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Hard-Core Oneler: Dick Proenneke June 12, 2009

Posted by Onely in Great Onelies in Real Time, Great Onely Activities, Profiles, Secret Lives of the Happily Single, single and happy, solo travel, We like. . ..
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DickProennekeCabinWelcome to the Hard-Core Edition of our series, Great Onelers In Real Time. Today’s Hard-Core Oneler is former Navy carpenter Richard Proenneke. In 1968, at the age of 51, he went to the ultra-wild wilderness of Twin Lakes, Alaska and built himself a cabin by hand, with no chain saws or other automated machinery.  He even carved the handles for the tools he used to hew the spruce logs. Then he lived in the cabin for over thirty years.

The mesmerizing video  Alone in the Wilderness by Bob Swerer Productions tells the story of Dick’s first year at Twin Lakes. Dick used a tripod to film himself building his cabin. We see many shots of him from the backside, walking away from the lens with a determined, slightly bow-legged stride, once with a sheep ribcage strapped to his back. He films grizzly bears rolling joyfully  down snowy slopes. He feeds birds by hand. He makes door hinges, for goodness’ sake (I didn’t know you could make door hinges; I thought they grew on the door hinge tree). 

In the video, Dick explores for miles every day, sometimes walking in the brush, sometimes canoeing on the turquoise lake. In winter he chops through four feet of ice to reach liquid water. A snow-white ermine lives in his woodbox. He walks for miles in snowshoes and returns to make stew from vegetables he’s grown in the summer and stored in a moss-covered hole in the ground. “The inside of the cabin is warm,” he says in his journal, “A toasty 40 degrees.”

During his tenure at Twin Lakes, Dick saw people every six weeks at the most, for example when a float plane flew in with supplies. He didn’t dislike people and was always happy to exchange stories and advice with the pilots, rangers, or filmmakers who visited him. But he just loved the peace and solitude of Twin Lakes.

But his life had a rhythm and a social dynamic. He came to recognize grizzlies, ducks, and other animals who visited the land year after year. He used special food treats to celebrate Breakup: the day when the ice on the lake began to crack and disperse.

For more about Dick, check out his book One Man’s Wilderness. I’ll leave you with my favorite illustrative quote from his journals, as narrated in the movie:  “This lake can really change its personality in a hurry–like a woman!” Onely salutes Dick Proenneke anyway.



1. Singlutionary - June 12, 2009

This is fascinating! Thank you so much!

Also, because this man was also making a movie of his experience, there is another social element to his solitude: the relationship between the story and the storyteller. The story takes on a life of its own and becomes a companion in a way. This happens to writers of all walks of life and it happens to filmmakers too. The camera is another voice, another person, another set of eyes and ears.

I think we’re better off having a badass Hard Core Oneler like this in the world!

2. Special K - June 12, 2009

I completely am humbled by people who pursue their passions…my instructions for living life (aka Mary Oliver) Pay Attention, Be Astonished, Tell About It. Thanks for sharing

3. Hard Core Onelers: Dick Proenneke (part 2) « Onely: Single and Happy - September 3, 2009

[…] we are talking about back-to-nature afficionado extraodinaire, Mr. Dick Proenneke. We’ve covered him before, but he’s so hard-core he needs a second […]

4. The Promised Butt-Post « Onely: Single and Happy - March 18, 2010

[…] kind of accidental pornography that has warped our Most Popular Posts lists, for example: “Hard Core Oneler: Dick Proenneke” and “Animal […]

5. Traveling Saver - March 14, 2012

Thanks for posting. This book inspired me to plan a 2013 AK getaway.

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