The following is excerpted from “The Handcrafted Life of Dick Proenneke,” by Monroe Robinson. No one holds a more intimate knowledge of Dick’s handcrafted life than Monroe, and just as Dick shared his life through letters and film, Monroe knew he had a responsibility to share all that he had learned. This book, which includes excerpts from more than 7,000 pages of Dick’s transcribed journals along with hundreds of photos, dozens of illustrations, and Monroe’s thoughtful and detailed commentary, is the result. It’s nonfiction, how-to, adventure and memoir, but at its heart, it’s a guidebook on how to live a life that’s “true,” with materials found and a few simple tools. Appealing to woodworkers, toolmakers, homesteaders, hikers, naturalists, conservationists, survivalists and lovers of Alaska, this book is for those who want to know how one man lived an intentional life, the kind of life many dream of living.
June 27, 1967:
What to do today – fog hung low along the mountains I had been wanting to build a short bench using a near half section of log. I knew where there was just the log section to do it – up the Farmer’s property line and past the corner where Fred Cowgill had sawed his boards. I took my pack board and axe and paddled down. It was a heavy chunk and I had a bit of trouble getting on my feet after getting into the shoulder straps of the pack board lashed to the chunk. The surveyors had cut a few small spruce when they brushed out his property lines. These would be just right for legs. I had a good load coming back to the point. I couldn’t split the chunk – too many knots so I would cut it down with axe and adz. I had the adz good and sharp and the chips did fly. It looked as if someone had built a cabin. The chips are the best of kindling. I cut it down better than half – dished it a bit, peeled the bark, sawed the ends square. Augured holes for legs. No bit large enough so I used the 5-inch chisel to enlarge the holes. I sawed and peeled the legs – trimmed them to fit, split the ends and made wedges to tighten them in the holes. Drove the legs in the holes with the adz head. Cut them down to one foot six over all height and she was the finished product. One foot eight and a half-inches long, thirteen-inches wide.
June 29, 1967:
I would spend the afternoon building a backrest for my short bench. The end I had cut off was already shaped on the front. I slabbed off the back side and worked it down with the axe, auger some holes and make some pegs to mount it with. By evening it was ready to put on. Weather had turned sour down country and getting that way here.
June 30, 1967:
By adding a backrest my short bench became a chair – quite comfortable and very rustic.
With only an axe, saw, chisel, wood auger, adz, pocketknife & rule a man could furnish a cabin and not be ashamed of his furniture. The chair completed and the weather fairing up a bit I would give Hope Creek a try.
What started out to be a “short bench” turned into a comfortable chair. Dick placed it at the base of a spruce tree on the beach near his cabin. It was a favorite spot for Dick to sit reading, writing or taking in the ever-changing grandeur of “One Man’s Wilderness.”
After looking at Dick’s cabin, visitors frequently gravitate to his beach chair where they are immersed in the raw beauty of Twin Lakes. Visitors have told us that their image of “wilderness” will forever be their time at Dick’s cabin and Twin Lakes.
K. frequently took visitors on a short walk beyond Dick’s woodshed. Within a few yards, Dick’s cabin, cache and woodshed are no longer visible. Visitors can no longer see the floatplane that flew them to Twin Lakes. They can no longer see any overhead power lines, roads or trails. They can only hear the sounds of wilderness. Often visitors would say something like, “Oh, now I can see why Dick moved here.” It is a moment they will remember for as long as they remember Dick’s cabin.
August 2, 1968:
I need a stool out side to sit things on when opening the door and such. I have a twelve-inch log from the tree I removed to build the cabin. I would saw off a 10-inch length and put the legs on the end. Give them a flare so it wouldn’t tip over if you stepped up onto it.
A thin cut to even it up. The cut looked so nice why not make more thin cuts and plane them smooth and use them for placemats and hot pads to set hot pans on. It would save my plastic tablecloth.
These placemats were “badly soiled by freeloaders” sometime during the winter of 1969-1970. There are photographs of the placemats Dick made to replace the badly soiled ones later in this chapter.
August 10, 1968:
Today among other things I would build my butchers block for outside the door. A 10″ length of 11-inch log with three legs. It was finished in short order.
The “butcher block” is the “stool” Dick started to build on August 2. The butcher block only resided in front of Dick’s cabin for a short time, until he constructed a pair of spruce burl tables that remain there today. Dick moved the butcher block into the corner of his cabin where it became the stand for his galvanized water bucket and drinking cup. See 1969 photo on Page 181.
How about making a diagonal cut on the same log and slice off a 5/8″ slab or two. I sawed one and it was very even so I planed it that brought the grain and growth rings into view. I cut another not quite as true but real close so I planed it too. They will make nice decorations for wall or mantle. I gave the backside of them a coat of clear shellac and bees wax on the smooth side to keep them from checking. If it will I’m not sure.
I needed more movies of my latest improvements so hauled out the camera gear and hope to have some interesting shots.
This diagonal cut sat on Dick’s fireplace mantle for some time. He later used it as a plaque for a beautiful spoon to hang on the wall with the words, “Twin Lakes Champion – Sourdough Biscuits and Beans.”
March 4, 1969:
Time enough to sand Hope’s wooden spoon. A chunk of wood for a seat in the warm sun I sanded it to perfection. I do believe this was the most pleasant day of 1969.
The tree stump Dick removed from his cabin site became the wood he used to make his butcher block, placemats and plaque for his sourdough spoon. The seat Dick “sanded to perfection” sits on one of the stump’s roots where it makes a comfortable place to sit with your back against a tree. From there you can see the front of Dick’s cabin.