Gary Paulsen: Real-Life Hatchet

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If you read Hatchet as a child and convinced yourself that you could easily survive in the wilderness just like Brian Robeson, you’re not alone. Author Gary Paulsen thinks he can, too. In fact, he does.

For at least part of the year, Paulsen lives on 40 acres north of Willow, Alaska. “From the northwest corner of my land, there’s nothing for 4,000 miles,” he told the New York Times in 2006. “There’re no towns, no roads, no people all the way to Siberia.” There, he trains dogs for the Iditarod, which he has participated in several times.

And that’s not the least of Paulsen’s fascinating adventures. He was just 14 when he ran away from home to join the carnival; has worked jobs as a sailor, ranch hand, truck driver and engineer; and he spends winters in a remote cabin in Northern Minnesota. If he’s written about it, chances are he’s done it. “Sometimes I’m lucky and the living part of life gets folded into the writing part, like with Dogsong and the Brian books and Caught by the Sea and How Angel Peterson Got His Name,” he says. “Those books were based on personal inspection at zero altitude, I took experiences that I had and turned them into books. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, but not with the specific goal of writing about it later.”

If you think Paulsen’s life sounds just as interesting as the fictional characters he writes about, then you can read about that, too. Guts chronicles tales from his real life, including a handy guide to wilderness nutrition and the events that inspired the pilot’s death in Hatchet.

Should you ever catch the author and professional wanderer outside of his 40 acres in Alaska, his cabin in Minnesota, or his catamaran in the South Pacific, know that he might like to preserve his solitude. Like many of his loner characters, Paulsen has developed a distrust of humans. “I don’t have anything against individuals,” he says. “But the species is a mess.”