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One man's wilderness has captivated me this summer

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 8:28 p.m. CDT

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Have you ever had a moment in your life when you really wanted to do something? A time when you, for a split second, thought about throwing caution to the wind? Does the thought creep into your mind 'I wonder what my life could have been like?'

For most of us, that is something that we all have experienced at one point or another. Usually those “what ifs” occur most frequently when things aren’t going as we planned. Life sometimes hands us some rough times and before we know it years have slipped by.

For millions of us, those moments come and go and we go about our lives and routines. We even completely forget about those daring thoughts we once had or discount them under the heading of “not possible.”

My father handed me a book this last summer that deals with this very topic. The gentleman in this story throws caution to the wind and does something that most never have the fortitude to do. This story though, is not fiction. It is about a real man, a real place, and a real adventure.

The book is called One Man’s Wilderness. It is compiled by Sam Keith and is the story of Richard Proenneke.

Richard was a carpenter in the Navy during World War II. An illness kept him from shipping out with the fleet to the heated battles in the Pacific. After the war he went to diesel school and also worked as a heavy equipment operator.

During these years he spent some time working on a naval base. It was here that his life started to change. A retired naval captain asked Richard to join him in the Twin Lakes region of Alaska at his remote wilderness cabin. The passion for the wilderness took hold.

When he returned from Alaska he always felt a burning desire to go back. Go back he did.

At the age of 50 he decided to call it quits. He retired from his job and headed north. His life was about to change forever. He decided that he would build his own cabin in the Twin Lakes region.

Once the cabin was finished he planned on living there. But, Richard was no ordinary man. He valued a good day’s work and doing things the right way. He planned on building this cabin by hand, with hand tools, the old way.

This is where the story starts to unfold for the reader. Richard kept a journal of his activities with the first day being May 17, 1968. From this time forward, he keeps an awe-aspiring account of his daily life and the adventures that unfold.

As an outdoor enthusiast, I was amazed at this man’s attention to detail. Nothing goes unnoticed. From the smallest cloud in the sky, to the most minute of creatures running through the woods, Richard Proenneke sees them, admires them, and becomes emotionally tied to them.

His personal attachment to the outdoors makes the reader fee like they are right there with him. Each page accounts his unending passion for the Alaskan frontier. As his cabin slowly comes to fruition, and the seasons pass, the reader is engulfed in what life must have been like for this modern pioneer.

I am sure that the popularity of this book is driven by man’s desire to prove his worth. For most of us, that is providing a roof over our family’s heads. Richard Proenneke’s drive comes from needing to prove he cannot only survive on his own, but also to become a part of the wilderness itself. This book is an easy read and can be fit in whenever you have a few minutes to spare. The diary entry style makes break points often so there are many good places to stop.

I thoroughly enjoyed this real-life story of a man who was willing to take his dreams and make them happen. Most of us will never get the chance to do something on this spectacular of scale, nor may we want to. But spending some evenings reading One Man’s Wilderness will surely be time well spent for anyone who loves the outdoors.

I hope you enjoy it.

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