62. Abandoned

While riding with Clark, two stories we are familiar with came to mind. They both have to do with Alaska. The first was from a video of this old timer, Dick Proenneke, who lived by himself on Twin Lakes. The video is called “Alone in the Wilderness”. I watched it and marveled at the guy. He filmed his progress in building a log cabin with a fireplace  while he creatively used everything he had at hand to adapt to the wild, beautiful environment of back country Alaska for 30 years. What I did not know was why he came to the solitude of Alaska to begin with.

“Korea, man. He saw too much and it messed him up. Yeah, he moved from Iowa in the sixties and lived alone for the next thirty years. Never sick a day in his life after he moved up. Ate the finest food, unpolluted.”

We are both familiar with the story of Chris McCandless, whose short life is chronicled in “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. We both read the book. He went to Alaska alone also, but he was totally unprepared. He did not make anything. Instead, he lived briefly in an abandoned transit bus that had been used as a hunter’s cabin. He did not adapt to the environment and it killed him. He left no legacy except Krakauer’s sketchy re-creation of what most likely happened to this idealistic kid. He angrily rejected society after learning about his father’s double life and double family. He burned his money, abandoned his car, and floated aimlessly across the U.S. until he hatched out a plan to live alone in Alaska. Funny how broken trust often leads one to an island or a desert. McCandless had tried to canoe into Mexico earlier, but he became bogged down in swampland. Apparently he did not profit from that dead end experience.

Anyhow, it occurred to me that if the kid had met the old timer on his journey, it might have been the perfect match. Instead, it was a classic tragedy. McCandless either starved to death or poisoned himself accidentally. He was not Dick Proenneke, but then Dick Proenneke didn’t attempt his solo act as a young college graduate with bitterness on his tongue and a trust fund waiting for him. Proenneke left with knowledge, skill and wisdom born from a lot of experience. He was not an idealist; he was a survivor. I don’t think it is unusual for idealists to die of starvation or for survivors to live on deer jerky and tree bark. Idealists refuse a lot of compromises while bearing down on a pure idea.

Survivors take what they’re given and adapt. Clark is an adapter/survivor/scrounger/artist.Too bad the kid didn’t meet Clark.

Proenneke and McCandless saw the same problem– man’s inhumanity. Both sought solitude in nature’s wilderness as the answer. One survived and came back to society enriched, while enriching those of us who know his story. The other died impoverished, learning his last lesson too late, “Happiness means nothing if not shared.”


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