Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One Man's Wilderness Post #2

A couple of excerpts from One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith from the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke. Alaska Northwest Books.1999.

Gleaming snowfields showed not a sign of a track. They would be blinding to walk across in the bright sun. And all those beautiful waterfalls, some dropping from the high buttresses like thin streams of molten silver and seeming to vanish in midair. Others along the creek below spilled in wide, bright aprons between banks as green as new leaves.

It is time to leave, so I picked up my walking stick. I had taken a long look into the heart of the high places and felt like a man inspired by a sermon that came to me firsthand, that came out ofthe sky and the many moods of the mountains.

I crossed the big pasture and took several sips of water from the trickles that made music over the stones--like a wine-taster not being able to decide which vintage was best. Down through the canyon with the rock-strewn slopes on either side and finally, just above where the canyon walls ran together, the triangular eye of turquoise that was the lake peered up at me.

A brief stop at the Eagle's Back, a dizzy jut of granite on the mid-slope of Falls Mountain. Climbing out on it, I stood feeling suspended over the entire upper lake that gleamed beneath in robin's egg blue. On the far side was the warm glow of logs that is home--the place I wanted to leave in the morning and the place I wanted to return to at the close of the day.

-- pgs 197-198

I broke out into the willows that grew around the edges of the cottonwoods. There were no fresh moose droppings or tracks. But then I came to a clump of cow parsnips freshly cropped and the grasses mashed around them.

Funny, I thought, I have never known a moose to eat this plant. I looked about. The
leaves in the cottonwoods quivered against the sky. Suddenly the brush to my right rustled and crashed. I spun, expecting to see the bull [moose] getting up out of his bunk--and every hair on my stabbed electricity into my skull.

A huge brown bear was coming head on, bounding through the willow clumbs not fifty feet away! His head looked as broad as a bulldoze blade. I threw up my arms and yelled. That was all I could think to do.

On he came, and I thought, "At last you've done it, nothing can save you now." I was stumbling as I retreated in terror, shouting.

I tripped and fell on my back. Instinctively I started kicking at the great broad head as it burst through the willow leaves. And then as he loomed over me, a strange thing happened. The air whooshed out of him as he switched ends. Off he went up the slope, bunching his huge bulk, climbing hard, and showering stones. Not once did he look back.

I was shouting, encouraging him in his flight. What seconds before had seemed so terrifying was now almost comical. What had saved my skin?

He must have scented me at the last moment. Until then I do believe he had me pegged as another animal and meat on the table. I couldn't stop shaking. The rest of the way down the mountain I lived those seconds over and over again. I was convinced that the ought-six would be standard equipment from this day on.

-- pg 199.


JMG said...

This guy is definitely able to create a word picture.

Tony Arnold said...

And he does it with efficient writing. I wonder how much of the writing style was the author Sam Keith compiling and editing Proenneke's journals?

From some of Keith's comments in the forward and seeing the nature of Proenneke, I am guessing that Keith stayed true to Proenneke's style. One clue is that Proenneke wrote almost all his journals on the dates of wall calendars. So he had to be parsimonious in his writing.

I think I will see if I can find sources of Proenneke's unedited enteries and compare to the book style.

JMG said...

So who is Proenneke, and why was he in Alaska, and why is someone else publishing his journals?

Tony Arnold said...

The best way to understand all that is to read the book or look a the wikipedia entry or you can go to the link from my posts.

Easier to get it that way than me trying to write it.

Pretty cool story of his life, simple but intriguing.