Saturday, October 03, 2009

Alone in The Wilderness

Caught a video when it was first released in 2003 on WTTW, Chicago's PBS station, about a man named Dick Proenneke, and was reminded of Dick while watching The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

A most remarkable man, and a most remarkable story.

The documentary is entitled Alone in The Wilderness, and is based on the book Dick and Sam Keith released in 1973 called One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey.

Dick was born in 1916 in Primrose, Iowa. After joining the US Navy in 1942 and serving as a carpenter, Dick contracted rheumatic fever and was given a medical discharge. He went to school to study diesel mechanics, and became certified. He plied his trade briefly in Iowa, and then moved to Oregon in 1948.

It was in 1950 that Dick moved to Shuyak Island, Alaska and began servicing heavy equipment and diesel engines for the gang at Kodiak Island naval base. He spent the next 18 years as a highly sought after mechanic, as well as a salmon fisherman. Finally, he took a job with the US Fish and Wildlife Service at King Salmon on the Alaska Peninsula.

In 1968, Dick retired and moved to Twin Lakes, Alaska which is where the real story starts.

I was delighted to discover that the documentary has been uploaded.

Thank God for YouTube.

Bob Swerer and his son Bob Jr. flew in to see Dick in the early 90s, and Bob has graciously added this video as something of an epilogue to Dick's amazing story.

In 1999, at the age of 82, Dick Proenneke left Alaska to live out the rest of his life with his brother in California, and in April of 2003 Dick passed away after a stroke.

He left his cabin to the US Park Service. It is a popular place for tourists to go and marvel at the man's skill, and it has become something of a symbol to dreamers like me.

One of the narrators of Ken Burns' incredible parks documentary made the most wonderful observation about Denali, and the other vast Alaskan National Parks: " I may never visit Alaska, but it is important to me to know it's there."

I feel the same way about Dick Proenneke's cabin at Twin Lakes.


artandsoul said...

Some people eschew tangents. But I think they miss out on a lot with that choice.

Me, I'm a tangent hound. Thanks for these videos - I'll savor them....

I've ordered Ken Burns' documentary, so I can get back to that one!

Schmutzie said...

The video quality is poor, but that's just because Dick was using one of those 1950s vintage hand crank movie cameras. Imagine filming himself building a log cabin from scratch! Amazing. And the skill displayed leaves me dumbfounded.

(I have the Parks thing nicely squeezed into 2 6hr VHS tapes. Figure I'll be ready to watch the whole thing again around Christmastime.)

Keifus said...

Is this the same guy you talked about on quiblit a couple of times (what with the bear-proof door handle and all)? I guess I could go back and check.

Youtube...wish I had the time.

Schmutzie said...

Same guy K.

It's called the Proenneke Lock, a marvel of engineering. Of course, in the video he mentions that although a bear might not be able to figure out how it works, he could always just smash the cabin door down.

He was a realist.

switters said...

Astonishing. (eom)

Schmutzie said...

No power tools. Is that unreal or what?

I want that cabin.

switters said...

I know. It's like, "Oh. Whoops. It's September. I guess I better cut a hole in the back of my house and build a fireplace and chimney out of moss rock from the creek, sand from the lake, and make mortar out of talcum powder and toothpaste."

True genius at its finest. I wonder if, between me, you, Keifus and twif, we could pull that off. I bet we could. We'd need beer, though, I think.

Schmutzie said...

"Well, I needed a fish. I took the casting rod and went looking for a grayling. In my spare time I made a table and chair out of a spruce tree."

I could watch the part where he's notching logs on a continuous loop. When he rolls one over and it snuggles perfectly with the one below it, oh man, what craftsmanship. Don't even get me started on his window and door.

Of course we could do it, with enough wine and weed. You guys can have the brewskies.