Richard 'Dick' Proenneke - our Woodworking Hero.
It's funny how sometimes multiple events or situations culminate at just the right time to generate a greater impact than each individual moment could of by itself. Many of our long-time friends and followers will know the oft-told tale of how a visit to the Swedish wilderness in the same year that we moved to a small barn in a woodland provided the ideal catalyst for what would become Miscellaneous Adventures, but there was one other significant factor that I regularly forget to mention that I'd like to share here.
Before we moved to the woods, or visited Sweden I had already developed a cursory interest in learning a little more about nature and becoming more self reliant in the great outdoors; I had been given a hatchet for my birthday, had forged a camping knife with my Dad and could already make a fire pretty confidently in a number of ways. I can't remember how or where exactly, but on one of my wanderings through the wilds of the internet, researching outdoorsy stuff no doubt, I stumbled upon a link to the full version of a PBS documentary, Alone in the Wilderness.
In case you don't already know, Alone in the Wilderness collects footage shot by naturalist, engineer and carpenter Richard 'Dick' Proenneke during his time living in a self built cabin in Twin Lakes, Alaska. Dick built his cabin in 1968 and he would call the Twin Lakes wilderness his home for the next thirty years. I won't go into detail here about Dick's life, or his cabin or his experiences living in the wild; there are many other sites, books (and of course the documentary, if you can find it) which do this far better than I will be able to, but watching him build his cabin, and listening to his reflections upon nature and the changing seasons is a real joy. What struck me most however, was his tremendous skill as a woodworker and carpenter. How his proficient use of simple tools afforded him a great deal of self reliance, enabling a strong connection to the natural materials available. Watching Dick work, taking a log or limb of wood and turning into something functional; a latch and lock for his cabin door, a wooden spoon or ladle, rustic furniture, with a double bit axe, stirred a yearning within me to become a skilled woodworker myself.
When I began carving woodenware upon moving to our woodland barn, it was the self reliance, satisfaction of making and connection to the outdoor environment that drove my learning. Although the woods of Sussex are a far cry from the Alaskan wilderness, working outside with birds, wood mice and other critters for company, using only my hands and sharp tools, I sensed I could feel some of the joy that Proenneke must of experienced as he worked outside his cabin, making things that would help him feel at home in the wild.
Here’s a clip from the second part of Alone in the Wilderness of Dick carving spoons with his double bit axe.
I highly recommend watching the full documentary (it’s sometimes available on YouTube) but be warned, it will have you yearning for little cabin in the woods and a simpler life.
If you’d like to try your hand at carving wood in the great outdoors and channel your inner woodsman / woodswoman, all our workshops have woodcarving component and we’re only too happy to share the simple joy and sense of empowerment that making things can bring. Have a look and perhaps book yourself a place here.