Andrew Hecht's Reviews > One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey

One Man's Wilderness by Sam Keith
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's review
Oct 02, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: my-library, non-fiction
Read in April, 2005 , read count: 1

Whatever a Man Never Has, He Never Misses

I just finished reading One Man's Wilderness, Sam Keith's presentation of Dick Proenneke's Alaskan Journals. I caught the PBS special, Alone in the Wilderness back in March, and quickly became enamored with the Proenneke world. I picked up the book at the library. With a few notable exceptions, the book pretty much reads like a transcript of the documentary. Proenneke's words, like his lifestyle, are very simple. You won't find any metaphor or simile or clever turns of phrase. But you will find straightforward, honest writing from a modern mountain of Emersonian self-reliance. It's very impressive. In fact, the whole book is a commentary on the evils of materialism. Here's how Proenneke sums it up in his Reflections section.

"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 don't understand economics, and I suppose the country would be in a real mess if people suddenly cut out a lot of things they don't need. 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."

This is the exact same sentiment embodied by Tyler Durden in Fight Club when he tells Jack (just before they pummel each other for the first time), "The things you own, they end up owning you."

I don't know about you, but I feel trapped by the things I own. My books. My music. My furniture. And now my cats (although, truth be told, they really do own me). I had to pay for a storage place when I was in the Peace Corps. And now my things don't quite overwhelm me, but they keep me pinned down, unable to make the decisions I want, to do the things I want, when I want.

It's a choice I've made to sacrifice the some of the mobility of my past on the altar of stability. We'll see how long it lasts, probably as long as I'm responsible for the Samoan Fighting Kittens, which could be a long, long time.

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