My Personal WildernessI’ve been working on a book, this time a literary one, which takes place in rural Kentucky during the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a coming of age story about a young woman who, at the age of 14, moves into the barn at the back of her family’s property and stays there until she graduates from high school and goes off to college four years later.
It seemed natural to me to delve into some writings of other people, both real and fictional, who’d moved to the woods. Thoreau immediately comes to mind, but I’ll bet the name of Richard Proenneke is new to you. I hadn’t heard of him until a week or so ago when I saw a documentary about his years in the bush of Alaska on PBS. What a fascinating story.
Proenneke was originally from Iowa, and worked as a carpenter in the U. S. Navy during the Second World War. He visited a friend who lived in the Twin Lakes region and knew his destiny lay in that rugged country. In 1967 he retired and prepared to make the move. He said, “That brush beyond the big hump has been calling for a long time and maybe I better answer while I’m able.”
The documentary chronicled his years in the wilderness. Proenneke himself filmed much of the footage that wound up in the documentary. He set up his camera and filmed snippets of himself hiking through the brush, building his cabin, cooking, fishing—doing all the things it took to survive without the creature comforts we take for granted every day.
I'm separated by my personal wilderness by the boundaries of my screened porch, but I feel the tug of the woods every day. I know the birds by their calls and look forward to seeing them at the feeders every evening. I like the way the rain washes the leaves of the trees, palm fronds and flowers clean and emphasizes their distinctive shades of green. The sound of the wind rushing through the pines is like a lullaby to me, but I admit, I'm unlikely ever to pitch a tent out there.
My character doesn’t build her own cabin but she does fend for herself in the woods that surround her makeshift home. She learns to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, and in the end, forgiving.
If you’re interested in learning more about Proenneke, his diaries were published as “One Man’s Wilderness.” The documentary is titled “Alone in the Wilderness.”
Is there some place or thing (writing perhaps?) that has called to you? How have you answered?