and see his children again. When he makes it out alive, he feels he has a new lease on life. After that hike, he returns to an area in Montana where he had studied Grizzly Bears to again confront these giant bears. Then he takes a solo desert hike along the Arizonia/Mexico border through a off-limits bombing range and the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, where he reads Abbey’s last book (Hayduke Lives) as well as Abbey’s notes on his own hike through this same country. Abbey based his Hayduke character on Peacock (Hayduke first appears in The Monkey Wrench Gang). There are similarities, but as is evident from Peacock’s writings, Hayduke is a fictional character. Noting the difference between Hayduke and Peacock, one friend commented about Abbey’s creation of Hayduke, “Friends don’t do that to one another.”

Peacock is part philosopher, part naturalist, part psychologist. Throughout the book, he expresses his difficulties dealing with post-traumatic stress from his Vietnam years. The talk of new wars in the Gulf bring conjure up memories and old dreams. Peacock finds his true home in the wilderness, which he calls the “remnant of the homeland we never entirely abandoned.

There was a lot I could relate to in this book. My Appalachian Trail hike essentially helped me over a depressed time in my life. When I turned 40, I hiked the John Muir Trail. When I don’t know what to do, I often take a hike, even if it’s just a stroll through town or out in a nature preserve or in the nearby state forest. I was reading the last chapters in this book last Friday night when I got the call that a friend and mentor had killed himself, which brought Peacock’s dealing with death into a personal sphere.

I recommend this book to those who have read Abbey’s writings as well as those interested in wilderness or in the struggles combat veterans have reintegrating into society.


  1. Sounds like a book one could learn much from.

    I, too, often go hiking when I need to work through things.

  2. ugh... yet another on my to read list.

    it does sound a wonderful fascinating read.

    glad you are home babe.

  3. I'm going to have to stump my fellow coworkers in the bookclub and nominate one of your books to be read next.

  4. Tim, actual journeys are great ways to get our minds cleared out--it's as old as Abraham's sojourns and the Exodus and the Odyssey

    Keda, what would be your book recommendations?

    Murf, maybe you'll win Kevin's book and could use it in your book club.

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  6. Wow...this book sounds really good. It's definitely on my list now. It's been so long since I've taken a hike. I remember how good they felt.

  7. PS: BTW...Michele sent me. I hope you are having a wonderful day!

  8. Sage, that sounds like a very good book, and while not my usual type of reading, I would probably find a lot of value in it. I will look for that one.

    Thanks for the visit. To answer your question: yes, we will be decorating the Governor's Mansion during the last week of Nov. Are you coming to see it???

  9. Guess who sent me back this morning? Yes, it was Michele!

  10. Sounds like a very interesting book!

    I don't think we give enough honor to Veterans. The awful things they have seen, the fear they have endured...

    Are you in Montana- by chance? That's my favorite state.

  11. Hi, Michele sent me today and I am glad I stopped by. I've read this book and it is indeed thought provoking.

    Happy Trails


  12. moogie, one always feels better after a hike!

    Kenju, if I get to NC after Christmas, will the governor's manision be open?

    trail lady, there are days I dream I'm in Montana! I'm in Michigan

    Kismet--you make the second person I know who have read the book and your both only know via blogging!

  13. Sounds like a great book from a honest, insightful author.

    I also like your comment on how hiking is cathartic or therapeutic or both.

    Here's to your next great hike.

  14. When I first read that book many years ago, I was haunted by it. Haunted by how fragile life and sanity can be. Fortunately, Peacock had his experience in Nepal and came out on the better side of sanity.

    I usually go on long walks to clear the mind, not work through things. For some reason, I allow my mind to go blank and just absorb everything else around me. Then when I get back home, my brain seems to function better and take on those topics that need to be puzzled out. My journals really reflect this.

  15. Sage, The mansion is not open after about the middle of Dec., because the Gov. and his wife go to their private home around the 15th. It is my understanding that the interior decorations are removed after the last party there, which is usually by the 10th-12th. If I find out differently, I will let you know.