Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sourdough sandwich, caribou ribs

‘A sourdough sandwich and a sampling of caribou ribs with broth for lunch. This afternoon we would light off the fireplace for the second time since Jake came. He mentioned someone roasting steak cubes at a beach party so I diced a couple moose steaks. Smeared them with bacon grease and seasoning and prepared a couple roasting sticks. Real good, [. . .] A few bunches of swan passed and one large flock of grey geese. The weather down country looked very cold and wind blown. I sliced and trimmed more moose meat and wished that I had the remainder that lay on the beach near the head of the Chili River.’ This is from the journals of the inspiring outdoorsman, Richard Proenneke, who spent much of his adult life living in a log cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. Alaska Northwest Books is today publishing a special edition of One Man’s Wilderness - the first book based on his journals which brought him some fame - as a way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of when Proenneke ‘first broke ground and made his mark in the Alaskan wilds in 1968’.

Proenneke was born near Lee County, Iowa, one of six children, in 1916. He enlisted in the US Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served as a carpenter for two years in Pearl Harbor. In San Francisco, waiting for a new assignment, he was hospitalised for six months with rheumatic fever. As the war ended, he received a medical discharge. He studied to become a diesel mechanic, but, yielding to a love a nature, he went to Oregon to work on a sheep farm. In 1950, he moved to Shuyak Island, Alaska, where he was employed as a heavy equipment operator and repairman by the Naval Air Station at Kodiak. He took up salmon fishing but also continued to work as a diesel mechanic.

In 1968, Proenneke moved to live in the remote and unpopulated area of Twin Lakes. There he built a log cabin, living a relatively solitary life - self-sustained by fishing, gathering, hunting - for more than 30 years. He spent much of his time studying nature and wildlife, photographing it, and keeping a journal. After only a few years, he had become something a celebrity thanks to a book about him published by Alaska Northwest Books in 1973. It was Proenneke’s friend and fishing/hunting partner, Sam Keith that first suggested a book based on Proenneke’s journals, and it was under Keith’s name that it was published: One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith from the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke. The book was hugely popular, though Proenneke subsequently claimed that Keith had ‘changed some things’.

As his fame spread in the 1980s, Proenneke took on more formal tasks, volunteering for and eventually being employed by the National Park Service while continuing to live in his cabin. He also found himself often distracted, says Hermitary in its bio ‘by filming and Park Service relations and well-meaning visitors, noisy hunters, editors seeking a writing deal, fan mail, and friends overwhelming him with gifts of processed foods’. Only in 1999, at the age of 82, did Proenneke return to civilisation, living with his brother in California until his death in 2003. A year or two earlier he had donated all his journals to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Further information on Proenneke can be found at Wikipedia or the Richard Proenneke Museum website.

One Man’s Wilderness has remained in print continuously - the thirty-second Alaska Northwest Books printing in 2011 can be previewed at Googlebooks and read in full at Internet Archive. Many reviews can be read at Good Reads, which gives the book a high 4.29 rating on the basis of nearly 5,000 readers. In the early 2000s, some of the book and along Proenneke’s own films were used in a documentary aired by US Public Television: Alone in the Wilderness - see IMDB, YouTube, and the Bob Swerer Productions website. A 50th anniversary edition is being published today (11 September)  by Alaska Northwest Books (see Graphic Arts Books and Amazon) with a new introduction by Nick Offerman (though the 50th anniversary is of Proenneke breaking ground for his cabin and making his mark in Alaska not of publication of the original book).

Editions of Proenneke’s unadulterated journal entries have also been published. The first - More Readings From One Man’s Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke 1974-1980 - was edited by John Branson and published by the National Park Service, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, in 2005. This can be freely accessed online at Internet Archive or National Park Service. Since then, three other volumes have also been published:  The Early Years (1967-1973), A Life in Full Stride (1981-1985), and Your Life Here Is An Inspiration (1986-1991) - all edited by Branson and available from the Richard Proenneke Museum Store.

In his preface to More Readings, Branson says his intent is ‘to present a broad array of Proenneke’s daily activities’, thus readers ‘will find Proenneke during his adventuring days on the trail and battling strong winds in his canoe, they will see him on more prosaic days of cutting wood, mending his clothes, cooking, writing, feeding his “camp robbers,” and contending with an apparent limitless number of porcupines bent on chewing his cabin to dust.’ Moreover, he says, ‘his keen observations of brown-grizzly bears, great horned owls, moose, sheep, caribou, wolverines, lynx, and red foxes demonstrates just how knowledgeable Proenneke was of wildlife behavior.’

