North To The Future
February 22, 2011 8:49 PM   Subscribe

In 1968, Richard Proenneke retired to the desolate Twin Lakes region of Alaska. Alone, he built himself a log cabin, filming the endeavor with a 16mm camera. He lived there for 30 years. Dick passed away in 1999, at age 82, but the cabin is still there, and you can visit it.
posted by valkane (36 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
previously
posted by tomswift at 8:58 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is pretty much my greatest dream. I can't even get through all of Walden because I drift off into this fantasy and am crushed by how far I am from it.
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour at 9:07 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


The book made from his journal is worth buying and reading at your earliest convenience. And the PBS documentary, which he filmed himself, is great. My friends and I marvel at what he accomplished and dream of doing it ourselves on a regular basis.
posted by pkingdesign at 9:31 PM on February 22, 2011


Finally! A political outsider from Alaska I can get behind!
posted by yiftach at 9:32 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw the PBS doc. It's amazing - this guy just takes an axe and a few other hand tools, walks into the woods, and makes a house. "And now I'll make some hinges," he says, and then he DOES.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:38 PM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to imagine his last few winters in Twin Lakes. How did he decide to leave the place he had inhabited for decades? What was it like to think, to know, that this winter, or maybe next winter, would be your last in that place, and then, no matter how much you loved your patch of wilderness, you would grow too frail to survive there?
posted by Nomyte at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it pledge week again already?
posted by intermod at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it pledge week again already?

Hey, hey, hey, hey now. Don't be mean. We don't have to be mean, cause remember: no matter where you go, there you are.
posted by scalefree at 10:07 PM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


is there anywhere online that 'alone in the wilderness' is viewable in full?
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 10:19 PM on February 22, 2011


is there anywhere online that 'alone in the wilderness' is viewable in full?

No. You have to buy it. But there are torrents.
posted by valkane at 10:25 PM on February 22, 2011


I've seen the nicely edited footage on PBS a couple times. I like how he doesn't want his work to look "like a boyscout did it."
posted by cman at 10:29 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great stuff, thank you Valkane. I live north of Anchorage in 1966 and 1967 and several neighbors built their own cabins. This brings back memories.
posted by rmmcclay at 10:40 PM on February 22, 2011


I keep a copy of the PBS program on my iPhone and listen to it when I want to relax and go to sleep. A couple mg of melatonin and five minutes of wishful thinking and I ease into dreamland.

I will say that it's probably best to avoid the second collection of his journals. It's less "solitary," and comes across as whiny at times. It doesn't hang together very well. Sometimes it's better to have the ideal in mind rather than all the gritty bits.
posted by reeses at 11:22 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dick died in 2003 at the age of 86, according to the Wikipedia article you linked. 1999 was the year he left his cabin and returned to civilization.
posted by keep_evolving at 11:23 PM on February 22, 2011


I have seen the PBS documentary quite a few times, and really like it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:36 PM on February 22, 2011


Heh, quite a well-timed FPP -- I was thinking about his documentary last weekend. Looking forward to exploring these links.
posted by mosk at 12:16 AM on February 23, 2011


Just to clarify, Dick passed away in 2003, in 1999 he moved to California to live with his brother. I wanted to mention this because when I first saw this film, I assumed he had passed away in his cabin, instead it sounds like he knew when it was time for him to be with family and he left the cabin to the park service and moved in with his brother.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:23 AM on February 23, 2011


How did he decide to leave the place he had inhabited for decades? What was it like to think, to know, that this winter, or maybe next winter, would be your last in that place, and then, no matter how much you loved your patch of wilderness, you would grow too frail to survive there?

There was an excellent story here on MeFi about a guy who did a very similar thing, but on an uninhabited Pacific island. He also wrote a book (or a book was written about him) and I would love to find that again.

I'd feel much better about both of these stories if the men were able to die where they lived - going back to civilization seems like a surrender, or something.

Oh well, not my life and not my choice.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:12 AM on February 23, 2011


I do not see that the big deal is. There are still, today thousands of Sami people roaming across northern Finland, Norway, and Sweden, in a climate every bit as harsh as Alaska experiences, who choose to live less civilised lives than this.

But when some crazy old white guy does it, hey lookey here.
posted by three blind mice at 2:37 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


cool, make an FPP about them, i'd definitely read it.
posted by dubold at 2:39 AM on February 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


But when some crazy old white guy does it, hey lookey here.

Thats pretty standard - see Tarahumara indians vs white ultramarathoners for an extreme example.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 3:30 AM on February 23, 2011


I totally agree with reeses. This program was on rotation of the PBS station when I was in grad school. The long patches of near silence and sparse narration was great for unwinding after a long day in the studio or listening to lectures. If only there was something like this for babies!
posted by Slothrop at 3:34 AM on February 23, 2011


I like to see the rejection of a lifestyle of modern comforts for a more natural and difficult life. Rather than just going along with doing the same thing your people have done for generations. Having the perspective of multiple ways of life, and the choice is to go for the simpler, more natural existance, and pull it off with artisty and style. THAT is the difference. Just some crazy white guy? Almost as insulting as saying "just some aboriginies doing what they've always done".
posted by Redhush at 3:51 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is pretty much my greatest dream.

