Little bits of history are around every corner. Like many other places, you often hear names of ‘greats’ and ‘has-beens’ that helped shape our states history. While traveling to Lake Clark and Port Alsworth, this was no different. There are many historical names associated with this part of the map but one name that I kept hearing stood out. Upon my return home I began to do some research and thought I would share some of what I dug up on this incredible Alaskan wilderness pioneer.
If you are not familiar with the area of Port Alsworth, its small village boasting a population of 159, nestled on the banks (port) of the mighty Lake Clark on the back side of Mt. Iliamna about 100 miles West of Anchorage.
Upon visiting with some of the folks in town and a trip up to the Lake Clark National Park Visitor Center, I kept hearing the name Dick Proenneke. After punching that name into my web-browser, Google took me for a ride and I was able to find all sorts of nuggets about this man’s life, that while I read for a few moments, put me right back to the serene setting of life in the remote Alaskan Wilderness Pioneer….TRUE remote Alaskan Wilderness.
In the spring of 1968 Dick decided to leave his civilized life at the age of 51 to live in the wilderness of Alaska. No stranger to Alaska, Dick had experienced spring, summer and fall seasons but this trip to Twin Lakes was different, a challenge of sorts. To live alone for a year in the isolation of the valley, he questioned “Will my own company be enough to keep me sane?”
With the permission of a friend, he borrowed a very primitive log cabin with the intent to build his own dwelling by hand nearby. Packing in only what he could take on his back and the occasional air drop from from Babe Alsworth with a Sears order, Dick had to be very selective with weight and necessity. With experience in building, operating heavy machinery and the like, he was familiar with construction and hard work. He was a highly skilled craftsman fabricating the tools he would need out of fallen trees, cutting down and hand-peeling all of the logs for the cabin, and any other task that required dovetailing brains and brawn. His background and his determination certainly would have made for some incredible stories from this part of Alaska, but Dick Proenneke set out to chronicle his great adventure, making his ‘story’ that much more unique. Long before GoPro cameras, ThrillPro selfie sticks, and Phantom quad-copter drones he lugged around heavy cameras and tripods that would capture his footage as well as detailed journals of his experiences in solitude and document his life as an Alaskan wilderness pioneer.
I called up my local library and was able to track down parts 1 and 2 of the ‘Alone in the Wilderness’ documentaries that Bob Sewerer Productions put together with the video footage and journals that Dick kept during his time in Alaska.
With the seemingly never-ending busyness that our modern lives bring, I see a challenge from Proenneke’s plunge into ‘unplugging’, and to truly get away from it all. I think this man lived what most of us can only hope to tap into in this lifetime. His quote here says it well:
“I have found that some of the simplest things have given me the most pleasure. They didn’t cost me a lot of money either. They just worked on my senses. Did you ever pick very large blueberries after a summer rain, walk through a grove of cottonwoods, open like a park, and see the blue sky beyond the shimmering gold of the leaves? Pull on dry woolen socks after you’ve peeled off the wet ones? Come in out of the subzero and shiver yourself warm in front of a wood fire? The world is full of such things.” ~Dick Proenneke
Simple things can be the most meaningful to us if we would just take the time to enjoy them for what they are.
If you have the chance to watch the full-length documentaries they are great! If not, I found a snippet on YouTube that shows a snapshot into the life of a true Alaskan wilderness pioneer.