Branson also notes that he wanted to document Proenneke’s interaction with various NPS personnel as they planned and created the new Lake Clark National Monument in 1978-1979 and the national park and preserve in 1980, and to make selections demonstrating how very close Proenneke was tied to the small community of Port Alsworth on Lake Clark, and of his particularly close relationship to the pioneering Alsworth family. Proenneke might have been nearly emotionally self-sufficient, he adds, but he was tethered to the Alsworths for provisions, mail service, and friendship. ‘It is hoped,’ Branson says, ‘that this book will inspire more interest in the life of Richard Proenneke because he was truly a remarkable man who represented values of wilderness preservation and resource protection.’

In his biographical sketch, Branson goes on to look at the links between Proenneke and another diarist/naturalist, Henry D. Thoreau. ‘By the 1980s some were beginning to see parallels with Henry David Thoreau in Proenneke’s singular existence at Twin Lakes. The more one examines Proenneke’s life at Twin Lakes the more one sees Thoreau’s philosophy put into practice. Thoreau preached material simplicity and a life in balance with nature in Walden. Thoreau wrote about the costs of building his cabin at Walden Pond and Proenneke wrote about the costs of his cabin construction at Twin Lakes. Thoreau lived in his cabin two years; Proenneke lived at his cabin the better part of 30 years. Thoreau has inspired millions about the value of wilderness to human survival, of low consumption and self reliance. Proenneke inspires by example, leading a full life, both of action and of the intellect. He had more constructive energy and could concentrate more than anyone I have ever met, whether cooking, hiking, wood cutting, cleaning up after litter bugs, or writing his journals and attending to his large correspondence. Proenneke’s life at Twin Lakes runs back through some 150 years of American history to Thoreau at Walden Pond. Both men achieved great balance in their daily existence, tending both the mind and the muscles.’

Here is one extract from One Man’s Wilderness (Keith’s version of the diaries).

4 June 1968
‘A good day to start the roof skeleton.

Another critic cruised past in the lake this morning, a real chip expert and wilderness engineer, Mr. Beaver. He probably got a little jealous of all the chips he saw, and to show what he thought of the whole deal, upended and spanked his tail on the surface before he disappeared.

Shortly afterward a pair of harlequin ducks came by for a look. The drake is handsome with those white splashes against gray and rusty patches of cinnamon.

My curiosity got the better of me and I had to glass the sheep in the high pasture. It was a sight to watch the moulting ewes grazing as the lambs frolicked about, jumping from a small rock and bounding over the greenery, bumping heads. It was a happy interruption to my work.

I find I can handle the twenty-footers easily enough by just lifting one end at a time. With the corners of the cabin not yet squared off, there are some long ends sticking out on which to rest logs as I muscle them up to eave level and beyond. I also have two logs leaning on end within the cabin, and by adjusting their tilt I can use them to position a log once it is up there. The ladder comes in handy, too.

The two eave logs were notched and fastened down according to plan. I cut the openings for the big window, the two smaller ones, and the opening for the door. 1 placed the first gable log on each end, and it was time to call it a day.

The roof skeleton should get the rest of its bones tomorrow.’

And here are several extracts from More Readings (the diaries as selected by Branson).

24 December 1974
‘I did a bit of reading of magazines collected during the summer and went through half of my Dec. journal. Pretty tame reading now and I wonder how it will be in a dozen years from now. It would be interesting to reread from April 29 and estimate the miles I have covered since that date. 1,500 would be a real conservative estimate in my mind and I wonder how close I am.

Recently I have been thinking of a good hike on snowshoes and only one thing holds me back and that is perishables freezing in my cabin while I am away. Pack my Eddie Bauer sleeping bag, a tarp, axe and some grub and head for Port Alsworth. I could make it in two days easy enough. Go through Low Pass and down the Kijik to Lachbuna Lake and from the lower end take a sharp left and through a pass to the head of Portage Creek. Down the creek to the lake and travel the lake to Tanalian point and Babe’s bay [Hardenburg Bay]. It would be a good exercise and to return over a broken trail would be a breeze. It would be done after mid Feb. when the days are longer and less chance of things freezing here.’