Luckily it's just a dream and not a goal, or you might be in danger of actually accomplishing it.
posted by fairmettle at 4:18 AM on February 23, 2011


First of all, this is like the definition of a double, yeah? So, that's weird. Second of all, I'm sure that if a Sami person filmed their life for a year, as Pembroke did, and edited the footage into as nice a production as this film is, it would find an audience. Not everything is a fucking cultural awareness pissing party. This documentary is informative and interesting, yes, but to those who have seen it it does seem to be something else - hypnotic, almost. It's relevant not simply because it's the story of a white guy living alone in a harsh environment - that would be dull and boring. It's his Bob Villa-esque ability to explain and demonstrate his building techniques, and the 1950's Disney promotional-film construction of the piece that elevates it into the category of 'strange but important piece of cinema'. It flirts with outsider art - competently made but pulled off by someone truly unique.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:20 AM on February 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I do not see that the big deal is. There are still, today thousands of Sami people roaming across northern Finland, Norway, and Sweden, in a climate every bit as harsh as Alaska experiences, who choose to live less civilised lives than this.

But when some crazy old white guy does it, hey lookey here.


1. The Sami and others are pretty much born into their lifestyle.

2. They are part of a communal lifestyle with emotional and physical support nearby.
posted by notreally at 5:01 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Meatbomb: "There was an excellent story here on MeFi about a guy who did a very similar thing, but on an uninhabited Pacific island. He also wrote a book (or a book was written about him) and I would love to find that again."

I'm pretty sure you're referring to Tom Neale's An Island To Oneself, about living alone on Suvarov in the South Pacific.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:28 AM on February 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Saw this a few weeks ago, and stuff like "Its 14 below outside, and a warm 40 degrees inside the cabin", or watching him shoot an elk in one scene and have half of it lashed to his back in the next will always stand out.
posted by buzzman at 5:45 AM on February 23, 2011


Whenever I get into an unresolvable argument with one of my rightwing/libertarian buddies I settle things down by putting this on..we kick back with a beer, watch Richard build a hinge out of wood and realize how lame and pampered we really are.
posted by judson at 6:29 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify, Dick passed away in 2003, in 1999 he moved to California to live with his brother.

Where he spent the remainder of his days lounging by the pool and signaling a nearby waiter to bring him another one of those frappé thingies.
posted by orange swan at 6:38 AM on February 23, 2011


I've heard the Sami people are fascinated by the youtube video of me playing xbox.
posted by electroboy at 6:56 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Luckily it's just a dream and not a goal, or you might be in danger of actually accomplishing it.

Why didn't you add a "sniff" at the end?
posted by josher71 at 7:45 AM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why didn't you add a "sniff" at the end?

It was already implied in the OP's post.
posted by fairmettle at 12:48 PM on February 23, 2011


I'm always amazed at people like this. I've lived in AK for a very long time now, and I just want to get out. I am through with the isolation of wilderness, I'm through with weeks on end of -30. I'm done with the 3 hours of "sunlight" in December. I'm tired of my family being so far away. I'm weary of the right wing politics, the mushy fruit and vegetables, the BEARDS. I haven't seen a man's face in months. The layers of coats and snowpants and scarves and boots... I'd rather wear a burka! I'm done with $1000 plane tickets and plugging my car in and my eyelashes freezing on the walk to my office. I'm finished with ALWAYS looking down when I walk so that I don't suddenly loose my footing on the ice or trip over the odd snowball. I want to cry over the fact that my children play outside once or twice a week in the winter instead of once or twice a day. I can't stand the smell anymore of cabin-folk who refuse to find a public shower. And the summers (god bless them) are filled to choking with wildfire smoke and mosquitos the size of hummingbirds and tourists drive their giant motorhomes 35 miles an hour so they can "see" Alaska. But they never leave its comfort and they park in the WalMart parking lots. Ugh. I'm tired, too, of breathing pure car exhaust 3 months out of the year, of not being able to open my windows for 6 months of the year, of chipping the ice dams from the INSIDE of my windows, of being late to work because a moose has bedded down behind my car...

I wish Proenneke's Alaska was my Alaska.
posted by madred at 1:48 PM on February 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was home alone on a New Years Eve, at a pivotal time in my life. This film came on and I never watched any piece of work as intently as I watched this. A quirky man in 16mm talking that a women made him choose this. Then I watched him make a world for himself, piece by piece. This film showed me that I could choose a singular lifestyle, in the midst of a city, in the midst of raising my children alone. I owe him, a great debt, in one sense. I really have never enjoyed a film more than this one. He taught me yet again the lesson of looking to nature for everything beautiful, and sustaining.
posted by Oyéah at 5:31 PM on February 23, 2011


Oddly enough, Madred, that's roughly how I feel about Saskatchewan -- although we have more sunshine, which is a major plus.
posted by jrochest at 10:11 PM on February 23, 2011


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