The Survival of the West Depends Upon the Competence of Its Citizens
Richard Proenneke moved to Alaska when he was 34 years old. He worked hard and after 18 years he retired to a remote wilderness area called Twin Lakes. He made many of his own handtools, and constructed his cabin on the lake himself, with local materials.
Following his discharge from the Navy Proenneke went to school to become a diesel mechanic. The combination of his high intelligence, unique adaptability, and strong work ethic turned him into a very skilled mechanic. Though quite adept at his trade, Proenneke succumbed to the call of nature within him and moved to Oregon to work at a sheep ranch.Source.
Proenneke eventually decided to attempt a start at his own cattle ranch. With an unnamed friend, he moved to Shuyak Island, Alaska in 1950. Proenneke soon discovered that Alaska is not ranch country and he abandoned this venture.
For several years Dick worked as a heavy equipment operator and repairman on the naval base at Kodiak. Proenneke spent the next several years working throughout the state of Alaska as both a salmon fisherman and diesel mechanic. He worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service at King Salmon on the Alaska Peninsula. His skills as a mechanic were well-known and extremely sought after, and he was able to put away a modest nest egg for retirement. Although his living for the most part came from twisting bolts and welding steel, his heart was always in those far away peaks that lost themselves in the clouds.
After some thought on the matter, and a serious accident while working as a diesel mechanic, Proenneke decided he would like to retire in the wilderness of Alaska, specifically at a place called Twin Lakes. In the summer of 1967, Proenneke was dropped off at Twin Lakes for the season so he could fell timber, black spruce logs required for the building of his dream retirement home.
....Proenneke spent May, June, and July of 1968 building his cabin by hand and with nothing but hand tools. The cabin was complete with windows, one of which was designed and built of PET film by Proenneke himself to face the lake and not fog up. He also built furniture including chairs, tables, a desk, and a bunk; a log cache built up on poles to store food and goods that needed to be kept away from wildlife; a stone and mortar fireplace; and many decorations such as a plaster of paris wolf track and moose and caribou antler decorations.
Proenneke's bush pilot friend, Babe Alsworth, returned occasionally to bring food and orders that Proenneke placed through him to Sears. While Proenneke lived largely off the land, he enjoyed things like red beans, bacon, and seasonings, all of which he proclaimed to be life's real luxuries.
Several times during his life at Twin Lakes, Proenneke was attacked by brown bears. He also became quite adept at taming animals, befriending a squirrel, a weasel, many birds, and (almost) a wolverine.
Proenneke remained at Twin Lakes for the next 16 months, when he left to go home for a spell to visit relatives and secure more supplies. He returned to the lakes in the following spring and remained there for most of the next 30 years, coming to the lower 48 only occasionally to be with his family, for whom he cared a great deal.
Dick Proenneke lived for thirty years away from civilisation, living off the wilderness and surviving by his wits and hard work.
Contrast Proenneke's successful coexistence with a dangerous wilderness, with the sad story of Christopher McCandless, a healthy young man who starved to death after only 112 days living in an abandoned schoolbus, over an Alaska summer. Chris was intelligent--a graduate of Emory University. He managed to kill a moose with his .22 rifle, but did not know how to preserve the meat, so most of it spoiled. He was close to a river full of fish, but apparently didn't know how to catch fish for food.
Proenneke went much farther into the wilderness than McCandless. He made a 30 year retirement out of the wild, and prospered. Proenneke was a much older man, without a college degree. But Proenneke was competent in a way that McCandless--and entire generations of McCandlesses--never could be.
Proenneke was an old school American. McCandless was a product of the new school--the school of neotenous incompetence. Chris wanted adventure, and was both intelligent and resourceful. But he lacked the competence and common sense he needed to survive less than four relatively mild months in Alaska. Chris is representative of what a modern college education can do for a person. He had great self-esteem, and big dreams. He was egalitarian in the best traditions of political correctness. But he was incompetent for the situations he put himself into.
Previously posted at Al Fin under the title "Portrait of Competence: Richard Proenneke."