5 October 1975
‘Overcast, Breeze up & 27°. The kettle of caribou to cook and the cabin to restock from the cache. Rain jacket to mend and heavy socks to darn. Jake took a tour with his 35 mm. A good cover of snow but we needed sunshine to go with it. The breeze had been light early but as the day progressed it picked up to a good blow. The lake very rough and the Cub resting easy on its rack behind the high breakwater. A real safe tie down with the lake level low.

A sourdough sandwich and a sampling of caribou ribs with broth for lunch. This afternoon we would light off the fireplace for the second time since Jake came. He mentioned someone roasting steak cubes at a beach party so I diced a couple moose steaks. Smeared them with bacon grease and seasoning and prepared a couple roasting sticks. Real good, but I think roasting them through the open door of the stove would do better but lack the open fire effect.

A few bunches of swan passed and one large flock of grey geese. The weather down country looked very cold and wind blown. I sliced and trimmed more moose meat and wished that I had the remainder that lay on the beach near the head of the Chili River. If it is a bad day tomorrow I just might spend the day hiking down and back with the light load. See how N70039 is doing as I pass.

The sky was pink above a huge roll of grey clouds at sunset. The wind strong and cold. I put the thermometer in my potato box in the woodshed. When I went for it, 30° and I brought them in. It went into my cooler box for there is green stuff there. 36° when I went to check - good for a few days at least.

A good supper with boiled spuds and gravy. Moose steaks, tender and juicy. A big green salad and beans. Our old standby for dessert. Two gallons and a qt. of blueberries in the bank. The picking season is over. Now at 7:50, the surf is noisy on the beach, a few flakes of snow in the air, temp. 27°.’

3 August 1978
‘Partly Cloudy, Calm & 45°. Very few clouds but enough that I couldn’t call it clear. The lake is rising because of so much warm weather. With so much calm weather I should he seeing sign of red salmon but as yet, none.

Today I would go to the far corner and get a good sunburn in the process. Go up the right hand fork of Camp Creek. Climb to the high ridge looking down on the head of Beatrice Creek. Sheep country in the summer time. Sheep leaving the lick climb to the high ridges and keg up on the ledges just under the crest of the ridges. It’s a long haul, almost like going to the lick as far as travel time is concerned.

I was a long time making up my mind - too many far away places that I would like to visit. This one had priority because of the satellite or space station that had burned on re-entry to the atmosphere of earth. Some garbage separated from it as it passed over head. I felt sure that it was to high for any space parts to land this side of Turquoise Lake but I would keep it in mind as I trudged along.

I crossed at the mouth of Camp Creek and I thought of Roy Allen. He and I had come down Camp Ridge to the creek crossing after an unsuccessful sheep hunt. I had worn boots and offered to pack him across. He disappeared in the brush up the creek and after what seemed an unreasonable length of time he came back with a stout willow pole that he had cut and limbed with his hunting knife. “I didn't take pole vaulting in college for nothing” he said after pole vaulting across the narrow stream. Camp Ridge is a good place from which to check Emerson Creek for bear. A lush green patch far up at the eroded rocks waterfall and a sow with triplets spent some time there one year.

I was sitting down glassing the country and just got to my feet to move. Here came a nice ewe and lamb around that point of loose rock. No more than fifty feet away and she stopped to check me out. I stood still and she and her lamb passed me at twenty five feet headed on up the ridge. Here came another pair, a nice looking ewe molted clean and starting a new coat. The wind in my favor so she wouldn’t wind me. She came a few steps and stopped to watch me. Closer still until she was no more than fifteen feet away. The lamb as close and off to the side. Me with the Exakta hanging around my neck and I didn't dare move. Those little sheep flies of the high country were biting me on the legs and still I didn’t move. Could I move slow enough to get the camera up without spooking them. I would give it a try. Very slowly I moved my hand and they watched. The ewe moved back to twenty feet as I raised the camera. Ewe and lamb came together and I got them. The click of the shutter was too much and they moved back the way they had come. Another pair came and caught me moving and trotted away.

I stayed up there as long as I dared. 2:45 and it would take me at least three and one half hours to get home. It had been building heavy clouds and so I would have shade
for the descent. One last look around and I headed down the loose rock mt. Forty minutes that took an hour to climb. Two hours fifteen to Emerson Creek flats below the falls. A nice breeze up the lake and I wouldn’t use the kicker. 50 minutes from Emerson Creek to my beach. The wind was calming while I had supper and now as I finish my writing it is near glassy smooth. The circles of a strong rise out front and it may have been the first of the red salmon. At 9:30 nearly clear again and the temperature 55°.’

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