Friday, January 08, 2010

republican into the wild...

While killing time waiting for Jersey Shore last night. I headed to the nerdy section of my cable, channels 9 and 10. I love a good episode of NOVA as much as the next liberal arts major and figured I could somehow balance out The Situation with learning.
This is how I came to meet Dick Proenneke, a former diesel mechanic who in 1968, decided to go live in the Alaskan Wilderness and film it. Described as an "outdoorsman, craftsman and self-sufficient" Dick ended up spending 35 years in the cabin he built himself.
Last night I watched "Alone in the Wilderness." You guys, this is NOT TO BE MISSED. Basically, Alone in the Wilderness is Dick's first year building his cabin, hunting, hiking, hanging out. It's fabulous!
First of all, this is 1968 so the video is all charming and vintage. And Dick's filming himself, kinda like that nutty Grizzly Man. But Dick is not a touchy-feely hippy. Oh no. Dick is a craftsman and outdoorsman who used to be a mechanic. It's a little like the dad from Dead Poet's Society building a cabin in Alaska.
Dick builds almost everything from scratch. Other than the waterproof supplies he brings along for his roof (the roof he covers in TWO ACRES of moss) Dick makes everything from wood, from the hinges and lock for his front door to his paper towel holder. Why he builds himself bunk beds in beyond me, as Dick sees not a soul for at least a year, but the guy is amazing.
I started jotting down my favorite Dick Proenneke quotes:
"I was fish hungry and I didn't want to lose this bake trout...I left his entrails for the birds."
"Tomorrow is Sunday. I think I'll go somewhere."
"Risk now and then is good for a man. One misstep and a man would have to settle with the Lord." (That's Dick on hiking.)
"On Jew-lie the third, I went blueberrying."
"The lake is as moody as a woman. All smiles one minute and dancing a tantrum the next."
"Sheep, liver and onions for supper. A satisfying day!"
"Plenty of meat hanging from the meat tree." (Dick smokes and dries his meat in a tree, aptly named the meat tree.)
The whole thing is a masterpiece of interesting ways to phrase things. What impressed me is Dick's work ethic. Out in the middle of nowhere with not a person for miles and Dick's all, "Chopped, hauled and skinned 12 logs by noon."
Sleep in, Dick! Put your feet up (on the ottoman you made) and gaze at that womanly lake. Not that I could go 48 hours without talking to someone else, but if I were in Dick's situation, I'd either be reading or working on really unnecessary decorative projects. I'll hunt later. I'm focusing on my centerpiece. But Dick's up at the break of dawn, building "the john."
It seems like sawing takes forever and would get really boring. How does one learn how to build a log cabin? Although, After watching Alone in the Wilderness, I think I got the jist. In a pinch, I could figure it out. But it's interesting to me that Dick, with a couple of armfuls of supplies, chose to spend a whole year building an entire home from scratch. What about movies? Clothes? News? Mail? What if someone died? Christ, someone probably did! And a year later, Dick makes his annual appearance in civilization and gets a list of the deceased.
I cannot recommend Alone in the Wilderness enough. It's mesmerizing, in a dramatically different yet equally importantly way from the Jersey Shore...


Karyn said...

OMG! I watched that last year and was OBSESSED with finding more... but couldn't!!!! I wish I had the know-how to do what he did.

marty stouffer said...

Your new found enthusiasm for the wilderness is endearing, but wasn't there a situation the last time you got the jist

Anonymous said...

Doesn't he saw off a burl from a tree and turn it into a table? And that chimney he built out of rocks? I think he a some decorative streak in him. You also missed his quotes about eating pancakes all the time. Great entry! Comparing Dick and those modern New Jersey freaks is a great compare/contrast.

Chanaynaysf said...

Amazingly I had the same experience this week. I was waiting for a Jersey Shore rerun after coming home from a happy hour and instead found myself watching "Gullwing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch" It's about an 80 yr. Old man tryingv to break the land speed record. It's also about the salt flats and what a weirs place it is there. It's actually quite visually stunning and you really end up falling in love with John. The best part for me are his wife's snarky comments about how silly it all is and he should really have grown up by now but if it makes him happy it's okay.