We are pleased to announce that we’re working on a new book about Dick Proenneke who lived alone in the wild Alaskan wilderness for 31 years. You may know Proenneke as the subject of four PBS documentaries that have fascinated many, including “Alone in the Wilderness” and “Alone in the Wilderness Part II” (all Bob Swerer Productions).
Author Monroe Robinson, a woodworker and log restoration specialist who, along with his wife, K. Schubeck, has been involved with all the work of maintaining Proenneke’s cabin for the past 19 years, is currently sorting through hundreds of photographs and building some replicas of Proenneke’s hand tools for illustration.
The lifestyle of Proenneke reminds me of Henry David Thoreau on steroids. The lulling-yet-captivating films remind me of a mash-up of Bob Ross, “Planet Earth” and “Primitive Technology”. And the deep exploration of Proenneke’s handcrafted life reminds me of Joshua Klein’s “Hands Employed Aright”.
To say we’re thrilled about this project is an understatement.
May 21, 1968, Proenneke traveled to Twin Lakes, Alaska, at the age of 52. He had spent the year prior scouting a site for a cabin and cutting logs in preparation to build a cabin the following year. And he did build his cabin, by himself, using only hand tools. He also built all his own furniture, a cache to store his food and many of the hand tools he used.
Proenneke ended up living in his 11- x 15-foot cabin, alone (although, perhaps, alone is not the right word as he found great company in nature), for 31 years, only occasionally leaving to visit family. He kept detailed journals and documented his life on film while maintaining his cabin, hiking up to 35 miles in a single day and working closely with the U.S. National Park Service.
Proenneke left Twin Lakes in 1999 at the age of 82. He died in 2003. He donated his cabin to the U.S. National Park Service, and it’s now part of Lake Clark National Park.
While a handful of books have been written about Proenneke and his life, none focus solely on his use of hand tools and only materials found in the wilderness. Monroe has taken an in-depth look at how Proenneke used the things he made and sought to repair instead of replace.
“Dick lived a full and challenging life while limiting his consumption of today’s material possessions,” Robinson says. “It is an invitation, an inspiration, to feel the joyous wonder of making what one needs with simple tools and materials around you.”
We hope to have this book available early 2020.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl