In 1968, then 52-year-old Dick Proenneke (pronounced “prin-ecky”) moved by himself to the Alaskan wilderness and lived there alone for thirty years .
The former mechanic and heavy equipment operator found a shoreside spot in the area that is now known as Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and began building a 12-by-16 foot cabin using only simple tools, local materials like trees, stones, and moss, and his own know-how .
He filmed the construction of the cabin with a small camera and a tripod, and documented much of the local wildlife along the way. He had no electricity, running water, telephone, or wifi, and relied on local friends to fly in supplies every couple weeks .
In a place where most people would find it difficult to survive, Dick thrived. He was always busy, hiking thousands of miles every year in the wilderness surrounding his cabin . He was not the bitter isolationist you might expect from someone who lived the way he did, and was always happy to answer any letters he received .
Dick left Alaska in 1999 to live in California with his brother when he became too elderly to continue with his solitary lifestyle, and passed away in 2003 .
Lessons We Can Learn from Dick Proenneke
Although he is no longer with us, there are many lessons we can take away from the life of Dick Proenneke, the first and foremost being that happiness comes from the simple things in life. In his book, One Man’s Wilderness, he wrote:
“I have found that some of the simplest things have given me the most pleasure. They didn’t cost me a lot of money either. They just worked on my senses. Did you ever pick very large blueberries after a summer rain Walk through a grove of cottonwoods, open like a park, and see the blue sky beyond the shimmering gold of the leaves? Pull on dry woolen socks after you’ve peeled off the wet ones? Come in out of the subzero and shiver yourself warm in front of a wood fire? The world is full of such things.” 
Proenneke was constantly writing in his journals about the things he saw and did, and this gave him a deep appreciation for the land upon which he lived. This simple act of writing things down can lead to greater levels of happiness. Psychologists have studied this phenomenon, and have found that people who regularly write down the things they are grateful for exhibit higher levels of optimism and satisfaction with their lives .
By today’s modern standards, Proenneke didn’t have much in the way of things, but he was extremely grateful for everything he did have, and this had a profound impact on his attitude toward life.
“Needs? I guess that is what bothers so many folks. They keep expanding their needs until they are dependent on too many things and too many other people… I wonder how many things in the average American home could be eliminated if the question were asked, “Must I really have this?” I guess most of the extras are chalked up to comfort or saving time. ”
We can also learn a lot from Proenneke about how to take care of our planet, and how to respect the environment that surrounds us. A formerly self-described “trigger happy hunter” , Dick’s views changed when he moved to Alaska. He detested the way hunters would take only the best cuts of meat from the animals they shot, and he would often scavenge those carcasses so they wouldn’t go to waste. He never shot large game himself, stating that it was “too much meat for one man” .
In a society that revolves around excess and produces massive amounts of waste every day, we could learn from the man, who only ever took what he needed – nothing more, nothing less.
The Legend Lives On
Proenneke became famous for his alternative lifestyle, and his notoriety has lived on long after his death. A friend of his compiled his journal entries into a book titled “One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey” in 1973, and since then his home movies have been turned into four one-hour documentaries that showcase his survivalist skills .
Upon moving to California at the end of his life, Dick left his cabin as a gift to the National Park Service, which you can visit in the summer at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve .
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