Monday, September 8, 2008

Alone in the Wilderness

That's not a figurative title this morning. We'll get back to my regularly scheduled programming of Feminism, Gardening and Politics later, but this is just too cool to leave unmentioned.

Last night after a full day of NFL viewing, Mr. D came to bed and opened a book. I was already tucked in, reading Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos (Thanks, Diane, I'm LOVING it, BTW). We lay in companionable silence, turning pages and I was grateful that Mr. D was leaving his new BFF, the TV remote, alone. But the temptation to check scores is a strong force for a man in 4 fantasty football leagues. Plus there was a baseball game on another channel. As he surfed, he came to PBS and exclaimed, "I love this show!"

I looked up and saw a man sawing logs in the woods. In simple, sparse language, Dick Proenneke narrated his life in the Alaska Wilderness. No whack-job like Chris McCandless, Mr. Porenneke retired in 1967 at the age of 50 and spent the summer finding a spot at Twin Lakes in Alaska to build a cabin. Using only hand tools, he built a log cabin. I watched with fascination as he whittled and worked his way around a log--taking an hour to fashion a wooden spoon for making hotcakes, a couple hours to build a sled which he used to carry meat across the snow-covered lake in the winter.


With only the basic necessities, Mr. Proenneke spent his days enjoying the wildlife, taking time off to hike and explore when he wasn't engrossed in the labor of making his home. (I mentioned he was not a whack-job, he commissioned a plane to bring him supplies on a regular schedule. There's a difference between living off the land and living in the wilderness.) He built an outhouse. He built a fireplace. By digging a hole in the ground, lining it and capping it with a coat of moss, he built a refrigerator. With a fishing rod, a shotgun and a small garden plot, Mr. Proenneke had daily sustenance.

I was charmed by this bachelor wilderness man--in his grey trousers and brown jacket, he climbed up mountains with the dexterity of a mountain goat. It was hard to believe he was in his sixties. I'd have loved a chance to meet him, talk to him over coffee or take a long hike with him in the mountains--he died in 2003, so that's never going to happen. Lucky for me, a film crew followed his life, taping the cabin's construction, the wildlife Mr. Proenneke encountered, the changing seasons. In glorious Technicolor, without soundtrack, stuntmen, fancy editing or script, this documentary was peaceful and inspiring.


As I battle a tendency to recluse myself, I envied this man's life. Nothing dominated his schedule except the chores essential to his survival. His calendar recorded temperatures and observations of the land and creatures around him--no meetings, appointments or other distractions. Like Thoreau, I long for a quieter place "to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Mr. Proenneke lived that life and it was my pleasure to watch part of it.

To a greater degree than most of us ever do, Dick Proenneke checked out. The rest of us do the same thing in smaller ways, we bike a few miles along a country road, camp a few nights in a tent or RV in a state park, hike in a woods--but we return to the chaos of modern life. Alone in the Wilderness inspires me to pursue a quiet life more intentionally--a life unplugged with room for a surprise encounter with a wolverine or lengthy contemplation of spring wildflowers. (Okay, probably not going to see a wolverine in Wisconsin, but maybe a badger or woodchuck.) Check it out, Alone in the Wilderness, a one-man show that will surely amaze and astound you.

12 comments:

  1. The thought of being alone in the Wilderness is terrifying to me! Like it or not, I'm a city girl and am not sure I could or would want to try to survive without modern day conveniences. I would have made a terrible pioneer. But I find the idea of other people that do have the guts to do it simply fascinating!

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  2. I'm going to have to find this DVD.

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  3. I have seen this series so many times. Each time, I fantasize about being alone alone and forced to survive.

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  4. We watched this on PBS while visiting my parents in WI. They never seem to show it in Chicago so I bought it on Amazon for my 12 year old son who is a "Survivorman" junkie, This is so much better. He wasn't thrilled the forst time he watched it but now is hooked and has watched it many times.

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  5. I always feel pretty sheepish when I have to be reminded to spend more time outdoors. Sounds like a great series.

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  6. I love the way it sounds - I don't know if I could do it, but I'd enjoy watching HIM do it...

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  7. Ilike the IDEA of it. But could never do it myself in a million years!

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  8. This post is so cool! During my traipsing around Canada and the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, I have run across old, deserted cabins, and I have often wondering about their life story...

    Thank you for introducing Dick to us. I will try to get the tape.

    Thanks again!

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  9. Sounds like a lovely way to live - but I would need internet access:)

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  10. I have dreams of one day building up the courage to do this. I call it getting out of the matrix. One day...

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  11. Every single time my husband or I come across this on PBS we sit enthralled and finish watching the rest of it. Even my kids like it. Its so matter of fact and low-key, and completely engrossing.

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Spill it, reader.