Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

Off the Shelf: A glimpse inside ‘One Man’s Wilderness’

Richard Proenneke first visited Twin Lakes, located in the park on the west side of Cook Inlet, in 1962

“How incredible would it be to have a cabin right there?” I asked no one in particular, pointing vaguely to a rocky beach from the back of a boat motoring through Chinitna Bay.

It was early May, and I’d managed to snag a spot on one of the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival’s more exclusive excursions — a day trip to Lake Clark National Park to look for bears and birds.

Even after living in Alaska for nearly three years, it seems like every week I find something new to ogle at. As we glided past tiny coves, protected by an endless expanse of spruce trees and nestled below towering mountains, I had to know: Was anyone lucky enough to live in Lake Clark National Park?

Google helpfully supplied “yes.”

Richard Proenneke first visited Twin Lakes, located in the park on the west side of Cook Inlet, in 1962, according to the National Park Service. After deciding to establish a dwelling in the late 1960s, Proenneke ended up settling on a chunk of land on Upper Twin Lake, near Hope Creek.

What resulted from Proenneke’s retreat into the wilderness, in addition to his rustic and picturesque lakefront log cabin, was a meticulous series of journal entries compiled and published in 1973 as “One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey” by Sam Keith.

Keith, a longtime friend of Proenneke, writes in a preface to the book that he was long impressed by Proenneke’s “quiet efficiency” and determination to consistently push his body to its limits. In gathering the snippets of notes and entries left behind, Keith says he attempts to “get into his mind” and reveal the “‘flavor’ of the man.”

“This is my tribute to him, a celebration of his being in tune with his surroundings and what did alone with simple tools and ingenuity in carving his masterpiece out of the beyond,” Keith writes.

With an introduction like that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the pages that followed. It certainly wasn’t what I got.

“One Man’s Wilderness” reads less like the oft-told man-takes-on-Alaska-wilderness epic and more like a whimsical ticker tape of dispatches from the best of what the Last Frontier has to offer.

“The sun shining on the green lake ice was so beautiful I had to stop work now and then just to look at it,” he writes in a May 26 entry.

“The fog last night froze on the mountains, giving them a light gray appearance,” reads another entry. “That loon calling out of the vapor sounds like the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe.”

There is a youthful exuberance to the tone of the entries that is a refreshing reminder of how magnificent Alaska can be to those for whom the novelty has not worn off.

The book’s longest chapter is a fastidious series of entries describing how Proenneke built his cabin, which has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places and is overseen by the National Park Service. Across 72 pages, Proenneke offers a blow-by-blow, sometimes literally, description of how every log, hinge and piece of furniture was built.

For the carpentry-inclined, these are surely the most riveting pages.

Setting aside the faceoffs with a grizzly bear, the herculean feat of paddling big game against the wind in a canoe, and painstakingly selecting each rock to be placed in his cabin’s fireplace, what I found most compelling about “One Man’s Wilderness” was the Proenneke’s affable and endearing voice and sense of self.

There’s something familiar — I suspect especially for Alaska transplants — about the reverence in which Proenneke holds the splendor of Alaska. It may not be possible to move to Lake Clark in the way I sometimes daydream about, or the way Proenneke actually did, but there’s enough character in his snippets of bush life that “One Man’s Wilderness” is an OK consolation.

Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of the Peninsula Clarion.

More in Life

Corn cheese is served alongside grilled beef, kimchi and lettuce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Planning barbecue with all the bells and whistles

Expect kimchi, lots of side dishes, piles of rice, marinated meat for the flame and cold fruit for dessert

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)
On the Screen: New ‘Planet of the Apes’ expands, brings new ideas to franchise universe

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” tells a story that feels more rooted in fantasy than the post-apocalypse vibe of its predecessors

A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Visible art raises people’s spirits’

Local artist’s mural introduced as part of Walmart renovations

Former North Kenai resident George Coe Dudley, seen here during the winter of 1950-51, was a hard-drinking man. His messy funeral in 1967 in Kenai echoed his lifestyle. (Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger)
This parting was not sweet sorrow — Part 1

“Dudley was an easy-going, laid-back sort of guy, always laughing and joking, as well as hard drinking.”

The Ladies of the Pacific lead a hula demonstration as part of Aloha Vibes at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Saturday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Diamond Dance’s ‘Aloha Vibes’ brings together music, movement and celebration

The project’s all-company showcase was only one of several attractions filling the space as part of the group’s annual event

English muffins are surprisingly easy to make and so much better fresh. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Special breakfast for a special day

Eggs Benedict are made even more delicious with homemade English muffins

Happy Valley homesteader Wayne Jones looks through the telescope built by Rex Hanks, circa 1950. (Photo from “The Pioneers of Happy Valley, 1944-1964,” by Ella Mae McGann)
A Kind and Sensitive Man: The Rex Hanks Story — Part 4

Rex Hanks had a reputation as a forthright, hard-working, inventive and sensitive man

Will Morrow (courtesy)
It’s not always better to give

I was trying to come up with my own words of wisdom to share with my son

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion
A copy of “Drawn from Deep Waters: True Stories from the Kenai Peninsula,” is held on Thursday in Kenai.
Off the Shelf: Congregation calling

The collection is written by patrons of Kalifonsky Christian Center

Most Read