One Man’s Wilderness will inspire travel to Alaska’s unknown places

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By Judith Sutherland

Have you ever wished for a year of alone time, just traveling wherever your heart tugs you?
My great friends Cindy and Phil have enjoyed several trips and cruises, with more yet to come. The only cruise they enjoyed so much they made that particular trip a second time was an Alaskan cruise with stops for exploring.

Cindy and I are forever swapping books back and forth, and this recent one has me captivated. One Man’s Wilderness from the journals of Richard Proenneke, weaves a great story. Beginning in 1967, this interesting journey opens.

The journey begins

Ready to retire from a union job at age 50, Richard was drawn to the Alaskan wilderness after visiting the cabin of a Navy captain and his wife who had a remote cabin, flying over the Alaska Range to get to it.

He spent the following summer and fall in that cabin, using it as his scouting post for building a cabin of his own. He cut logs and hauled them out of the timber, prepared them to weather over a harsh winter.

Babe Alsworth, the bush pilot, would be ready to fly him from his Iowa home back in to his building site when winter let up.

Surviving Alaska

The invigorating, rugged loveliness of the Alaskan wilderness is a large part of this story, as this man is drawn to striking out on his own, building his own cabin with very few tools.

He survives on the fish he catches, meat he hunts and his only means of transporting himself — a loaned canoe. He mentions “checking on livestock” before heading out to fish, and by that he means wild caribou, mountain sheep or the occasional bear.

“I am not sure of the time anymore,” explaining he has kept both his watch and clock wound but by mid-June they are thirty minutes apart, with no radio to check by.

“I don’t miss a radio a bit. I never thought one was in tune with the wilderness anyway. A man is on his own frequency out here,” he writes.

Using all materials found in the wilderness to build his cabin, he notes, “I feel guilty about the tar paper and polyethylene (for the cabin roof) because they are not true wilderness cabin materials.”

He adds moss to serve as roof cover and insulation, saying he will be happy when he gets the roof on so he can work on the cabin, rain or shine.

He plants a garden of green onions, peas and potatoes, and is happy when rain helps the blueberries come along.

Bear attack

One hair-raising tale takes place one August day when he tells of a bear — “somewhat small for a brown, but big for a black” — coming upon his cabin. He listened for the bear to amble on, instead he heard it attempting to climb up the corner of the cabin and on to the new roof.

Proenneke runs out and fires a shot in to the air, hoping to scare the bear off. Instead, the bear came running on all fours. As the man hurried for the door, pulling it shut and holding a firm grip on the door handle, the bear “came slamming against the planks. I felt his weight bulging the upper door and heard the rake of his claws.”

After considering a plan to shoot this aggressive and ornery bear, instead he fires a shot on the ground just in front of it, and it scampers away in to the wilderness.

Some of the most majestic photography, incredible in its depth and vibrancy, accompanies this wilderness classic. This great life story of one impressive American is definitely worth sharing.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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