Richard Proenneke Lives His Dream Of 30 Years in the Wilderness

Richard Proenneke, born May 4th 1916, accomplished his dream of living in the wilderness for 30 years. Proenneke picked up residence in the wild lands of Alaska, and built his cabin from scratch experiencing the true meaning of “being one with nature”. While his story seems like a story of a man pitted against nature facing one hardship after another: “instead, he was a simple man, in harmony with his surroundings and perfectly content with what the land provided him.” Proenneke did not seek or search for gold or fame, but he instead wished to challenge himself. He wanted to see “what [he] was capable of that [he] didn’t know yet.” Questions such as “could I truly enjoy my own company for an entire year? and was I equal to everything this wild land could throw at me?” concerned Proenneke before starting his journey.

Proenneke grew up in rural Iowa in 1916, and was the son of a well driller and a homemaker. He was raised understanding the importance of hard work and determination. He worked hard for his keep, and when he wanted to travel with his friend Billy, he used his talents as a mechanic to fix a worn down bike. This was one of the first times that Proenneke saw the value of knowing how to build or craft something on his own. He did not have the money to buy a new bike, and so having the skill to fix and construct one on his own was a valuable asset to him.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Proenneke enlisted in the Navy. Proenneke acquired another skill as a carpenter during his first two years working in Hawaii. However, while waiting for redeployment, he caught rheumatic fever in San Francisco. His illness was almost fatal as Proenneke lost much of his motor skills during his recovery. He eventually made a full recovery, but Proenneke never forgot how weak and helpless that illness made him feel. The second major injury Proenneke received, that led to his decision to live in the wilderness, was an eye injury. After moving to Portland, Oregon, to continue work as a mechanic, he sustained an injury that nearly cost him his vision. While recovering from his injury, Proenneke worried that the last thing he would have ever saw was a greasy belly pan of a bulldozer. After his recovery, Proenneke made his way to the Twin Lakes country in Alaska, deciding to live in his buddy’s cabin until he would later build his own. He made his decision to live in the wilderness for his mental state and to live out his dream: “this was something I had to do, not just dream about it, but do it.”

Proenneke spent 30 years in the wilderness, and returned a new man. Perhaps the most incredible thing about his story was that he did not live there to try and overcome nature, but instead lived there to become one with it. He scavenged for food like the other animals did, and when winter came, he hibernated in his cabin like the bears did. With the exception of a handful of nails, tar paper and some plastic sheeting, he built the cabin he lived in with the materials around him. He used his skills as a carpenter and his resourcefulness to build that cabin: “it is always a pleasure to see what you can make, instead of buying it ready made.” The cabin stands today as a historical landmark often visited by tourists. Proenneke recorded everything, from field journals, to weather records, and countless hours of footage captured on a tripod. These records would later be used to contrast many documentaries and books written and filmed about Proenneke’s journey.

The moral of Richard Proenneke’s story is not to pack all of your belongings today and head out to the wilderness to see if you can survive it. It is instead a story about living out your dreams and understanding what the problems in your life are telling you. When Proenneke temporarily lost his vision, he was reminded how quickly he could lose his chance to live out his dream. He spent too much time cooped up inside mechanic shops, and could potentially live the rest of his life that way if he did not change it. More often than not, people put their dreams on hold to try and pay bills working at jobs that do not bring them any fulfillment. People rarely try to pursue passions head on. But if you take all of that energy used working at those jobs, and instead use it (or some) to turn your dreams into a reality, you too could live a fulfilling life as Proenneke did. Whenever something bad happens in your life, look at it as a moment for pause and reflection. Understand how that moment can be used, as Proenneke used his injuries, to lead to something greater.

Author Bio: Idil Dahir

Idil Dahir is a freelance writer and editor living in Toronto, Ontario. She is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto in which she completed a specialist program in English. Idil enjoys everything from Films, TV Shows, Sports, Novels, and Comic Books. She is currently working on her fantasy novel as well as her freelance work. If you would like to contact Idil you can reach her at:

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