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Bill Broyles, who has made several long desert hikes with Bowden, says, "Writing runs Bowden's life. He has a monster inside that drives him, but I've never seen him have any problem with alcohol, never seen him drunk, never seen him drink to kill time. I know for a fact he goes weeks on end without a drink or smoke."
@body:Readers of Bowden's autobiographical works, full as they are of tales of debauchery (does he ever meet a woman who is not buxom?), may be prone to judge him a turd.
But he has a lot of friends who call him a "moralist" and a "60s idealist." For all of his alleged brooding intensity, Bowden is a good guy to be around. Funny and smart and a born educator and storyteller, he can blaze a conversation through an amazing array of topics. Once an audience realizes he's not a burned-out tumbleweed, Bowden can be a dazzling public speaker.
"He's become kind of a personal guru," says co-author Binstein. "Chuck has a Velcro quality. People stick to him. I stuck to him.
"He's a fucking genius they keep in the attic."
Bowden courted his second wife by showing up on her doorstep dressed in black, carrying a six-pack. "He would want to talk about Plato and Aristophanes, and I'd have a headache by the time he left," says librarian Dannreuther. "He can be very intimidating in that way."
Bill Broyles, a high school teacher and freelance writer when he's not out stomping in the desert with Bowden, says, "Most people probably wouldn't enjoy hiking with him. He's too strong, too motivated, too driven. Not only is he indefatigable--the man is tireless, he doesn't know when to stop--he carries on a graduate-seminar conversation the whole way.
"He's not in it to satisfy or bloat his own ego. If you go into a conversation to challenge or outwit him, you may be in deep sand. He really is the most intellectually curious person I've ever met."
There is no hidden agenda with Bowden, says Broyles.
"If you've seen his house, money isn't it," he says. "If you've seen his truck and the way he dresses, status isn't it. What it is is an insatiable, unquenchable thirst to learn more about the world and about people. Once you realize that, you're home free."
As for Bowden's reputation around town as the grouchy, misanthropic punk who doesn't take his designated role as leader of the local ecological-tea-dance society quite seriously enough--well, Bowden doesn't think the green-crowd members have enough fun. The "monks and nuns of nature," he calls them.
"Which, if you read Abbey, was one of his constant points," says Bowden. "For God's sake, have a good time while you're saving the world.'"
@body:So Chuck Bowden, like Ed Abbey before him, tries to have a good time while saving the world.
Gentle mesquite-huggers who might need further convincing of Bowden's commitment to the movement might be interested in his latest salvation project, a picture book titled The Secret Forest, which celebrates a spike of near-tropical vegetation near Alamos, Sonora, Mexico, about eight hours by car south of Nogales.
The forest is gradually being converted into grazing land for cattle. Bowden wrote the book to try to save the area, which is full of winter-flowering flora.
"I wrote it as propaganda," says Bowden of The Secret Forest, which was produced in approximately the same time frame as was Trust Me. "Partly, I guess it was therapy for me. I've written so many stories, more than the world ever wanted to know, about environmental destruction. Let's face it, you get tired of the world ending. I thought, 'Why not take some of that money you've ripped off and spend it to just do something?'"
Bowden, an addict of Mexico, left Tucson for that country in 1990, intending to spend a year in the Sierra Madre, swilling beer, swinging in a hammock and collecting orchids. Instead, he has produced a book for an audience of one--whichever Mexican official will help him save his secret forest from the vaqueros who blade botany.
In a way, the book (published by University of New Mexico Press) is a vanity project. Bowden had to assemble sponsorship to pay for the costly color printing of Jack Dykinga's photos of the forest. Bowden pitched the project to Dykinga, a Pulitzer Prize winner, by telling him: "I won't pay you a dime, you won't get a penny for expenses, and if there's any profits, we'll give em all away."
There are already pictures in the book that can't be duplicated, because some of the land has been cleared and ruined.
"I want to go back--say I'm alive in 20 years--I want to go back there and have a Tecate under a tree that exists because of something I did," says Bowden.
The next Bowden books down the chute are to be a one-two combo titled Blood Orchid and Lola. The subject of the first book, Bowden says, is "how we lost the Cold War and what it did to us." (Questioned by another reporter about this thesis, Bowden answered, "I was born in a country that had the Bill of Rights, and I'll die in one where you have to piss in a cup to get a menial job.")