Alone in the Wilderness

YouTube / swererbob
YouTube / swererbob / YouTube / swererbob

Dick Proenneke "retired" at the age of 51 to a patch of bare ground in Twin Lakes, Alaska. On that ground he built a remarkable log cabin completely by hand (and alone), and proceeded to live there, alone, for more than three decades. During this time he kept a journal, filmed himself, and recorded environmental factors around him (snow depth, lake temperature, etc.). Friends visited him sometimes, but his life was largely solitary -- and he liked it that way.

Proenneke's journals and photographs were edited into a book called One Man's Wilderness, released just four years before he died. His film was made into a documentary called Alone in the Wilderness (the latter with fellow Alaska filmmaker Bob Swerer reading journal entries as narration). Alone in the Wilderness is a public TV staple, often aired during pledge drives out here in Oregon. It's an extremely peaceful film, showing Proenneke quietly going about his business, but performing amazingly elaborate tasks -- like building a fantastic log cabin from materials in the area, using tools that he also makes himself, all on camera. It's the kind of thing I watch and think, "There is no possible way I could do that. It's amazing."

You can watch a ten-minute clip mostly from the beginning of the documentary below. If you enjoyed Survivorman, now you know where that came from!

If you enjoyed that, there's way more where it came from -- an hour from the original film, a "Part II" that I haven't seen yet, plus several other films that have been put together recently. You can read more about Proenneke, and also order the films (which were all made by Bob Swerer). If you're not into buying direct, the films are also available on Amazon for way more than they cost direct from Swerer himself.

Production note: it's clear that in a handful of shots, Proenneke is not alone (for example, when the camera pans to follow him while he's hiking). I suspect those were shot during the various supply trips in which Proenneke's friend Babe lands a light aircraft on the lake to deliver a Sears order. If anyone knows the full story there, I'd love to hear it!