Alaska Bush author dies at 86

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Dick Proenneke, who lived alone in a remote cabin and kept journals published as the classic Alaska memoir One Man's Wilderness,'' has died at age 86.

Proenneke died Easter Sunday in California.

Until 1998, Proenneke lived alone in a cabin he built at Twin Lakes in what is now Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

I call him a modern-day Henry David Thoreau,'' said John Branson, a Lake Clark park ranger and historian who was a longtime friend of Proenneke's. Thoreau lived at Walden for only one year. Dick lived there for 30 years.''

Proenneke moved permanently to Twin Lakes in 1968 at age 52 after retiring as a diesel mechanic and heavy-equipment operator in Kodiak. Branson said Proenneke wanted to live deep in the wilderness out of a need for simplicity rather than to escape his fellows.

He was not to be misconstrued as an end-of-the-roader or anti-social at all,'' Branson told the Anchorage Daily News. He was extremely hospitable and gracious to visitors.''

One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey'' was first published in 1973, attracting visitors to Twin Lakes, 20 miles north of Lake Clark in the Alaska Range.

A lot of people all over the country know him, and a good bit of the world,'' said younger brother Raymond Proenneke in Hemet, Calif., where Dick lived for the past five years. He'd have visitors from Denmark, Germany, Sweden and different countries like that. Some of them would return every year.''

Dick Proenneke was a daily journal keeper, filling scores of stenographic notebooks and calendars with wildlife observations, weather notations, the details of erecting his cabin and cache and reflections on the simplest of lifestyles.

What a man never has, he never misses,'' Proenneke writes in One Man's Wilderness,'' the record of his first year at Twin Lakes, when he was living in a friend's cabin and building his own.

I learned something from the big game animals. Their food is pretty much the same from day to day. I don't vary my fare too much either, and I've never felt better in my life. I don't confuse my digestive system, I just season simple food with hunger.''

The book was reissued in a new format in 1999 and won a National Outdoor Book Award. It may have sold as many as 75,000 copies over the years, a best seller by Alaska standards, said Sara Juday, regional manager for Alaska Northwest Books, the publisher.

It has a kind of cult status. It has changed people's lives,'' Juday said.

Richard Proenneke was born and raised in Iowa, one of seven children.

He served in the Navy during World War II and moved to Alaska in 1950.

Proenneke never married, never had children and never talked about any of it, his brother said.

He left Twin Lakes at age 82 when his health began to fail and the winters got tougher for him. In the last several years, he'd had a progression of strokes, his brother said.

A few years ago, Dick and his brother donated to the Park Service the mass of steno notebooks he kept as well as photographs and films he'd made at Twin Lakes. The agency intends to have a historian comb the journals to publish another book or a series of books, said Jeanne Schaaf, the park's chief of cultural resources.



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